Wednesday, April 23, 2008

fitting into the band - part 3 - knowing our role

I was talking with a friend about this next post and he brought up a great point - there will be lots of exceptions to what I'm about to say. I agree, so know that my advice here is really general and specifically aimed at worship songs that are acoustic lead.

If a worship team is going to play as one, we need to each know what spaces we can take and where we need to leave space for the others.

Knowing your role in a song is something you never really think about until someone else over-steps their bounds. I played with a worship leader who was a really good guitarist but every time there was a break in the vocals he would slide up the neck and play a little solo lick. What he played was fine on it's own, but it was in the same register as I was playing and it clashed. I had to stop playing each time he came into my space so instead of adding something, he was neglecting the chords and losing the electric. The most common bounds-over-stepper seems to be a bass player who used to be a guitar player. His job is to lay down the foundation but he gets bored of that and starts adding more and more. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of moving the bass line around and playing within the chord, but sometimes it gets to the point where the root note isn't being played any more and we end up with a bass solo that lasts the entire song.

It's important to make sure we're not getting out of line too. The most common ways electric guitar players over do it are:

1) Playing when they shouldn't (see part 2)
2) Noodling the entire time. As in, playing within the key but never repeating anything, just soloing with no real structure.
3) Trying to be the rhythm of the song
4) Playing a part that's too low and makes the acoustic/vocals sound muddy.

In my experience, electric guitar is used mostly for texture and counter melody in a worship song. In a full mix, the drums and bass will be taking care of the rhythm and chord changes, the acoustic will be adding rhythm (when everyone's playing you mostly hear is the attack of the strings, not the actual chords so the acoustic becomes a rhythm instrument), the keyboard fills in the chords. That leaves room for the electric to fill in the upper register. It's important that we leave room for the other instruments to do their thing. All the warmth we squeeze out of our tube amps and smooth pick-ups make our guitars sound great but takes away the ability to get the hard attack needed for rhythm. That doesn't mean we don't play in rhythm, it just means we won't drive the rhythm the way an acoustic or drum set can (again this is generalize for acoustic-lead songs).

It's also important to make sure we stay out of other people's frequencies. When a sound guy mixes (live or studio) they talk about a stereo image - the 3D image of where sounds appear to be placed in a room. Then can move a sound left and right by panning the sound so it's louder in one speaker than the other, move the sound forward and backward with volume (louder is closer) or reverb/delay (dry is closer), or move sounds up and down with frequency. Low frequencies sound like they're coming from the ground and high frequencies sound like they're higher in the room. Here's a visual of what a blues mix might look like:

If two sounds are taking up the same space in this 3D image they will sound muddy or blurred, frequencies will interfere with each other and make parts louder or softer, and it will generally sound bad. The sound guy can move sounds left, right, forward, or back, but it's our jobs as musicians place our sound vertically by playing higher or lower notes.

Playing between the 7th and 14th fret on the G through high E strings is home. Most songs won't require you to wander more than 2 frets away from home - if they do you should be cautious. Playing a fat over-driven G power chord on the 3rd fret might sound great on your guitar but it's going to step on anything going on with vocals or acoustic guitar.

It's impossible for a band to be greater than the sum of it's parts if any instruments are in the same space or fighting for a piece of the song. If each instrument plays in their own frequency and doesn't fight for rhythm, melody, or business you should create a pretty solid sound! From there you'll be freed up to be creative in your own space and not have to worry about being stepped on or stepping on someone else. The band will sound big, clear, and like one entity.

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


hewhocutsdown said...


Anonymous said...

Quick! Someone get this info to Paul Baloche's electric guitar player so he can finally get him to stop playing all those jangley open G5 chords! Whoa!