Try a Different Hat

This coming Sunday my good friend Colin is leading the band for our morning services. Now usually I take the opportunity to have a Sunday off and just “be” at church…something which is important to do, and something I encourage all of our musicians to do on a regular basis. But this Sunday (probably because of Easter holidays), we were really short on numbers so I became part of the band.hats

The songs were all familiar, (Indescribable, Happy Day, How Great is Our God, The Stand, Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here and Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)), and we had a nice little band line-up with drums, bass, guitar, keys and four of us sharing vocals duties (we were doubling up…there were only five of us in the band!).

I’m not saying I’m an accomplished player by any means, but I do know my way around a guitar, and this year especially am taking a bit more time to concentrate on different aspects of my playing. My musical background primarily was as a drummer and bass player, I kind of fell into playing guitar and leading by accident (probably wasn’t an accident…), so historically I always fiddled with the guitar but never approached it seriously. And these days, as I’m mostly leading the band on guitar, I concentrate 90% of my efforts on straight(ish) rhythm and remembering the words.

A time to Stretch

But for me this week, it was a great opportunity to stretch a bit as a guitarist. I didn’t have to lead the band, I wasn’t having to sing the tune to lead the congregation, I didn’t just have to play rhythm. My inner John Mayer could come out, I was able to play at the dusty end of the fretboard and employ much more of my pedalboard. We rocked! I didn’t even bring an acoustic to rehearsal, and I’m going full electric for Sunday!

Now I know this isn’t possible for everybody, that in some churches the band is the band, and there simply isn’t the space or opportunity to do anything other than lead/play bass/be the drummer. But where there is opportunity to play or contribute something different on a Sunday, I really encourage you to do so. We are fortunate to have several musicians in our team who can play different instruments, which we make full use of. Not only does it make putting the rotas together simpler, I also strongly believe (from my own experience) that having an understanding of different instruments makes you into a much more rounded player.

My background in drums and bass has meant my guitar playing is very rhythmic…possibly too much sometimes! And if you think of a band as a jigsaw puzzle, if you understand and or play some of the other instruments in the band, you will have a much better overview of how they fit together, and what your piece contributes. This week I was able to play the things I can’t think about when I’m leading…it’s a different challenge, and a different mindset from leading. But it was releasing, challenging, enjoyable and developed me further as a guitarist and musician.

Make an opportunity happen.

So try and make opportunities like this in your bands. If possible, don’t always lead, just be in the band. And if you’re usually “just in the band”, maybe you could lead some songs in a rehearsal and see it from the other side. Maybe you could sit in with the sound team to see what they do to make you sound great. Try a different hat. See what fits. It could all sound quite different.

Step Away from the Microphone

We have a fabulous bass player in our team called Kat. She plays double bass rather wonderfully, and sings along as she plays…but she will not ever sing into a microphone. I’ve never actually heard her sing, but she is there to play bass and play bass only. And, I think it was on a conference we went to together, the phrase “step away from the microphone” arose, and has hung around ever since. Now this post is absolutely nothing to do with Kat’s singing (or lack of singing), and it’s not here to discourage anyone in their singing. Unless you’re our Senior minister…in which case, Chris, sorry, but yes, you must put the microphone away all together. (Chris will freely admit his singing ability is as good as my rugby knowledge. It’s really that bad. But we are praying for him.)

MicrophoneThis past Sunday at EBC we ended up with a slightly bigger band than usual, which was great. And we were continuing with our Follow series looking at the topic of Cost and what we need to give up to do something. Now among the songs I had chosen for the band was the song “Light of the World” by Tim Hughes, an oldy but goody which we don’t use as often, but which had the wonderful bridge “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross”.

When I was planning the rehearsal (you do plan your rehearsals, don’t you?), I thought it would be great to start the song on the chorus acapella. So we did, and it worked really, really well. I was fortunate to have a group of musicians who are able to harmonize without too much direction…in fact we even got an extra microphone out for our bass player (Graham this week) who wanted to sing some extra harmonies. We had a really good rehearsal, the music went very well, we had fun together, it was worshipful…it just worked. It just worked! So I was really looking forward to Sunday, I knew it was ready and should go well.

