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a worshipping band

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 11 months ago

Some thoughts by AndrewAlder.


How do you build a worship band? I've done it a number of times now. Here's my formula. It's one of many I'm sure.


This is not an easy, fast or cheap way to build a band. It is a way that will serve to build up the church, to preach the gospel, and to glorify God. These all tend to be hard work. Love is expensive.


My method is to focus on the skills and talents you have. My experence is that most, perhaps all, churches (even small ones) have people just waiting to be asked to play. The trick is to find the vision that will use them well.


These people may be core people involved in other things and too shy to say that they long to learn an instrument (or already play one sort of - or perhaps very well!), or they may be fringe people: The son or husband who won't come to church, the friend or sibling who attends another church where their talents aren't used, the music students whose teacher already uses the church hall, the teacher! Again, the trick is to have a vision that these people fit.


And not all available people will fit the vision. Use those that do. Pray that those who don't will find how God wants to use them. Get them involved themselves in the prayer for the music team, and be open to God changing your vision so that they do fit.


My priorities:


  1. A lead singer
  2. An accompanist
  3. A bass player
  4. A melody instrument
  5. A drummer
  6. The rest


In more detail...


1. The lead singer.

You need a vocallist who has a John the Baptist attitude to worship (not negotiable), and is able to sing in tune (preferably).


Your musicians are part of the worshipping community. They need to lead worship by modelling it (I almost said perform - not a good word). Your lead singer will lead them in this - or away from it, depending on their heart. It's easy to think that this leadership can be delegated. No. Some of it can. But the core of it will remain.


Your lead singer is your number one prayer point. Like the minister, they tend to get left out of the prayer list in practice, especially if they're doing well. They don't look like they need prayer. But in many ways, this is when they most need prayer.


2. The accompanist.

You need a principal accompanist (continuo player) who is called to support (not lead) the singing. The obvious instruments are guitar or keyboard (piano, pipe organ, or a mushrooming array of electronic alternatives).


Mandolin (chords strummed) can work for smaller groups, and is easier to play than guitar (really!), smaller, cheaper for the same quality of instrument, needs less amplification, and has a really lovely sound.


Again, attitude is more important than ability. Both are relevant. Avoid lead guitarists (different mindset - although Jimi Hendrix was the world's greatest rhythm guitarist IMO, and one of the best lead players as well, so some can do both), concert pianists (again, some soloists can accompany, some can't, recognise this) and (gasp) most pipe organists (if they can't see anything seriously wrong with neither being able to hear nor see the congregation, as many pipe organs are built, enough said).


A strong band can cope with the egos of a lead guitar, a concert pianist, a pipe organist. But this is about building a band. So find another role for these people for the moment. They'll be very useful later on.


3. The bass player.

Any guitarist can play bass, even a beginner, provided they don't try to sing too. Singing while playing bass is a lot more difficult than singing while playing guitar or mandolin, I don't know why but it is.


This is when your band will start to sound good. Enjoy it. God does.


Good bass amplifiers are big, heavy and dreadful to lug around. So consider supporting your bass player(s) by buying a bass amplifier, as big and heavy as you can afford, to have permanently available in your church. Don't make it too powerful, bass players can be tempted to dominate too! Lead them not into temptation. Get an amp that sounds really good at the volume you want, you can always mike or DI it later.


4. Melody.

Recorder will do, as will keyboard or lead guitar (just so long as you cover the more important continuo role - which an accomplished bass player can help with in a pinch). Flute is cool. Mandolin trilled can work very well.


This is when your band starts to have a real musical life. You no longer need to be told that God enjoys it. It's obvious to everyone!


Many melody players will need transposed music. This is music written out in other keys. When a trumpet reads a C, what they play is a D! So, if the music is in C major, their music needs to be written a tone down in Bb to compensate.


When we talk of a transposing instrument being in a key, we mean that's the key that their music is written in when non-transposing instruments (piano, flute) are playing in C. Instruments in Bb (trumpet, clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax) are convenient because it's the most common key after C (to say an instrument is in C just means no transposition is required). The alto sax (which is the most common saxophone, partly because instruments are cheapest), some other saxophones and some brass instruments are in Eb. Some recorders are in F, but the most common (the descant) is in C.


There are also professional (but not student) clarinets in Ab (so you probably won't meet one), and technically some instruments transpose by an octave or two, but for our purposes we'll regard any instrument in C (any octave) as non-transposing.


The most important function of your melody instruments is to make the congregation (and perhaps the band singer(s) too) confident of the tune. Parts such as harmonies, fills and other ornaments, cadences, should be judged by both the leaders and the players as to whether they help support the congregation in this. A good counterpoint harmony or melodic answer can support a melody beautifully. A bad one will kill it.


5. The drummer.

Lastly, find a drummer who is into control - of their sticks. If they're serious about drumming and are learning properly, four things happen at once... they can play faster, slower, louder, and softer than ever before. Playing only medium fast and medium loud is easy, and leads nowhere. Drumming is control.


The most important and dramatic thing a drummer ever plays is a rest! It's the gaps when the drummer is not playing that really make the rhythm, and which dominate the structure of a song.


The second most important thing the drummer does is keep the time. This is a matter of listening as much as leading. Your drummer needs to be able to hear the lead vocallist in particular. When I play drums in church, I want to be able to hear the congregation. And I normally manage it. Drums can cut through without drowning out. That's the whole art of percussion!


The third and final important thing a worship drummer does is a special type of fill known as a vocal cue. If they play these correctly, the congregation will know when to start singing quite naturally and subconsciously.


There are other things a drummer can usefully do, but these three will keep most quite busy enough. I can often teach a person with good rhythm enough kit drumming to fill the role in my worship band in 30 minutes. No kidding. That's having them use both hands and both feet, too... well, the left foot isn't doing much except hold the hihats closed!


Good, well-tuned drums are more important than most realise. Muddy tomtoms will either be inaudible or will dominate. Good-sounding ones need not be expensive, in fact good drumskins on the cheapest drum can be tuned far better than worn-out or badly matched skins on the best drum. The right cymbals will cut through without deafening, and again need not be the most expensive if carefully chosen. And every serious drummer should invest a day to strip down and rebuild a snare drum every few months.


But I go hot and cold on whether a church should own a drum kit. Unfortunately, it's likely to be abused, even by other musicians. I still haven't quite recovered from watching a very competent singer using my irreplaceable wood-tipped Rogers Roy Burns sticks to play a granite ashtray. People who wouldn't dream of picking up someone else's saxophone without asking (even if they do know how to play it) will sit down at someone else's drum kit (even if they don't know how to play it) and have a go.


But worst of all, they'll get abused by the drummers too. Many drummers, even drum teachers, have no concept of metallurgy and breaking strains. Screw threads are consistently over-tightened. Thin cymbals are overplayed, and the makers blamed when they fail. Many professional drummers regularly and totally destroy a drum kit in less than two years. That seems a poor investment to me.


My suggestion is to have someone who does play responsible for the kit. But I have never yet convinced any church that this was important! Being responsible means that they will have control over who plays it. I have yet to meet a minister who understands that last sentence when it comes to a drum kit. End of winge!


6. The rest.


watch this space


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