Every instrument has a different role to play in contemporary worship music. You’re all like musical X-Men. Your instrument (or mutant powers) are different, but together you are more effective than if you were apart. Even though every song is different, here’s a general overview of the job descriptions for each instrument.
Generally, there are three ways the acoustic guitar will be played in contemporary worship music.
- Strumming. Grab your favorite pick and have fun. You don’t have to strum all six strings at once. Be aware of times when you’re focusing your strumming on the bass strings or treble strings. Sometimes you may palm mute two bass strings. Other times, you may focus on the higher strings. Listen to what he rest of the band is doing and chance accordingly.
- Fingerpicking. I’m bad at this so for now don’t take any advice from me about this. If you know of some great resources on fingerpicking, I would love to read it in the comments below.
- Not At All. There are songs when you shouldn’t play. That can be a hard to accept, but it’s true.
Recently, the way acoustic guitar is used in Praise & Worship has changed. Once upon a time it was in every song, all the time, without exception. Now it’s every other song. Be prepared to not play the acoustic.
Regular readers will recognize my next suggestion is my solution for everything. Want to memorize songs easily? Know the Nashville Number System. Want to reduce the time it takes to practice songs? Know the Nashville Number System. Want to have friends, influence people, lose 10 pounds, and go skydiving? Know the Nashville Number System.
If you play acoustic guitar, knowing the NNS and the little innovation known as the capo can make your life easy and your playing sound awesome. Here’s a little nugget. Even though I play a lot of songs in a lot of keys, I know that 90% of the songs I play will have some order of the I (Roman numeral for 1), IV, V, and vi (a lower case Roman numeral means it’s a minor chord, upper case means a major chord).
I know that there are three voicings on my acoustic that will always sound good on my acoustic. The key of G, the key of C, and the key of E. With the help of the capo, these are the only keys my hands play. The capo does the transposing.
Here are my two favorite capos.
My favorite resources for the Nashville Number System
Electric guitarists, your job is pretty fun. You probably already know that. One of the reasons your job is fun is because you have a lot of toys to play with. Delays, reverbs, octaves, and overdrives. So many overdrives.
If you are just getting started in playing electric guitar, you might find…
Wikipedia discribes timbre as “the quality of a musical note, sound, or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production.” For example, if a violin and a trumpet both played a concert G#, they would sound different even though it’s the same note. Timbre refers to the sound, not the pitch.
As an electric guitarist, don’t think you are responsible for a lot of different notes. You are responsible for different timbres.
There are lot of ways you can create different tones and timbres. Here are the basic three elements:
- The Guitar. A Les Paul sounds different from a Telecaster sounds different from a Stratocaster. You’ll notice that different guitars work better for different situations. When you listen to recordings, start to pick out different characteristics of the tone and guess which guitar you’re hearing. A painter doesn’t just have one kind of paint brush. In the same way, many guitar players will have more than one guitar at their disposal.
- The Amp. There are three basic families in the tube amp family. Marshall, Fender, and Vox. This is an over simplification, but a useful one. Most amps are variations and interpretations of these three amp manufacturers. Each has a specific tone. In contemporary worship, the one that is used most often is the Vox or Vox-like amps. If getting a Vox AC-15 or AC-30 seems too cliche to you, look into Morgan Amps, Jackson Ampworks, and Dr. Z.
- ThePedalboard. You can do so much with pedals. There is no end to the selection of pedals. If you’re just getting started, I’ll include the essentials in the Gear List below.
LEADS & COUNTER LEADS
You’ve probably seen a chord chart. There is a mistake we all make with chord charts. When we see chord charts we think we are supposed to play the chords on the chart. That is false. Instead, we are supposed to play the part. Every song has its own part in it. Chords might be a part of it, but it’s never all of it. Read this for help on learning the part.
Once upon a time, the part electric guitarists played was the lead. Recently that has changed. Guitar players are now sharing lead duty with keyboard players. For more check out this post.
For most songs, electric guitarists will be playing either leads or counter leads. This creates a musical richness that can’t happen if you are just playing chords. Again, check out this post for more about learning the parts to worship songs.
You will be tempted to play more notes. Think of this urge like being tempted by the dark side of the Force. It might seem like the right thing to do. It’s not.
The song probably doesn’t need more notes. Instead, it probably needs more layers. You might get bored. That’s okay.
You can’t play any new notes. Don’t try. You can use your instrument to create tones the rest of the band can’t. Think in terms of adding layers with different sounds rather than playing different notes.
Click here for a very practical tip that can be a game changer.
Please note, I don’t personally use the Fulltone Fulldrive 3 on my board. But I do like it. I don’t use the DD-500. I use the DD-20. There are rumors that the DD-20 might be discontinued. They may just be rumors, but just in case, I included the link to the heir apparent, the DD-500.
- Fulltone Fulldrive 3
- BOSS DD-20 Giga Delay
- BOSS DD-500 Giga Delay
- Pedaltrain PT-CLJ-SC
- Polytune Mini 2
- One Spot Power Adaptor
Like the electric guitarist, you are responsible for creating a lot of sounds. Unlike the guitarists you usually interface with some sort of screen to discover new sounds, while most guitarists are playing with colorful little boxes at their feet.
You know how little kids touch, poke, and taste just about anything they can? It’s because they are really curious. The best keyboard players are really curious like those kids.
Keyboards are expected to provide a lot of different sounds for the worship experience. From pads to leads, there is no end to the sounds that can be created. Start by tinkering with curiosity and you will expand your sonic palette.
