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Average Musicians, Amazing Results...How?

Average Musicians, Amazing Results...How?

By Jon Nicol   |  January 30, 2018

Relying on the Rockstar

Ever had a super-talented musician come along that kicked up your worship team’s sound several notches?

  • Maybe it was a drummer who brought a newfound drive and energy to your sound.
  • Or a keyboard player who could (tastefully) fill and improvise.
  • Or a bass player who could lay a foundation like you never had before.
  • Or a guitar player that could actually play the riffs from the recording.

Admit it—secretly, you wanted to schedule him or her EVERY week. I know I did.

What’s The Difference Between Practice And Rehearsal? 6 Things Your Team Should Know

What’s The Difference Between Practice And Rehearsal? 6 Things Your Team Should Know

By Jon Nicol   |  September 8, 2016

Several ago I had an epiphany of sorts. I thought, "What would happen if my team (including me) showed up to rehearsal with their songs actually learned?" (I know, profound, right?)

Not long before that, I had inherited a worship team that had gone a year without a main leader. It had deteriorated to pitifully low expectations: "Please just show up sometime Sunday morning."

After a while, I succeeded in raising expectations about rehearsal (like, let’s actually have one). We even got to the point where people were showing up. But it was still a hot mess.

Enter the epiphany (of sorts).

So I set out on a crusade to get my team to prepare BEFORE rehearsal. I’ve chronicled that in more detail in other places, so I won’t go into it deeply here. But I will tell you one of my tactics:

I differentiated between practice and rehearsal.

In fact, I even came up with a mantra to help us with this:

Practice By Numbers: Setting Clear Expectations For Your Worship Team

Practice By Numbers: Setting Clear Expectations For Your Worship Team

By Jon Nicol   |  May 13, 2016

How does this song go again?

Do you hate that question during rehearsal as much as I do?

You planned the setlist three weeks ago. You uploaded the charts and mp3s to the worship planning app. You wrote out the band and vocal notes outlining who plays what where. And you’ve said time and again, “Show up prepared for rehearsal.”

And then at rehearsal someone asks: “How does this song go again?” 

He might not ask it audibly, but he doesn’t need to. The look in his eyes as he fright-reads the chart tells it all: he didn’t practice.

One of the most important leadership lessons I learned a while back is this: culture trumps everything. The culture of your worship team determines their behavior. I realized I had a culture that didn’t value preparation. So, I set out to change it.

12 Tips for Using a Click

12 Tips for Using a Click

By Jon Nicol   |  March 4, 2014

Or, how my team survived aural water-boarding...

My Most Loved (and Hated) Worship Team Member

My Most Loved (and Hated) Worship Team Member

By Jon Nicol   |  January 27, 2014

Meet a player with no ego, but has the tendency to damage the egos around him...

My Son...The Ninja...

My Son...The Ninja...

By Jon Nicol   |  January 6, 2014

My 8-year old son has just come "on staff" with me. He's my packing ninja...

A Must-Have, Killer New Worship Tool (For Less Than $30)

A Must-Have, Killer New Worship Tool (For Less Than $30)

By Jon Nicol   |  August 20, 2013

Finally, ambiance without needing to add a keyboard player...

Why Not Play the Song Like the CD?

Why Not Play the Song Like the CD?

By Jon Nicol   |  May 31, 2013

I came across an article this week that I thought was great, so I tweeted it. But after I chewed on it for awhile, I decided it needed to go further than my few (but super-awesome) Twitter followers.

The article is 5 Reasons NOT to play it like the CD on written by Steven Reed.

Here are some of my favorite points Steve makes:

Most worship teams do not have four electric guitar players, two keyboard players, and two vocalists like there is on the recording. Most teams have one of each instrument and many vocalists, yet that’s not how CD’s are put together.


An Interview with David Santistevan

An Interview with David Santistevan

By Jon Nicol   |  November 29, 2012

Ever wanted to record a live worship CD? Hear from one worship pastor who did, and lives to tell about it...

Five Actions to Prepare for Growth

Five Actions to Prepare for Growth

By Jon Nicol   |  November 19, 2012

Last week we started talking about how to get more musicians and, specifically, two huge factors that affected that:

  1. the size of your church - the larger your church, the more potential musicians you'll have
  2. the quality of your church music -  good musicianship attracts good musicians.

There are plenty of resources telling how you should take care of the first issue - growing your numbers, aka "church growth." If you can wade through the pond of shallow promises filled with magic bullets and quick fixes to find something that works for your church, great.

But as worship leaders and musicians, we're likely to be more effective growing a worship ministry if we focus on the second factor, good musicianship. There's a problem with this this concept that good musicianship attracts good musicians. It chases its own tail:

We need more (and better) musicians in order to attract more (and better) musicians. So to get more (and better) musicians, we'll need to find more (and better) musicians. So we need to find more (and better) musicians...

Let me first say this - this is not the ultimate key to landing more musicians. While it's a significant factor, ultimately God is the provider. He can work with or without these factors. But there always seems to be a pattern of preparation in scripture. And becoming a church with better musicianship is likely part of that pattern.*

I liken it to building a bigger bucket. Through God's strength and guidance, we build buckets. But it's up to God to fill those buckets.

If we all we build is a 5-gallon worship ministry bucket, then why would God fill it with 10 gallons of musicians? There is no way we could be good stewards of that.

So what are some ways to build a bigger bucket specifically in the area of musicianship? Here are five ideas, and I'd love to hear more:

1. Care and develop the ones you already have.

Why would anyone want to join a team who's leader doesn't invest in them. Again, it's a stewardship thing.

2. Create an administrative structure (bucket) that can handle more than you have right now.

There's more here than we can discuss today. But the structure it takes to manage a team of 10 will woefully fail when that teams grows to 20. So move to a structure that has room to grow.

Consider a service like PlanningCenterOnline. It can grow with you - and you could even start for free. Here's a post I wrote to learn more about PCO.

3. Cast vision for growth.

Keep your team looking outward and upward. Too many times teams put out an "us four and no more" vibe that turns potential musicians away. Help them to think like stewards and not kings and queens of tiny fiefdoms.

4. Increase expectations for preparation.

This doesn't necessarily mean practice more and rehearse longer. Raise the quality of your musicianship through the right kind of practice and rehearsals. Grow in your understanding of team musicianship. Develop some arranging skills.

And try stuff that you might fail. The fear of failing can be fresh motivation for musicians stuck in status quo chord-pounding. (And remember, teach your team that failure is acceptable as long as you learn from it.)

5. Look at what some the "next-size" churches are doing.

Look at how their worship leaders lead. Study at their administrative and communication structures. Talk to their musicians about how they prepare.

