Know Your Job Description In The Band, Part 2

 

Street performers at the 2013 NY State Fair
Street performers at the 2013 NY State Fair

In part 1, we talked over the various job descriptions for rhythm section players, that is, for guitars, keys, bass and drums. Those job descriptions can be extended to include other instruments that sound a little different but are played similarly. For example, your rhythm section might include a mandolin, which acts as a high-pitched rhythm guitar or as a lead instrument. Traditional keyboards like the organ or the accordion can be used, or even the relatively new “keytar” (a keyboard on a strap over one shoulder). And the rhythm section might well include hand percussion or foundational acoustic percussion, like the West African djembe or Peruvian cajon (ca-hone). I’m sure there are many others.

Today we’ll look at everybody else that takes the stage on a filled-out worship team (and no, I’m not calling you fat…)

Let’s start with other instruments that compliment the rhythm section.

Orchestral instruments (sax, violin, trumpet, etc.) used one at a time provide a little color within the chord being played. But the sweet spot for these instruments is in playing melodies. These might be complimentary fills between vocal phrases, or longer melodies that take the place of the vocal entirely during instrumental segments. Each orchestral instrument brings its own texture and range to the music, providing an amazing palette of aural color and expression.

For the worship team, the lead vocal is the most prominent and really most important component of any song. This is the part that the congregation participates in, and they take their cues from the vocalists. The lead vocal, when sung by more than one person, needs to be in unison or in octaves with rhythms worked out and agreed upon. The lyrics and melodic shape of the tune express the primary message and emotion of the song; if the rhythms or melodies are not exact between the lead vocalists, the song will lose focus and come across as muddy, even chaotic.

The rhythmic style of the lead vocal may be even, straight syllables, emphasizing the beats, or some syllables may be pushed, or syncopated. How the team handles the rhythmic style of syllables will largely determine how well the genre of the song is presented, from hymn-style to pop, from rock to jazz. And how much time is spent working out these rhythms on the team will determine how easily the congregation will hear and hopefully follow. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of good diction. Get some pointers from a vocal coach if you can, a good voice teacher is an invaluable resource!

Background vocals provide a wide or thick texture to the melody when they parallel the lead. Or they might provide block background vocal textures that further color the chord progression. And occasionally, background vocals can provide a counter-melody that compliments the lead vocal.

An important and preferably invisible member of the worship team is the sound engineer. His job is to mix all sonic material into an appropriately balanced presentation, making sure that each frequency range is well-represented, lyrics are clear, and the overall decibel level is appropriate for the style, the room and the audience. The sound guy (or gal) can make or break a performance or a worship service; if everything is working correctly and he is fine-tuning the mix properly, the sound system (referred to as sound reinforcement) should be totally ignored by everyone else in the room.  And there may well be other members of the technical team, like the person responsible for projecting lyrics, or a cameraman, or the producer of a video stream …  All have their roles to play so that everyone who attends the service will be inspired to focus their attention on the One they came to worship.

The 100% Rule

One more thing we need to cover regarding the worship team. When you are part of a team, it is important that you play and sing as part of a team, and the whole team is responsible for the whole sound. As an individual, you are only responsible for your own part. For example, if there are seven musicians onstage (and I’m including vocalists, they are musicians, too), then you are responsible for 1/7th of the total sound. So that means that the keyboard player should usually back off on her left hand so that the bass player can cover that range. Or if the violin is playing a lead line for an instrumental, everyone else should drop their volume a bit to make room for the solo. Or if several vocalists are singing the same notes in the same range, they will need to sing more softly in order to blend. On the other hand, if you are responsible for 1/7th of the sound, you can’t hide behind the other players or singers to make your entrances, you will need to be deliberate with them. The rest of the team is depending on you to hold up your 1/7th!

How are you doing with understanding your role on the worship team? Are you holding up your part of the 100%?

I’d love to hear how you are doing with this! Please leave a comment, or email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

Answers to Ear Training Quiz No. 2

Here are the answers to the latest quiz on intervals.  How did you score?  Are the distances getting easier to identify?

1. Perfect 5th
2. Major 2nd
3. Perfect Octave (8th)
4. Perfect 5th
5. Major 6th
6. Major 6th
7. minor 3rd
8. Major 2nd
9. Major 2nd
10. Perfect 5th
11. Major 6th
12. Perfect Octave
13. Major 6th
14. minor 3rd
15. Perfect 5th
16. minor 3rd
17. Major 6th
18. Major 2nd
19. Major 6th
20. Perfect Octave

I’ll be posting my next worship leading blog on Friday this week, “Knowing Your Job Description In The Band, pt. 2”.  In part 1, we unpacked the roles of the basic rhythm section, that is, guitars, keys, bass and drums.  In part 2, we’ll cover the remaining instruments as well as vocalists and the sound engineer, and we’ll dissect the ever-present 100% rule!

