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.
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Weekly Worship Thought – Top 5 Tips for Drums

Several years ago I fulfilled the dream of every musician. I bought a drum kit. Because every musician wishes they were as cool as the drummer.

I’ve had the chance to play with some amazing drummers in my musical journey. While I may not be the most proficient on drums, I can suggest a few things that make them sound better. Here are my top 5 tips for playing drums in worship:

  1. Keep it simple. Like I said, this really does apply to every instrument in the ensemble. If everyone dials back what they play there is room for the vocals (and thus the spiritual content of the song) to breathe. For drummers this primarily means simplifying the kick drum patterns. Less kick is more. You’d be surprised how often playing the kick on two and four is all a section of a song needs.
  2. Careful with the fills. Fills are tricky. You can’t leave them out. Fills occupy the transitional spaces of a song. They need to carry a song from section to section. On the other hand, fills can be overdone. A redundant fill is the worst. Too many fills are overkill. I suggest thoughtfully mapping out where fills will be used in a song. Think about how the fill helps with the transition during the song. Is it shifting down into a softer section? Is it heading to the beginning of a building section? The fill can set this up. Please – no tom rolls.
  3. Vary the cymbals. Change which cymbal you hit when you move to a different section of the song. If you’re playing high hat on the verse, don’t continue playing high hat (the same way) on the chorus. Switch to ride or open the high hat. Explore all the different ways that the cymbals can be used.
  4. Hit the drum. To get the best tone out of a drum, you have to hit it. A soft touch produces a wimpy tone. The drum doesn’t even have a chance to sound correct. Much depends on the room and how microphones are being used, which is why you have to…
  5. Use sensitivity. Hitting the drum properly to produce a good tone will cause problems. That is why they lock drummers in fish bowls. You have to know when to sacrifice tone for the greater good. That requires sensitivity (and a dose of humility). A good drummer notices all the sound levels. They know how loud the mains are, how loud the monitors are, and how the drums will need to be complimentary to all.

Q&R: Which contemporary songs should we introduce to our church?

477039_381357365243443_143418169037365_1103810_100449478_oQuestion: 

We are in desperate need of introducing some contemporary music into our worship services. I do know contemporary music but have no clue about what works best in a room full of folks, many of whom do not know contemporary Christian music. We do a few songs:  As the Deer, Seek Ye First, Sanctuary, and a few others here and there.  My organist insists they can do the contemporary music, but the few times we have done it it has fallen flat. I can’t tell you why. So, here is my question: if we were to introduce maybe 10 new contemporary songs to our congregation to be used in worship, which 10 would you suggest?  Of course theology matters, but so does singability and teachability.
Response:
To start, I would definitely recommend you sign up your musician and any singers that are interested for the Tune Up worship band gathering: http://TuneUpGathering.org – they will learn some new songs, and rub shoulders with other church musicians who are doing this same thing.
I’ll say that successfully pulling off contemporary music is a challenge. Especially for a church organist. There are lots of reasons why: the rhythmic language of contemp. music is different than traditional hymnody. Also many contemp. songs are written and presented by guitar driven bands, and without that instrument (as well as drums) they can fall flat. 
But there are some “bridge” songs that can get you started in the right direction. Songs that work well with piano and are easy to learn for an assembly that is unfamiliar with the style. The ones you listed (especially As the Deer) are good. If you’re using Evangelical Lutheran Worship in the pews, take advantage of some of the music in there: 
857 Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
821 Shout to the Lord
483 Here Is Bread
And even some of the multicultural music works well and is “new” in a sense, if you’re not already using them:
817 You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore
491 Come, Let Us Eat
525 You Are Holy
Here are some other songs outside of ELW, found through a website: CCLI.com:
10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) – Matt Redman
How Great Is Our God – Chris Tomlin
Blessed Be Your Name – Matt Redman
Here I Am to Worship – Tim Hughes
Your Grace Is Enough – Matt Maher
Holy Is the Lord – Chris Tomlin
Jesus Messiah – Chris Tomlin
Hopefully that is something to get you started. Theologically, most contemp. songs are fine. A few are not. The biggest problem I run into is they can be less than gender inclusive (God = He) and put way too much emphasis on substitutionary atonement theory (as opposed to a Christus Victor theme). Some contemp. songs are engaging Biblical themes and images unexplored in traditional hymnody. However, a consistent diet of contemp. songs will not be as full, or rich a theological expression as hymnody would be. For example, if you’re looking for contemp. songs that mention the Trinity (a core doctrine of Christianity), you’ll have to look hard (but they are there). 

