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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.  

Sigh…

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.

Ten Tough Truths Worship Teams Must Embrace

Ten Tough Truths Worship Teams Must Embrace

By Jon Nicol   |  May 10, 2012

Here's 10 things we probably all know, but maybe need a reminder about. I know I do...

Baptism as Worship

Baptism as Worship

By Jon Nicol   |  May 9, 2012

A few weeks ago, I discussed the gloriously awkwardness of baptism. Our newly planted church had just had it's first baptism in our yet-to-be renovated warehouse. It was party! Take a look:

Here are two things to remember about baptism:

1. It's worship. Baptism celebrates God's work of redemption in people's lives. We're also re-enacting the death and resurrection of Jesus through the sacrament of baptism. Sharing in the experience of baptism is corporate worship at it's best.

2. Don't forget hit record so your church can retell and relive. Stories of redemption are meant to be retold. We were able to use this video as part of our worship service this last week. It probably had more impact than the songs or sermon.

 

What I Learned In Buffalo...

What I Learned In Buffalo...

By Jon Nicol   |  May 7, 2012

Five lessons I learned at Christian Musician Summit this past weekend...

Hot Mess or Magnificent System? Weigh in your opinion

Hot Mess or Magnificent System? Weigh in your opinion

By Jon Nicol   |  May 4, 2012

Should a worship ministry have a rotation of four different "bands," each with their own leader, style and set of songs? Please weigh in...

Segues: The On and Off Ramps in Worship

Segues: The On and Off Ramps in Worship

By Jon Nicol   |  May 3, 2012

We're talking about creating flow in worship. And we've been likening it to a journey, a trek. Yesterday's post was dealing with how our songs are highways, streets and paths that help move us along in worship.

But as we all know, getting from one "road" to the next can sometimes be toughest thing. Check out this segment from my introduction to 28 Ways to Create Great Segues.

The worship team ends the song.

A smattering of applause from the congregation.

Singers are smiling.

The band looks at the acoustic guitar player.

The acoustic guitar player looks at the keyboard player.

The keyboard player gives him a twitch of the head that says, "you're playing the intro, not me."

The singers continue smiling, but now are glancing over their shoulder to see who's starting the next song.

The guitarist shuffles his charts around and gives the worship leader the universal "just one moment" sign with his right index finger.

The worship leader wants to give him back a universal sign of his own, but instead says to the congregation, "let"s move into a time of prayer."

That took far longer to read than it did to take place. But if you've ever been a part of a moment like that, especially as a worship leader, it felt like you could have clocked it with a sundial.

Transitions happen. Song to song. Music to preaching. Prayer to offering, etc. They happen. And they can happen just how they happen, or they can happen according to a plan. An unplanned transition is at best a speed bump; at its worst it's a train wreck. When we don't plan a transition, we put a period in where a comma should be. Or a gasp where a gentle inhaled breath should be. Or a fence instead of a gate. Or...well, you get the picture.

As you're thinking through your songs and planning your worship service, make sure you're thinking SEGUES. This is something that will help keep your people focused God versus the band is fumbling between songs.

Here are several of the 28 Ways articles that deal with moving from song to song:

Segues #1 - #3

Segue #4

Segue #5

Segue #6

Segue #7

And there's more - which you can now find with this handy index page for the 28 Segue series. Just a warning - some of these are very early blog posts. That means two things - 1) some of the formating got a little wonky in the transfer from my old platform, and 2) I maybe hadn't found my blogging stride yet in a few of those. Have grace and enjoy.

Tell me about your situation - how do you plan segues?

What's your favorite way to transition between songs?

What's one of your default ways - i.e. its the one we fall back one when we haven't planned anything?

Recalculating: 5 Questions to Ask When Planning Songs

Recalculating: 5 Questions to Ask When Planning Songs

By Jon Nicol   |  May 2, 2012

We have great Christian camp called Beulah Beach affiliated with our church, and it’s only about an hour and 10 minutes away. That is – if you know the short cut.