 

If there are other topics you would like me to take on, leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

How to Listen for Intervals, part 2

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After getting some feedback on last week’s blog about intervals, I apparently left some Florida-sized sink holes in my explanation. Let’s take another run at this. Ready?

Whenever you hear two tones with different pitches, the distance between them in terms of high and low is referred to as the interval. The distances can be small or large, and the tones can be played one at a time or together.

We name these intervals by comparing them to major scale relationships as if the lower tone were the 1st of the scale. We have five different types of intervals: perfect, major, minor, augmented and diminished. And we use the eight tones from the major scale, which we’ll simply number 1 through 8. We’ll go into the naming rules another time. For today, just take it face value, the interval name is what it is because it is.

Intervals Within An Octave

So here is the entire set of interval names we’ll use, going as far as an octave (8 white keys, counting the one you start on). No, you don’t have to memorize these. Well, not yet, anyway!  I’m really just trying to illustrate that each possible distance away from 1 has an interval name, and a few of them have two names.

1 to b2 (flat 2) = minor 2nd = a single half step

1 to 2 = major 2nd = a whole step
1 to b3 = minor 3rd = a step and a half
1 to 3 = major 3rd = two whole steps
1 to 4 = perfect 4th = two and a half steps
1 to #4 = augmented 4th = three whole steps*
1 to b5 = diminished 5th = three whole steps*
1 to 5 = perfect 5th = three and a half steps
1 to #5 = augmented 5th = four whole steps**
1 to b6 = minor 6th = four whole steps**
1 to 6 = major 6th = four and a half steps***
1 to bb7 = diminished 7th = five whole steps***
1 to b7 = minor 7th = five whole steps
1 to 7 = major 7th = five and a half steps
1 to 8 = perfect 8th, perfect octave = six whole steps

*, **, *** indicate two names for the same distance. One is used pretty much as often as the other.

Listen to the audio example. I’ll give the numbers and the interval name with each one.

 

To jump in with both feet and try to memorize these interval names is hard enough, let alone try to memorize how they sound! It takes time, and I think you’ll find that a bite by bite approach works the best.

The First Three Intervals, Plus Two

Last time, I mentioned three intervals: a minor 3rd, a perfect 5th, and a perfect octave. As you listen to the audio, I’ll say the interval name and play it, then I’ll play the melody that I took it from, then I’ll say and play it one more time.

A minor 3rd, which sounds like the beginning of Brahms’ Lullaby,

a perfect 5th, which sounds like the beginning of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,

and a perfect octave. which sounds like the first two notes of Over The Rainbow

 

Just to keep it interesting, let’s add two more today:
a major 2nd, which sounds like the first two tones of the scale, Do Re (pronounced “doe” “ray”)

and a major 6th, which sounds like the first two tones of My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean

 

Okay, you’re ready! Here is

Ear Training Quiz #2!

 

Take your time, listen closely, feel free to hit the rewind button and try it over and over. Stick with it, you’ll get it, it’s a skill that you can learn! I’ll post the answers on my Thursday Casetunes blog. If you’d like to go back and try the first Intervals Quiz (the Audio Exercise) from last week, click here.

Are these intervals starting to make sense to you? Can you hear some differences between them, and maybe lock right onto one or two intervals that you always get right?

Let me know how you’re doing with these! Please leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

 

 

A Song For My Bride

First, for those of you who tried the first Intervals quiz recently, here are the answers:

1. minor 3rd
2. perfect 5th
3. perfect octave
4. perfect 5th
5. perfect octave
6. minor 3rd
7. minor 3rd
8. minor 3rd
9. perfect octave
10. perfect octave
11. minor 3rd
12. perfect 5th
13. perfect 5th
14. minor 3rd
15. perfect 5th
16. minor 3rd
17. minor 3rd
18. perfect octave
19. perfect 5th
20. perfect octave

Here is the audio again, if you missed it, just so you can keep up with the rest of us!

 

And now, on to a couple of major life events I wanted to tell you about today-

Our house has been in an uproar for the past couple of months as our youngest daughter graduated high school and now as of today, is beginning her college adventure as a freshman at SU. We are, of course, the proud parents! And our house is very quiet.