And the "next-sized" thing is important. If you're a church of 250, don't spend time looking at churches of 2000. You might learn a few things, but their structures and practices will probably be too big a leap from where you're at.

Instead, look at churches that have passed the very next growth barrier that your church will face. As a church of 250, check out churches between 500 to 700 attendees. You won't be able to do a lot of what they do, but you can start to cherry-pick those methods and principles that will help you grow your bucket.

What this is not...

I want to be clear. This bigger bucket thing really isn't about some "build it and they will come" version of the prosperity gospel. We can do all this activity of building a bigger bucket, and still never see musicians come in.

It's really about opening up our hands even wider and asking God for more. More for His glory. More for His Kingdom. Anything else, and we're just building buckets in vain.

Question: So there's five suggestions to prepare for growth - what would you suggest?

Worship Mixing: Guitars & Basses...

Worship Mixing: Guitars & Basses...

By Jon Nicol   |  November 16, 2012

A conversation between three worship/tech leaders about their experiences with the plugged in axes and the amps that power them...

Get More Musicians: Two Factors That Affect Growth

Get More Musicians: Two Factors That Affect Growth

By Jon Nicol   |  November 12, 2012

Every church has one of two problems.

First problem:
Finding enough musicians.

Second problem:
Choosing between too many musicians.

You're probably wondering where you can sign up for the second problem.

Since the majority of churches are dealing with the first problem, I'm beginning a series called "Get More Musicians."

For this first installment, let's talk about two huge factors that affect the number of musicians.

Pool of Eligibles
The first factor is your church's size.

The law of averages is at work here: the larger your church, the deeper the pool of eligible musicians.

In the average church of 150, the chance of finding 25 solid musicians is slim.

In a church of a 1500, chances are good that you'd find at least 25 solid musicians.

The second factor that affects growth is musicianship.

A talented musician began attending our church this year and recently joined the worship team. I wonder if he would have even attended our church four years ago. He certainly wouldn't have enjoyed being on the team at that point in our development. Our level of musicianship was sketchy.

It's shining example of a principle I learned years ago: Good musicianship attracts good musicians.

While I was serving as a guitarist and youth leader at a megachurch in Minneapolis, I was in awe of the caliber of musician that attended there. More poured in weekly. The leadership regularly turned away musicians that most churches would have been ecstatic to include.

Great musicianship drew great musicians. And 6000 people attending every weekend helped, too. (That's more like an ocean of eligibles versus a pool...)

In every church where I served on staff, my worship ministry was on the shallow end of these factors: the pool of eligibles and the musicianship were both ankle deep. At best.

Overcoming the Factors
At each church, I knew I couldn't change the "pool of eligibles" factor quickly or directly. So I ignored it. I looked outside my church for musicians. Some joined the team as "non-attending musicians" (you can read more about how I recruited off of Craigslist), or they just subbed once in a while as "guests."

I coupled that effort with significant investment in any willing musician I could find in those churches. Eventually I began to build a few decent teams.

In the first couple ministries I served in, my tenure was short because of financial restraints of employing a second pastor. But in my current situation, I've been here long enough (and I'm planning on staying, Lord willing) to begin to see those early efforts and investments payoff in something I haven't seen before: a momentum that's pushing us towards to the deep end.   

Good musicianship is begetting good musicians. And we're also in a season of new families coming to our church - so that means our pool of eligibles is deepening. Don't get me wrong, we're far from "arriving" - whatever that is. But for the first time, I'm beginning to see the those two factors work for us.

It's easy to hate these two factors. I know I have. But they are part of the growth process. And we have to wrestle with them if we want to grow our teams with solid musicians.

So every few weeks we'll keep returning to this subject of "Get More Musicians." I'd love to hear about how you grow the musicians (and musicianship) on your team.

New Electric Guitarist Struggles With Last Minute Changes

New Electric Guitarist Struggles With Last Minute Changes

By Jon Nicol   |  October 17, 2012

Here's a question for WorshipQ:

What should I work on with the electric guitar to be able to get to the point where I can get the chord sheet 5 minutes before service starts and still be able to play along without it being a complete wreck? What sort of things would allow me to play along with just the chord sheets and still make it through even if I’ve never heard the song before? I feel like I can do that on the acoustic if need be and I’d like to get to that level on the electric. Any tips, tricks, techniques, ideas would be most welcome.

WorshipQ Interview

You can watch the video and learn more about panel at

A Pro Reveals His Technique for a Great House Mix

A Pro Reveals His Technique for a Great House Mix

By Jon Nicol   |  October 16, 2012

[This article originally posted in April 2011. I just had a conversation about it, so I thought I'd run it again for you new readers. Enjoy!]

Kent Morris is a rock star. Actually, he's the AV genius behind rock stars. And he was in my neighborhood a month or so ago doing a seminar for Peavey's Sanctuary Series line of sound systems. (Ended up having lunch with him, which was fun. But that's for another blog.)

During the seminar, he suggested we do our sound check backwards. At least - it seemed backwards to me. So that meant it was probably right.

Here's what Kent proposed:

Turn off the wedges. Play through your first song as best as you can, which allows the sound tech to dial in a solid mix. After that, the tech asks, "What's missing? What do you need to keep you on-time and on-pitch?" At that point, we add to the monitors only what's necessary to meet the true need: the basic stuff to keep us on-time and on-pitch.

So we tried it. (My sound guy made me tell the band what we were doing. I didn't blame him...) We played our first song sans monitors and few things happened: 

1. We listened to each other. For the first time, ever, I think people in the band were really listening for what the other person was doing.
2. We got a great house mix and a lower stage volume. There was less "more me" - which meant less overall monitor volume.
3. We spent far less time "tweaking" monitors than our usual method.

If this scares you, let me throw a few things at you:

If we're trying to approximate the house mix in our wedges, we're asking too much. Strip it down to what's absolutely necessary to keep us together rhythmically and sonically.

When you take more for yourself on stage - more "me," more piano, more whatever - the more your monitor becomes part of the main mix. Ever heard the backside of a wedge? (Just saying backside of a wedge brings up an unpleasant picture for the sound.)

If our role really is to serve the congregation, we need to put that into practice when it comes to our monitors. And didn't Jesus say something about this backwards sound check?

7 Reasons Music Stands Suck (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 2

7 Reasons Music Stands Suck (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 2

By Jon Nicol   |  June 12, 2012

Yesterday, looked at the first three reasons music stands are killing are worship. We ended with the question: Are we really meaning to spoon our music stand while excluding God and congregation?

And the answer is No. It’s just that #4 is so true:

4. It’s too easy to look at.

It might be lack of confidence. It might just be ignorance to the fact that we’re doing it. But music stand is an easy, safe focal point for us. And just so you know, confidence monitors have the same affect – they’re even easier to get our zombie-gaze on.

