Be Our Guest!

We had a great session last week with Nick Cuthbert, the founder of Riverside Church in Birmingham, who came to talk to us about being welcoming as a church.

I don’t know if this is something you pay attention to at your church…we do, but in the business of everything else which happens on a Sunday (music, media, sound, lights, coffee, cake, the talk…note this isn’t a list of order of importance…if it was then coffee would of course be first….), it can get forgotten, or maybe not fully thought through…

Be Our Guest

Nick was great, having led the church for over 30 years and now working with Lead Academy he had a wealth of experience, knowledge and anecdotes to share with us. So I thought I would share some of it with you:

  1. Watch your language: It is said it takes 6 – 12 months for people to become fully indoctrinated into a church…and by then they are used to the language, or Christianese as we like to call it. But if you’re coming to church for the first time and they are talking about being washed in the blood of the lamb at the front, or sharing in the peace together, or practicing the Lord’s supper this morning…what would you make of it? Similarly, how would you react if the service leader stood up at the beginning of the service and said “we’re going to worship now…”? Worship what? And how? Does it involve fire? Dancing? Is there a chant which goes with it? So think about your language…we are going to sing some songs together that express how we feel about our faith. We’re going to stop for a bit to greet each other. Today is communion, where we share bread and wine (non-alcoholic) to remember Jesus. Small changes, but language which is understood. And similarly…
  2. Be inclusive: When it comes to the announcements, or the service order, or publicity, are you thinking about 1st timers? If Geoff is having a mens barbecue at his house on Friday, or Jane is collecting money for Tearfund in advance of her trip to Uganda…it’s all great…but who’s Geoff? What does Jane look like? Thursday Fellowship is meeting this week on…well, Thursday. But what is Thursday Fellowship? Who is it for? Where? When? Why? And when you do these announcements, is it something which the whole church needs to know on a Sunday? If Thursday Fellowship is targeted at our older people, announcing it in the morning service is probably irrelevant to 75% of the attendees.
  3. Coffee time can be a lonely time: We often start and finish our services with refreshments, and its an opportunity to catch up with friends, recover from the previous service and be social. But it can be part of the problem…as we naturally congregate with our friends who we may not have seen all week, any newcomers can be left, in a corner, by the door with their coffee cup for company. Try to keep an eye out for newcomers, and then be social with them! Something Riverside did was have gift bags for 1st timers…a freebie with info and something nice is always well received, but of course, when it comes to coffee time it is clear to the rest of the congregation anyone holding a gift bag is new (or going to a party after the service…?)
  4. Smile! We put so much effort into Sundays, from the creative content, to the music, the talk, refreshments (thinking about coffee again…), graphics, cleanliness, tech… But so often it can seem what people are singing, or listening too, may be well received and understood by their heads and hearts…but their faces aren’t necessarily reflecting it. We don’t go to church to have a bad time. We don’t worship a grumpy, miserable God. Our songs and services are mostly joyful, colourful celebrations…isn’t that what “worship” is about? So what would a 1st timer make of a church full of grumpy looking, sighing people? I wouldn’t come back. A smile is something which can be contagious. And finally:
  5. 1st timers: We’ve always made the point of welcoming our visitors at the beginning of the service, but as Nick pointed out…if you call someone a visitor, does it mean you’re not expecting them to stay? Or come back? So rephrasing as 1st Timers (as you may have noticed I’ve done throughout this post) is another subtle, but inclusive change.

So a short (?!) summary, there was lots more and making sure you are welcoming every week is something which always needs to be addressed. And by everybody…we have a Welcoming Team whose duty is to be welcoming…but really, it’s the job of everybody who is there. Every week. Every day!

All The Time!

So approach every Sunday, every element, every word from the viewpoint of having a room full of 1st timers, and make sure you are addressing all of the above and more.

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.

Correct Collaboration

We’re in Easter week, we’ve been planning service orders, music, media and some drama so our services can be as good as they can be. As you know, we have a template we follow for all of our services, and we are in a pattern of getting at least three weeks ahead of Sunday so we can have plenty of planning time.collaborate-and-listen

So our senior minister, Chris*, has been creating and collating the service orders ready for creative input, worship songs and anything else which will be supporting the talk. He had some ideas, based on some SkitGuys dramas, as to how the service should be structured and also the general theme for the whole event. So he entered some of these elements into a draft order (for both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which he then copied to me, Steph our assistant minister, Amy our youth worker, and some of the other staff, as we were all going to have some involvement in the services. There were a couple of lines in the email:

“these are still very draft, so feel free to input/comment etc.

The vision that I have for them might need some explaining!”

