Thursday, October 29, 2015

How (to) I Create Charts

Here's how I create charts.

1. Google the name of the song and the word "chords". Example: from the inside out chords

2. Start clicking links until you get a chart that has all the lyrics and seems to have the chords shown above the lyrics fairly close to where they should be. Do not bother looking at whether any of the chords are in the key you need or if any are correct. Some might be and more than likely, some aren't.

3. Copy and paste into any word processor, or into Planning Center as a chart.

4. Load an mp3 and start playing along. Edit all chords, and lyrics if necessary, as you go along.

I know this isn't an earth-shattering secret, but this works really well for me. I assume the chords I copied are wrong and I'll check every single one, but I'll save time because even though the chords might be wrong, most of the time they are put in the right location.

Another tip you might find useful... if as the band leader you like to do a song very close to the recording, but you modify the chord progression in the bridge, it would be helpful to communicate that to the band. Like with a note on your chart that indicates something like "follow the chord chart for this bridge even though it's different than the recording". It'll save time in the long run.

Got any other tips for creating charts? I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Singer Is Always Right

"Well, I have a microphone, and you dont. SO you will listen to every word I have to say!" - Adam Sandler as the Wedding Singer

Okay, I'll admit, having the microphone does not make the singer right, but there is practical application why I adopted this rule of thumb. It has to do with the fact that more attention is being paid to the lead singer, who happens to be holding the microphone, than anyone else.

There are exceptions to this rule and they pretty much fall on the drummer. Sorry bass players, guitar players, keyboard players, percussionists and banjo players. (Banjo is getting HUGE in worship right now. I'm surprised you didn't know that. It's so introspective and worshipful.)

If you start a song and the singer comes in early, then guess what... That's the new start of verse 1. Even if they come in on the wrong beat. Playing along and hoping they catch up is unlikely to work, and will become painful if it goes longer than 1.5 seconds. If they forget the words to the song and need an extra four measures, then four measures it is! Even if they jump to a bridge when it should have been a chorus. Someone's got to drive this train and whether you like it or not, the singer is in the driver's seat.

Do I say this because I'm a singer? No. Do I say this because I think the singer plays the most important role in leading the song? No, even though arguably they do. Do I say this because the singer has the most sensitive personality and we need to prop them up every chance we get? No, even though that might be more true than I'd like to admit.

There are times for collaboration and making decisions as a team. The middle of a song is not one of those times. The middle of a song calls for immediate, dictator-like decisions. Even if the dictator doesn't necessarily know what they're doing. And if this is the case, you might want to consider addressing that bigger issue, hopefully not in the middle of a rehearsal. Awkward.

Now, you may have a different philosophy and believe that everyone should follow the piano-playing music director. That's great. I think the most important aspect here is that your what-if scenarios are thought through and then communicated with the entire band so they know what to do when (not if) something goes wrong. Because eventually something will. Knowing who to look at for body language, hand signals or spoken cues before you are in that situation helps you pull out of a nose dive quickly.

I have to admit I don't worry too much about things going wrong in a worship service, and in fact, there are times I enjoy it. You learn a lot about people when things don't go as planned. Plus, no matter how bad us human beings may screw up the plan, church is gonna happen. I'm pretty sure God can handle a singer coming in at the wrong measure or having to start Little Drummer Boy half a dozen times because half the band forgot how to play it. Not that that happened to me or anything.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Let's Give the Lord a Hand!

Let me start by reminding you all that I didn't grow up in church. I grew up playing in rock bands. On stages. In bars. Where people hang out and occasionally applaud something they hear from the stage when they like it.  That's why when I first heard this phrase in church, I was, um, taken aback.

Maybe you've been there. You're onstage finishing leading a rocking, uptempo, high-energy worship song when the announcement guy takes over the transition while everyone is clapping and says "let's give the Lord a hand!" Huh?

I get where this is coming from. Truly I do. We are doing all of this for God, so let's turn all the focus on Him. I'm not saying we shouldn't do that. What I am saying is that in every other facet of life when human beings (sometimes even animals and occasionally robots) do something that looks, sounds, smells and tastes like a performance, people applaud the performance of those people when they think it's worthy. Yes, I get that the talent of those people came from God so  at church an attempt is being made to acknowledge God through those people. I'm just telling you from my own perspective, it feels so out of place. And I'm a Christian! Imagine what the poor guy that went to see Imagine Dragons the night before whose girlfriend dragged him to church Sunday morning and he decided to check out what this Jesus dude is all about thinks?