The after a short jaunt north of town, the route abandons Highway 13 for something called Fitchville River Road. This is the kind of shortcut that your GPS girl eventually stops sweetly saying “recalculating” and finally just blurts, ‘Fine. You’re on your own!” in a darkly sarcastic, yet still pretty Elaine Benes voice.*

Eventually this shortcut requires a turn onto Joppa Road, then finally a right on Hwy 6 before reaching the camp.

Returning home by this route is a tad more dicey. There’s a place where Fitchville doglegs to the right when you’re heading north on the way there. On the way back, however, that dogleg is less apparent because a new road continues straight while Fitchville veers to the right. After a few minutes, you realize your mistake when you find yourself dead-ending into one of Ohio’s finer cornfields.

Once you’ve made the mistake a time or two, you know just to backtrack. There’s no direct route from that cornfield back to Fitchville River Road. And don’t ask for Elaine’s help – she’s still bitter from the drive up.

Why go into this pretty-much-pointless travelogue about my Bible camp shortcut?

I’ve been thinking about the metaphor of worship being a journey. I’ve come to the conclusion that the songs of our worship services are a lot like a highways on a trip.

Any road trip worth taking requires multiple turns. Every highway, interstate, avenue or cow path serves a specific purpose in moving us towards our destination. It’s up to us the leader/guide/Sherpa to choose the right ones. (I'll admit the Sherpa metaphor now seems a little over the top since I’m talking about backroads in the second flattest part of Ohio.)

Think about the songs you use. If you use a tune like Today is the Day by Brewster/Baloche, where do you put it? Yeah, usually at the beginning. It gets people up and sets a tone for the service. If you started the service with O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, you’re in for a much different service. Not saying that’s bad, it just sets a different tone.

Most worship leaders intuitively get this. The problem is, our intuition usually plans two fast songs, a mid-tempo anthem and a power-ballad as our default commute to the throne room.

That’s OK. It’s a progression that works – but it’s just using tempo, dynamics and feel to move us along. What about the over-arching theme** of the lyrics?

During my coaching with worship leaders, I take time to look at their song selection and service flow. I often see thematic left turns that probably gave their congregations whiplash. They’ll be singing down a six-lane highway about God’s greatness, and then BAM—a Dukes of Hazard fish-tail turn onto an intimate garden path that talks about resting in the arms of Jesus.

Or if I can use another word picture, it’d be like taking a Jason Bourne chase scene and cutting to a tender moment in a Nicholas Sparks movie.

To keep our congregation's GPS from continually saying “recalculating…” during our worship services, we need to be intentional about our service design – specifically song planning.

There’s so much we could discuss about this subject, but let me give you a few questions to ask yourself as you’re planning worship services.

1. What’s your destination?
Not just in general, but in this particular service, where do you believe God might want you to take his people?

2. What’s the focus of the senior pastor’s message?
Not every song needs to point to that theme, but if you can journey towards it, you’ll be helping people prepare to hear God’s Word.

3. What lyrical paths will move me to my destination?
Ignore tempo, dynamics, keys, etc. for a minute. Just look at the lyrics of songs. Thematically, where will they take us? Towards God’s greatness and transcendence? Or maybe towards his tenderness and intimacy with him? Or maybe towards a celebration of the cross?

And by the way, you can have all those themes in a single worship set – it’s a matter of how you move from one to the other. Which is the fifth question. But before we ask that one…

4. Overall, are the musical and lyrical paths taking us to the same place?
Does the movement through tempo, dynamics, keys, etc. reinforce the movement through themes? We need to recognize and wrestle with this tension every time we plan worship.

Fortunately, most good worship tunes have prosody – that’s a songwriting term for the music matching the lyrics. The built-in song prosody helps us in this journey.

5. Is there some connection from one song to the other, both thematically and musically?
If there isn’t, and the turn feels a little too sharp, how can we connect them better without giving our congregation whiplash and sending their GPSs into a tizzy?

The next in this series will deal with segues - getting from thing to the next. But in the meantime, let me know how you plan worship songs as a journey.

What sort of frustrations do you run into?

What sort rewards have you seen by doing this?

 

If Worship is a Journey, What's Our Destination?

