Plays Well With Others – #1 Dynamics

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Working with a set of volunteer church musicians can seem like a rodeo on many differing planes: brevity of rehearsals, level of musicality, commitment issues, oh yeah … and spirituality. All of these are mitigating factors in attempting to create a group dynamic that gives a sacrifice of praise. However, even with the limited time you have in rehearsal, you can still maintain a level of greatness in your group that will be consistent and pleasing. Honestly, it depends quite a bit on the director, and the questions you should be asking yourself.
In this article, I am going to list dynamic concepts that the leader should be asking himself and his band, and in my next several articles other qualities to ask yourself and your band as the musical director. These questions will help develop your ear as well as theirs. But first…this precursor.

Intonation. With the days of “snarks ,” “auto-tune,” and an array of digital electronics, intonation is not addressed as it once was. However, intonation must be the benchmark to everything else we do as musicians. Be sensitive as a director to always maintain good intonation with your instruments and vocals. Do not move ahead in a rehearsal where something is out of tune. This issue must be settled before moving any further in your rehearsal. Now on to dynamics!

First ask yourself, how loudly are they playing, or what are their dynamics. The seasoned music director will understand that musical terms like mezzo-piano, or fortissimo, while foreign in origin to an English-speaker, maybe totally foreign to the guitarist, bassist, or drummer. When I deal with a praise band, I often use numeric terminology, i.e. 10 is loudest, 1 is softest. Making these distinctions go a long way. Listen to the blend of your band. Is your bassist an 8 when she should be a 5? Are your keys at a 4 when they should be 7? But this goes further than blend. Let’s explore two dynamic issues: layering and song dynamics.

Layering: When we are in a hurried rehearsal, the natural inclination is an “all-skate.” This is a term that I use a lot with my group, and it is reminiscent of my childhood in the 70’s at the roller-rink. The announcer would say, “All-skate” and everyone would free-style on the rink. It is the same way with many church bands today. Everyone begins at measure one, and all play throughout the entire song…an sonic all-skate. While there are times for it, it should be within song climaxes. Instead layer the instrumentation. Take time before rehearsal and work the song in your inner ears, and decide who will play when. You can listen to the original to get ideas, but following them exactly is not important. Make it your own, and play your strengths. A layered song may look like this:

Related:  Thanksgiving: The Primary Worship Response

Intro: Guitar, Bass drum kick

Verse: Same with lead vocal

Pre-Chorus: Vocals only with acoustic guitar

Chorus: All-skate

Verse: Still all in, but drop the instrumental volume a third

Pre-chorus: Vocals only with acoustic guitar

Chorus: All-skate

Bridge: Vocals and drums

Repeat Bridge: Add guitar

Repeat Bridge: Add keys – buildup, end hard

Chorus:Capella

Chorus: All-skate

Ending: Guitar, Bass drum kick

This is by no-means THE way to do every song, in fact DON’T. However, this variance makes it much more interesting. Map every song, this will help your band get the philosophy, and they are less likely to be hurt if you tell them not to play during a certain section. I would also encourage you to write this out on the lead sheet ahead of time, as it will save precious time in rehearsal.

Song Dynamics: Listen to any song and one finds that volume and intensity level varies throughout the piece. For instance, the chorus is typically the loudest part of the song, whereas the verse is softer in nature. The bridge often begins softly and builds into the chorus. These volume variations are found throughout pop music, yet if we aren’t listening we will simply play at the same volume. In fact, I’ve given the band I work with, a college Christian band called PraiseSong, a standing order to always play the verses a third quieter than the chorus. You might consider mapping out a song this way.

Intro: 9

Verse: 5

Pre-Chorus: 6

Chorus: 8

Verse: 6

Pre-chorus: 6

Chorus: 8

Bridge: 4

Repeat Bridge: 5

Repeat Bridge: 6-7

Chorus: 2

Chorus: 8

Ending: 9

So, we have discussed the need to speak the vernacular of our group, to have them listen and be part of a bigger picture than they are as instrumentalists. We have also touched upon the dynamic concepts of layering and song dynamics.
One last thing on dynamics especially with the praise band is this word of advice: if you don’t tell your (place musicians name here) they are playing too loudly, someone else will – and not as gently as you would. As the director, you are the gatekeeper of sound on the stage. This means that you may have to have some uncomfortable conversations from time to time. Do all for God’s glory, and for the compassion of your people.
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