Weekly Worship Thought – TUNE UP Recap

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Thank you to everyone who attended the TUNE UP gathering on Saturday, August 5, 2017. Thank you to the volunteers and Messiah Lutheran Church for hosting us. Thank you to Larry Bose for capturing our day together with photos. This was our fifth year of TUNE UP and we are so blessed that you came and learned with us.

We had over 70 participants from 19 different churches all around the Houston area join us for this day of training and networking. The gathering began with opening worship and presentations from Brian Hehn, Clayton Faulkner, and Richard Birk. They covered the subject of diversity in church music with each presenting on genre, selecting songs pastorally, and why we should incorporate hymns into band-led worship. Then everyone divided into instrumental/vocal/tech tracks, and conceptual tracks. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific area (worship leader, acoustic/electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, and sound tech). Conceptual track offerings included sessions on improving your worship band, running an effective rehearsal, increasing congregational singing, and using video technology. During the “Coaching for Bands” session a volunteer church band from Autumn Creek Baptist Church in Houston received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.

We want you to know about these helpful resources from some of our track leaders:

Thanks for a great event and stay tuned for future event announcements…

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Weekly Worship Thought – Top 5 Tips for Vocalists

Also check out my top 5 suggestions for keyboard, drums, and bass guitar.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of deception with my tips for vocalists.

 

  • 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Don’t be a diva.

The Parable of the Two Vocalists

Once upon a time, there were two vocalists. These two vocalists were both going to sing during a worship service for a church. Both of the vocalists went to the church for a sound check and rehearsal. The first vocalist had a pleasant attitude, sang in a simple style, had a beautiful tone, and had no problems with anyone. The first vocalist was a joy to listen to and approached singing in church with an air of humility.

The second vocalist began the rehearsal by noticing that the air conditioning made the room feel drafty. The second vocalist described how at home they had air diffusers to prevent this drafty feeling. Then the second vocalist noticed that the microphone didn’t have enough of a high frequency boost in the EQ. Next the second vocalist requested that the noise gates and compression be turned off on their mic channel. Then the second vocalist said that a church this large should have a floor wedge monitor system and refused to try the in-ear-monitor system. Next the second vocalist argued with the musician about what tempo the song should be. After the musician changed the tempo of the song, the second vocalist accused the musician of incorrectly adjusting the tempo in the opposite direction. Then the second vocalist decided to change the key of the song.

The second vocalist was a diva. Don’t be a diva. Be like the first vocalist.

This is a true story.

 

Weekly Worship Thought – Top 5 Tips for Keyboard

The keyboard (both piano and organ varieties) ruled the worship music landscape for a long time. It still does in many places. However, over the last 50 years, the guitar has made itself at home in many churches, replacing keyboards as the lead instrument. Where does that leave the keyboard? Here are my top 5 tips for playing the keyboard in a worship band ensemble:

  1. Keep it simple. Do you notice the trend? The same rule applies to every instrument: less is more. When things get too busy there is no room for the song to develop. This is a chronic problem I notice from keyboard players. I guess having that many notes at your fingertips is tempting. Resist the urge to play busy parts. Occasionally force yourself to play with only one hand. Instead of playing chords all the time, try playing a simple counter-melody.
  2. Share the lead. Keyboardists are used to taking the lead. As a pianist or organist, they are used to setting the tempo, giving the downbeat, and helping the assembly sing together. Some of these skills are counterintuitive when playing as a member of a worship band ensemble. Sometimes the guitar or drums needs to push the song in order for it to sound right. This requires the keyboard to relinquish control over the tempo, feel, and sometimes even the tonal structure of the song.
  3. Explore the tones. If you’re playing a piano, I guess you’re stuck. But if you have an electronic keyboard or synth, don’t just stay on the piano sound. Try everything. There are virtually unlimited amounts of patches online. Make a list of the tones you think could have an application.
  4. Study B3. Every church keyboardist should know how to make the Hammond B3 organ sound good. It is the quintessential sound for many churches, and also the glue that holds together a lot of rock, blues, and jazz music. Get on YouTube and figure out how to make it work. Get a lesson from someone who knows.
  5. Deviate from the page. Rarely will you be able to play exactly what is written out for your keyboard part. If it is fully composed, you will probably have to simplify what you play to some extent (following tip 1 and 2). Or if all you have is a chord chart you can’t just play the changes on whole notes. Don’t be afraid to leave the page and create your own part.