Solution – memorize and go sans stand.

Partical solution – keep the stand low and to the side. Learn the your music well enough to only look down occasionally.

Also, practice looking up and out during rehearsals and warm-ups. If you* can’t do it there, what makes you think you can do it during the worship gathering?

5. It’s a crutch.

Because of reason #4, music stands become a crutch. We’re dependent on them. We feel like we need them.

But here’s the deal - most of the time, you know the song well enough to ignore the stand.

So try it. Go ahead and ignore that music stand like he’s the all-time ‘last pick’ at fourth grade dodgeball. Unlike us fat kids that that dreaded phys ed, your music stand will bear no emotional scars.

6. It screams, “I didn’t really have time to learn this song.”

The main reason it screams “I didn’t really have to time to learn this song” is because, well, you didn’t really have time to learn this song.

But let’s put this in perspective:
Imagine your teaching/preaching pastor has his head buried in the pulpit reading from his notes for the entire sermon. You’d find the dandruff of the person sitting in front of you more engaging than him.

So why do we musicians think we get a pass?

Solution: Turn off the NCIS reruns and practice your songs.

7. It’s keeping you from moving...especially forward.

The stand is both a visual and relational barrier. But it’s also a physical barrier. It doesn’t allow you to move...

...side-to-side. You’ve only got about a 120° angle you can work.

...backward. You can go only as far as the size of font allows.

...forward. Forget about it.

Moving forward toward the front of the platform can be the most powerful way to connect and engage those you are leading in worship.

But wait, you've got a music stand in front of you.


7 Reasons Why Your Music Stand Sucks (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 1

7 Reasons Why Your Music Stand Sucks (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 1

By Jon Nicol   |  June 11, 2012

Being on vacation this past week, I was able to be led by a different worship team. One thing has been bothering me about my own team, and I saw it clearly with this other team: music stands are killing our worship.

In fact, I want to go so far to say music stands are the bane of worshipful platform presence.

Here are seven reasons music stands suck the life out of our worship:*

1. It’s a visual barrier between you and those you’re leading.

Most musician's plant the stand firmly between themselves and the congregation they’re supposed to be leading. The higher the stand, the more it disconnects.

Solution: Memorize your music or use stage display/confidence monitors.

Partial solution: Push your stand low and move it to your side. This is fairly easy if you’re a vocalist or a non-singing instrumentalist. If you’re a singing instrumentalist tied to a boom stand, you might need to consider outright memorization.

2. You’re giving it more attention than you are the congregation.


3. You’re giving it more attention than you are God.

Or at least it looks that way to the congregation.

Maybe for God, too. But I won’t speak for Him.

So besides the visual barrier between you and the congregation, now you have a relational barrier. You’re apparently enraptured by whatever that black piece of tilting steel is displaying.

Are we really meaning to spoon our music stand while excluding God and congregation?

No. It’s just that #4 is so true. But, unfortunately, you'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out what #4 is. As well as #5, #6 and #7.

What Happens When I Damage My Voice?

What Happens When I Damage My Voice?

By Sheri Gould   |  June 5, 2012

This is the second in a two-part series about vocal health by Sheri Gould.

In part one we looked at some basic ways to prevent vocal problems. In this section we’ll look at what to do once you think you’ve hurt your voice.

Temporary Damage
There are different levels of damage that can be done to the vocal cords. Most of the time, the kind of damage we do might be very temporary. For example:

  • we’ve stayed up very late talking into the night.
  • we over-sang this week because we were getting ready for a big production and attended five rehearsals—about four more than we’re used to.
  • we attended a wedding and spent four hours at a reception trying to yell over the band.

All of these types of activities can produce the same general results. Sore and swollen cords.

When you wake up in the morning, your normally soprano or tenor voice sounds much like a froggy bass. If you ARE a bass you’re thrilled that you can FINALLY hit that low ‘C’!

This is a temporary, albeit troublesome, problem. There are some helpful things to do. The first thing your cords need is to REST. My guess is though—you can’t let them! It’s Sunday morning and you have to sing!

So here’s what you’re going to do. The minute you realize you’ve strained your cords, start to do everything you know to do:

  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Drink a bunch of water. 
  • Turn on your vaporizer. 
  • Don’t talk.

What else?
When you get up on the morning you HAVE to use your voice, take as hot of a shower as you can and keep the bathroom door closed and don’t use a n exhaust fan! Create a steam bath. Breath in deeply through you r nose.

After you’ve been breathing in this yummy moist air for about ten minutes, start to S-L-O-W-L-Y go through a very gently warm-up consisting mostly of gentle humming. Don’t push. Don’t look to get to the ends of your range, in fact avoid the ends of your range as much as possible when your cords are hurting. Sing quietly once you do start to practice.

More Stuff That Helps…and Hurts

Throat Coat.
Keep some Throat Coat by Traditional Medicinals handy at all times. You can always find it at GNC but my grocery store carries it as well.

When you use the Throat Coat, don’t be in a hurry to make it. Let it steep for as long as possible. I even make mine at night before I go to bed, wake up in the morning and re-heat it. Using boiling water and cover your cup to let it steep for a minimum of a half an hour to get the max benefits from the herbs. Make a double dose and bring it with you in your thermal coffee cup to sip on throughout the morning.

Throat Lozenges
Also, look for menthol-free throat lozenges. Hall’s Fruit Breezers are one example. The menthol will dry out your cords-it helps clear your sinuses but is not good for your cords.

The same is true for lemon. Lemon might give you an immediate lift of ‘shrinking ‘ the cords back closer to their normal size, but the cost is having them dried out—so use it sparingly—if at all.

Honey is great because it soothes and coats the cords.

Saving Your Voice During Rehearsal
Once you start to rehearse with your team or choir, try the best you can to sing in a light, airy tone. This will help you go through the parts you need to without straining the cords as much. When you add air to your tone, yours cords don’t experience as much friction so its easier on them-of course you don’t sound as good but save that for the time you really need it. Sing as little as possible then go back to total rest for your cords.

You Really Are Sick (No Really)
If your problem is that you are actually sick, (for example you really have a sore throat from a virus) then the remedy would be very much the same if you have the need to sing immediately.

In addition, gargle with Listerine 3-4 times a day for 30 seconds. Do this at the onset of ANY kind of sore throat and you may void it completely. I’ve had GREAT luck with this. Others recommend gargling with salt water, but I particularly find this more effective. See what works best for you.

The BEST Thing
If your cords or your throat is sore and you can avoid singing or using your voice altogether, that is the best thing. Total vocal rest is the best as soon as possible. If you continue to sing when your cords are hurting or damaged in any way over time you may develop more serious vocal issues.

