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