8. The Worship Band Rhythm Section
a) The Band: A worship band can come in many different shapes and sizes. Most contemporary church worship bands have a drummer, bass player, keyboard player, acoustic guitar player and lead guitar player (5 piece rhythm section).
You can also effectively operate with just three players (bass, drums and either keys or guitar). To expand to a 7-8 piece band you can add a second keyboard player (synth, B-3 organ, laptop with effects or background track), rhythm electric guitar and percussion. The general rule of thumb is, the more players you have, the less busy everyone plays.
I prefer a 7-8 piece band because it gives you the greatest possible variety. But, it also needs more musical direction to make sure everyone is not playing too much. It also depends on the musical forces that are available in your church setting. For a long time, many churches operated with just a piano player or organist. Now, most churches have rhythm sections of various sizes.
b) Tempo: One of the newer changes to the worship band setting is the use of in-ear-monitors and a click track. This works best with personal monitor mixers (often Aviom or Roland) for the whole band. The drummer will program the different tempos of the worship set into an advanced metronome or an app off an iPad, iPod or iPhone and feed the click through a channel to the rest of the band. Some bands also use backing tracks with click tracks that fill in extra orchestration such as string sections, brass sections, special effects and other synth sounds.
Click tracks have been a staple of recording studios forever. They are great for helping the band play rhythmically tighter. The challenge is to get the band so used to the ‘click’ that they feel comfortable playing with it and also worshipping at the same time. Frankly, I never want to substitute musical perfection for true heart-felt worship. I believe you can have both, but you have to work at it.
Another new way to add clicks and loops to your live band is through LoopCommunity.com or Multitracks.com. There is a whole world of loops and tracks that can be used on your iPod, iPad or computer (Ableton, Mainstage, Garageband). Check out their training videos!
Another simple solution for tempo is to have small flashing metronomes on stage for the players (usually the drummer, piano or acoustic guitar) who are starting a particular piece. This gets the music started at the right tempo, then the drummer, band and singers just need to maintain that tempo.
c) Musical Feel: Nothing changes the musical feel or groove of a song like the ‘kick & snare’ of the drums (i.e. bass drum and snare drum). You don’t have to be a drummer to lead a band but you should know the basic ‘kick & snare’ grooves. You should make notes of what beats the bass drum is on. Normally the kick is on some variation of ‘1’ and ‘3’, sometimes it is on every beat, sometimes it is 1 & 2+ and occasionally there is no kick at all for certain sections of a song.
The same applies to the snare. Sometimes it is on ‘2 & 4’, or a ‘half-time feel’ on 3, or the snare is every beat. And sometimes there is no snare at all for certain sections of the music.
Often a musical groove will change from the verse to the chorus to the bridge. It is usually very boring to have the same groove throughout a whole song. The leader and band should know when the groove changes.
You should grow familiar with terms like ‘4 on the floor’ (kick every beat with snare on 2 & 4), ‘shuffle’ (triplet 8th feel),’16th feel’, ‘Half-time feel’, ‘Double Time Country’ and ‘Rock’. There are a myriad of types of musical feels in general, but most contemporary Christian music uses more rock, pop, country and gospel feels.
There are new terms being invented all the time as music grows and changes. If you don’t know a term, ask your drummer or other experienced players. Also, sometimes bands and players have different names for the same groove.
d) Musical layering and dynamics: Another important area that leaders should note is where the different instruments and vocals come in and out. A general rule of thumb is that you want the song to build. Having all the instruments play all the time gets musically boring.
You want to build musical variety and dynamics into a song by changing up the vocals and band instrumentation. Sometimes it will be acoustic guitar or piano only, sometimes it will be bass and drums only. Often the electric guitar will lay out a softer verse and come in to add more power to the chorus. Normally the whole band is in by the first or second chorus. Sometimes there is an ‘a cappella’ section (vocals only) with drums. Noting all those details from the original recording or adding your own musical ideas will help bring variety into the arrangement.
Another new layer that you can add to your band is to run with tracks. I recently started using MultiTracks.com to add to my live set-up. I run it from my iPad with click in the left channel and track on the right. There are also different levels and versions of tracks that allow you to only add the tracks that you need with your live band. You can add a whole track if you are going solo or only add extra synth or percussion parts if you are playing with a whole band.
e) Stage layout: I was on the road for years playing in different auditoriums, churches and stages every night. It was amazing how creative you had to get with the band set-up every evening.
Here are some general rules of thumb. If possible, put the drums at the back of the stage in the centre. They are the heartbeat of the band, and the closer the band is to the drummer the easier it is to play as one unit. But, having said that, I’ve put drummers in baptismal tanks, sound cages, stage right, stage left and on the floor in front of the singers. With different stage set-ups, set decor, large video screens and choir lofts, you sometimes need to get very creative.
Another rule of thumb is to have good sight lines between the leader and drummer. If the drummer can’t clearly see the leader, there will usually be musical problems. It is also important to put the bass player next to the drummer. They need to communicate and provide the musical feel for the band. The closer they are together, the better the communication.
The most important visual feature is the worship leader and singers. So of course, they should be well-lit and at the front and centre of the stage.
f) Stage Presence: It is important for the band to have great stage presence. Ideally, they should memorize their music and sing and worship during the worship. For the music and worship to be all it should be, musicians who are also worshippers is huge. If the band is totally into the music and also worshipping God, it really creates a great setting to lead the congregation in worship.
A few players will naturally have good stage presence but frankly, most musicians can be shy on stage. As a leader, continually encourage your band to worship onstage. Seeing the whole band worshipping on stage is important to the overall worship experience. Genuine and heart-felt worship is powerful.
Question: What kind of instrumentation does your worship band use? Did I miss any important details on this quick overview of the worship band rhythm section?
In part 4 we will discuss Sound and Worship Teaching
Check out my new book: “Leading Worship ~ Notes from a Grand Adventure’. It is now available in Kindle or Soft Cover Editions. This is a great gift for the musician or worshipper in your life.