Three Warning Signs Your Worship Band is Too Cluttered
If you’ve ever watched the TV show Hoarders — the show where viewers see the impossibly messy homes of real-life hoarders — then you know what it feels like to wince when you see extreme clutter. Believe it or not, the same thing can happen on a sonic level with worship bands — or any kind of band, for that matter. Sound clutter can accumulate and dominate a band’s sound so quickly that you may not even realize it.
The trick is to use an old art form that the world’s greatest composers — Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. — used to turn large groups of musicians into living, breathing symphonic communities of organized but intensely varied musical sounds.
I’m talking about the art of orchestration.
Orchestration is when you take a musical idea, say a basic chord progression and a melody, and distribute it among a group of musicians in a thoughtful, varied, and aesthetically pleasing way.
Here are three warning signs that your band is NOT well orchestrated and is too cluttered or mindlessly noisy:
1. Me-Focused Playing.
The enemy of good orchestration is self-focused vanity, when each musician is doing their own thing: a guitarist is soloing over the entire song without any regard to the song structure; the drummer is playing without listening to the other musicians as if he or she were playing alone in their practice room; the keyboardist is playing with both hands at all times at full volume without variation or he or she is focused 100% on effects and synth knobs, ignoring the band and fussing over the controls like a solo DJ providing all the music for a club; a rhythm guitarist is strumming the full chord on every down beat without any change in volume.
And the singers are plugging their ears with their fingers because the band is so loud they can’t hear themselves singing.
2. Your Rehearsals are Jam Sessions.
Unless you’ve got a group of seasoned, highly trained players, good orchestration must be planned out. Rehearsals shouldn’t be a re-enactment of the me-focused free-for-all described in point one. Whoever is leading the rehearsal should try to convince each musician to play less and listen more. Think of it is as putting a puzzle together. Each musician contributes one small piece: the guitarist plays a high chord stab on the back-beat to help emphasize the snare drum; the keyboardist is playing a simple vamp in an octave that isn’t already covered by another instrument, but he lays out every other measure to create some airspace and give the song room to breathe; the bassist is hitting a simple groove that is synced up with the kick drum, the rhythm guitarist picks an arpeggio but only on the downbeat of each measure to avoid muddying things up on beats three and four; a few horn players are hitting snappy riffs on the back-beat to support the guitarist’s motif.
Rehearsal is where you slice the song up into small, isolated parts and distribute them to different musicians, and then when they play together the puzzle feels complete; but no one has the whole puzzle. They’re listening to each other and relying on each complementary part to create a satisfying whole. Good orchestration is a beautiful picture of healthy inter-dependence in a community.
Just listen to James Brown’s band. He knew how to do this well.
3. You Can’t Hear the Congregation Singing.
This might be as simple as turning the volume down. But if your band is too cluttered and not well orchestrated, it often leads to excessive noise, a migraine-inducing wall of sound, and a general loudness that drowns out the true worship team: the Bride of Christ who has gathered to worship her Bridegroom in unity and love. Remember that church is not about making everyone see how awesome you are as a musician or a band. It’s about using the power of music to facilitate unified, corporate worship in the Body of Christ. God takes the disciplined, habitual gathering of His people very seriously:
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” -Hebrews 10:24-25
God takes the use of music in Christian gatherings very seriously as well:
“…be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God.” -Ephesians 5:19-21
Believe it or not, this whole going-to-church-thing-and-singing-songs-together is not some invention of Western culture that we can just flippantly ignore if it doesn’t suit our lifestyle. It is an essential mandate of Christ’s vision for His Bride. As we can see in the verses above, having regular gatherings with music involved was actually God’s idea from the very beginning of His church; and, besides actually gathering with other Christians as often as possible, we should approach worship ministry with a servant’s heart by asking ourselves, “What can I do to help facilitate the worship today and clear a path for His Bride to sing to Him?”