How to Use an Advent Wreath at Home

advent_wreath-1An Advent wreath is a great opportunity to ground yourself or your family in a spiritual practice throughout the hectic holiday season.

The tradition (which dates back to the early sixteenth century) involves placing four candles on a wreath and a fifth in the center of the wreath. One candle is then lighted each Sunday during the Advent season with the fifth candle being lit on Christmas Eve.

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. You may choose to place additional decorations on the wreath. Various evergreens, signifying continuous life, can be placed around the circle of the wreath. Pinecones, nuts, or seedpods also symbolize new life and resurrection.

There are several interpretations of the specific meaning of each candle relating to Christ and the Advent season. Those meanings are further enhanced by the colors of the candles. The first, second and fourth candles are purple/lavender (symbolizing expectation and royalty), the third candle is rose/pink (symbolizing the joy of reaching the midpoint of the Advent season), and the last candle is white (symbolizing Christ, the Light of the World).

The Advent wreath can be placed in the center of the meal table or another prominent place in the home. On each Sunday of Advent, the candle can be lit at dinnertime after the blessing of the food. A brief devotion (provided below) can be a great introduction to each week’s candle. Allow your children to have an active role in reading, praying, and lighting the candles.

First Sunday of Advent – December 1 (Candle of Hope – purple)

  • Reading – Isaiah 9:2
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of this candle, whose flame brings warmth to winter and fills this place with the glow of hope. Amen.”

Second Sunday of Advent – December 8 (Candle of Love – purple)

  • Reading – John 3:16
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope and love. Amen.”

Third Sunday of Advent – December 15 (Candle of Joy – pink)

  • Reading – Luke 2:10
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, and joy. Amen.”

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 22 (Candle of Peace – purple)

  • Reading – Luke 2:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, joy, and peace. Amen.”

Christmas Eve – December 24 (Christ Candle – white)

  • Reading – John 1:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of you. Amen.”

Resources:

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.

Beyond "Times New Roman" – Ideas on Projection in Worship


Slide1(On Saturday, May 12, 2012 I gave a workshop at the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod Assembly. These are the notes/images from that workshop!)

Introduction

  • The video screen has become the new stained glass in 21st Century churches.
  • Why projection?
    • We live in a visual culture. The common currency for communication has shifted from text to images.
    • “It’s not either image, or text. It’s both/and, image and text. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus was a man (image) living among us. He was also text (the Word become flesh).” ~ Leonard Sweet, The Gospel According to Starbucks

Basic components

How to make a great looking PowerPoint slide

  • Don’t just throw a Times New Roman font on a white screen! Creating beautiful slides is intensive and time-consuming.
  • Helpful Guidelines:
    • Don’t overload the slides with content (MAX: 6 lines of lyric, 6 words to summarize point).
    • Limit your font choices to 2. Choose fonts that are easy to read and use the styles consistently throughout your presentation.
    • Backgrounds:
      • Not distracting, but not too simple.
      • Choose a background that will attract the viewer’s eye to the words. If your background requires the words to have an outline and a drop shadow to be readable, it is no longer attracting the viewer’s eye to the words.
      • Use the negative space (Dark background/light text; light background/dark text).
      • Use imagery that tells the story of the text.
      • Avoid clipart at all costs. Use stock photography or artwork.
    • Use simple transitions (cross fade).

The move toward presentation software

  • CCLI integration, Bible integration, moving backgrounds, announcements, real-time editing, PowerPoint integration, etc.
  • EASY WORSHIP, ProPresenter4, MediaShout, ProWorship, etc.

Web resources for graphics

Q&A

Resources:

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Essential Stuff That Every Church Website Needs

NewWebsiteIn the years that I’ve been serving churches as a pastoral musician, the church website has fallen on my plate fairly consistently. Sometimes I volunteer to do it after I realize there is no one else doing it. Sometimes the responsibility is listed on the formal job description. Ten years ago, a church with a website was kind of a novelty. Launching a church website ten years ago was sort of like undertaking a mission to the moon. Today the church website is often the first piece in place when a church begins (before services begin, ministries start, etc). There is also a huge market catered to the religious industry, offering customized templates, financial giving services, and member social networking.

