6 Power Tips for Making Music Together
How can we make rehearsals better and the music stronger?
Arranging a band is a challenge, but a welcome one if you’re part of the worship ministry of your church. Core ideas can get you going on the path to effective arranging, band rehearsal, and richer worship experiences as a community. Here are a few tips to keep your band growing and working well together musically.
1. Use the phrase “downbeat time.”
When calling your band to show up for a rehearsal, use the language of “downbeat time” for that rehearsal. In other words, “Downbeat time is 6 pm,” means that everyone’s gear should be set up, and ready to hit the downbeat on the music at 6 pm.
So, if the electric guitar player knows they have gear to set up, he or she comes at 5:30 pm in order to be ready for the first downbeat on the rehearsal at 6 pm. Sound people should also come earlier to get ready for the band to plug in and be ready for downbeat time. This eases everyone’s stress level and raises the productivity of the rehearsal session.
Using the language of “downbeat time” and phasing out the language of “rehearsal time” has helped hundreds of teams communicate more clearly, lessen anxiety in the musical practice space, and get in full and effective rehearsals as a band.
2. Obey the “fraction principle” in band arranging.
This is, perhaps, my most important band-arranging tip for making good music together. Brian Doerksen, a well-known worship leader and songwriter, emphasizes that the sound of every band should equal “1.”
In other words, if there are 7 people playing in the band, each band member should only plays 1/7 of what they could play if they were on their own and filling the space themselves.
What this means is that the keyboard player is no longer needed to pound out bass lines with his or her left hand since the bass player is already covering that part. The electric player, while he could play every Coldplay lick he knows, pulls back and creates space for the acoustic guitar, keyboard, mandolin, or other instruments.
Everyone is playing a fraction of what they could play.
3. Create a culture of listening to, and tightly mimicking, recordings.
I can’t emphasize enough how learning parts to a recording is vital to a band learning how to play well together. It’s even vital to the band’s ability to be original in their sound and style of playing.
Getting your band to learn that particular song according to the original recording is like sending them all to lessons with a professional musicians. The producers and musicians worked hard to lock in a great sound that fits a song and lifts it. Unless you’re all professional musicians (paid, full-time), it’s arrogant to think that we’ll just “do it better” with the limited licks and arranging experience we have.
Learning parts from a recording, over time a local church musician gains greater musical sensitivity and a larger arsenal of music tools from which he or she can draw.
You can modify the style of the song later; it actually enhances originality to become good at listening to, and learning, parts honed to recording quality by great musicians.
4. Learn flow by listening, watching, and “top and tailing” your set.
Here’s the reality: I learned how to flow between songs to create a dynamic experience by watching others do it. I took good notes and on went from there. Listen to live recordings and watch videos to get started on learning flow.
Then, “top and tail” your set. In other words, play the beginning of a song (top), and then stop a few bars in. Then, play the ending of the song the way you would like to do it (the tail). Then, do the top of the next song flowing from the tail of the previous one.
Then as, “Does it work?” Is it the same groove? Is it the same key or a completely different one, and how will you switch? Will you need to put a capo on? Do the songs feel like they’ll go together once the band is playing them with the intros and extros you’ve chosen?
Top and tail your entire set, shaping intros and extros until the music sounds like it flows together. Know when you’ll stop one song and start another, and know when you’ll ask the keyboard player to bridge the gap with music (because you’re changing your capo).
5. Memorize your music if you’re the leader.
Most worship leaders despise little chats about memorizing the music. A band and a congregation that is led by a worship leader who knows his/her music is more confident in joining in. You’ve probably never seen your favorite band using music. Nor have you seen many well-known worship leaders doing it.
That doesn’t mean you can’t—it’s hard having all those songs in our brains. What it does mean is that you should take note and work toward having your songs memorized—because it makes all the difference in the world in the engagement of the congregation.
6. Allow time for band members to work out their parts for a particular song.
In rehearsal, it’s important for a musician to feel like he or she is contributing their best. Aid this by giving your team the songs you’ll be leading earlier in the week so they can work out their parts, and allow them to fine tune their part during a rehearsal.
These are just some of the big ideas you can employ in building worship sets and arranging/rehearsing bands.
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