If Worship is a Journey, What's Our Destination?

By Jon Nicol   |  May 1, 2012

This is part of the Journey of Worship Series.

If corporate worship is a journey, then we need to figure out what the destination is.

In a lot of our churches, well-intentioned people would probably answer, “the sermon.” I mean, it makes sense, we sing, pray, read scripture, take an offering and then – the message.

I’ve known pastors who said the “worship” that goes before the sermon is a warm-up to the real thing. The appetizer before the main course. The preliminaries, if you will.

Can I say I’ve tried hard to avoid working under a leader like that.

And for the most part, I’ve succeeded.

But really, the sermon is part of the worship trek as well. At least it should be.

So if we aren’t heading towards the sermon, what’s are destination?

Isaiah 6.

If you’ve been a worship leader for 10 minutes, you know Isaiah 6. In the year that King Uzziah died…

Isaiah’s experience in the temple is a progression of encountering God.

vv1-4: God’s transcendence and glory experienced.

v5: Isaiah recognizes his sinfulness and his people’s sinfulness. His perspective has gone through a holy realignment.

v6: God provides healing and cleansing.
v7: Isaiah accepts it – his sin is atoned for

v8: Only then, did he actually hear God’s voice. He responded “send me” without knowing the how the story would unfold.

v.9: God commissions Isaiah to go back out to his people with a message

While I’ve designed worship experiences around this verse, I’m not suggesting that every service follows some step by step prescription. But there is a big picture progression to consider. Let’s start with the destination.

The destination is always God’s greatest glory.

God is glorified when creation (heaven & earth) worship him.

God is even more glorified when his people turn from their sin and accept his atoning work. (That’s a not a one-time event, by the way. We continually need to return to the burning presence of God to be made clean.)

God is then glorified when his people can hear his voice and respond.

God is glorified further when we live out our story walking the path that he has carved for us.

So often we don’t see more than the next step. But our heart, soul, mind and strength is surrendered and finding it’s wholeness, purpose and direction in Jesus Christ and His Spirit within us. That’s where God is most glorified.

John Piper says it like this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

So how does this translate into an every Sunday experience?

If I could answer that with a 7-step process, I could probably get a publishing deal.

But I think that’s some of the problem. We create formulas for worship, combinations to unlock:

3 songs to the left
2 prayers to the right,
1 scripture and hymn/chorus mash-up to the left and

CLICK – the transcendence of God is unlocked.

So while trying NOT to create a crass formula, let’s break this down for worship:

  1. The destination is God’s glory through my redeemed life living out his call.
  2. We need to experience God’s glory and transcendence - his “otherness” to have a holy realigning of our perspective. In Isaiah 6, that came through a corporate worship service – albeit a heavenly one.
  3. Once our perspective is realigned, we recognize our need for the continual work of Jesus Christ in our lives. And we accept it and receive it.
  4. Then we can hear God’s voice and respond.
  5. Just like Isaiah didn’t stay in that worship service in the temple, we go out transformed, renewed, empowered, and on mission.

I don’t believe we have to “program” these five steps into each worship service we plan.

For example, I’ll occasionally design a time for people to deal with their stuff during our musical portion of our worship. But most often, I find a song or two into worship, I’ve experienced God’s presence to the point where I stop singing and start whispering words of confession and repentance to Jesus. Even while I’m leading. (Heck, by the third chorus of a song, the congregation doesn’t need me singing.)

Should I have “dealt with” that stuff before I lead? Maybe, but it’s that ‘holy realigning’ of perspective. When we come into God’s presence, we can’t help but see ourselves with clearer eyes.

As we talk more about the journey of worship, we’ll keep coming back to Isaiah’s experience and the destination that we determined from it.

But until then, let’s talk –
What are ways you see Isaiah 6 take shape in your worship services?
As you’re planning worship services, what are some things you’ve found effective in making it a journey towards experiencing God?

Journey of Worship or a Drive Around Iowa?

Journey of Worship or a Drive Around Iowa?

By Jon Nicol   |  April 30, 2012

One summer when I was in grade school, my parents decided to go a “driving” vacation. The destination was “around Iowa”—the state we lived in.

