10 Tips on Becoming a Great Worship Band

Worship bands generally rely on developing their song arrangements organically. Even with a proper chord chart, it’s left to each player to determine their specific parts. Listening skills and musical discipline is a learned trait for most players, and unless we as leaders promote excellence of musicianship within our worship teams, the result will be confusion, and we will continue to dog paddle in mediocrity.

To get to the the next musical level, the following paragraphs contain very helpful information, beginning with the all-important 100 Percent Rule, and concluding with a list of 10 helpful tips to launch your worship band into the realm of the sublime!

The 100 Percent Rule

It’s important to set a proper goal or standard for each player to maintain dynamics and musicality. This is best illustrated by using the 100 percent rule.

Using the diagram, we see that when a single instrument plays a song’s accompaniment, the player can make use of 100 percent of the musical landscape: rhythm, bass, chordal movements, etc. But when another instrument joins the accompaniment—such as an acoustic guitar with a piano, for instance—each must adjust their playing to 50 percent of the musical landscape.

When a bass player joins the band, the keyboardist can now focus less on their left-hand playing (bass), and the guitar can now focus on chord placement higher on the neck, away from the range occupied by the keys. Now 33 percent musical space is given to each of the three instruments.

When a drummer joins the band, the other players can relax even more to make room for the new instrument. It’s no longer necessary for the piano, acoustic guitar and bass to carry the bulk of the rhythmic responsibility. Though the rhythm is still somewhat shared, each player must be careful to avoid wandering into the other players’ territory. As a result, each person can play even less: 25 percent each, and so on. The successive addition of instruments will result in each person having to play less.

To hear examples of “building block” playing, listen to the complex harmonic and rhythmic construction techniques of groups like Earth, Wind and Fire and ColdplayPaying close attention, one can hear that each individual instrumentalist is playing relatively simple parts. But by pulling back and listening to the big picture, interactions between the elements create an intricate, but satisfying, sum total. In other words: A big sound can be created by interweaving smaller, simpler parts.

In all of my experience playing live and in the studio, I find that the three “Ls” of good musicianship are: Listen. Listen. Listen. When a musician pays close attention to what the others are doing, and conceptualizes that playing in a band is more about creating a conversation than each person making a speech, the music benefits tremendously.

Sonic Space and the Frequency Spectrum

Every instrument fills a sonic space within the frequency (or tonal) spectrum. Keyboards and guitars share similar characteristics of tone, so it’s easy for parts to become “blurry,” or covered up when everyone plays in the same space. For instance, when a piano part is centered around mid-keyboard (middle-C), the guitarists will do better to find parts that occupy another tonal space in another octave.

Also, when using more than one guitar, it’s important that each player decide where on the neck to play; one guitarist can play chords high on the neck, while the other takes a lower position. Sometimes an electric guitar can make a huge musical statement by playing a simple part on a single string with a creative effect like a delay or tremolo. Two keyboardists can choose between two patches and create complimentary parts to play.

It’s important to be creative and experimental in choosing unique sounds for each instrument’s part. This will help to diversify the tonal palette, making it easier for each part to be heard in the mix. (Sound techs constantly battle while attempting to mix a band that plays indiscriminately, whose players don’t carefully select well-chosen parts).

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Jamie Harvill
I am a native of southern California and grew up in the shadow of Disney, Fender guitars, Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean. I am best known for writing worship songs such as Ancient of Days, Firm Foundation and Because We Believe. Now I live near Nashville, TN, where I continue to write songs, play guitar and lead worship at a wonderful church.