June 01, 2016

By Ryan Mclouth

This month I would like to take a moment to talk about technical and practical challenges we might find as worship leaders, church musicians, music pastors, or creative directors, and solutions for those challenges. On occasion, we find ourselves in situations where circumstances may be challenging, resources may be limited, or volunteers may be few. Let’s identify some of those situations and creative ways to work with them.
I have often times found both in my own experiences and in talking with other worship leaders, that instrumentation of the band is the most frequently occurring issue. The most common example of this is: way too many rhythm guitar players and/or singers and not enough of anything else. This does not necessarily need to be a problem. There are many ways in which this sort of instrumentation can be used as an advantage. First off, we can try rotating one guitarist each week to bass. As long as the guitarist understands how to find the root of the chord on the lowest two strings of the instrument, and has a strong sense of rhythm, this should be a good start. If you still have plenty of rhythm guitarists left over, move one or two of them to hand percussion. If you don’t have a drum set player, but you do have guitar players with great timing and rhythm, this is a viable option. Djembe and cajon are great instruments for this purpose. If a guitar player can emulate a drum set with their hands, they can begin to play either of these. To perform at an introductory level neither instrument requires virtuosic facility.
Still have too many guitarists? Neil Ostercamp from The Gathering turned me onto the idea of “capo books.” This is the idea that you can have multiple guitarists play different voicing of the same chords by asking each of them to capo their guitar on different frets and finger the chords as if they were in different keys. For example: if you’re playing a song in the key of G, have one guitarist play in open position using fingering for the key of G, one guitarist play with a capo on the fifth fret using fingerings in the Key of D, and one guitarist play with a capo on the seventh fret using fingerings in the key of C. This of course required that the director understand how to transpose chords in terms of the capo, but players do not necessarily need to. They can just receive the sheet music pre-transposed for the fret that you have chosen for them to capo on.
There is always the case of too many singers interested as well. How can we get everyone involved, but not clutter the sound? First, identify which of your vocalists have strong ears, and invite them to sing simple harmony part. The challenge here is to not let this supporting part get in the way of the melody. We don’t want to distract or confuse congregation members while they sing and worship with us.     
Another solution that I hear many worship leader friends talk about, is the idea of strategically placing each singer in different places on the stage so that they can connect with separate chunks of the congregation. In instances where we involve several singers like this, vocal leaders can be chosen for each song that the sound man can bring forward in the mix. This can keep the clutter out of the sound. Vocal leaders can even rotate responsibilities for each song.
Once again, I hope this helps you in you endeavors. If I can ever be of assistance, please contact me at rmclouth@centralmethodist.edu, or 660-651-9964. Keep playing and singing!