More Serious Damage

What do you do if you’ve truly damaged your cords? First of all, you need to determine how serious your damage is. This can be done with a visit to your Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.

Some clues that you may need to see a doctor would be:

  • constant hoarseness
  • constant phlegm
  • a gravelly sound in your speaking voice that doesn’t go away
  • pain in your throat when you talk or even swallow that doesn’t go away.

Any of these symptoms can indicate something seriously wrong.

One of the singer’s worst nightmares used to be the dreaded nodes or polyps. Although these are still scary and need immediate attention, they are no longer the threat they once were.

I am not a doctor, but my understanding is that a node is almost like a ‘callous’ that develops over a period of time when the cords have been ‘banged’ together too harshly over an extended period of time.

Many popular singers have been treated for nodes and recovered nicely. However, usually there needs to be some re-training before the singer is allowed to sing again. Misuse and perhaps a simple lack of vocal knowledge and care many times are the contributing factors.

Not all polyps or nodes require surgery. If they are small enough, they can sometimes be treated with a more conservative approach. One of the most important things you can do is get proper vocal training, perhaps even speech therapy to see if that is where your true problem lies.

What You DON'T Want to Hear
TOTAL VOCAL REST is necessary. This means no talking, whispering, singing, coughing, sneezing, throat clearing, ANYTHING that makes a noise from your throat! But do not try to self-treat if you have the above mentioned symptoms. Go to a doctor ASAP!

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your voice is a gift from God and needs to be cared for properly. Take the necessary steps to care for your voice in a way that will make it possible to use your voice for God’s glory for as long as possible!


Four Steps to Care for Your Voice

Four Steps to Care for Your Voice

By Sheri Gould   |  June 4, 2012

I've attended worship seminars for years. I think Sheri Gould's been at half of those. But I never went to her seminars. Why?

She teaches voice.

I lead worship with a guitar and just happen to sing as a part of that. I get by alright, thankyouverymuch.

But the real truth is I didn't really want to know what I didn't know.

This year's trip to Christian Musician's Summit in NY changed that. I decided ignorance was no longer a valid MO for this worship leader. I attended three of her seminars at CMS. In the first one, I was as far back as possible. By the third, I was in the front row.

I contacted Sheri following CMS and asked her if I could republish some of her articles on WorshipTeamCoach for you to read. She graciously sent me a two part series on vocal health

In the first part today, Sheri talks about preventative care. Tomorrow, she'll be talking about remedial care. Here's Sheri...

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 7

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 7

By Jon Nicol   |  May 30, 2012

Deadly Sin #10: More ME

Without ever stepping foot in your church (or movie theater, or elementary school cafeteria—or wherever you meet), I can tell you how your Sunday worship sound check goes:

The keyboard player can’t hear herself over the drums, so she turns her amp up.

The electric guitarist just isn’t “relating” to his sound, so he follows suit and cranks his Boogie.

The bass player feels like he might be a little low in the mix, so he ups his thump.

The acoustic guitarist is now completely buried, so he asks to be turned up in the wedge.

The alto can’t hear herself. “Can I get a little more of my voice in the monitor?” she asks the sound tech. Knowing what’s coming, he reluctantly consents.

In a few moments, all the worship leader hears is alto. And asks for his voice up. The tech does his knob-twisting duty. He’s the worship leader, after all.

Within moments, the soprano has her left index finger in her ear and a rather displeased look on her face. The sound guy thinks to himself, “Here it comes…” And it does. So up her voice goes.

The drummer, meanwhile, feels the energy from all these additional dBs and assumes it to be the Holy Spirit telling him to play louder. He follows and obeys.

The keyboard player can’t hear herself over the drums, so she turns her amp up…

About right?

Names and instruments might differ, but this is the sin of “More ME!” at work.

And as you can see, it’s self-perpetuating.

As we continually to ask for more of ourselves in the monitors, we inadvertently:

  1. Create a volume war between onstage amps, monitor wedges and the drums.
  2. Ruin the house sound because of all the monitor bleed.
  3. Fail to listen to each other, causing the “6 people playing the same song on the same stage in the same key at nearly the same time” phenomenon.
  4. Dishonor each other’s gifts, talents and skills – including the sound engineer.

What are some ways to repent and renounce this sin of “more me”? Here’s a laundry list of suggestions. These range from quick fixes to expensive solutions. Do what you can with what you have.

1. Do a reverse, “house-only” sound check.

Cost? Painful, but free.

2. Guitarists/Bassists/Keyboardists, get rid of stage amplifiers.

Guitarists/Bassists. Move to an amp modeler like a Line 6 POD or a SansAmp.

This cuts down on the stage volume to allow others to hear better. But now how do you hear yourself? Here's a cheap solution: run one ear bud out of the headphone jack of the POD. You’ll want to get a volume control to keep it from blowing your ear drum.

Cost: $200 – $500 for the modelor. 8 bucks for the volume control.*

Keyboard players, if it doesn’t cut your “out” signal, do the same as guitarists with an amp modeler: run one earbud out the phone jack on your keyboard. Again, you’ll want the volume control.

Cost: $20 to $200, depending on what kind of buds you buy.

3. Invest in a personal monitor system. (Google Aviom, Elite Core PM-16, MyMix, etc), With this and some decent buds, you can forget wedges altogether.

Cost: $4000 – 6000. (If that's too much to swallow, check out the "poor-man" Aviom solution I used at a former church)

4. Put cans on the drummer. Run the drummer’s monitor through a headphone amplifier instead of a wedge. Often times, you have more aux channels than monitor amps. So use one of those open aux channels to give your drummer his own mix. 

If you can’t afford good in-ears for him, nobody really minds when the drummer has the Princess Lea Cinnamon Rolls on the sides of his head. He’s probably barefoot and wearing plaid shorts with a Hawaiian shirt anyway. A couple cans on the side of his head won’t distract anymore than that.

Cost: $50 – 500 – depending on the headphone amplifier and in-ears/headphones.

Remember, every wedge you can physically remove will help ebb the escalation of volume and reduce the sound clutter on your stage.

5. Use electronic drums. Sometimes that’s the best you can do for your room and your budget.

Cost: $800 – 2500

If you abhor electronic drums as much as I (and every drummer in the known universe) do, then here are two other options: 

6. Play to the room. This is free, but sometimes the room is just too small for anything but jazz tapping. Jazz tapping is great for, well, jazz. For modern worship, bleck

7. Use a drum shield. Here’s the deal with Plexiglas shields - they give the illusion of helping control the sound. But usually it just bounces it to another part of the room. To really control the sound you need a fully enclosed shield with sound absorption. This also means you need to mic the drums.

Cost: with the drum miking, you’re now into it for around $3000.