And today is another milestone: Sue and I said “I do” 31 years ago in Fayetteville, NY! And now we are entering our next 31 years. I could brag about how she is a marvelous musician and a non-stop home makeover whiz with a particular love for painting walls and furniture. I could boast about her being a fantastic mom and grandmother (bah-boo), which she certainly is. She really didn’t want me to go on and on about her, though. Yet she is my constant inspiration.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that with all the songwriting I do, it has been a long time since I had written a song for her. So I did. And now I’ll let my song for Sue speak for itself. Hope you like it (she does!).

Just a note on the recording: I did this in my home studio, and I tweaked it quite a bit. It is not a perfect recording by any means, but it conveys the emotion and message intended. One of the things I’m learning as a recovering perfectionist is that at some point, you simply have to pull the trigger, launch your baby out into the world. Just like we spent the past 18 1/2 years raising our daughter and now the time has come for us to let go (mostly), our musical creations can be nurtured and polished just so far and then it’s time to give them flight. No, I did not spend anything close to 18 1/2 years on this song. Although in a sense, I’ve been experientially researching it for 31 years now…

 

By And By

(by Steve Case, © 2013)

 

If you are married, how do you and your spouse inspire each other? If you are not married, are you looking for ways that you might be an inspiration to those around you?

I’d love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below, or email me at [email protected]

© 2013 Steve Case

How To Listen For Intervals

Photo (c) 2013 Steve CaseWe were sitting around the dinner table tonight enjoying my wife Sue’s peach/rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream, (it was wonderful, and all the more since our dinner was carry-out from Pizza Hut), and knowing that my Sunday night posting deadline was due for Casetunes.com, I asked everyone within earshot the penetrating yet open-ended question:

“So…what do you think I should blog on tonight?”

I was really impressed how fast my daughter Sarah, a piano teacher herself, answered.

“Intervals. Teach about listening for intervals.”

“Why intervals?” I said.

“Because I have a student that needs to learn them!”

Okay, good enough for me.

Intervals are… what?

Here’s the thing with intervals. An interval is a space, a distance between two pitches. Just like the rungs of a ladder are assembled evenly, say 12″ apart (I have no idea what they actually are), we would say that they are spaced at intervals of 12″. It is the space between the rungs we are talking about, not the rungs themselves.

Pitch is the high and low characteristic of tone. Two pitches can be spaced very far apart, like the sounds of a foghorn and a whistle, or they might be very close together, like two birds tweeting. The first step in listening for intervals is simply determining which of two tones is higher and which is lower, when you hear them together, or maybe one right after the other.

I have met only one person in my lifetime that I really believe is tone-deaf. He was the dad of one of my students, and when, out of curiosity, he asked about pitch relationships, I had him turn away from the piano and listen. I would push two different piano keys, each one, of course, having its own pitch. I asked him to identify which one was higher, and I did this several times. He was correct exactly 50% of the time. He really could not tell which was higher and which was lower, the definition of tone-deaf.

Use Some Familiar Labels

Once you can identify the high and low of a tone when compared to another tone, we can refine your listening skill by comparing an interval you hear to tunes that you know well. For example, if I played a minor 3rd, you might recognize that distance as being the first interval of Brahm’s Lullaby. A tone is played twice, followed by the tone 3 piano keys higher (3 frets on the guitar). For now, just memorize that sound as a minor 3rd.

Now think about the song, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. A tone is played twice, followed by another tone played twice that is 7 piano keys toward the right, which sound higher. Both white and black keys on the piano count. Or 7 frets on the guitar. Play the lower one twice and the higher one twice, and you’ve got the first 4 notes of Twinkle. In musical terms, the distance you’ve covered is a perfect 5th.

Now for one more example. Play two tones that are an octave apart (12 black and white keys or 12 frets). The first two syllables of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” are an octave apart. Or you can think of it as “do” to the next “do” when you sing or play the scale.

An Audio Exercise

So we’ve got a minor 3rd (Brahms’s Lullaby), a perfect 5th (Twinkle Twinkle) and a perfect octave (Somewhere Over The Rainbow). Listen to the audio track I’ve included and make a list of the interval names as you listen. I’ll give you 20 examples, each one played twice. You might want to try it more than once – if you do, don’t look at the answers you wrote before, approach it fresh on a clean sheet of paper. I’ll post the answers in the next few days after you’ve had a chance to test yourself.

Don’t worry about the reasons behind the names of the intervals just yet. We can talk about those at some point, but the idea here is to listen for specific pitch relationships.