We just drove. Around Iowa.

 At one point we just threw caution to the wind and crossed the Missouri river into Nebraska.

We had almost as much fun as it sounds.

iowa roadNow, having much more grace and understanding than I did as a kid, I get that it was probably one of those off years where vacation money just wasn’t there. But as a fifth grader, or whatever I was, it was torture.

I think part of pain was this: no clear destination.

When we went to see cousins in Pittsburg, there was, well, Pittsburg.

When we went to the Black Hills, there was a bunch of dead white guys’ heads on a mountain.

When we went to Florida, there was the ocean and, wait for it…Disney World.

But when we were aimlessly driving about the cornfields of the mid-west, the best destination we could hope for was a motel with a pool (kid’s criteria) that cost less than $29 a night (Dad’s criteria). And we crossed the ‘wide Missouri’ four times in search of this elusive location.

I wonder if people in our churches feel the same way about our worship each Sunday.

Are we clear about where we lead them? When it comes to planning worship services, do we even know our destination?

What tools do we use lead them? Just songs? Maybe a prayer or two? A scripture that we pulled out 10 minutes before the service?

And what kind of path do lead them down? Meandering? Predictable? Into dead ends and turnarounds? Or maybe we just leave the trail altogether and go off the map?

Corporate worship is a journey. And the worship leader is the guide.

But don’t think tour guide at a museum. Think Sherpa embarking from Everest Base Camp.

Over the course of a few posts in the coming weeks, we’re going to explore how worship is a journey.

Until those posts show up – what are your thoughts on corporate worship being a journey? I’d love to make this series a collaborative effort.

 

 

Read this Saturday Night

Read this Saturday Night

By Jon Nicol   |  April 25, 2012

Hey friends, I've got a big projects I'm working on today and tomorrow, so I'll be a little scarce with the blog. But don't worry - I'll point you to some good stuff you can read instead.

Three Worship Myths That Frustrate Smaller Churches

Three Worship Myths That Frustrate Smaller Churches

By Jon Nicol   |  April 24, 2012

Myth #1
We need a band if we’re going have modern/relevant worship music.

No, you don’t.

A band is nice. But two solid musicians creating good music will do more for your musical worship than a cobbled-together band. Take a look at what one acoustic guitar and piano did for the accompaniment for Kari Jobe.

If you don’t have anything, you still have voices. God doesn’t mind a cappella.

You might even try to sing along with tracks (anything from the original recording, an accompaniment CD, or even full blown loops run in Ableton).

No band needed.

Myth #2
We need to do modern/contemporary worship music.

Instead of thinking contemporary music, think contextual music – what works in your context. Think both about the people that are there, and the ones you are trying to reach. Those might be two different groups. But there might be a common ground.

I live in an area where country and bluegrass music is really popular. I’ve just added a violin, and I’m on the lookout for other instruments that we can flavor our music towards our context.

Myth #3
We need to do music.

Music is a powerful tool for worship. It’s a medium that connects with our emotions. But it’s not the only container in which we bring our worship before the throne of our King. If you don’t have the resources to "do" musical worship each week, explore other ways to worship a few Sundays a month.

And if your church equates worship with music, maybe its time to intentionally put a moratorium on music. Choose to worship together in other ways for a Sunday or two, or ten.

Truth
God has given your church everything you need right now to worship Him right now.

Unfortunately we’ve allowed the “big box church” worship leaders and signed recording/worship artists to set our expectations for worship.

You can do two things with expectations – meet them or change them. If you're leading a smaller church worship ministry, I'd say change them. You'll be far less frustrated.

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 Transpor.com.

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.

Is Your Team Full of Renters, Squatters or Stewards?

Is Your Team Full of Renters, Squatters or Stewards?

By Jon Nicol   |  April 20, 2012

I rent my house.

So I have the right to be there. I earned it through paying rent. I treat it decently and call it my own. But when the bathtub started to sink into the floor, I did not pay to have it fixed. Nor did I care to assist the carpenter my landlord hired. Partly because I have no discernible mechanical, plumbing, or carpentry skills whatsoever. But also because…

I’m a renter.

