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The Surprising Secret to Musical Teamwork

The Surprising Secret to Musical Teamwork

Original article appeared here.

The Fraction Principle is, perhaps, the most important band-arranging principle any musician, worship leader or arranger can implement immediately to make their music start sounding 100 percent better.

I first heard about The Fraction Principle from my master arranger/co-writing buddy, Bruce Ellis. He spoke in terms of the “Layering Principle” (which includes The Fraction Principle plus other ideas on building a band’s sound from the ground up).

Then I heard Brian Doerksen, well-known worship leader and songwriter, speak of a similar idea he called The Fraction Principle.

Whatever you want to call it, this is THE game changing idea for worship leaders arranging bands, and musicians attempting to make beautiful music.

What Is The Fraction Principle?

The phrase “The Fraction Principle” is unpacked in here, and emphasizes the reality that the sound of every band should add up to “1.”

In other words, if there are seven people playing in the band, each band member only plays 1/7 of what they could play if they were on their own.

In other words, all musicians are playing a fraction of what they could play, based on the number of other musicians involved.

If the sound adds up to seven—i.e., everyone playing willy nilly what they would play if they were on their own—the music is dense, frenetic and often downright stressful to listen to.

Ever hear a classical pianist join a worship band who has no training in creating space for the other instruments? Their masterful hands are going everywhere, and there is no need for the other instruments.

Or have you ever heard a band where the acoustic guitar is being strummed by the worship leader like it’s going out of style (or like they were leading the group without a band supporting them). Or four vocalists are all piling on the microphones with full vibrato? Or the bass player is playing busy bass lines to make sure they get all their chops showing up in every song?

The old adage is true. Good music facilitates worship. Bad music distracts us from worship. It’s just true.

Applying The Fraction Principle in Your Setting

Here is how The Fraction Principle practically applies in a band setting:

  • The keyboard player is no longer needed to pound out bass lines with his or her left hand since the bass player is already covering that part.
  • The electric player, while he could play every Jimmy Hendrix lick he knows, pulls way back and creates space for the other guitars, keyboards, mandolins and other instruments.
  • Have four vocalists? They are now not all singing at the same time. They are choosing parts, and if they are blending, they sound like one voice—not four (see this post if you are a vocalist or arranger of vocals in a worship context).
  • The acoustic guitar player does NOT strum full out, all of the time. They do downstrokes, occasional strums, lightly pick and more according to what the song demands.
  • Musicians who learned classically, or alone in their bedroom, do not need to fill up all the musical space if a band is present. They play primarily with their right hand (to make room for the bass to do their thing), and they play more sparse notes and phrases to fill in the gaps.

I.e., everyone plays a fraction of what they could play when in a band.

Make Space for the Other Instruments

When musicians are making space for one another, the music starts to breathe.

And breathing space in the music … is beautiful.

Apply this simple principle the next time you play or rehearse as a band.

And when the music starts sounding too dense, remind each other to apply The Fraction Principle.

Question: How is your band at applying The Fraction Principle? Have you heard it work?

Resource: This is covered fully in Essentials in Worship in the Complete Worship Leader Training Manual (page 38) in the arranging and set-building section.