Next Steps

The next step will be to add another close interval and another wide interval to your growing list. And then another pair, and another, until you are listening for intervals that range from a single 1/2 step (1 key or 1 fret) up to a full octave or even further. For now, use this audio test first, then be alert as you listen to your favorite tunes, trying to recognize these intervals in the melodies you hear played or sung.

Is this new to you? Have you ever thought about developing your listening skills to the point of learning tunes simply by hearing them? It’s not magic, you can learn to do this!

If you have any questions about listening for these intervals, or any other musical questions of any sort, please leave a comment below or email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!

© 2013 Steve Case

Know Your Job Description In The Band, Part 1

Lion's Gait at Sullivan Park, 2013
Lion’s Gait at Sullivan Park, 2013

This group is called Lion’s Gait, they are friends of mine and worship leaders at our church. They held a worship concert at Sullivan Park a couple of weeks ago, and did a really nice job, from slow and soft to loud and rocky!  You guys inspire me!

Separating Roles

Whenever a music team plays together, the goal is a seamless, interesting, balanced and engaging presentation of the songs on their list. And though no two teams play a song the same way, each player or vocalist really needs to know what the parameters are for what they do. They need to know their job description in the band.

When bands don’t separate instruments in the mix, when they don’t concern themselves with making audible distinctions between them in terms of style and role, they are probably never going to sound any better than a garage band (no offense if you do play in a garage band, I played in several and learned a ton). But they usually have the sound of the original recording streaming through their minds when they play. If they are to get anywhere close to the sound in their heads, each player needs to know what sort of techniques on their instrument will add to the arrangement in a pleasing way.

Do you know what your job description is in the band? Have you ever thought about it this way?

The Rhythm Section

Here are my thoughts on how to have each rhythm section player think about their slice of the audible pie:

The drum kit lays down the rhythmic framework for the song (1/8s, 1/16s or triplets, typically), and any unique emphasis (latin beats, pushes and crashes). The kit provides the basic groove of the song which might be somewhat empty to very full, from simple to complex, from straight on-the-beat rock patterns to push-beats, train beats, shuffles and cadences. As well, the drums are the primary source of tempo (from slow to fast) and contribute a dynamic range (from soft to loud) that is foundational, including the ability to get louder or softer over a period of time (crescendos and diminuendos).

Drummers should routinely practice with a metronome to gain mastery over tempo, practice varying styles of beats, and practice fills that are everywhere from 1 beat to several measures in length.

The bassist’s responsibility is to set down both rhythmic and tonal foundations for the song. Rhythmically, the bass is to compliment the drums, locking in with the kick drum. Tonally, the bass will emphasize the root (the letter name) of each chord in the song’s chord progression, allowing the mid-range instruments to provide the chord itself. The bass can drag the beat by playing at the very last moment of each beat, or it can anticipate, trying to rush the beat slightly, which will rhythmically propel the song forward, giving it much more energy.

The bass player should know several ways to play both major and minor chords and have a clear understanding of note names in the first seven frets. He/she should also have a working knowledge of rhythmic frameworks, with at least seven or eight rhythmic patterns with which to start any song.

The acoustic guitar player typically plays rhythm guitar, playing the chord progression of the song, filling in the mid-range frequencies in the band. The guitarist might strum the chords or pick individual strings in a repeated pattern (whatever the keyboard is doing, the guitar should do something different. If the keyboard is playing block chords, the guitarist may want to pick, and if the keyboard is playing broken chords, the guitarist may want to strum.) As well, the acoustic guitar can provide single tone licks or fills that offset, or answer, the vocal. In a softer song, the acoustic guitar might be used to play a lead line as a solo.

The acoustic guitar player should have an ever-increasing library of chords and chord forms at his/her disposal, being able to play any simple or embellished chord anywhere on the neck. Right hand techniques should be experimented with in order to express the emotion of the song properly; it is the right hand that plays the guitar!

The electric guitar player should have the same knowledge of chords that the acoustic player has, but more often than not will need to play bar chords up the neck. While the electric guitar is second to none in driving the rhythm of a rock song, its range is mid-to-high, and so its primary function is to add color and texture to a song through right hand technique, and also through the use of outboard effects that provide a spectrum of qualities (distortion, wah, chorus, delay, etc.) The electric guitar is well-suited to playing lead fills opposite the vocal and accent chords that emphasize certain beats over others. And the electric guitar shines when it is playing a lead line in almost any song from a soft, clean murmur to a high-pitched scream!