Sunday outcome

So come Sunday we did our services, and besides Light of the World we were also using One Thing Remains, Brian Doerksen’s The River and The King of Love. And I found that as we had a seven piece band (Cajon, Bass, two guitars, a violin and six of us singing), I was able to lead but hardly play, and I was able to Step Away from the Microphone. Now this may not be much of a revelation to some of you, and it is something I have written about, and have been working towards. But this Sunday I was able to actually do it without having to plan it too much…and it was so releasing for me, for the band, and I’m sure for the congregation too.

Karen (who was flitting between violin and vocals depending on the song) took the lead in some of the songs, the rest of the team handled either harmonies or male lead, and I just chipped in with some harmonies and the tune in certain parts. And it was the same with my guitar…especially as the songs didn’t require too much drive, I was able to sit back, strum, use some open chords and let the rest of the band carry the song.

The Fraction Principle

I have mentioned the fraction principle before, and it’s a post worth a revisit. But this Sunday we were really on it, each of us playing well within our limits and abilities, listening to each other and just being incredibly sympathetic to the songs.

Now that’s not to say we’re generally unsympathetic most Sundays and have a competition to see who’s the loudest/fastest/biggest show off (clue: it’s usually me….). But this week really stood out…and the feedback we got from the band (excited and slightly elated), the congregation (they noticed the difference!) and the leadership (we even got a small round of applause…!)…all went to illustrate how we had just eeked out a little something extra.

So please, try it. Rehearse your rehearsals. Use the fraction principle. Try something new. Step away from the microphone! And maybe something a bit wonderful may happen.

Turn it up!

Pretty much anyone who’s been in a band will have watched Spinal Tap, and I know from personal experience of rehearsing and gigging when I was younger, the situations, exploits and “band discussions” in the movie happened with surprising frequency in my bands (although I never had a drummer explode….so far) As Nigel Tufnel (Spinal Tap’s lead guitarist) explains here in this classic scene…all of his amps go to 11…

Now towards the end of last year at EBC we replaced our acoustic drum kit with an electric kit. It’s something we had held off of, partly as being a drummer myself, the sound and feel of an electric kit is nowhere near the same as an acoustic kit unless you spend a lot of money, something we couldn’t justify. But we were able to borrow a really good Roland V Drum kit from one of our members, so we thought we’d give it a go. And on the whole, it has made a huge difference.

  • Firstly, we have so much more space on stage, as it has a footprint at least half of what the acoustic drums had, and there is now no need for the large perspex screens we had around the kit.
  • This has also led to improved sight lines across the stage, as we can get the kit in a better position and again, no screens to peer through or over.
  • And the sound on stage has crucially changed immensely, whereas before we had to turn up the stage monitors to counterbalance the drums, now we can run everything at a much lower level. Which has also meant we on stage can now hear the congregation more clearly…they actually make some noise!

So far so good.

A little is enough?

But, and this is where the title of this post emanates from…everything has now got a little too quiet!

  • Whereas before the acoustic volume of the drums meant the PA had to be run at a certain level…now the level of the drums is dictated 100% by the soundman.
  • Where before if the drums weren’t going through the system (we did mike up our drum kit), you could still hear them over the system, now if the drums aren’t turned up enough by the soundman…they won’t be heard.
  • And similarly on stage, while we are able to have much quieter monitor mixes on stage…if we can’t hear the drums properly ourselves, then as a band we start to fall apart a bit…often the drums are driving the songs and creating the rhythmic glue which holds us together.

I’ve been to plenty of venues…not just churches…where volume is an issue to overcome. Just like the scene in Back To The Future where the teacher (Huey Lewis) stops the audition because “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”…limiting volumes is a hurdle to overcome especially when you have an acoustic kit, plenty of exuberant musicians and a large PA. But working out how to persuade the mix needs to be louder…is a different problem altogether, and something we are surprisingly struggling with.

We’ve done plenty of training in the practicalities of sound, so all of our team know how to operate the desk, where to plug things in, how to eliminate feedback, phantom power, DI boxes etc. And we’ve done training in how to mix, practical EQ, balancing the band, lead musicians and instruments. Everyone knows when to turn up, what their responsibilities are as a team, how to get the monitors set during soundcheck and how to problem solve during a service. All bases covered.