The problem was, sending an email like this to several different people meant there were several different responses: too wordy, too grown up, not accessible, not all age enough, how about this video, no that’s a bit too kiddish, how can we aim for the middle…etc etc. Chris never usually sends an email like this out, to so many people…(and probably never will again….!)

No such thing as “Correct Collaboration”?

Now I know this post is titled “correct collaboration”, which is probably a slightly misconstrued title as we all know there’s not a “correct” way to be collaborative. That said, I’d like to proffer a few pointers to help with collaboration off of the back of this experience:

  1. If you want to collaborate, make it clear what it is you’re trying to achieve. When Chris and I met a week later, face to face, we were able to much better discuss the vision for the services, and subsequently were able to understand it and refine the concept.
  2. Don’t try and collaborate with a large group of people. If I ask two people a question, I’ll get two answers, if I ask several, I’ll get several. Everyone has an opinion, we all have preferences and subjectivity…when we were discussing the songs there was a little push and pull as to how traditional, contemporary, all age etc we needed to think (as our Good Friday service was all age and all together). So collaborating with a small group (small group) is achievable, but once there are several people in the room you are likely to run into problems.
  3. Watch how you phrase the questions/collaboration. The phrase “feel free to input/comment” left it all very open for people to do just that. Maybe if the question had been “do you understand the concept” or “what do you think of the video” or “will this work with the youth/children” would have given a more straightforward and workable response.

As an example (without wanting to appear completely smug….), this week I’m starting to collate new songs for our Summer song list, so I mailed a small group of people I know, saying:

“I’m starting to collate songs for the summer list, if there are any songs you’ve heard that would be a good fit with our congregation, send me some suggestions before 15th April.”

So (1) it’s clear what I’m trying to achieve, (2) I contacted a small group of people, and (3) the question was direct.

Now as I said above, there’s not a correct way to collaborate, but from experience, using some or all of the pointers above will help with the whole process.

What do you think? (don’t tell me all at once….)

*No senior ministers were harmed in the making of this post. And Chris is the best Senior Minister I have….

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….

January ideas and resources

So we’re (almost) at the end of the month, and as we looked at all things new this January, I thought I’d share some of the things I’d been using for inspiration and training and will be for the rest of the year:

Resource heaven?

Resource heaven?

  • Choose Life by Simon Guillebaud is a great collection of readings for the year which I was introduced to by my boss, Chris. Each day has a verse, a reading, and a prayer. We did Simon’s course More Than Conquerors as a small group, highly recommended.
  • Become an Idea Machine is a book I bought off of the back of James Altucher’s book Choose yourself! It’s a great premise, you have an idea muscle which needs to be exercised, so the more you do it, the stronger it gets. So you have to come up with 10 ideas a day, every day, for 180 days. Each day has a separate challenge/inspiration, so far I have journalled 10 things I don’t like which I’ve turned into things to be grateful for, 10 apps I would like to use (that don’t exist), 10 movies which caused a deep impression…and so on. I do it at the beginning of every day, and it’s hard…but good!
  • With by Skye Jethani is a great book I started last year and am just finishing. He looks at how we often approach God from four angles: Over, Under, For and From, and how we should be With God. Thought provoking…
  • …as is his daily email With God Daily. Skye is one of those inspirational writers who thinks different but is approachable and understandable. Really enjoying these in my inbox.
  • The Passion movement is something we always draw inspiration from, and their annual album often forms the basis for our musical worship for the year. I get the Digital All Access Pass every year as there is so much content. Great music, great messages, great organisation.
  • Truefire is an online guitar teaching resource, you can access it on your computer, there are apps as well, and there are plenty of courses to help you improve your playing and get some new ideas. I’ve bought the course on open tunings (something I’ve wanted to get a better understanding of), Fretboard Phenom and 50 blues licks you must know (as I wanted to learn some better lead). The courses are cheap and often discounted, and you get video tuition, music and downloads. I am not yet John Mayer, but I still play a mean rhythm guitar!
  • I do a daily reading on YouVersion, it’s a free app, and they have lots of different daily plans you can follow. I’ve just finished the Catalyst Leadership plan and am currently working through a 30 day Oswald Chambers plan. They’re really easy to follow, it’s a great bible reading/study app. And did I mention it’s free!

So that’s my lot for this month…I will update on things I am reading, using and writing. And I hope you will come back to paulkerslake.com for some resources and inspiration yourselves!

What resources have you discovered for 2015?

 

All Things New

We’ve been looking at New for a few weeks now, so I wanted to include this song by one of my all time favourite artists, Steven Curtis Chapman:

Revelation 21:5 says: He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” and 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

We know we can be born again in Jesus, all which has happened before can be renewed, restored and made new in Christ. And we have the potential to apply this to all we do as well. Just because we’ve always played in a certain way, or sang in a certain style, listened to a specific genre of music or are only a “serious” actor does not mean we have to do this forever, no matter when and where we are in life.