I’m convinced there’s a cat that lives under my deck. I think it’s my neighbors' cat. They throw food scraps out into their backyard to feed their cat. The one that lives under my deck. (And those food scraps...yeah, those also feed the skunks, possums and raccoons. But that’s a different story.)

I’m also convinced the cat uses my landscaping mulch as her restroom. I don’t like that cat.

The cat’s a squatter.

I think one of the marks of unhealthy worship teams is the presence of renters and squatters.

Let’s start the squatter.

The squatter is on the team, but no one’s sure why. His heart might be in the right place, but his gifting and talent isn’t. He not only doesn't contribute much, but his lack of ability can be a liability.

As a squatter, he’s flying under the radar. He maybe even knows he shouldn’t have a spot on the team. But he likes the camaraderie and the chance to play. Pity is probably what’s keeping him on the team.

How did he get there? You likely inherited him from a previous leader (or lack thereof). He’s not a bad person. But through a bad system* of invitation and qualification, he landed in the ministry. And he’s not leaving.

You, my friend, have a squatter.

Then there’s the renter.

The renter pulls her own weight. She’s got gifts and talents and happy “using them for the Lord.”

As long as things go her way.

For the renter, the worship team is a transaction. She pays with her talent, time and energy. In exchange, she has her ministry. And since it is her ministry, she is entitled:

  • Entitled to be scheduled as much, if not more, than the others.
  • Entitled to take the lead on Revelation Song.
  • Entitled to act miffed when someone else gets it.
  • Entitled to miss rehearsals occasionally because, “hello, I already know the music…”
  • Entitled to have at least one spot on the special music rotation.
  • Entitled to voice her opinion on all changes and decisions, and believes her voice carries a lot of weight with the team.

    Unfortunately, sometimes it does.

She is a renter.

Renters and squatters are marks of an unhealthy worship team. There’s a time and a place (and a proper procedure) for eviction. But we’re not going to talk about that right now. Sometimes, the best way to begin to remove squatters and renters is to crowd the worship team house with stewards.

A steward knows his place. He’s entrusted with opportunity and position, but also knows they aren’t his. There’s a sense of ownership, but not entitlement. He knows what he possesses has been given to him to care for the Master’s house and further His Kingdom.

When a steward is given something, he plans to return it one day – only with more. It is not his to guard, but his to grow.

You get enough stewards on your team, the squatters and the renter’s will start to feel out of place. They’ll either move out or start acting like, well, stewards.

If they don’t, then the eviction process may need to happen. That's another post for another day.

 

29 Worship Tools for Under $29, 10

29 Worship Tools for Under $29, 10

By Jon Nicol   |  April 18, 2012

Disclosure: links in this post are affiliate links

When it comes to this tool for under $29, it’s almost assumed that you’re not a real Christian guitarist if you don’t use one:

#18. The Kyser Capo

Eddie Van Halen had his signature smoldering cigarette tucked in the strings just left of the nut. Us worship leaders have the tops of our Taylor headstocks adorned with a Kyser.

I’m a bit of a capo geek. I’ve got 3 kysers (2 of which have been tweaked, we’ll talk about later), a G7, a 15 year-old Glider, and two Shubbs, one for steel strings and a wider one for my classical guitar.

I like capos.

In most situations, my Kyser Capo wins. It’s easy to put on, take off and cleanly clamps to the headstock when not in use.

But…at times I run into a few of issues that require these other capos. (at least, that’s what I tell my wife – I need them!)

The Kysers, especially when they’re new, tend to squeeze a little too hard for some guitars. Even my well-worn one pinches my Carvin strat painfully out of tune. Here are a few solutions:

The G7th
I picked up a G7th Performance Capo last year at CMS/New York. I enjoy it. It’s mostly a one-handed operation like the Kyser, but the execution is completely different. It takes some getting used to. The big advantage is that you can squeeze exactly (and only) the tension you need for the strings. There’s no spring. It actually ratchets in tiny increments. The downside is, however, you won’t be getting this for less than $29. If you can score it for $35, be happy.