Maybe jazz tapping isn’t so bad?

8. Remove and reduce. When someone ask for "more me" in the wedge, sound tech, please learn to ask this question. I call it the Socratic Sound-Guy Method:

“What can I take out or turn down in of your monitor?”

If you can't hear yourself in the wedge, it's not usually because you're too low. It's an overcrowded mix. As mentioned in the “reverse sound check” article linked above, Kent Morris says that we should only put in our monitors what “keeps us in time and on pitch.” See that post for more on this.

Cost: the Socratic Sound-Guy Method is free, but it may cost you some dirty looks and snarky comments.

So there's a few suggestions. But I'm sure are other great suggestions. Let us know in the commments section:

What do you do in your situation to help curb the sin of MORE ME?

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 6

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 6

By Jon Nicol   |  May 24, 2012

How to kill the zombies on your worship team...

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 5

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 5

By Jon Nicol   |  May 22, 2012

Read part 1
Read part 2
Read part 3

Read part 4

When it comes to the last five deadly sins we’ve discussed, they all contributed directly to the first transgression: creating a blob of sound.

The next two sins deal more with preparation and skill development.

#7 – Practicing at Rehearsals (and Re-Rehearsing at Sound-Checks)

If you’ve been hanging around me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me say, “practice is personal, rehearsal is relational.”

Practice involves learning a song:

  • learning your part
  • creating a part
  • getting intimate with the form

This all needs to be done on your time. If you fail to practice your stuff and then come to rehearsal expecting to learn it, you’ll now be taking from my time, and the rest of the team’s time.

I can’t tell you how guilty of this sin I’ve been over the years. I’ve naturally got a “wing it” personality and a decent ability on guitar. That’s a bad combination. Too often I’ve come into rehearsal and not known my stuff.

And for leaders, our stuff is not just the part we’re singing or playing on our instrument. Our's is also the leadership and planning we bring to the service. When we don’t “practice” that, we end up robbing our volunteer’s time.

This is big reason why it feels like the team re-rehearses everything on Sunday morning. When an individual on the team spends the rehearsal trying to learn her part, she’s not engaged in the process of creating and rehearsing the whole song and the flow of the whole set. So then Sunday morning warm-up becomes a re-hashing of all the changes, segues, dynamics, etc. that the team worked on in rehearsal.

If you want to dig deeper into curbing this sin, read the series I wrote for, Quit Practicing At Rehearsals. You can also listen/watch an on-demand webinar I taught called “Creating a Culture of Preparation.”

The next sin relates to practice, too.

#8 – Pulling From a Stale Bag of Tricks

Our personal practice doesn’t just involve learning the songs for Sunday. I need to be investing in my instrument and growing as a musician.

A great way to keep fresh is to learn your instrument’s part from the original recording. Even if you aren’t following that arrangement exactly, the exposure to a different style/approach can open up a new world of playing for you.

One of the biggest kick in the pants for me as a lead guitar player was having some young students on the youth team just explode in their ability on guitar. They’d come in having learned new riffs and lead parts to songs that put my “old standbys” to shame. It motivated me to sharpen the tools in my box.

Most of my team is NOT made up of 15 year olds with plenty of discretionary time. They’re busy people with families and jobs who are not going to woodshed every day to hone their chops. So I’ve challenged my team (and myself) to think monthly and yearly when it comes to ongoing skill development.

I encourage them to choose one thing to further their musicianship each month: watch a video, practice a certain skill, do a “one-off” lesson with a private instructor, etc.

Then once a year, I ask my team to attend some sort of training event like Christian Musician Summit. That’s a tall order for volunteers - both in cost and time off work. So I’ll also look for more local events and promote them. When those are plentiful, I’ll schedule my own instrument-specific training events for my team.

And even though I go into other churches and do training, I always try to bring in outside voices, even if it’s just a DVD.

My team hears me enough.

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 4

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 4

By Jon Nicol   |  May 21, 2012

Read part 1
Read part 2
Read part 3

The next two deadly sins have to do with dynamics:

#5 -  Set it and forget it. Failing to use dynamics
A worship team will set the volume/intensity at the front end, and there it stays—for the rest of the song (and often the rest of the service).

Dynamics matter. Like the arch in a great story, dynamics allows us to build up, create tension, climax, then resolve. This helps move the worshipers along in the song. It also gives them a needed break from a constant wall of sound.

Here are four reasons teams fail to use dynamics:

  1. Ignorance. They just don’t realize it. This is usually the mark of an immature team of musicians being led by an immature leader. But the good news is, this the easiest reason to rectify.
  2. We’re just trying to survive. The team is too busy trying to play/sing the right chords/notes.
  3. We're playing the chart, not the song (see #4)
  4. Overplaying/Oversinging. (see #2) Dynamics aren’t just achieved by volume, but with space. I.e. instruments and voices need to give room

Here are a few ways to reverse this sin: 

Listen to recordings of the song. Mark dynamics. Pay attention to HOW the musicians on the recording achieved those dynamics. When they got softer, did they “just” get quieter? Or less? Or not at all? How about during the bigger sections – what makes it bigger?

Choose one song a week to memorize with your team. Since they now know the chords and notes and form (make sure they memorize the form), you can work on dynamics without sweating the basics. This practice will start trickling to other songs, at least we hope so.

Arrange. Plan specifically when and which instruments and voice should come in and drop out. When will the vocalists being singing off mic, parts, unison? How much and in what range should the instruments be playing?

This is basic arranging, and you can do it. It’s legal in your state. I checked.

Let's move on to the second of the two dynamic-related sins:

#6 Achieving Big with Fast
With this sin, the band doesn’t fail to use dynamics. But they manufacture them the wrong way. We use “fast” to achieve “big.”

There are two ways we do this:
First, when a song needs to build, the band unwittingly increases their speed. Big = fast. And the inverse is also true. When a song hits a quiet section, like breakdown or a quieter verse, the band will start dragging as they hold back their volme and intensity.

Secondly, we speed up a song in an attempt to recreate the energy of a well-arranged recording. I’ve talked about this in a recent post: Three Ways to Stop Confusing Tempo and Feel and in a series I wrote for - Developing a Solid Sense of Time.

To overcome the sin of equating Big with Fast, the only long-term solution is learning to play in time. Developing a Solid Sense of Time series has some ideas to help you do that.

One last word about dynamics. I think we in the church are often afraid of manipulating emotions to achieve the appearance of expressive worship.

And yes, we do want to make sure that we don’t manipulate emotions. But dynamics are about bringing beauty and feeling to a song. That’s created in part by contrast. Imagine a Rembrandt painting or Ansel Adams photograph without contrast. Our music needs contrast to be beautiful.

