The Fraction Principle

You may well have seen this clip already, it’s doing the rounds and I have been mailed it several times…but if you have or haven’t, it deserves a second (or fourth…) viewing:

Awesome drumming! The guy has chops…and kudos to the leader for keeping it going while he plays his flamaramaparadiddlecues (I know they’re not real…I am a drummer…but anyhow….)

Teenage Kicks

When I was learning bass and guitar during my teenage years, I was a typical “bedroom player”, in that I would come home from school and then spend hours alone in my room, learning songs and riffs off my favourite cassettes (I am that old…) and eventually CD’s (but not quite that old…). Whether it was the thundering thumbs of Mark King from Level 42, the guitar solo from Living on a Prayer or the jangly riff from The Beatles And Your Bird Can Sing, I would be lost in listening, learning and memorising new and old tunes. It was great…albeit not a very social pastime.

Something we learn as a worship team at EBC is about playing as a band, playing within our limits, and listening to one another. This is something which can only be learnt as a band, as it’s an important communal aspect to playing you cannot learn on your own. We usually have 5 – 6 musicians in our Sunday morning band, and while we are all of different abilities, if we all played to our maximum then it would be a big mess of noise…free jazz, a smorgasbord of notes! We learn to make space both in terms of frequency, and notes. Let me break this down a little.

Frequency: At its most basic level, we can split our sound frequencies into three; bass, middle, and treble. Bass is occupied by the bass guitar and kick drum, treble is occupied by cymbals, the attack of the guitar and the sibilance from our voices. Pretty much everything else (drums, guitars, keys, vocals, violins, cellos, banjos…) fills the middle. But there is crossover….the piano and drums cover the bass and treble frequencies, and the bass and guitar move around depending on how high or low they are played on the neck.

Notes: We can play fast and slow, we can use lots of notes or be sparing. Chordal movement comes into this equation as well, for something like How Great is Our God has only four chords which go around and around, whereas How Great Thou Art has almost a chord per beat at points (this is from the transition from organs/keyboards to guitar…you can usually tell when a song has been written on guitar or piano based on the key and the number of chords!) And if we’re a really hot drummer, we can squeeze at least 1208 beats in per minute…always useful during ministry time…or Oceans…

Application?

How does this apply to the band? Well, if I’m playing acoustic on my own (which sometimes happens), then I am the bass player, keyboard player, guitarist and drummer. So I will strum pretty rhythmically (drummer), use the full range of the guitar (bass and keys) and lead. But if I’m then joined by a bass player, I should drop off the bottom end of the guitar to give them space. And if there’s a keyboard player, I may play in a higher register (or get the keyboard player to play higher). If we have a drummer too then there’s less need for me to be so rhythmic, as the bass and drums (the rhythm section) can drive the song for me. Paul Baloche has a great video which explains this really clearly:

The Fraction Principle

Brian Doerksen calls this The Fraction Principle, in that you play to the nth of your ability depending on how many musicians are in the band. So if there are five of you, you play to a 5th of your ability. The rationale behind it is if everyone plays 100% to their ability all the time (look back at our drummer friend…), then it’s going to get tiring for everyone and ultimately detract from the song.

Same with the notes….why play several when one will do. The congregation hasn’t come for a jazz gig, they’re not going to applaud your knowledge of the mixolydian scale or how your keyboard player is able to vamp over a Fdim7flat5 with a boogie woogie left hand. Our congregations are there to be led in worship, which is what we’re there to do.

So the next time you’re rehearsing with your worship team, listen to everybody else around you. Are you giving each other musical space as I’ve outlined above? Does your keyboard player have a heavy left hand? If you have two guitarists, are they mimicking each other, or do they make use of a capo and/or the dusty end of the fretboard? If any of this rings true, make some changes. Arrange it as a band. Listen to CD’s of the songs you’re using. And in time, it will become second nature.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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