The G7 Nashville
I don’t own this a G7th Nashville Capo, but a student of mine did. It operates pretty much like the Kyser capo, but with a much sleeker design and far less tension in the spring. So much so, unfortunately, my student couldn’t use it with his acoustic guitar. But because of this, they work great on electric guitars where less tension is required.

I’m thinking about grabbing one sometime. (Don’t tell my wife.) Amazon has it listed (currently) for about $20. Still a tad pricey for a capo. But it's sweet-looking.

Shubb
I’ll admit it, I bought my first Shubb C1 Acoustic Guitar Capo because Phil Keaggy used them. The good news is, you can dial in variable tension, so I still use this 20+ year-old capo for my electric guitars.

The bad news is, it’s not as quick on and off like the Kysers or G7s. But I liked it enough I bought one for my classical guitar, too.

Glider
This next alternative is a the opposite of the Shubb: big and bulky, but self-adjusting and quick moving. The Glider Rolling Guitar Capo looks more like a miniature torture instrument than a capo. The biggest downfall to this one (besides the inch and a half of capo sticking out on either side of your neck) is that it requires a rocket surgeon to get it on and off. Once you figure that out, it’s OK.

Need a handy
chart that tells
you where
to capo for
every key?

I picked up my Glider specifically when I played on a worship team that was decidedly piano-driven: Bb, Eb, Ab, and F were the usual keys. And the worship leader would jump from one lousy key to the next like Tarzan swinging between trees. So the quick roller action of the capo made all that movement easy. I’m finding now, 10 – 15 years later, that the tension in the spring is a tad less than it used to be. I get some buzzing on the lower frets of my acoustic. But it still works great for electrics.

By the way, if the idea of the Glider appeals to you, but you’re not sure you’ll be able to take it off quickly enough, there is a trick. Simply slide the glider up and let it hang out on the nut. Voilà – open position.

So there’s more than you ever wanted to know about my capo collection. I’ve got one more to talk about in the next installment of 29 Worship Tools for Under $29.

The Glorious Awkwardness of Baptism

The Glorious Awkwardness of Baptism

By Jon Nicol   |  April 16, 2012

Have you seen one lately? Not a ceremonial sprinkling, but a full-on drench. It's awkward...

5 Things Gungor Reminded Me About Worship & Music

5 Things Gungor Reminded Me About Worship & Music

By Jon Nicol   |  April 13, 2012

Packed into a small club with no one more than 15 feet from the stage, here are some things Gungor got me thinking about worship (and and bald white guys)...

Learning Worship Guitar May Be Easier Than You Think

Learning Worship Guitar May Be Easier Than You Think

April 12, 2012

Today's post is written by guest contributor, John Sizemore. John founded and runs GuitarZonline.com, a great resource for guitarists.

According to a survey done in 2009 over 60% of people in the world have either tried or have wanted to learn how to play guitar. This is an astonishing number considering all of the different instruments there are to play.

So, why do you suppose the guitar is so popular?

Well, what's obvious to me would be how portable it is. You can basically bring an acoustic guitar anywhere and you have a whole band so to speak. Here's a famous quote from David Gilmour of Pink Floyd

"When you strum a guitar you have everything - rhythm, bass, lead and melody."

I just love that quote because it's so true! It's an amazing instrument.

Improper Training

So if 60% of people in the world have tried to learn how to play guitar, where are they all?

Well, here's another statistic. 80% of the people who try to play guitar quit! Yup, let me say that again. 80% of the beginner guitar players out there quit. This means that only 20% actually learn how to play guitar. That's not much.

Why do you suppose that is?

Well, I believe it has to do with improper training. Let's face it, many try to learn guitar on their own through books and random videos that really don't give them a place to start. Also, many are not even taking the right guitar lessons for the genre they want to learn in the first place. This is important.

The Easiest Genres To Learn Guitar 

The most popular genres to learn for the beginner guitarist are rock, country and pop. These genres usually have easy chord progressions and are in common keys. Any other genre would just be too difficult since the styles are so distinct and require a lot of training with different scales and picking patterns.