And if we create genuine beauty – art – it points back to the Original Artist and Source of all true beauty. Does it effect our emotions? You bet it does. But the last time I check, we’re called to worship him with our heart, soul, mind & strength. I think that list covers emotions.

Will there be people who only experience emotions in our services because of the music? Sure. But for those who are truly seeking God in spirit and in truth, the emotions evoked by the music simply serve as a reinforcement of what they are already feeling toward God.

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 3

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 3

By Jon Nicol   |  May 18, 2012

If you haven’t read the first two articles in this series, you’ll want to do that. The “sin” we’ll talk about today is closely tied to the first three “sins” described in parts one and two. But if you’ve read those and are eagerly awaiting this installment of 11 Deadly Sins, read on:

#4 Playing the Chart, Not the Song
To often, the band simply plays/sings what’s on the chart. With most of the charts we use (typically lead sheets or chord sheets), all we essentially get are chords changes, the melody (with a lead sheet) and the basic form.

If that.

When the offending team member listens to the mp3 at all, it’s usually just to “see how the song goes.” That’s code for “I don’t really want to spend time learning my part.”

And here’s what you get when the band plays the chart:

  • the bass player only plays the roots or the designated inversion (the right or bottom note in a slash chord)
  • the guitar player chops wood on whatever basic open chords he knows that seems close to what’s written.
  • the keyboard player pounds away on the Root, 3rd and 5th for every chord. She might just add a suspension that she happens to know. If she's feeling magnanimous.
  • the drummer plays his pet pattern and defaults to his usual fills.
  • the lead voice sings what’s written while the BGVs double/triple the melody or sing constant parts through the whole song.

There’s no doubt that this approach is a huge factor the #1 sin (the blob of sound). And this also contributes to sins #2 and #3 – Failing to Create Space and Not Playing as a Team.

Let me describe this in another way. “Playing the chart” is to “playing the song” like a McDonald’s cheeseburger is to Red Robin’s Burnin’ Love.

Here’s the deal, the Burnin’ Love (my all-time favorite burger) costs nearly 10x McDonald's cheeseburger. (Actually a little less when you factor in the bottomless fries, but let’s just say 10x.) However, the only comparison between the two is that they happen to be classified in the “burger genus.” But it’s clear they are entirely different species.

Playing the song does cost a lot more than playing the chart - whether we’re learning it from the original recording or making up our own tasty part. But it’s worth the investment of time and energy.

The outcome of a playing the parts of a good arrangement far exceeds what we get when we chop chords á la chart. Just look at the difference:

mcdonalds cheeseburger

red robin burning love burger


Enough said.


11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 2

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 2

By Jon Nicol   |  May 17, 2012

Major transgressions don’t begin as major transgressions.

Think David’s fling with Bathsheba. It started with him putzing around on the roof when he shoulda been with his boys at war.

I don’t want to make light of David’s experiences in 2 Sam 11 & 12. But it’s a vivid picture of how the smaller stuff opens cracks and fissures for the bigger stuff.

If you missed the first section, our #1 deadly “sin” (and I use that word figuratively, not in the literal “mess around with a married woman and cover it up with debauchery and murder” sense) is creating a blob of sound. The sins I want to deal with today are the ones that help create this ‘sinful’ blob.

#2 – Failing to Create Space
Do you have people on your team who play every note of every chord of every measure of every section of every song? Every Sunday.

The “demon” behind this “sin” goes by the name Overplay. He’s done quite well at infiltrating most worship teams.

Overplaying isn’t a skill thing. It’s a maturity thing.

And this maturity doesn’t have anything to do with age. I’ve know plenty of musicians who have been playing 30 years, but still haven’t figured out what a rest is. The only way to make them stop is to end the music set or make them take a Sunday off.

The amount a musician plays is inversely proportionate to their maturity. More mature = less playing. It’s a mix of emotional maturity and musical maturity.

Rather than me going on about how to remedy this “sin,” I’ll just point you to an article a friend sent me the other day. It’s SO worth your time to read, as well pass it on to your team. Read The Spectrum of Time.

#3 – Not playing as a team.
This is also known as the “Six People Playing the Same Song on the Same Stage in the Same Key and Nearly the Same Time” sin.

As a moniker, it’s a little cumbersome. But pretty descriptive of lots of teams you and I have played on, eh?

This is one of those sins that have many contributing factors. But two of the biggest factors are 1) failing to listen to each other and 2) a lousy sense of time.

Occasionally, we’ll start our morning sound check by playing a song sans monitors so the engineer get the house mix dialed in without the mud of the monitors. It’s pretty brutal, but it forces us to really listen to the drummer. We rely on him as the unifying force. (What a novel idea—drums holding a band together. Hmm…)

Unfortunately, the monitors get turned on and everyone just starts listening to him/herself.  


When it comes to a lousy sense of time, take a look at these articles earlier in the Turing the Team into a Band series.

In the next part, we’ll take a look at three more sins that contribute to the blob of sound. Until then, let me know what you’re thinking:

How have you experienced the “demon” named “Overplay” on your team. What have you done to “rid your house” of him?

What are some other ways you see these two sins “manifesting” themselves in your team? How have you been dealing with them?


11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 1

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 1

By Jon Nicol   |  May 16, 2012

I know—I should have stopped at seven. But if you’ve been a part of worship teams for more then 10 minutes, you know that we perpetrate far more than seven.

We’ll be talking about the 11 Deadly Sins as part of a bigger series, Turning Your Team into a Band. We won’t tackle all eleven at once, so here we go again with a series within a series. If you can’t keep it straight, that’s OK. Just head over to Turning Your Team into a Band and you’ll be able to access the articles individually.

So here’s deadly sin number one.

#1: Every song is a blob of sound.

Why did I choose this one to be number 1? Your sound tech paid me—he’s tired of trying to create music out of mush.

(OK, he didn’t, but had he known…)

I chose this one first because it gives us chance to talk about some fundamentals of playing as a band. Plus, many of the other sins are closely related to this one.

There’s several reasons why every song is a blog of sound, but the biggest reason is because we all hang out in the murky, mushy, muddy middle.

Take a look at this graphic:Sonic Spectrum - Range of Piano

The piano dominates the sonic spectrum. That’s why it makes such an incredible solo instrument: it can cover pretty much any part.

Now let’s look at where the other instruments fall, starting at the bottom:

Sonic Spectrum - Piano v Bass

Notice the bass is nearly at the bottom of the keyboard’s range (a five-string bass in standard tuning is one note above the lowest not on the keyboard). If you move up the notes of neck, the bass can creep above middle C. But most players tend to stay in the darker shade of green.

Let’s ask a couple questions of the piano/keyboard players:
Where does your left hand love to play?
And where does the bass mostly hang out?
And whose job is it specifically to hold down the low end?