Band starts playing...

"Man, this is not at all what I thought Christian music was like. These guys are actually really good."

"Have I heard this song on the radio before? I'm not sure, but I like it!"

"Wow, this one rocks!"

Song ends and Mr. Announcements walks up... Let's give it up for the Lord!

"Wait. What? This band is called The Lord? I thought they were the church band. I'm so confused."

And people think Christians are weird.

I can't be the only one who has ever thought this, right?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How to Ruin Your Wednesday Night

Allow me to describe the worst worship band rehearsal I have ever experienced.

Everything actually started pretty well. Everyone was more or less on time, in a good mood, plugged in and ready to go.  The band leader, not me on this occasion, called out the first song. The drummer counted us in. Then something terrible happened. The resulting 30 seconds of sound, I can't call it music, may have been right at home on one of the ghost catching "reality" TV shows, but it was sorely out of place in a church. An atonal un-masterpiece. Musicians playing different songs in different keys at different tempos.

Technically, we were all playing the same song, however about half of us were playing one arrangement and the other half was playing a completely different one. There were at least two different keys, but frankly, it was hard to decipher.

That was just the beginning.

What happened next was, um, uncomfortable. The band leader decided to forge ahead. "Let's hear the correct version through the PA, please." New charts were coordinated and printed. Musicians listened to the song over the PA and tried to relearn this correct, new-to-them version on the spot. No pressure there.

The next 45-60 minutes was spent fumbling, stumbling, and hacking through song number one of the night. Not to mention half the scheduled rehearsal time was burned. People were frustrated. And by people, I mean me.  Especially because I was not in the role of band leader. I felt the best way for me to handle things was to support the band leader, do what he asked and keep my mouth shut. It wasn't easy.

Rehearsal went long and beside my own emotional struggle with the evening, I don't think it's a stretch to say I wasn't the only one looking forward to getting home and having a glass of wine when we were done.

I learned a few lessons that night that I found to be helpful for leading a band rehearsal.

1. Start with the easiest or most familiar song. This can get tricky as band members will be at different talent levels, experience, etc. But there is usually one song in your set that's kind of obvious. If in doubt, let the singer decide. Seriously.

2. If you get into a situation where the song is a train wreck, bail on it. Either cut it completely, or at least put it off until the weekend with a stipulation that if it doesn't come together quickly at the next rehearsal, it will be cut. No pointing fingers, no pressure. If it works, cool. If not, cool.

3. Stay organized. The reason that song derailed that night was because of sloppy organization of song assets in the software used to coordinate with the band.  Multiple files where there should have been one. MP3s and documents not labeled clearly. It could have been avoided.

4. Communicate. Especially if there is any doubt about which song/arrangement/key a song is being done in. My preferred method is to email the band with notes on each song in the set. Something like:

I Am - Set opener. We are using the recording as a road map, however the recording starts with piano, but no keyboard player this week, so we will start with acoustic guitar instead. Watch the timing going in and out of each chorus. During the bridge breakdown, Ryan please come up with a simple electric guitar lead part to help fill. For backing vocals, Bill please sing unison on all the choruses, Jane please sing unison on chorus 1 and a harmony above on the rest. A harmony part on the second half of the bridge could be cool too.

5. Lower expectations. In the last few years, every rehearsal I have lead starts with me stating the purpose of the mid-week rehearsal. That purpose is to make sure we are all playing the same songs, in the same arrangement and the same key. We will not be practicing transitions or ironing out wrinkles. Any wrinkles identified should be worked on between after this rehearsal and before the next. My aim is to get through the rehearsal as efficiently as possible and be done as soon as that purpose has been fulfilled. I can't recall a single time where we got to the weekend set and I regretted not having a longer mid-week rehearsal to prepare. Not one. People became more relaxed at that first rehearsal and everyone knew I would not waste their time. On the rare occasion that I really felt we needed to hit something more than once, I think most of the team respectfully obliged and often were in agreement that we'd benefit from that effort.

This works for me.  Your mileage may vary.