Thursday, January 21, 2016

Goal Setting: Growing Musically as a Worship Team

If you feel like the worship music has become a little bit stale, it might be time to bring things up a notch musically.  Start with a vision for growth. That means taking an honest look at your teams strengths and weaknesses and envisioning what you want that to look like in a year, a month, and next rehearsal. you could even sit down with your team and ask them to think about how their piece of the puzzle fits into this. What are the musical problems that crop up when you think about where your team is musically and where you would like them to be?

I'll give you a great example. Once upon a time, in a far away church, on a legendary worship team, there played a drummer. I'll call him Cedric.* Cedric loved hard rock. He had a natural ability to listen to a hard rock praise and worship song and recreate it almost exactly. Cedric was old school - he was strong, he was loud, and he only ever wanted to play on an acoustic set.

Faraway church loved Cedric's playing, but the church needed to sing more than just hard rock songs. Faraway church needed to sing some simple, quiet, love songs to Jesus. Cedric refused to play slow quiet songs because he felt like a bull in a china shop. How could the music pastor save Faraway church from it's lack of love songs without making Cedric feel like a terrible musician?

Should the music pastor avoid quiet love songs to Jesus?
Should she fire Volunteer Cedric and search for a more well-rounded, even if less talented drummer?

With some brainstorming and a little creative problem solving, the team was able to widen their musical style to include softer, quieter songs without getting rid of valiant Cedric. Sometimes, they sang songs without any drums. Sometimes, they used simple auxiliary percussion to add feel without using the set. And Cedric agreed to try using brushes instead of sticks to play some of the softer songs. Eventually the church replaced the acoustic set with a much more manageable electronic set so that the sound tech could control the level of drums. Cedric wasn't thrilled with the electronic set, but agreed to try and work on it for the sake of good music.

No one wanted to single Cedric out because he was very talented and very willing to share his time with the team. And we are all Cedrics in some way or another - we all tend to rely on our strengths and avoid our weaknesses.  So what are some other ways we can solve this and similar problems that hamper musical growth? Maybe there aren't specific 'problems' that you can think of, but your team lacks musical interest.  Sometimes we just need to think about things a little differently to really bring out the nuance of a song so that its message can reach all the way into the softest parts of the people's hearts. Have you tried any of these ideas?

1. Dynamics. The ebb and tide of flowing dynamics can make or break a piece of music. An average worship song may have a soft verse and and a medium loud chorus, with a crescendoing bridge into a loud chorus and back to a soft chorus. It's pretty predictable, but does give good flow to the song. Make sure you are exploring the full range of dynamics of a piece - and if you don't like the dynamics that are there, you might need to create some of your own.

Encourage your musicians to play softly and really listen to each other as you learn new songs. This is a great exercise to increase the musicianship of your team. As you rehearse a song, watch the lyrics and melodies for places where dynamic changes will really pop.  It is amazing how much more in sync a team can play when they rehearse softly as opposed to rehearsing at the full volume of the song.

What if you took a hard, loud, fast song and softened it up? What would happened if you took a soft song and sang it loudly? Sometimes, a hushed chorus creates just the right mood for folks to hear Jesus.

2.  Vary instrumentation. This is a great way to add some creative flavor to your songs and makes your musicians sound more professional. Avoid having everyone playing all of the time. Mix it up - drop out the instruments for a full chorus of drums and vocals while keeping the momentum going. Try starting a song with just keys or just acoustic guitar, allowing other instruments to join in on verse 2, and then fall out again at the end. Have your percussionist leave the set for bongos, or exchange your piano-strings (my go to sound) for a little electric piano, rock organ, or ???? Try a little distortion and a lot, but don't keep it the same all the time. Experiment and have fun, and remember, you don't have to mimic the CD but do what your worship team does best.

3. Vary the harmony. Don't fall into the trap of always singing in unison or always singing in harmony. Mix it up! Throw in a few solos, duets, and trios, try using unison or harmonic singing to draw attention to certain lines in the song. Take turns giving melody to different vocal parts, allowing harmony to fall above or below the melody as needed. If you're congregation is singing strongly, take a risk and back off the mic and let them hear themselves singing praises to God.

4.  YouTube it. A great way to learn technique is to find sample videos on YouTube. Pass them on to your team with a light-hearted request to add it in to a specific song. A well placed glissando, guitar lick, or bass solo can make a worship song come to life.

5. Model. Be a model for your team and demonstrate great dynamics, techniques, and harmonies. Jot down a few ideas before rehearsal to enhance your songs.

6. Encourage! A wise physical therapist used to always give prizes to her young patients because, "Everyone wants to get paid." Worship team volunteers are there to worship our Lord and Savior, but a little thanks and encouragment goes a long way to keeping them excited about making music for God.

Give your Cedrics lots of thanks and praise as you encourage them to break out of their comfort zone in small ways. Look for fun, creative solutions and interesting ways to enhance the musicality of your songs and increase the abilities of your team. This positive atmosphere of growth will help fuel your teams passion for creating excellent music that glorifies God.

*Names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

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