The electric guitarist should practice getting a dozen or so unique and useful sound qualities out of his/her “rig” (series of outboard effects pedals). And a priority should be placed on learning scales and modes in all positions on the neck. Licks are useful but can be overused easily.

The keyboard is even one more mid-range instrument that can handle the chord progression. Playing in block or broken styles, the range of the keyboard extends even beyond that of the guitar, with the ability to produce intricate voicings in any range. The keyboardist can play lead fills to compliment the vocal or lead lines during an instrumental. And a decent keyboard these days will provide hundreds of textures, from piano and organ to orchestral instruments and various sound effects.

The well-trained keyboardist will know how to move from one scale to another with ease, having fingerings worked out for any key. Knowledge of how to play a progression in many genres is helpful. In worship settings, the keyboard is the primary instrument for underscoring, or padding, during moments of reflection or prayer. Practice quiet, rubato chord improvisation to prepare.

These instruments are the bricks and mortar for pop and rock music. We’ll cover other instruments as well as vocals in part 2.

If you are a rhythm section player, how well do you know your job? What aspects of your technique have you been struggling with?

And as always, if you have any questions about music or music theory, leave your comment below or feel free to email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

The First Fundamental Choice

2013-08-05 20.40.48Recently we talked about the importance of getting the fundamentals down. Today, we’re going to get more specific.

We’ll start by recognizing two primary categories of musical pursuit: traditional and improvisational. (One could make a case for experimental music as well, but that is primarily improvisation with non-traditional instruments.)

Fundamentals of the Traditional Approach

The traditional approach to playing music, as I see it, is inherently a reactive one. The composer or arranger puts in print the combinations of notes, timing and expression that seems right to him (or her), given his own understanding of music theory and the emotional effect he desires to achieve in the listener. The job of the vocalist or instrumentalist is to react to the page as expertly as they can, decoding the notation and peeling back layer after layer of information (see my post on The Art and Science of Decoding Written Music).

The traditional musician’s fundamental skill set must at least include:

* Reading notation, particularly pitch and rhythm relationships
* Major and minor scales
* Rhythmic accuracy and experience with a variety of time signatures
* Music history & the expectations of musical genre
* Dynamic expression
* Control of tempo
* Ease in use of articulation

I’m sure there are more aspects of playing that could be listed here. But you get the idea. To become a competent musician in the traditional realm, this list will be a good start for you to check yourself on. Your proficiency depends on your ability to accurately react to the written page.

Some musicians I have worked with can sight-read (first time playing the music) so well, that I have a difficult time writing anything that will be challenging for them! A good friend of mine is a world-class piccolo and flute player, whom I used to try and impress with the parts I gave her. Unimpressed and yet quite humble, she very gently complimented me whenever the parts were especially “flute-istic” (her word). Made my day whenever I accomplished that!

The Improvisational Approach

An entirely different approach to playing, and composing for that matter, is based in improvisation. For those who like to color outside the lines, this is probably what you’re looking for.

I have western European ears that are used to hearing melody and harmony from likes of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Certain harmonic structures sound normal, even expected. For example, the major scale is where our melodies and harmonies really begin (one could argue the fundamental intervals are the starting point, yet I think they are too simple; melodies are not simply intervals one after another, there needs to be some sort of context. The major scale provides that context.) As long as I stay within the major scale, my chords and tunes not only work, and in fact, they will probably sound stale and overused.

Yet, in order to bend the rules, one has to know them in the first place. That’s where music theory comes in. Music theory, at its most basic level, is simply an attempt at an explanation of why we feel the way we do when we hear certain things.

Next week, we will dive into some of the emotional mechanics of music. If you have any questions regarding music, music theory or its practical application, please leave a comment or email me at [email protected]. And let me ask you:

Would you say that you are more of an improvisational musician, or a legit (traditional) one? Have you thought much about trying out the other approach from the one you’re used to?

© Steve Case

 

Let’s All Have One Conversation: 8 (or 9) Keys To An Effective Rehearsal

from my teaching studio...
from my teaching studio…

Herding cats can be easier than rehearsing a music team for Sunday morning services. I’m convinced that all of us musicians (and by that I mean instrumentalists and vocalists), being artists at heart, are quite naturally and inescapably A.D.D. I know that I am, my wife is, and we have graciously passed that trait down to our children.

When it comes to rehearsing, we have all had to learn how to focus our attention to get the job done.

Last Sunday, we all led worship at my church. What a fun time, I was quite the proud husband and father (and we had “adopted” our senior pastor’s 30-something-year-old son because we needed a drummer. And he was great.)

