Tuesday, April 22, 2008

fitting into the band - part 2 - knowing when and when not to play

I play an instrument called a Euphonium. You may have heard it called a Baritone but if it's still not ringing a bell just imagine a Tuba that's half the size and sounds like a trombone. I played in band from 4th grade up til the middle of college and learned (sometimes beat over the head) a lot about music from the whole experience. One of the things I've been able to take from band to a worship team is knowing when and when not to play.

It's easier to know with band music, you follow along in the music and when there are rests you don't play, when there are notes you do play! Sometimes you get a "whole rest"which means you don't play the entire measure. Sometimes there's a number over that rest that tells you not to rest for just that measure but to rest for however many measures the number tells you. Sometimes the number is 4, some times it's 64, sometimes it's 384. No one wants to rest for 384 measures. It's like the coach telling you to "sit this half out." Does the composer hate the sound of my instrument? Does he think I can't play well enough? Did he forget I existed when he wrote it?

One day my band director sensed people were frustrated with the long periods of not playing. He decided to teach us that day that "silence is musical." Composers aim to get a certain timbre (meaning the over-all sound or tone, not so much loudness or pitch but harshness or softness) and certain timbres require instruments to not play. A band sounds different with trumpets playing than without. There's nothing a trumpet could play to get the timbre the band is trying to make so they play nothing, and by playing nothing they actually ADD to the sound of the band by changing the timbre.

If the whole band nerd stuff is too abstract, here's a pop-culture example from when Bo Bice sand "In a Dream" a capella at the American Idol Finals:

The emptiness, the way he controlled the phrases to the end, and how you can hear each note resonate through the theater made that song what it was. If any of the musicians had played it would have taken those elements away and made the song worse. By not playing they added to the song and made it powerful.

So am I telling to never play? No, definitely not. BUT, I think silence is very underrated in worship. I want to really hammer the point home that it's ok to play nothing and silence is musical. My mom used to say, "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all." I take the same mentality to the worship team with my guitar. If I don't have anything to add I won't play anything at all.

Now we can step back and look at the song as "thing" out there and decide what kind of timbre will make the song come alive. For songs like "No one like you" by crowder you'll play the entire time (except maybe the drum-only chorus when you're silently making music!) but maybe on a slower song like "How Deep the Father's Love" by Stewart Townend no one will play but the acoustic and vocalist to really bring out the finger picking and vocal nuances. Some songs you'll play part of the time but not others. Whatever the ratio it's important to think about whether or not you should even play. Making silence will also make your guitar more powerful when you DO play and give you a larger dynamic range.

Silence is music!

Part 1 - making a song
Part 2 - knowing when and when not to play
Part 3 - knowing our role
Part 4 - Moving as a band

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