Did you hear that?

That was the sound of 10,000 bass players whooping it up in a happy dance.

And keyboarders, don’t think that I’m being “judgy” or critical. I play keys sometimes, too. So I’m pointing a finger at my own heavy left hand.


Now here’s the electric and acoustic guitar.

Sonic Spectrum - Piano v Guitar

With 6 strings and 22 frets, the guitar has a pretty decent sonic spread. But here’s the problem. Where do most guitarists want to hang out?

Yep, the open position at frets 1 – 3. That’s pretty much the darker orange area on the graphic. And where do piano players love to play?

See where we’re going here?

The other major instrument in a worship band is a voice. And usually several. Here they are compared to the piano:

Sonic Spectrum - Piano v Vocals

Most of your singers will fall between a Mezzo Soprano and a Bass. Look at that...more stuff  in the middle.

And now let's put them altogether and add the drum frequencies:

Sonic Spectrum - All Instruments

Looking at the frequency range, we have an incredible potential to create a giant blog of mushy, mid-ranged music. Add to that the muddy mess of competing bass tones, and we have a bona fide blob of sound.

The key to overcoming this first deadly sin is being aware of your place on the sonic spectrum.

 If you’re a guitarist or pianist playing an instrumental solo, you can have your entire range. But as soon you start adding other singers and other instruments, it’s time to share and play nice.

This doesn’t mean we never play in the same range as other instruments. But we need to be conscious of creating too much noise in one register.

The point here is to arrange ourselves out of the blob.

And what’s the root word of arrange? “Range.”

We all need to find our niche on the sonic spectrum in each song. Sometimes the piano gets to dominate the mid range while the guitar lays out or goes up higher. Other times, the roles are reversed. (Which is usually the case – because us guitarists are notorious for not being able to play beyond the 4th fret.)

By spreading ourselves over a wider spectrum, the sound tech will actually have something to mix.

We needed to cover this first deadly sin on its own, because several of the other “11 Sins” are related to this. In the next section, we’ll cover several deadly sins that are focused on arranging.


Three Ways to Stop Confusing Tempo and Feel

Three Ways to Stop Confusing Tempo and Feel

By Jon Nicol   |  May 14, 2012

Have you ever noticed that Mighty to Save and Here I Am to Worship are roughly the same tempo?

The original recordings of the songs are within a few beats per measure of each other. But if we grouped our songs by feel, few of us would put those two songs in the same category. They may share a similar tempo, but each has it’s own “feel.”

It’s important for musicians on our teams to differentiate between tempo and feel. Before we get to the why, let’s define these two terms first.

Tempo is the speed of the song. It's measurable. We quantify it in beats per measure (BPM). We use words like up-tempo, mid-tempo and down-tempo to say fast, medium and slow. (Or if you’re in Nashville – a “tempo song” just means a fast one. Nashville just has to be different…)

Feel is much less objective than tempo. And it’s tougher to define, too. A basic definition is simply “how the song makes me feel.” Or, if you want something that sounds more intelligent when you’re talking with other musicians, “the emotion the song evokes.”

Why is it important our musicians understand the difference?

One of the biggest reasons: immature musicians try to achieve “big” with “fast.” They speed up in an attempt to make it bigger. And when big mid-tempo anthem like Mighty to Save gets rocked 10 – 15 bpms faster, forget it—it’s lost it’s power. It’d be like pitch shifting James Earl Jones’ vocal performance up an octave. I doubt Darth Vader's voice would evoke as much fear in a galaxy far, far away.

Tempo and feel are related. And the rate of speed partly creates the feel. But so many other factors contribute to feel:

  • the rhythm, range and shape of the melody
  • harmonic structure (the chord progression)
  • the rate of the chord changes
  • instrumentation
  • dynamics
  • not least - but most intangible - the emotion poured into the song by the musicians.

So what can we do as leaders to help our teams understand the difference?

1. Don’t assume anything. Make sure your team actually knows the difference between tempo and feel.

Here’s an exercise to help teach them: Play a song like Here I Am to Worship and ask your team to categorize the feel. Then play a tune with a similar tempo, but different feel, and ask them to categorize that one. Ask them which one was faster? How much faster.

Then play a bit of each song again and tap the tempo into a metronome (here’s an online tap tempo tool) to show your team how close the tempo is.

2) Record your team. Many times, immature musicians will actually like playing a song faster – it’s more fun, etc. If that’s your team, record your team playing at its preferred tempo. Then A-B that with the original. If that doesn’t change their mind, they probably have bigger issues than knowing the difference between tempo and feel.

3) Practice a steady tempo with varying dynamics. Read the three-part article, “Developing a Solid Sense of Time” to give you ideas on how to do this, as well ask helping your team create a better sense of time.

Six Excuses for Not Listening to Songs

Six Excuses for Not Listening to Songs

By Jon Nicol   |  April 23, 2012

One of the most common preparation mistakes worship musicians make is not listening to the music.

Here’s a few reasons (excuses) worship musicians give for not listening:
1. The reader: “Why would I listen to the song when the music is right in front of me?
2. I didn’t have time.
3. I didn’t have the recording.
4. It wasn’t in the right key.
5. Why bother, we don’t do it like the recording.
6. We've played it a million times. Why would I need listen to it?

Let’s talk about these one by one.

1. The Reader: "Why bother when I have the written music?"
The classically trained piano player is usually the biggest culprit of this. In her world, written music reigns. Even after she’s made the transition reading chords/lead sheets, the tendency to just read the chart remains.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on our classically trained comrades. We rock-band bred musicians tend to do the same thing.

When I was in music school at McNally-Smith (then MusicTech), one of the “ensembles” played the Beatles’ We Can Work it Out. I was sitting next to one of the instructors (who were all pro musicians in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area), and as they finished the song, he got mad. They had left off the signature waltzy ending from the album.

“That’s the problem with these fake books you kids are using. Listen to the bleepity-bleep recording!” (I learned different words from the profs there than I did in Bible college.)

Our chord and lead sheets are essentially our fake books. They’re good to have, but there’s a lot they can’t convey. If we’re just playing the chords on the page, we’re selling ourselves short. We need to listen to a song to get the dynamics, the subtleties, the feel.

2. I didn’t have time.
This excuse is usually poo. Most people have a little downtime when they can spin their music – in the car, doing busy work, doing chores around the house, before they go to bed, etc.

3. I didn’t have the recording.
This one’s on the leader if they really weren’t supplied the CD or mp3. In this day and age, you can find a recording of a song. And you can legally distribute them with CCLI’s rehearsal license.

But if you’ve made the song available (with a burned CD or via an online service like Planning Center Online), then the responsibility is back on the team member. You’ll want to call him on his lousy excuse.