But, just like any other week, in order to make it to Sunday, we had to make it through REHEARSAL!

Rehearsals can and should be a blast, in my opinion. By that, I mean that there should be a lot of laughter as well as a lot of sweat. Sometimes the most profound and beautiful moments can be realized when we are practicing together, not concerned with the leading aspect of leading worship. Sometimes we feel free to cut loose when we’re jamming on an instrumental or adding vocal embellishments to a lead line. In general, you should go into a rehearsal with pleasant anticipation and come out of a rehearsal feeling joyfully spent!

I’ve learned some principles of rehearsal discipline over the years that any group can (and should) adopt. Not only will the rehearsal go smoothly and be productive, but your fellow team members will be respectfully treated as well.

Here are my top Principles of Rehearsal Discipline:

1. Be on time for rehearsal. Now I understand that everybody is busy and often we get behind in our schedules. I also know that for some, it is habitual!

And being late can be a matter of perspective, too. For a vocalist to walk in 5 minutes after our start time is not late. I know that 5 minutes is enough to drive many directors crazy, but I am not one of them. If you’re 20 minutes late, okay, you’re late and you should have called my cell. (And on a related note, if someone does come in late, let the director handle it his or her way. Don’t make snarky comments and make the person feel like a failure because they have a little trouble with the clock. If you feel disrespected by their behavior, I would simply ask you to look in the mirror and figure out why you believe that you are the center of the universe…)

If you are an instrumentalist that has to get some things set up, like your guitar amp and pedal board, or you need to find the right patches on the keyboard, or you need to warm up your cold sax – do your best to arrive early, so that at rehearsal time, you are ready to actually rehearse, not expecting everyone else to wait for 20 minutes while you get things adjusted. Again, I know life gets in the way, and the best intentions are easily thwarted by work, traffic, kids, etc. But over time, work on adjusting your habit so that this issue disappears for you.

2. Come prepared with your music, having listened to the songs and gone over them several times to get the feel and the roadmap of the tunes. Have any music printed out and with you if you need it. I really find it helpful, when I have to read much music at all, to print it out, hole-punch it and put it all a 3-ring notebook. I’ll arrange it so that I can read two pages at a time, and I’ll clip pages together so that when I turn the page, I’m really turning two.

3. Be intentional when you sing or play. No sneaking in! If you are unsure of your part, now is the time to sing it or play it with gusto! In fact, that is what rehearsal is for! As a director, I need to hear all the parts together so that I can decide what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not singing clearly into your mic, or your just touching the drums because you’re not quite sure what to play, the outcome won’t be dependable. Mean it when you play it!

4. Leave your day behind you. Now it’s time to focus on the music, on the team and on the arrangement. Your day will be upon you again soon enough, use this time as a respite.

5. Practice your delivery. In the expression, “leading worship”, they are both active words. Certainly worship as you sing and play, but you may need to practice the “leading” part. You want people to follow you, to go where you’re going. Your smile and confident expression on your face is like taking the audience member by the hand and saying, “here we go, this is how we approach the throne of grace…” You may feel like you’re over-acting, but trust me, it will communicate your intent much better than your normal scowl!

6. “Let’s all have one conversation!” If you have been on my teams for any length of time, you have heard me use this phrase (patent pending). It’s a relatively nice way of saying, “stop letting your mouth and your mind wander, we really need to rehearse now!” And it works – people understand the concept right away, and I didn’t have to single anyone out and embarrass them.

7. Have fun! It can be a matter of discipline for some people to actually lighten up and enjoy rehearsals. I really like to have my teams laugh a lot, it brightens our mood and helps our camaraderie.

8. Pray together. At either the start or the end of rehearsal, I really want us to talk over how our lives are going, so that we can share the load together. If it is praise because God has faithfully blessed, terrific! If someone has had just an awful week and needs to unload, we can pray and let them know we stand with them in their challenge. And if it is to cry with someone, then we cry with them. We’re a team, and we’re a church family.

9. Dress up for rehearsal, look your best! No, no, I’m kidding! Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention. In my mind, rehearsal is for looking as unkempt and grungy as you’d like! Any odor, however, is to be dealt with severely!

So here are the things that I think are important for a worship team (or any musical ensemble, for that matter) to do when rehearsing.

What did I miss? Are there aspects of rehearsing together that are important to you that are not on the list? For that matter, how does the whole notion of “rehearsal discipline” feel to you?