For an intro on sound design, check out this interview with Will Doggett.
LEADS & COUNTER LEADS
Once upon time, a keyboard player could get away with playing the chords to a song. That time has past. The expectations for keyboard players are just as high as they are for electric guitarists.
You are expected to play leads and counter leads during songs. It’s not about the chords any more. It’s about the part. For help on finding the parts for the worship songs your church is playing, start by clicking here.
I want to give you the same knowledge nugget I gave the guitarists.
The song doesn’t need more notes; it needs more layers.
Experiment with more sounds, not more notes. There are sounds you can bring to the band that no one else can, but you can’t bring any new notes. Keep your playing simple. Bring sounds only you can bring.
Drummers, you are the back-bone of the worship band. The rest of the band plays to you. If that feels like a lot of responsibitly, it’s because it is. But don’t worry. You can handle it.
It does mean you are going to have to be prepared. Do your homework even if know one else does.
Your three main responsibilities are tempo, dynamics, and the groove of a song.
Are you sitting down? Maybe you should because I’m about to be point-blank honest with you in these next little sections. If your band has perfect tempo and you don’t, your band won’t play well.
The good news is that very few people on this planet have perfect tempo. I know several people with perfect pitch, but I have only heard of one person with perfect tempo.
There’s more good news. The vast majority of people have the ability to play with a metronome, otherwise known as a click. It’s hard at first but only at first. To get an idea of what it’s like learning how to play with a metronome, click here (pun intended).
So you’re going t0 need a metronome. Maybe it’s for personal use or maybe it’s for worship so the whole band plays better together; either way, you’re going to want to play with something that has perfect tempo.
For personal use, you can use an app like the one I mentioned above. For a click during the worship service, I don’t like touch screens. Having tactile buttons makes me feel better. If I hit the wrong button on a touch screen, I won’t know it until it’s too late because the whole surface feels the same.
The metronome I have used the most is the BOSS DB-90. You can program the whole worship set and set up a foot switch to scroll through your tempos.
Another way to go is tracks. That’s when software is taking care of the click as well as adding a guide and other tracks and sounds you can’t produce live. Click here for a quick post on getting started with tracks.
You are the one who leads the dynamics. The acoustic guitar players think they do, but they’re wrong. So very wrong.
The band reacts to your dynamics. That’s kind of the way music works. This means you need to know the song really well. You need to know when transitions happen and how they happen.
Think of it this way. You are the enforcer. The worship leader is the musical boss and you’re the one keeping all the other instruments musically in line. If the worship leader is the musical Mayor, you are the musical police force. You respond to the worship leader, everyone else responds to you.
Own it. Everyone will love you for it.
Other members of your church band will learn specific parts for different songs. Great drummers think the same way. They don’t play the same beat for every song. They listen to the recordings and learn the specific grooves and beats for each song, practice them, and reproduce them. Do the same.
You can find covers on Youtube of drummers playing the song. Some of them are good. Some are great. Others are awful. Most of them will show you something you missed.
Like everything else, bass guitar sounds and playing have changed. If you don’t like how things have changed, don’t take it too personally. Things will change back to your preference. In the meantime, work adding the current trends to your arsenal of skills and get ready to be ahead of the curve when the trends come back around to what you know best.
DEFINE THE CHORD
Try this experiment some time. Get a guitar player and a listener–a person you know who is musical enough to know how a minor chord and a major chord sound.
Without the listener seeing which chords you are playing, have the guitar player play a C major chord while you play a low A note at the same time. Ask the listener if they hear a major or minor chord.
Nine times out of ten, the listener will say they hear a minor chord which is accurate because they are hearing an Am7.
As the bass player, you have the ability to define the chord the band is playing. Our brains tend to rely on the lowest note to decide what the chord is. If you play a IV (we’ll say it’s an A) while the rest of the band is playing a I (a E major), it will sound messy to the people listening, but they’ll mostly hear a IV chord. If you play a iii (3 minor, E) while the band is playing the V (5 major, G), the listener will hear a iii.
You have a lot of power; therefore, you have a lot of responsibility (thanks, Uncle Ben).
This might be one of the reasons why bass playing for much of P&W is so simple. It makes it easy for the brain to decide which chord it’s hearing.
You and the drummer are like two sides of the same musical coin. It’s important that you and drummer lock-in together. Most of the time that means you have a lot of the kick drum in your monitor and you pluck when the drummer uses the kick. That’s an over simplification, but it will point you in the right direction.
When we think of bass guitar we think low end. We think of earthquake-like low frequencies that rattle our chests.
Ironically, bass guitar is getting less “bassy.”
If you play with live tracks than you probably already know this. As live tracks are becoming more prominate, synth basses are being seen more and more. This has a lot to do with the influence of EDM (electronic dance music) on Praise & Worship. Bass players are compensating by adding a little more bite to their tone.
Usually the way this is done is by using a bolt-on bass. Usually it’s a Fender (either a Jazz or Precision bass). There are also a ton of variations of Fender basses out there, so you aren’t limited to just one manufacturer.
It’s becoming much more popular for bass players to use a pick. In my experience, a felt pick works best.
As I’m listening to worship songs and editing the multitracks, I’m noticing a trend that basses are using a little bit of overdrive in their tones. To accomplish this you’ll need an overdrive meant for bass guitar. My favorite is the Xotic Bass BB-Preamp.
Don’t just listen to your instrument. Listen to the whole band and assess how your instrument is playing its part. Together, your worship team and band can do amazing things.