Weekly Worship Thought – Top 5 Tips for Bass Guitar

_dsc6429-800x533You might not know it, but when I first started leading worship in high school I played bass guitar. It is still my favorite instrument in a lot of ways. I enjoy every chance I get to play bass with a group. Here are my top 5 tips for playing the bass guitar in worship:

  1. Keep it simple. If you’ve ever played in a band with me, you’ve probably heard me say this many times. My critique is often that instruments play too much and play rhythms that are too complex. This is true of any instrument, but is especially true for the bass guitar. It doesn’t have to be complicated. There is no shame in staying on the root of the chord and letting the note sustain. The bass guitar is rarely the focus. Make room for the other instruments.
  2. Color the drums. The bass guitar is the harmonic foundation of the band. It does this work in tandem with the drums or percussion. I like to think of the bass guitar being the tonal coloring of the drums. So when the drummer plays the kick drum, giving the band a rhythmic foundation to build on, the bass guitar is providing the tonal color for the kick drum so that the rhythmic foundation now has pitch.
  3. Stand near the drummer. Because drums and bass guitar work in tandem, creating a hybrid harmonic/rhythmic foundation for the band, it makes sense that they should be in proximity to each other. But I often see them separated. Being close enough to visually cue each other is essential. Being close enough to “feel” the groove from each other is better.
  4. Use the middle of the neck. All the tone and sustain comes from the middle of the neck on the bass guitar. So instead of playing the note “A” using the open string, play it on the fifth fret of the E string.
  5. Finesse the notes. Every little detail matters. Give attention to how the notes are started and stopped. Plucking the string doesn’t have to be done so harshly. Let the amplification do the work – not your fingers. Do your notes buzz or sound rough? Make sure your finger is placed right against the fret of the note you’re playing. Work to smoothly transition from note to note, with no gaps between the pitches.

Weekly Worship Thought – Breaking Down for Lent

breakingLent begins this year on March 1 with Ash Wednesday. I have begun to think about all the possibilities of our music and space for worship during the upcoming season. Lent is a time to reflect, to pause, to weigh the costs of discipleship, and to prayerfully prepare for marking time with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In particular I am thinking about the music for worship in our gathered assemblies. What can be done musically to carry across the layers of meaning we find during the Lenten season? One idea I am exploring is breaking things down. In a musical sense, this means simplifying things. The simplicity of our instruments and ensembles can bring out the themes of Lent.

An article at WorshipLeader.com makes some suggestions for improving congregational singing that I think are helpful: I did not have my band play on every verse and chorus. Musical accompaniment has one major purpose: supporting congregational singing! The most important sound on Sunday morning is that of your congregation. Have the band stop playing occasionally and let the people hear each other. I promise they will sing louder and more heartily in response!” Breaking things down instrumentally and providing simplicity can help the assembly sing – a worthy goal regardless of the liturgical season!

Scott Weidler shared a tip for Lent in a recent ALCM email regarding unaccompanied singing: “Lenten simplifying may well mean singing some music without instrumental accompaniment. If this is new (and, perhaps, terrifying) to your congregation, Lent may be an appropriate time to introduce it. The human voice is the primary instrument given to us by God. Let’s find ways to amplify its centrality. Many settings of psalms, Lenten verses sung as the Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus, Lamb of God, and other music may appropriately be sung without accompaniment. If eliminating accompaniments completely is unrealistic, try to imagine how to minimize the instrumental leadership in order to maximize primacy of the human voice.”

Breaking things down can be done in many ways. It could be using acoustic instruments instead of electric instruments, hand percussion instead of full drum kit, or just using piano or unaccompanied singing. Try one of these ideas in your context.

Weekly Worship Thought – Perfectionism

pianoPerfectionism is the enemy of worship. Just as God accepts us as we are, flawed and broken, God also accepts our worship as it is. There is a fine line that we walk when leading worship and seeking to do our best. While perfectionism is the enemy, carelessness can be distracting. Perfectionism can stifle creativity and cripple our expression. A lack of care can take the focus away from God and give people stumbling opportunities when seeking God in worship. Don’t let a mistake in the middle of worship drain your self-esteem or detract your heart from God. Faithfully offering our best is the most we can do, even with imperfections.

2014 TUNE UP Recap

_DSC6733On Saturday, August 9, 2014, the TUNE UP worship band gathering was held. Over 100 worship musicians, sound techs, and video techs assembled on the campus of Faith Lutheran Church in Bellaire, TX (Houston) for a multi-denominational training event. Hosting over 100 participants for the second year in a row, the event was organized by the Worship Excellence Team of the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod (ELCA) to improve the quality of band-led worship in smaller churches.

The assembled musicians and techs represented 20 congregations including Lutheran, Nazarene, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Non-Denominational churches. Churches that participated were both from the Houston vicinity and rural parts of Texas.

