The inspiration for this post comes from an activity I’ve finally kicked myself back into – bike riding. This summer, I’ve logged 120 miles so far on my bike, in 7-10 mile rides, average speed is between 10 and 12 mph. No, I’m never going to be in the Tour de France at this pace, but it’s enough to get my heart rate up and sweat a couple of times per week.
In these rides, I stay primarily on city-maintained paths that are approximately 10 ft wide. I live in a very hilly city with very few straight roads and this results in many blind spots for car drivers and bike riders alike. So, for me it’s the city paths. On these paths are walkers, speed walkers, bike riders, ‘morning constitutional’ walkers, runners, and those out taking the dog for a walk.
When everyone keeps to the right, faster folks announcing ‘on your left’ and adhere to just a few simple rules, there are no issues, and we all can enjoy using these paths as one big happy family.
However, it seems like there is a small subset of the walking and running population that simply do not understand the most important rule on the path, “Keep To The Right”. They wander all over the path, and often times take up the most dangerous part of the path – the middle.
Why is this dangerous? Because bike riders approaching from behind have no idea which side to overtake them. It’s clear that they do not understand ‘keep to the right’ since they are currently occupying the middle. To announce ‘on your left’ will do no good because they have their headphones in, and perhaps these persons do not understand right from left anyways hence their position smack dab in the middle of the path.
The result is several near collisions between bike rider (me) and Mr./Ms. middle path taker.
So, how does this relate to the worship band wingman, you are very likely asking yourself right now.
Imagine all of the people on the path are different members of your worship team and your congregation. Each has a different purpose and role for being present at the rehearsal or worship service. The words of the song are there to encourage and prompt the congregation into worship – to perform this act for God, our audience. The musicians are there to convey the words in support, etc.
If we were all taking up the middle of the musical path simultaneously, there would be a train wreck of noise, and it’s very likely that many in the congregation that are supposed to be performing an act of worship to God, would not be led in that way, but would notice all of the middle path confusion. Perhaps you’ve experienced this where you have not been given or studied your ‘roadmap’ as a guitar player, drummer, singer, FOH mix engineer, light programmer and so you do what seems right to you, but you haven’t really studied the arc of the song; the path of the song as intended to be presented.
There are specific moments in each song where different path users will be featured, where others will overtake and then get to the right, etc.
Even the most epic Hillsong United or Bethel Church rock-your-socks-off song has a map and ‘rules of the path’. Most of the time, not everyone is featured in the mix at the same time. The songs are very ‘arranged’, where different elements are featured and then quieted and others rise up. Even in bombastic moments, all 4 HIllsong United electric guitars are not pushed high in the mix – not riding the middle of the path.
In our band, it is a very rare occurrence where our worship leader hasn’t given us at least one or maybe two examples of the build/instrumentation/sound of a song with links to youtube videos or provided a link to the song through Freegal The various players in our band do a great job studying the sound of the song and understand where they should be overtaking those on the right and where they need to settle in on the right. Another great resource for guitar players I mentioned in my last post, the Worship Artistry website is an invaluable resource for getting to the essence of what various popular modern worship songs use for guitar parts and tone. We work off of these as a guide, and then modify, but by the end of rehearsal, it’s usually pretty clear what our individual roles and maps are.
Start to develop an ear for when you should ‘keep to the right’ and when you should overtake, by finding out what version of a song your leader might want you to emulate. Listen through the song several times and write notes as to what your specific part is supposed to be (silent perhaps) in each section. Stick to that the next time your team rehearses the song – if everyone on the team does this, it will bring dynamics to the song that you may not have been successful presenting/prompting in the past. This is not just for instrumentalists, this is also for the A/V team. I call this critical listening. It’s a diagnostic listen of the song, not just a listen for enjoyment. It usually takes several starts and stops and several listens through the song to develop this skill. But it’s very worth it to begin this habit of breaking down the song section by section and listening for how your part ‘keeps to the right’ and then is featured, or perhaps is silent altogether.