4. It wasn’t in the right key.
This excuse is valid, but just barely. Valid excuse or not, a solid musician can still listen through a song in the wrong key and at least get the dynamics, the form, and good idea of how his part goes.

If you want to nip this excuse, use

5. Why bother? We don’t do it like the recording.
There are a lot of reasons not to do it like the recording. Limited instrumentation, arrangement is too long, changed style to fit your context, etc.

As a leader, recognize how your default arrangement differs from your recording. Spell it out to your team in your rehearsal sheet: “Here’s what’s happening on the recording: ________; here’s how we’re doing it: _________________.”

If it’s vastly different, instruct your team to only listen for the parts that are the same - probably the melody. And then consider recording your own scratch recording of it to match how you do it.

6. “We’ve played it a million times. Why would I need to listen to it?”
When I make an excuse for not listening, it’s usually this one. But there’s often stuff we fudge on as we first learn a song, and that carves a bad groove that we continue to run in. A renewed listen can give you some fresh ideas to incorporate into the next time you play.

The bottom line, if we fail to listen to songs, we'll have much harder time playing them from a place of confidence and passion. And without that, it'll be tough to worship God through those songs. 

So to get your team pulled out of this mistake, you might want to start here: read these eight practice tips. Half of them include some form of listening to the tune as a way to prepare.

Music Stand Scribbles...The Fine Art of

Music Stand Scribbles...The Fine Art of "Mark Your Charts"

By Jon Nicol   |  April 11, 2012

Ever have this happen?

We’ll go through an ending of a song at rehearsal and I’ll have it down. It’s clear as day and makes perfect sense. I get to the Sunday morning run-through and ask, “Were we going to do this tag two or three times.” Usually the answer is four.

I suck at remembering.

There’s this new gadget that I’ve started using to help me remember changes. It’s not an iPad. It actually was designed in England. You might have heard of it--it’s called a pencil. The beta line launched right around 1565, a few years before Steve Jobs started unveiling his wizardry.

I’m working on a new mantra with my team (and myself) during rehearsal: write it down. To help aid this, I’ve bought a big box of mechanical pencils and thrown them around the rehearsal room.

“We’re cutting the second chorus after the bridge.”
Write it down.

“We’re coming in on the bridge softly and building up by the time we get to the repeat.”
Write it down.

“That progression in the instrumental trips us up every time.”
Write it down.

“The change to Bb happens on beat 4, not beat 3.”
Write. It. Down.

“Write it down” doesn’t mean elaborate instructions written with penmanship that would make your third grade teacher proud.

Sometimes an arrow or a circle is enough.

Or a scribbling a few numbers to help you change on the right beat.

Or writing the first chord of page 2 at the end of page 1.

This is not cheating. It’s legal in your state. I checked. I promise.

sketched glassesWhen I was in music school, one of my instructors played in the Broadway shows that came to Minneapolis-St. Paul. He often found marks on the charts from players in other cities. One marks he enjoyed finding was this one.

They’re glasses – and it didn’t mean play like John Lennon. It was a heads-up that this was a particularly tricky part.

So mark your charts with whatever it takes to remember. It’s 15-second investment during practice and rehearsal that will have a solid return on Sunday morning.


Learning Versus Knowing a Song

Learning Versus Knowing a Song

By Jon Nicol   |  April 9, 2012

It’s one thing to LEARN your part of a song. It’s another thing to KNOW it.

One of the biggest mistakes we make as worship musicians is to stop at LEARN.

When I KNOW a guitar solo or riff of a song, I can play it smoothly and with feeling. If I’ve only just LEARNED it, I might hit the right notes but fail to really turn it into music.

If I've stopped at just learning the tenor part of a song, I think more about how I sing it than worshiping God through the harmony and the lyrics. But if I know it, I don't have to think about the mechanics of it. It just rolls out.

Learning a piece of music simply gives you the ability to play it. When you make the extra investment to know it, to internalize it, that gives you the ability to shape the notes and rhythms and chords into music. You can play it with your mind free to worship, and lead others in worship.

Fixing the Mistake
Take one personal practice session and ‘learn’ the song. Then give it a rest. Spend another practice session getting to know it – moving it from conscious compentence to unconconscious competance. That doesn't mean you can play it in your sleep--well, actually almost. You want it to become second nature.

For some, the move to conscious competence to unconsious competence is easy. For others it's a lot of work. It just depends on how you learn and process music.

Over-Fixing the Mistake
Realistically, can you do this with every song? No, especially if your team performs specials and new songs often. In that case, you’ll want to figure out the where the diminishing return occurs.

The “law of diminishing return” in music preparation looks like this:

Let’s say a perfect execution of a song is a “10” – right notes, in the pocket, with feeling--just spot-on perfect. At the other end of the scale is a first-time, mangled-up, sight-read mess. That’s a “1.”

Let’s say you need to learn a song for Sunday. If you practiced it for 5 hours, you might be able to make it a 9 or 10, that is, nearly perfect. But you could likely practice it for 90 minutes and still play it at a 7 or 8–i.e., really well.

Is the extra 3½ hours to play it a notch or two higher really worth it? It might be. But let me argue that often, it probably isn't.

That’s what you need to decide when it comes to learning songs.

If it’s a song that will be in your rotation each month for the next year or two? Or maybe this is going to be recorded for a worship album or a special service that requires flawlessness? Then yes, invest the time.

But if it’s a on-off, “sermon tie-in” song that will likely never be repeated, put the time in it to “knowing it” well enough without over-investing yourself.

A few practical steps

  • Create a practice schedule for yourself, both before and after rehearsal. Commit to it in the same way you would commit to a team rehearsal.
  • Be realistic with the song load you need to learn. Be intentional about what you invest heavily in and what you don’t.
  • Resource: 12 Tips to Memorize Songs


Develop A Solid Sense of Time, Part 3

Develop A Solid Sense of Time, Part 3

By Jon Nicol   |  April 5, 2012

Part 3: Time Management Issues, Continued

Blame it on the singers
As I was wrapping up part two, I made this statement: “Require playing to a click as a part of your qualification process for new players and singers.”

Notice I said “AND singers?” Vocalists are often the biggest culprits of bad tempo. Many singers in churches come from choral backgrounds – either a church or high school/college choir. Often that genre is more fluid, and tempo depends on the flailing arms of the conductor.

Singing in the pocket is a foreign concept to many of them. Most of the time, these singers tend to drag due to holding notes out too long. And once they get behind the beat, the band can too easily go with them.

Here are a few tips for training vocalists towards good tempo:

Read the whole article at you'll see other hairy "Time Management Issues" like Louder Means Faster, Compensating, and I Am the Band.

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