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.

Worship Band Tune Up, part 5

5. Lead guitars, sax, flute, and other instruments should not play the melody, but learn to play complementary parts in the pockets (between the vocal parts).

Read Tune Ups 1 2 3 4

I think there are also exceptions to this rule. I know there are times when I’ve had a lead solo instrument double the melody with the vocals, and it has added impact to the song. But I don’t suggest doing this more than 1 time during a set of worship songs. When you overuse this, it can sound amatureish. If you do have a solo instrument doubling the melody a lot, have them stop, and this should give your band a more professional sound instantly.

Some other solo instruments that sound good with a Worship Band:

  • cello
  • trumpet
  • clarinet
  • oboe
  • mandolin
  • hammer dulcimer
  • accordion
  • vibraphone

Learning to play complimentary parts in the pockets takes many years of musicianship to be able to do it on the fly. “In the pocket” in this sense means “between vocal parts.” The best example is on “turn-arounds” or the section of instrument music that takes you from the end of a chorus back into the beginning of a verse. Another “pocket” would be at the end of a vocal phrase, during the rests before they come back in.

Of course, if you’re going to add a solo instrument, and they can’t improvise, or even if they can, someone is going to have to write a part for every song. There is one resource that I have been consistently satisfied with when finding orchestrations for Worship Band songs. G3 music not only has creative arrangements of popular worship songs and hymns, but they also have great sounding horn parts that accent the song. G3 also allows you to subscribe to their service, or just buy single songs “a-la-cart” from the website. Having a solo instrument play the orchestration of their part from a song would be a good example of how to play in a Worship Band.