All Things New

Alanis Morrisette started her career as a bubblegum pop artist after winning a talent show. It was only on her third album, when she’d lost the perm and changed her musical style that she became a huge and respected artist. Neil Gaiman was a struggling journalist following 80’s synth pop bands, including a biography of Duran Duran. Fortunately for those of us who read his books, he left it behind and became an incredible author. Billy Joel was initially in a Heavy Metal duo called Attila, screaming over the drums…which led to Piano Man, The Stranger and Just the Way You Are with a somewhat more sensitive vocal style (although he possesses a thumb which can break piano strings…)

And it’s not just Music…Will Smith was the Fresh Prince of Bel Air who became a comic actor and then an action star and was still able to do serious movies like Seven Pounds and The Pursuit of Happyness. Patrick Stewart, the thespian who became widely known as Captain Luc Piccard, or Sir Alec Guiness as Obi Wan Kenobe, the role he is probably best known for despite having a long and illustrious film and stage career. Our current obsession of an evening is House MD, the multi award winning for Hugh Laurie…who I remember from Jeeves and Wooster or Blackadder. And Duane “The Rock” Johnson regularly pops up in my kids favourite movies…they have no clue he is a former WWE wrestler (although he’s retained the impressive guns…)

Now these are all famous big name stars, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do the same. I would even argue it is even easier for you to be new, reinvented and different in whatever you choose to do. All of these stars have a public following, a history which they are compared to and often is difficult to break free from. You and I are unlikely to have a public history, or anyone to pick us up on it.

Just Have The Confidence To Try

I used to just be a drummer, I was more than happy to sit at the back and keep the beat, and I did it for years. And I fiddled with guitar, could sing (I was in several choirs and vocal groups), but again, in the background. But gradually over time (and I can’t remember the exact moment) I was gently challenged to be at the front, lead the band and sing. And the first few times, I was dreadful. But I persisted (and they persisted with me), so I am now really quite confident to lead from the front, and head up the bands at EBC. And this has led to other things as well…I started using electric guitars, introducing new songs; in the past few years I have led services, something again which was new, I was rubbish at, but over time I’ve developed a style, a confidence and a useful skill.

I am being made new constantly in all I do, and I am always learning, experimenting, trying new things. This blog is less than a year old and the initial setup and tech side was daunting, but I got through the learning curve and have settled into a rhythm. I’m still experimenting with different plectrums. I’m working out better ways of staging our Sunday services. I’m learning about lighting design and DMX systems so we can better use our lights. I’m reading books by people who have done it before, so I can learn. I’m watching movies and TV shows and noting ideas for future dramas. We just had a really successful Christmas including our annual Christingle service, which this year was Once Upon a Nativity, a new script which I wrote…I never set out to be a writer, but drama is something so underused in services, and I couldn’t find anything which fitted with what we wanted…so I wrote it!

So I encourage you to take some of the ideas and pointers from this January series, find some books on subjects you are passionate about, change the way you approach your artistry, and introduce something new. And then let me know what happened, I’d really like to know!

Editing Ideas

So in last week’s post I looked at some of the sources I use for collating ideas, along with how I start finding them. This week I wanted to continue the process with how I edit and refine them into something useful.

Where to cut first?

Where to cut first?

To start with, we have a completed service outline that has an overview of the subject, what we’re wanting everyone to learn and take home, as well as a hope of how they will feel. The outline of the talk is there as well, and I’ve hopefully found a good selection of creative ideas that will support and enhance the message. It is at this point that I’ll meet with whoever is preaching for that service, so that we can start to sort through the ideas together.

This discussion allows us both to get a better feel for how the talk is going to go, where the emphasis is going to be, and what the one line take home is. We always aim to have a take home in the talk, the rationale being that whatever has been said, and no matter how long, there is a line that will resonate and stick above all the others and so be easy to remember and apply long after the talk has been heard. Knowing what this is will then influence which elements we choose to use.

There may also be timing issues to take into account, if there is a lot happening one week (we have communion once a month, we had a gift day this month which took up extra time, and several times through the year we have a “What’s Up With That” slot which gives more of an overview of some of the other things happening day to day at EBC which our congregation may not be as aware of.

Every story has a different angle

We’ll also weed out things that become irrelevant or unrepresentative once we’ve established the main thrust of the talk…every story has a different angle. And we try at this point to make sure that whatever we’re using is culturally relevant to our church. This is a pretty personal thing to understand, and can only really be sensed when you have been part of your church’s community for some time. For example, as we looked at last time, I may choose to refer to The Great British Bakeoff, Strictly Come Dancing, The Apprentice, as they are all current TV shows that are relevant and understood by a majority of our church. Old TV series like Friends and The Simpsons seem to remain relevant even 20 years after the event. And many movies, especially family movies, will work if they are popular and recognised…or they may even encourage the congregation to seek them out and watch them in a different light. But at the same time, I am pretty sure that Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle are not big crowd pullers at EBC, so they probably wouldn’t entertain a mention.