Subjectivity

But we’re finding more and more the actual overall level during a service is so subjective it is really difficult to teach. Everyone has their own mixing style and preference, which is fine within certain parameters. But how do you dictate what is deemed too quiet? How do you justify the drums are too quiet, when the sound man thinks they’re great? And when it is too quiet in the front of house, just as if it is too loud, you start to run into problems, as the congregation doesn’t engage, the mix sounds weak and without depth, and (based on the songs we sing), losing the drums often means we lose the drive from the band.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a problem I was ever expecting (having been on the wrong end of many comments as a drummer over the years) and I don’t yet have a definitive solution as it is so subjective…what I deem too quiet, others deem about right, when I think there’s not enough drums or bass…others think it’s nicely balanced for the lead vocals… What I am going to try is to employ a decibel meter, and then aim for a minimum level we have everything at. So I’ll keep you updated, and if you have any other ideas to counteract this interesting phenomenon…drop me a line, always interested in new ideas and discussion.

But in the mean time….Turn It Up!

How to Play Oceans on the Drums

This coming Sunday we have an all age service, which has been entirely organised by our young people. They’re also going to lead it, Amy, our wonderful youth worker is going to do the talk, they’re going to tell a story for the children, prayers, announcements…the lot! And my marvellous daughter Abi is joining me in the band. I know it’s going to be great.

They also chose the songs from our list, including Rend Collective’s My Lighthouse and their reworking of Be Thou My Vision (You are my vision) and of course, Oceans.

Now I’m sure a lot of you have already seen this clip doing the rounds last year…in fact this video has had over 1.2 million views, and it’s an edit of the original! But in case you haven’t…here it is again. I particularly love watching the leader…despite the hero drummer getting in as many notes as possible (and we’ve all done it at some point….) even the double kicks…she carries on with the song as if it’s completely normal. Maybe it is normal? Would love to go to some of their rehearsals and see what occurs…

The Fraction Principle

I did talk about The Fraction Principle some time ago…this isn’t an old Big Bang Theory episode, but is a useful lesson from the ever wise Brian Doerksen. The theory goes you temper your ability according to the number in the group…so if there are five of you (as there usually are in our Sunday band), you play to a 5th of your ability. Which is not to say you play badly, but that you are aware of not overplaying to give everybody else space.

Of course everybody has different levels of ability and competence, but as a principle it’s essential to avoid the lead guitarist drowning out the piano, all of the singers trying to leader over harmonise, or even the drummer taking the spotlight from the leader in Oceans… There should always be space to add…whether it’s vocal harmonies, guitar and key riffs or tasteful (not tasty) drum fills. But notice the use of the word space there…if you all try and do it at the same time, it potentially turns into a free jazz gig…not necessarily what all of the congregation were expecting…?

Always be listening

I know this is something I have to be aware of…having a drumming background and only in recent years having more of a band around me, my playing style has by experience and necessity been very rhythmic and driving…something which works on your own or with a small group of musicians…but when we have a band including drums, keys and bass…I can drop back a bit…not that I always do.

I remember someone incredibly famous, (so famous, I’ve forgotten their name…), saying “musicality is as much about knowing when not to play, as much as it is about knowing what to play”.

So remember, fractions, space and taste. And how not to play Oceans on the drums….

Carol Arrangements

Christmas Music

Do you jingle all the way?

It’s the most, wonderful time of the year! We are in full on Christmas mode now at EBC as December is almost upon us, our services and activities are all mapped out and most of them are planned, publicity has been distributed and the tree will be going up in the next couple of weeks!

Now a lot of our Christmas planning is quite straightforward, as the story stays the same every year and there are obvious themes and traditions that we will stick to. But one of the things we do sometimes struggle with is carols and carol arrangements.

Where to start?