As simple or complex as your church website may be, here are the essential things that your church website needs to be useful (and some explanation why they are important):

HOME PAGE:

  • Name of Church/Ministry: This should be prominent, easy to read, and consistent across all pages. You usually place the name of the church in the “header” or “banner” area of your website. If you have a church logo with the name incorporated into it, you want to use it here and make sure the branding is consistent across all the pages of the website. If you don’t have a logo with the name incorporated into it, avoid just throwing the name of the church up there in Times New Roman or Comic Sans font. Doing so will be a visual indicator that the information is irrelevant or that you lack the time/ability to do things well.
  • Service Times: The service time information should be the next best placed on the page. It can be incorporated into the “banner” area with the name of the church, or it can appear in the “sidebar” area. Make it as easy to understand as possible, listing each individual service opportunity line by line. Include times and “am” or “pm.” If you have midweek or Sunday evening gatherings, list them as well. Many visitors will try a church at a time other than Sunday morning because they are committed somewhere else then. When service times change, update the website the week before the changes take place. When there is a special seasonal worship gathering, update the website with the information a month before the service takes place.
  • Location/Maps/Directions: It should be very easy to find directions to your gathering from your website. There are several ways to provide this information, some better than others. You can provide a link to Google Maps where people can type in their address and get directions. You can embed a Google Map in your website. You can insert a different map into your website with cross streets and prominent features/businesses to help people locate your gathering. You can provide step-by-step verbal instructions for drivers coming from several directions. If possible you should include information about public transportation opportunities and provide links to local time tables. You could also create a downloadable map/direction sheet for people to print out.
  • Photos: Some pictures on the home page are always a good idea – they put a human face on your organization. Avoid using stock photography. Stock photography can give a “plastic” look to your church, like only happy, perfect, physically attractive people belong to your church. Ideally you want to use pictures of your own people. If you can, hire a professional photographer to capture images of your gatherings and use the images on the website. Photos are also a way to be subversive in your church. If you’re trying to reach out to the young adult demographic, put pictures of young adults on your home page. If you’re trying to build a more racially diverse congregation, include multi-ethnic people on your home page. Avoid using pictures of your church building, worship space, or other facilities on the home page. They are less personal than human faces. It is acceptable to use pictures of the building on other pages within the website. Thou shalt not use clip art (doves, rainbows, crosses, praying hands, etc.).
  • Ideally all these items are visible “before the fold.” In other words, you can visibly see all these items on the page without having to scroll down to the bottom.
  • View your church website in a variety of internet browsers (IE, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) and on a variety of monitor sizes (laptop and desktop) to make sure the page formatting and photos look consistently good across them all.

MAIN MENU:

  • Avoid using more than 8 pages on the main menu listing. If you need more use subpages listed under the 8 main pages.
  • An “About Us” page should be listed in your main menu.  This section can include subpages that describes the mission, vision, and core values of your church. Another subpage to include is a staff listing. List the staff person’s name, email address, position, picture, and a brief biography to help connect to the leadership of the church. A beliefs subpage is also important. You want people to easily understand what brand of Christianity your church subscribes to. Your denominational website should offer language that you can borrow. Local adaptation is always preferred though – make it your own.
  • A “Contact Us” page should be listed in your main menu. This page lists how to get in contact with the church office. Physical address, mailing address, church office email address, phone number, fax number, emergency contact number, school or mother’s day out number, etc. This is also a great place to provide links to the church’s social networking pages: Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. If you offer people a way to connect to your church, list the info here.
  • A “Guests” page should be listed in your main menu. This page has to be completely tailored for the person that has never been to your church before. Keep the language simple and jargon-free. Explain everything that a first-time guest would need to know: nursery, restrooms, children’s activities, parking lot, front entrance, coffee/refreshments, etc. Tell them exactly what they can expect when they pull into your church for the first time. Don’t turn it into a wishlist – make it accurate to what actually is. Assure them that they won’t be singled out as guests during the service. Give a breakdown of what the worship service might be like, describing the music, liturgy, and content of the service. If you have a gift for guests, tell them where they can find it. Be sure to conclude this page with an invitation to contact you either by email or phone with any questions they may have, and state that you look forward to seeing them at one of your events or services.
  • A “Ministries” page should be listed in your main menu. If small groups are a foundational part of your church’s mission they should have their own main menu page. Create a subpage for every major department or ministry area of the church. Give a description of what the ministry does, who can participate, and when they meet or serve. Provide contact information for how to get more information about each ministry.
  • A “Messages” page should be listed in your main menu. Use the page to link to audio/video from your weekly sermon. If you’re not recording at minimum the audio from your messages you should start. The technology and equipment required are easily accessible. Ask your favorite techie for help. You don’t have to have the message available every week, but you should at least offer some examples of a typical sermon. Guests want to know what you sound like and your style before they show up.
  • If you use online giving (and you should) a “Give” page should be listed in your main menu. There are many options for how to set this up and different providers to use. Do the research, consult your financial leaders in the church, and use a tool that works for you.