There are times when the clip is so good that it warrants inclusion, so we used a Big Bang Theory clip called The Friendship Hypothesis a while back which went down really well. But we’ve also used clips from popular movies like Mr and Mrs Smith and Defiance which just didn’t cross over, possibly because our set up wasn’t clear enough, or they simply didn’t appeal to our congregation.

Who is as important as what

With regards to music, often we can find the perfect song that reflects and illuminates the talk perfectly, so the only question becomes do we run it as a media or do we perform it as a band. And for that, we have to make a call as to if it is playable by our musicians within the time frame. We do try and get a balance of this, as the impact of having a song performed live is much higher than simply watching the video…although of course if it is done badly then that impact is significantly diminished! And we always make sure that the words are displayed whether it’s a live performance or video…just to make sure that everyone gets the words!

So in summing up, it’s great to have a lot of ideas to choose from so that you can then edit them down, and when you edit, think of the specific point you’re trying to deliver to the congregation, think about who is going to be delivering it, and think about your congregation

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.

Review All You Do

My car passed its MOT last week, we’re meeting with my eldest daughter’s tutor tonight, and I have an objective reporting and setting meeting with EBC next week. We review all the time, often formally (appraisals), sometimes legally (the MOT), maybe not always as often as we should (medicals, servicing, finances…). But do you take the same approach with your services? After all, if you’re putting so much time into planning, rehearsing and programming your services, would it not be wise to also review them after they’ve happened.mechanic-bum_2479768b

What is the purpose of a review? Well if we look at some of the examples I’ve outlined above, I would say they boil down to three key things:

  1. Is everything working as it should?
  2. Are there any causes for concern?
  3. Is there any room for improvement?

So with my car MOT, it passed (everything is working as it should be), the rear tyre is worn within required limits (cause for concern) and my clutch is quite worn but working (room for improvement).

The Sunday follow up email

I talked about routines and habits on Monday, and one of the habits Chris, our senior pastor and I have got good at is the Monday review email. It’s nothing too formal, but most Mondays we mail each other about the previous day’s services while it’s still fresh in our mind, after there has been some breathing space. There’s nothing worse than critiquing yourself or someone else straight after you’ve done it…(although I do find there will always be members of your congregation who think it’s the best time to remind you of the wrong chord/forgotten words/faux pas which you made in the talk). We cover exactly the same three things:

  1. What worked,
  2. Were there any causes for concern, and
  3. What could we improve?

This doesn’t feed into any great review system, we don’t do five star ratings and if the guitarist put his capo on the wrong fret (me two weeks ago….), it doesn’t reflect in their appraisal. But what it does allow us to do is to continually tweak and modify our services, much like tuning an engine, so we can get the best out of our teams, our facilities and our content, and the services we deliver every week can communicate the message in the best way possible. We have made great leaps in previous years with our facilities (we had a major spend on sound, lights and media), our teams (using the facilities and changing the way we rehearse and organise our bands) and our messages (the structure and delivery of our sermons), so arguably we are already creating really good services. Going back to the engine tuning analogy, once you’ve made the obvious big changes and made huge leaps in performance, anything above and beyond that consists of small adjustments for small percentages of difference. But they’re worth doing, and doing regularly. Look at time and money which is spent on Formula One cars, measuring, adjusting and refining so they are at their absolute peak performance when the difference between first and second can be fractions of a second, any performance benefit no matter how small can make a crucial difference.

Picking holes?

So a clumsy transition, a typo on a newsletter, withered plants in the lobby…none of these things are going to make a big difference to the content of the message, or diminish the truth of what is being shared. But they are small things which can make an impression on visitors, and when viewed as a whole, can decrease the effectiveness or our services. If our God is so worthy to be praised, if He is the great provider and source of every hour, if we as the church care so much about seekers and the lost…why are we His church not making the effort to at least keep the place tidy and serve good coffee?!

We continue to review weekly, our emails mean we tweak and adjust each week, we regularly praise, appraise and train our volunteers as to how and why they are serving, because vision leaks, and we do need to be reminded. And the more we do this, the better our services become, the bigger our congregation grows, and the message we deliver becomes clearer, goes deeper and remains memorable long after it has been received.

So the next time you’re in one of your services, whether serving or observing, try and look at it with different eyes, and see what small improvements you could make to go from good to great…great to awesome….awesome to spectacular…and so on!

Do you review all that you do?