There are thousands and thousands of worship songs, hymns and choruses, and many more are released every year. I’ve written before how we whittle down our song list to something that is manageable both as a worship team and as a congregation. While the new songs and hymns that are available to use seem to  grow exponentially every year, traditional carols and popular Christmas songs remain pretty constant, and as they are only really used for one month of every year, they don’t get an airing very often. A lot of traditional carols work brilliantly in a traditional setting…we had the privilege of attending some carol concerts at the Royal Albert Hall some years back, and it was truly special to sing along with an orchestra, massed choir, royal trumpeters and the massive organ that is installed there.

But we as a church don’t have an organ, or a choir, and our band is based on who we have available to play, but also on the style of music that we deliver on a Sunday…which is primarily guitar and drums based modern worship*. Hence why we have a bit of a struggle come Christmas with our music. We have had many discussions in and around this topic in years gone by, weighing up whether we go full traditional just for the month of December, if it’s acceptable to do carols in a contemporary fashion with added choruses and drums, are we alienating visitors if we make recognisable carols too modern (even if the tune stays the same!) and so on. And to be honest, there hasn’t been an easy answer yet…if you canvas the opinion of five or 10 different people, you’re going to get 5 to 10 different answers!

I did it my way…

So what I’ve been trying to do the past few years, as we will do this year, is to strike a balance between the two. We have a relatively short list of carols that we will introduce over the month of December, and even then we won’t have a complete Carol Service as such until the week before Christmas. The carols that we do use are familiar, set in a contemporary style appropriate to our band lineup, but still retaining the original words and tunes. We make sure the tunes stay relatively straight as well….I have done arrangements where we put Silent Night into 4 in the bar and the like, but it seems to be a step too far for some! And the same with added choruses and new words…Chris Tomlin’s Joy, Unspeakable Joy is great, but incredibly high and too much for some! That said, we have used a version of Angels From the Realms of Glory by Steven Curtis Chapman that has the wonderful chorus “Come and Worship…”

At the end of the day, you have to do what works for your church, as you probably are doing with all of your worship.

How are you choosing and arranging carols this year?

*This also applies to choosing and arranging songs for every other Sunday of the year…if you don’t have five guitarists and a small choir, it doesn’t mean you can’t do Hillsong songs. And if your range isn’t that of a counter tenor and you’re more comfortable in a Barry White range, it doesn’t exclude all of Chris Tomlin’s repertoire. But it does mean you need to choose, transpose, and arrange more carefully…

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.

How 2 rehearsals are better than 1

This week we’re back to our normal routine again, having had the summer break…which means we’re back to our regular Tuesday night rehearsal slot.

Band Rehearsal

Now I’ve talked about rehearsals a lot. Probably because we do it a lot. But, a bit of history: We used to (around 5 years ago) be one church with three separate congregations who met at different locations. With three separate teams. As the leadership structure of the church has changed, as well as various other contributing factors, we are now in the position of having several meetings but now all in the same building. This has led to bringing all of our teams under one roof, and honing our song list, rotas and rehearsal schedule.

This has been a gradual process….the 9:15 band used to rehearse every other Friday, the 11:15 band every other Tuesday, the 10:15 rehearsed on site before the service…so the first thing we did was bring everybody together on one evening. This was fine when we didn’t have many musicians, as there was space for everybody on stage and enough inputs in the sound desk. But as time has gone on the band has grown (which is a great problem to have). And after having a few rehearsals when everybody turned up, and we had three to a microphone, more guitarists than a Passion concert and the unsolvable problem of how to share one drum kit between three drummers…we had to change our process.

New Regime

After a bit of deliberation, we have settled into our new pattern, which works like this:

The band for Sunday has full use of the main hall for their rehearsal, and they go through the set as if it was Sunday. Being in the same position, using the same instruments, being plugged into the same equipment means that come Sunday, there shouldn’t be any surprises and the services will go smoothly.

At the same time, every other Tuesday (as we have another group who use our church on alternate Tuesdays), we have a second rehearsal meeting in our backrooms. This is for everybody in the band not involved on the coming Sunday, but also open to any new team members and also for anybody who may want to attend and see what we do. We use this time to refine the songs which we are already doing, learn new songs (especially at the beginning of a term), work on our techniques together and also have the opportunity to share in some prayer together. I’ve also been able to set aside this time to have sectional rehearsals, so we had an evening with just the guitarists, or concentrating on the sound team with the band, and I have a music theory 101 evening up my sleeve at some time in the near future.