I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Rehearsal is a weekly event for most of us that can only get better when we pool our ideas! Leave your comment below, or feel free to email me with any music or worship leading questions at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

Blurring The Line Between Music and Musician

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“Guy, I’ve got a song to play for you.” With a small rush of adrenaline, I took my guitar out of it’s case. Our landlord, who had become a friend, played the classical guitar himself.

“A song, eh?” he replied with his characteristic business-like tone of voice. He and his wife were probably fifteen years older than Sue and I were, and we lived in their basement apartment. I was about to impress him.

“Yeah, I just finished writing it. It’s about when I — “

“So what?” he interrupted.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“What difference does it make that you wrote it?”

“Well, it’s a song that — ” I was a little shaken by such a forthright question. “I mean, it’s my newest song.”

“Yes? So what?” he continued. He had my attention. “It’s either a good song, or it’s not. Doesn’t matter who wrote it.”

“But it’s my song. I thought you’d like to hear it.”

“I do want to hear it. But it doesn’t matter that you wrote it, doesn’t matter who wrote it,” he repeated. “If it is a worthy song, then great, it’s a worthy song. And if it’s not a good song, then it just isn’t, no matter whose name is on it. Now play it for me.”

Guy wasn’t being mean or rude. A very generous and gracious man, he sometimes had a way of looking at things in the cold light of day that was a little startling in its ‘cut to the chase’ manner. And though he was prudent about sharing his opinion, he was not shy about it.

I played my song for him and he enjoyed it, I think. He gave me a little feedback on it and then went back upstairs. I don’t really remember what I did next, other than dwell a bit on the lesson he’d just given me. His words have stuck with me for thirty years now, and they helped shape my life.

 

The Music Is Not The Musician

I have met and performed with a great number of musicians in my life, some became close friends, some were a pain in the neck, and most of them have been wonderful people. But as obvious as this sounds, I have learned that the music is not the musician; just as a person’s reputation rises and falls with his character, so a song must be judged on its own merits regardless of the composer’s name and ability. Separating these two is vital if we are to rightly assess either.

For a short time, I had a roommate who composed a song every day. He was thrilled when he finally wrote one about the hole in the donut. I didn’t share his excitement. I do remember a couple of the songs he wrote that were beautiful and even profound. Was he a good songwriter, capable, reliable, original? I don’t know. Did he write some good songs? Definitely.

I found great freedom with my composing when I learned not to link my ego and self-image to tightly with it. I know that my value as a person is not congruent with my ability to produce songs people like. That realization makes me much freer now to experiment, to write a “bad” song and get over it, and to keep raising the bar on myself in search of an even better song. (Now these terms: “good” and “bad”, etc., are in themselves quite subjective. I have to decide what they mean for me. But my perspective on these words will carry over into what I spend time listening to and what I will dismiss. In some ways, I suppose that makes me a music snob. Well, okay then.)

 

Blurring The Distinction Between Song And Songwriter

A songwriting friend came to me recently, a little upset with an assessment of one of his songs made by a guitar playing buddy of his. He had apparently heard it and declared it to be “bad”, that the chord progression was inherently wrong. Not that it didn’t go with the tune of the song. Not that it was too fast or too slow, or too loud or too soft. He simply decided that it was wrong. Period.

The more I think about our conversation, the more I’m convinced that it wasn’t a simple judgment of the song that was taking place. The relationship between my friend and his friend was becoming strained, and the innocent chord progression was taking the hit. A chord pattern is a chord pattern. Some fall within the bounds of pop music we hear every day, some don’t. Some artists like to color outside the lines a little. Is that bad? Not inherently so, it depends on what you like.

My friend’s friend was, I believe, blurring the distinction between the song and the songwriter, and couching his criticism of the person as criticism of the song.

Whatever it is that you spend your time creating, this same principle is true. You are not the sum of your creations, and you are not only as good as your last one. Adopt this attitude, and you’ll find more freedom than ever to create. My landlord, Guy, helped me to look at my songs as entities unto themselves, apart from the emotion I felt in composing them. He did me a huge favor!

 

Making Right Judgments

When musicians ask my opinion of their music, the ones who know me know I’ll give it to them straight. It has nothing to do with their character or value as people. And I think that the more objectively we can look at our own music, the more we will be about to make right judgments about it. Then we can tweak it or trash it. But we’re free to decide for ourselves.

How have you handled the temptation to value yourself only as much as your most recent creation? Have you blurred the lines when you think about your life and your art?