FOOTER:

  • The footer is the area at the bottom of each webpage. You want to have a consistent footer on the bottom of each page, in small print. Include the physical address of the church, the main email address, and the phone number.

Sources Consulted:

Worship Band Tune Up, part 2

Read “Worship Band Tune Up, part 1” here.

2. In guitar driven worship, the keyboard should use pads and strings so not to conflict with the rhythm of the guitar.

Depending on what God gives you, your band may be more guitar driven than keyboard driven. The instrument “driving” the band is the one that the lead worshiper usually plays. It’s also the instrument that starts most songs, and sets the rhythms that other instruments play to. If you’re blessed, you have a band that can be both guitar and keyboard driven, depending on the need of the song. Then you can add variety and depth to your worship music.

When the guitars are instrumentally “driving” the songs, the keyboard has to be played differently. This requires a keyboardist with sensitivity. They have to know when not to play notes in the left (bass) hand. They have to know when to switch pads so not to compete with the tone of the electric guitar. They have to know when to drop out altogether.

Humility is truly a wonderful contribution to a Worship Band.

So if the guitars are playing a heavily rhythmic strumming pattern, the keyboard should play something else and not try and copy the rhythm using a piano patch. Simple, single-note melodies work well in this setting. If the guitars are playing a flowing, eighth-note, finger-style pattern, the keyboard should play long, sustained notes/chords. If the guitars are playing palm muted, chunky riffs, the keyboard should find alternate voicings for the chords and look for countermelodies in the pockets between chord changes.

Worship Band Tune Up, part 1

Technologies for Worship Magazine had a great little tip from John Chevalier on how to build a Worship Band. I’m going to break apart his points and riff on each of them.

1. The bass should always play in sinc with the beat of the kick drum. This is key, as about 60% of your sound comes from these two instruments.

“Always” is a relative term. As will be the case in all of these tune up posts, these rules are flexible and should be taken more as guidelines. There are “always” occasions when they should be ignored.

The final comment about 60% of the band’s sound being generated by bass guitar and drums is a good and important statement. Unless of course, your band lacks either bass or drums. Again, there are occasions when these guidelines do not apply. But when bass guitar and drums are present, you can not underestimate the importance and function of these foundational instruments. They lay the chordal and rhythmic framework on which all other instruments and vocals are constructed upon.

It is also wise not to separate the bass guitar and drums into different sections or layers, but to think of them as 1 cohesive unit of tone and rhythm. I like to think that the bass guitar exists primarily to give tone and melody to the kick drum. When the kick drum is “punched,” the bass guitar provides the color and pitch to that impact. This combined sound has to be strong, just like the foundation of the house, so that everything that rests on top of it is secure and finds it’s place.

803573_31924336Drummers and bassists that play in sinc are rare. They are rare because it takes a relationship. It is much more than mechanics. It requires friendship and partnership. Of course, the bass guitarist needs to be positioned on stage so that he can keep an eye on the kick drum. That’s a basic thing in order to keep the sound tight. But the really good teams are able to anticipate each others playing. As I’ve been known to say, “the bass guitarist needs to know what the drummer had for breakfast before he sees him.”

In my 10+ years of worship ministry, of all the groups I’ve led or played in, I’ve only experienced this drum/bass sinc-anticipation playing maybe one time. It takes time to build. And it takes discipline for the drummer to play a beat consistently the same way so that the bass guitarist can follow along. Discipline is also needed from the bass player to accent the rhythmic pattern initiated by the drummer.