This has meant we are able to make much better use of our rehearsal time without taking up extra time in the week….I don’t know about you, but we already have so many meetings and commitments during the week that I don’t want to make demands on extra evenings with our band.

Benefits

Of course this requires a bit of administration, I have to keep ahead of what music we’re using and specifically plan what we’re going to do with our extra rehearsals. And I keep these fairly open…for all of the reasons above, and as we already have commitment that our band will be at rehearsal for Sundays, I am willing to cut them some slack for any additional rehearsal time. That said, most of our band come regularly enough, and seem to enjoy it! And the benefits have been huge to us all as a team…it means we are all meeting and playing together more frequently, we are learning the songs quicker and also growing much better as a team.

Now I don’t know how you schedule your rehearsals with your team…I have experienced all from weekly rehearsals three weeks out from a Sunday right through to pulling it together in the hour before a service. But I can recommend maintaining a regular frequency for all of our musicians, so they can grow musically, technically, spiritually and communally as well.

What is your rehearsal schedule?

Keep It Shut – The Sequel!

Last week I posted with the title Keep It Shut!, which looked at keeping the main hall closed during soundcheck and rehearsals so that the congregation would not distract or comment while the band and Sunday team were refining the service. I realise that the title could be construed as referring to something other than just the doors…but for the sake of politeness, we’ll cLocked dooroncentrate here on keeping the main hall closed during rehearsals…

We put it into practice this past Sunday at EBC; clear and courteous signs were placed on the closed doors with a specific opening time and a polite request for early arrivals to stay in the lobby or back rooms. Everybody adhered to it, and there were no quibbles or questions. Or attempts to break down the door.

Lock the door!

The most positive effect was in the band and tech team who were able to rehearse and sound check without distraction. We don’t hold rehearsals over the summer, so our current band time before the service is even more precious as it is the only opportunity to run through the song arrangements as well as soundcheck. My wife was leading this week, and I arrived later with the kids for the service. There was such a palpable difference on stage, the whole band were relaxed, more happy and freely leading and worshipping. The sound was noticeably better than the previous week, with a good balance between the instruments and voices, and a clear lead. The musicians were almost enjoying themselves! And all of this, just from keeping the doors closed for an extra 30 minutes or so.

I have subsequently contacted the relevant people to make this a permanent arrangement for our morning services, (one of the benefits of my role is that I can make decisions like this without several meetings with elders and planning teams…) as it is clear that it benefits all. Well, with the exception of the early arrivals waiting outside. But then, does anyone really need to be at church that early before the service? Cakes are only put our after the 10:15 service. And there are usually plenty.

Happy Band, Happy Man!

Now I’m aware I am possibly preaching to the converted. You probably do this already. If so, great. And drop me a line about some of the other things I need to know about! But, if this is a new concept to you, and you’ve had many months, maybe even years of an audience for your soundcheck and preparation time, I heartily encourage you to Keep It Shut before the service.

Keep it shut!

We are in our summer schedule at EBC, and this means  our Sunday pattern changes from two morning services to one joint all age service at 10:15. And we also have a break from our weekly rehearsal schedule, so meet earlier before the service for sound check and a brief run through. So far so good. This week was the first of our summer series, and I had managed to scrape a band together from those that weren’t already away enjoying the sun! The band all arrived for 9, knew the songs, were plugged in and we were good to go. But then:Too Loud

Our sound man, who was also tasked with operating the lights, had a real struggle to get them switched on. After a few attempts, a more detailed look through the manual, and some third party advice, we eventually got the system running…having lost 25 minutes of set up and sound check time! Then we started on our level check and monitor mix, and started working through our set. All went well, sound was good on stage, and the band was sounding good. By this time we already had an audience, although the service was not due to start for another 45 minutes. We finished with plenty of time to spare (some 25 minutes…a miracle!), and so met to pray before the service and then on to do our usual pre-service preparation. And then as I came off stage I was accosted by several people to let me know it was “too loud”, “you were so loud the doors blew shut!” and another person who had spent the previous 10 minutes walking around with their fingers in their ears.