_DSC6729The schedule included times of worship, instrumental/vocal/tech tracks, and conceptual tracks. A team of track leaders with main speaker DeAndre Johnson (Westbury United Methodist Church) led worship. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific area (worship leader, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, sound tech, and video tech). Each group gathered together for training and instruction specific to that instrument. Conceptual track offerings included sessions on arranging hymns for worship band, multicultural worship, and renewing the arts in worship. Additionally, a “Coaching for Bands” track was offered in which two church bands received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.

_DSC6645One attendee commented, “Once again, my team and I have learned and grown through your gathering.” Another responded that the information they received in their track was, “Incredibly useful.”

After a second successful gathering, we will likely offer the event again in the future. Watch the event website for details: TuneUpGathering.org.

FREE Download – My Eucharistic Setting

Eucharistic Setting graphic

For a while I’ve wanted to create my own setting of Eucharistic liturgy music for use in worship. I wanted something that could be used in a contemporary/post-modern service with a guitar or band. I also wanted to use fresh language and imagine some of these well-known texts in a different way.

I ain’t gonna lie – this recording is a little rough. I recorded it at my home studio with a couple of mics. I played and sang all the parts. So there are some exposed edges – which is kind of how I like it anyway.

This music was meant for the church. We have been singing them at Faith Lutheran. Please use them if you think they’ll work in your context. Permission is granted for use in worship. The mp3s are free to download. If you’d like the lead sheets they are available at the PayPal link below for $5.

Eucharistic Setting (2014) – Click here for all mp3s

Let me hear from you if you find these songs useful.

HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY! HELP! NOT JUST ANYBODY! (ideas on recruiting musicians)

20120218-215049.jpgI recently received an email from a church musician who was looking for help. The guitarist in their band recently moved and they don’t have anyone else that can play. Here are a few thoughts I shared with her about how to look for a new guitarist:

  • To start, remember that it is totally possible to do worship without guitars! Don’t let not having 1 instrument be a hang-up. God gives us what we need to worship in our context. So if you’re short a guitar, do your best to make do without. Same with drums, keys, bass guitar, or any instrument. The most important instrument in worship is the assembly’s voice.
  • Even though you don’t think there is a church member that could step up to play guitar, I would want to make sure that is true. Make an announcement that you need a guitarist. You never know! One could be lurking or even visiting for the first time on Sunday. I always say that the best recruitment tool for finding volunteers is the shoulder tap method. Chances are someone in the church may know a great guitarist and could do some recruiting for you.
  • Check with other churches. Call the bigger churches in your area. Chances are they have enough volunteers to support several rotations worth of musicians. Maybe you could borrow one of their guitarists on their off weeks.
  • Grow your own guitarist. Especially consider teenagers that might have an interest. Sponsor them for a couple of guitar lessons with a professional. Let them start sitting in with the band for rehearsal only until they are proficient enough to play and contribute.
  • Advertise it on Craigslist.com. You’ll find lots of bands that post on Craigslist looking for other musicians. If you say you’re a church and describe what you’re looking for you might find someone. Schedule an audition or probationary practice to make sure they are a good fit before committing.

TUNE UP worship band gathering recap

Coaching for Bands 1aOn Saturday, August 10, 2013, the first TUNE UP worship band gathering was held. Over 125 contemporary worship musicians and sound techs assembled on the campus of Faith Lutheran Church in Bellaire, TX (Houston) for a day of learning, growing, and networking. The event was organized by the Worship Excellence Team of the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod (ELCA) to provide training in the fundamentals of music and worship.

The group that gathered represented 28 congregations including Lutheran, Nazarene, Episcopal, and Non-Denominational churches. Churches from as far away as Austin, TX and Chalmette, LA brought musicians to attend the event.

The schedule included times of worship, instrumental/vocal tracks, and conceptual tracks. A team of track leaders with main speaker Bishop Mike Rinehart led worship. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific instrument (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, sound tech). Each group gathered together for training and instruction specific to that instrument. Conceptual track offerings included sessions on arranging songs for worship, choosing songs for worship, and principles for worship. Additionally, a “Coaching for Bands” track was offered in which two church bands received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.

1167394_1402084233343388_1413482869_oOne attendee commented, “It’s nice to attend an event where you get something you can actually use.” Another said, “Thanks for doing this. It helped to refocus me on being a lead worshipper instead of a lead guitarist.”

An overwhelming amount of positive responses suggest that we will likely offer the event again in the future. Watch the event website for details: TuneUpGathering.org.