If you would like to share your thoughts, please comment below, or you can email me with any music questions you have at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case

 

Worship Leading and Performance: Living with the Tension

New Thursday Series

As many of you know, I am the Worship Pastor at our church in central New York. For the next month or two, I will be devoting my Thursday blog specifically to topics that are relevant not only to musicians, but to worship leaders. Much of what I write will also carry over into the realm of secular music, and so if you are not a worship leader, fear not! I’m confident you will find perspectives on musicianship that will be helpful.

 Praise & Dessert 2012The Role

When we go to church, one of the primary things we do is sing. We sing about God, about His attributes and the way He faithfully blesses us. And we sing to God, praising Him for who He is and thanking Him for what He has done. The songs might reflect our need and our pain, or our joy and confidence in God.

Singing is an activity that happens often in houses of worship, but not too often in secular culture, outside of singing the National Anthem at sporting events.  Apart from faith in a heavenly Father who is listening, our singing would simply be for our own entertainment. But the Bible teaches that singing has been an integral part of worship when people come together even from Israel’s earliest days.  Musicians and singers were chosen to lead the multitude in singing songs of praise, and some had the high honor of having their own psalms, or songs, sung during their rituals of worship (for more description, check out 1 Chronicles 15-16).

These days, songs can be sung as an act of dutiful obedience or joyful thanksgiving, as I expect they were then.  But when a person engages in worship music, movement starts to happen in the soul, and even a hardness of heart can soften.  Through songs of praise and worship, a person can emotionally move from distant to present, from brittle defensiveness to humble and broken openness. Through God-honoring songs of praise, I have seen strong, hard men in prison weep in the realization that there is a God who loves them.  I have seen teens and young adults lift their hands and their faces in uncomplicated joy as they sing to their Lord.  And I know first-hand how songs that reflect God’s love and purposes inspire and encourage.

The task set before the worship musician has really only two facets.  The first is to personally worship as he plays, to mean every word he sings, and to create music with beauty and excellence that rise out of his talent and training.  The second is to continually invite everyone attending the service to participate, bringing their own personal best to worship.  Both of these roles are equally important.

 

So is worship leading more about worship, or more about leading?  The answer is …yes!

The Tension

As my wife, Sue and I have led worship and sung concerts over the years, we have had to learn how to deal with this double role of worshiping and leading worship at the same time.  It can be confusing and distracting.  For when we worship through our music, we want to emotionally put everything we’ve got into the song, not worried about what anyone else thinks.  We want to present our musical gift with a singleness of focus, giving praise and thanks to God as we sing.  And yet, in our position as worship musicians, we have been given an even greater challenge.  We are to also focus on those we seek to lead.  We have to.  If our job is to lead worship and yet we become so absorbed in our own worship that we forget about everyone else, then we’re not really leading, are we?  If the tour guide provides a wonderful narrative but doesn’t sometimes look back to make sure he is being followed, he might wind up in an entirely different location from those he was supposed to lead.  It is our job to pay attention.

The Truth of the Matter

This sort of musical presentation can and should be thought of as a performance. The truth is, we are performing for man and for God at the same time.

Now as a musician yourself, I expect you are aware that musicians have egos.  It is easy, certainly, the more we pay attention to people, to make pleasing those people a higher and higher priority.  Even as a worship musician, you still have an ego.  You still enjoy encouragement and applause, and there is tension that you feel (if you are paying attention) because you know that you are supposed to lead with humility and not look for self-glorification.

When you are leading worship for a group of people, understand that in that moment, your obligation lies in only one direction, and that is to please God by obeying His commands.  Jesus said, “My command is this: Love one another.”  (John  15:17)  When we sometimes focus our attention on our performance, making sure that we are giving our best effort and that people are responding to it, we are, in fact, doing exactly what God has called us to.  And in doing so, I believe we offer an even greater sacrifice of praise.  It’s not all about the music, and it’s not all about the feeling in the moment.  It is entirely about loving one another as He told us to.

Living with the Tension

And so, to be effective as worship leaders (and everyone onstage is a worship leader), get used to this tension.  We will find a singleness of focus when we accept the fact that we are performing both for God and for man. Some people may judge you for thinking about any of this as a performance.  Don’t argue with them, just accept what they say with grace.  Remember that our truest acts of worship are obeying Christ’s command to love each other.

How do you deal with this tension?  Do you agree with this description of performing both for God and for man, or do you look at it differently? 

I’d value your thoughts on this, it is an issue that we have to work through every week!  Please leave your comments below, or if you have any other questions regarding worship leading and musicianship, email me at [email protected].  I look forward to hearing from you!

© 2013 Steve Case