Too loud?

Now I appreciate that too loud is too loud, I don’t want the worship to be a painful experience in any respect, and everyone has limits. But, of course, the purpose of a sound check is as much for the sound man to set the levels as it is for the band to warm up and set their stage levels. And this happens in the context of sound check before we are ready to let the congregation in. We need the space and time to be able to do this privately, so when we start the service with a hall full of people, everyone is good to go in the band and the tech team. Of course there is going to be a bit of time needed to get the monitor levels straight, get some control on overall levels and EQ, and then move towards getting a comfortable balance. But this shouldn’t be observed, or worst still criticized by the congregation.

I make sure my team is well trained, well briefed and ready to lead, and I trust the sound on stage is representative of what is happening out front. And currently we are working hard on this extra dimension that I have little control of during the service…we have a great set of songs, a competent band who can play them well, and an excellent sound system and equipment which reinforce us. Our sound team are now moving beyond the basics of balancing levels to using EQ, discerning between instruments and different leaders, and more proactively mixing the sound during a service.

I am more than open to constructive criticism after a service, and I have had (and continue to have) many discussions about the music and the band we have in our Sunday services. But to have that reaction just before we start the service is deflating, demoralizing and destructive…I felt beaten up before I’d even set foot in front of the congregation. I rarely run closed rehearsals and sound checks, as we have a lot of through traffic in our church, and running two services on a Sunday morning does mean the hall is generally open from start to finish.

Keep it shut!

But after this experience, we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to keep the hall shut until 15 minutes before the service starts, so  our rehearsal and tech time is not observed and we have the freedom to test, make some noise, make some mistakes and get the levels right. This will also mean our Sunday set will be a surprise (I especially try to keep a closed door policy when we have a drama or performance song, as seeing the run through can lose the impact in the service). And we’re trying to move the lighting responsibility to another person, as running the sound is and should be a full time role for Sunday that requires 100% concentration for the whole of the service and before.

Do you have a closed door policy before your services? How do you tackle this problem?

Setting Expectations

Everyone loves a happy team. No one wants an argument. Disappointment is not a good way to start a Sunday morning.team

We have a team of around 20 in our band at EBC, and I’m pleased to say that they are generally diligent in their timekeeping and attendance, both for Sundays and rehearsals. But it hasn’t always been this way, and there are some weeks when it doesn’t all just come together. Just this past week, I had two drop out of rehearsal because of illness and a prior engagement. Which was fine…rehearsal still happened, although on a smaller scale, and Sunday went well, albeit with a smaller band. Because the decision, rightly, was made that if they couldn’t do rehearsal, then they couldn’t do Sunday.

Good Team

There are many elements that contribute to a good team, including good spirit, heart and passion, competence, reliability and the ability to work together. And when people come on team, I look out for these areas and try to encourage and develop them. And from my side I make sure that everyone has up to date and clear copies of the music, that they are regularly updated with meetings and emails, and that they know when they have rehearsal, what they are playing on a Sunday and that I don’t overburden when sorting out rotas for the term.

But I also make sure that I set expectations in return: if the band has signed up to play for a Sunday then they know that they have to arrive early, they need to keep the week before for rehearsal, it is their responsibility to have learnt the music and be ready for rehearsal and Sunday. The day can end up being long…we do two morning services, so the commitment is at least five hours of a Sunday morning. And that may be too much for some. But I’d rather be upfront about the commitment, and for my team to be upfront in return so that I have a dedicated and committed band every Sunday.

Job Description

This is something that I’ve put together over the years through learnt experience, and we have a Job Description for our teams, just as we do for our leaders and staff, so that they are clear right from the start about what is expected and how we do things. This means there aren’t any surprises, everyone knows what to do, and if there are ever any problems, we can roll back to the job description and affirm that we all agreed to it.

Of course there is flexibility, I am pretty lenient and laid back when it comes to the team (that is just a personality trait of mine) and it is rare that anything untoward ever happens.

Setting expectations up front makes for a much happier journey for all involved.