Now, here's the good news! Modern Christian music has 2 of the most popular genres mixed together. That's right! Modern Christian music is mostly made up of rock & pop music. This makes these songs extremely easy to learn on guitar.

Let's take a look at the top 3 Christian songs on the Billboard charts in 2012 and the guitar chord shapes for example.

  • Where I Belong, Building 429- Capo on 4th Fret- Em, C, G, D & F
  • Overcome, Jeremy Camp- Capo 2nd Fret- G, C, Em & D
  • Learning To Be The Light, Newworldson- G, D, Em & C

WorshipTeamCoach
Free Resource:

Beginning Guitar:
Introduction
Lesson 1
Lesson 2

You can see with the use of a capo the top 3 songs on the billboard charts have the same chord shapes. Now, if you couple this with a few different guitar strums you could easily play today's most popular Christian songs.

If you're feeling a call to worship in music, I cannot encourage you enough to learn how to play guitar. I believe just practicing a minimum of 15 min/day you could be playing your first Christian songs fluently within a few months.

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.

 

Free iPad.

Free iPad.

By Jon Nicol   |  April 10, 2012

At the risk of sounding Zen - there is no free iPad...

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

 

Why We Call It Good

Why We Call It Good

By Jon Nicol   |  April 6, 2012

In honor of Good Friday, I'll be giving away my ebook, Eight Words from now till Sunday morning...

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 WorshipMinistry.com...where you'll see other hairy "Time Management Issues" like Louder Means Faster, Compensating, and I Am the Band.

Great Easter Song 2...

Great Easter Song 2...

By Jon Nicol   |  April 4, 2012

Gateway Church's latest album has a good one for Easter. It's called Victorious...

Great Easter Song...

Great Easter Song...

By Jon Nicol   |  April 3, 2012

As I prepare my team (and me) to lead a Resurrection-focused worship gathering this Easter, it was nice to find a how-to on a song so new. It might be last minute if you haven't heard this one yet, but it'd be worth it...

Charts are available on PraiseCharts and SongSelect (song #: 6180971 - it'll make it easier to find in the search)

Enjoy. And thanks, Paul!

Team Devotional: Restoration & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Team Devotional: Restoration & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

By Jon Nicol   |  April 2, 2012

I've got a 1971 350 Honda motorcycle. It's in relatively decent shape, until I look at the fully restored ones online. Then, not so much. Would I like to restore it? Yes. Wait. No -- I'd like it to be restored.

I don't want to do the restoration. To restore it means tearing it apart. Removing dents. Repainting. Getting intimate with grease that predates my birth and dealing with gunk that remembers Nixon.

I'm learning that if one owns a vintage bike, one either needs the skills to fix said bike, or enough money for someone else to do it. I have neither. So it runs. Usually.

I got mad at my 6-year old son the other day, madder than the situation warranted. Afterwards, I told my son, "Daddy's sorry." And I meant it. I asked God for forgiveness. And I meant it.

But I stopped there. Confession was relatively easy. Saying 'sorry' was simple. But I wasn't restored.

Restoration's expensive. The price is the costly question "why?" Why did I get so mad? And the cost of asking why leads to the tough work of dismantling my heart and finding the broken piece. And the broken piece is a boy not much older than my son Aedan -- wounded by the words and actions of another, then believing this wound defines him.

But seeing that broken part isn't enough. I need listen as the voice of the Restorer speaks truth into my heart-lie I'm holding. I need to let the hand of the Healer reach in and return that soul-part to its original glory. I need to succumb to the embrace of the Abba Father and, from there, forgive those who wounded me.

It’s one thing to want to be restored. It’s another thing to pay the price of restoration: intimacy with Jesus. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. We need to open ourselves up the Restorer, allowing him to see inside us and tell us the truth.

Until we do, we settle for a life that's in relatively decent shape and runs--usually.

Why is This Song List SO BIG?!

Why is This Song List SO BIG?!

By Jon Nicol   |  March 30, 2012

Has your song list gotten too big?

First ... 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 [13] 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Last 

 

 


 

 


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