Charting the Course

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

I am a part of an email news discussion group of prominent worship leaders from around the country. Recently the topic of “What kind of charts do you use for your worship team on Sunday mornings?” came up. I was quite amazed at the variety of responses, and the types of “make-shift” music charts people come up with to compensate for under-trained musicians.

For example, lyrics with chord symbols offer little help in knowing where the changes are in a song, unless everyone knows it really well. These charts don’t give enough information to keep the band tight.

For some reason, too many worship musicians and leaders feel musical skill and knowledge is not important when it comes to Sunday morning worship. I ask guitarists if they play outside the home and their response is often “Only in church” as if that is not an important enough assignment. Perhaps a Friday night bar crowd might motivate them to improve more because we as worship leaders haven’t inspired their improvement. Musicians who play out in the world consider themselves professionals but musicians that play in church rarely even consider themselves musicians. Why is that?

I feel that worship musicians need to make an effort to improve on a daily or weekly basis just as a worldly musician would do. “Playing for the King” commands a level of excellence. The goal should be to raise the level of the team’s musicianship, not reduce it down to the lowest common denominator.

Here’s an analogy— if your church had a softball team, and one of the players was having a problem hitting the ball, would the coach bring in a beach ball? If a coach wants to make a hitter out of a struggling batter, he’ll have him practice hitting a smaller ball with a skinnier bat to hone his skills, not make it easier. Do we take softball more seriously than worship?

As leaders, it is our responsibility to motivate, teach and coach our musicians in the direction of improvement. Step up to the plate and show them how to hit the ball, set the example, and be a role model for improvement. If you need to multiply your musical talents, then become accountable to yourself and find someone or something to teach you. There are many great learning tools you can use and share with your worship team.

The heart is an important place to start with a worship musician. However if one’s heart is in the right place for worship, one should desire the brain and fingers to follow. Is a faithful heart alone enough for a musician, or are the deeds (improvement) proofs of the faith?

As a lead musician at a large church it is my responsibility to write the charts and rehearse the band for Saturday night and Sunday morning worship. Our worship leader picks the songs, and works with the vocalists— choir, praise team and soloists. We use real music charts, because they’re simple and effective. We use one per song that accommodates the entire rhythm section.

Many musicians struggle with the charts in the beginning. However instead of “dummying them down” we work to help them understand the basics. I give them suggestions on ways to improve their knowledge and skill, and direct them to materials that will help them.

Our rhythm section consists of drums, bass, two guitars, piano, keys, two percussionists and sometimes a horn. Once a month we’ll have a four-piece horn section.

A good chart should be very easy to read. It should be easy to rearrange the sections and you should have all the important lines notated. All the chords should be notated as to whether they are on or off the beat (pushed)— it’s so much tighter when everyone pushes a chord at the same time.

I use Sibelius for creating our charts. Usually one chart accommodates the rhythm section. All our measures are numbered so we can zoom in on a problem and rehearse it. I keep the chart to two pages maximum, so there’s no page turning. Everything is written in treble clef, but Sibelius allows me to switch to bass clef to notate a bass line, and then switch back. I can also notate kick drum patterns, percussion cues, and drum fills, as well as guitar and string lines when needed. It’s very flexible and convenient when it’s time to write horn charts.

Tempo markings are a must for us and it’s helpful if the drummer uses a metronome to find the correct tempo. I sometimes convert the chart to a PDF file and email it to the team if they want them early. All the charts for the service are prepared ahead of time and organized in a ring notebook.

Rehearsal for the rhythm section usually consists of one listen to the CD while reading the chart. We then do a run though, fine-tuning some spots and then another. After this, the singers come on and we’ll run the service again with vocals. The process seems to work well for such a large group, since almost every week we have at least one new song. At rehearsal we can also notate on the chart designated measures to vamp on for “Spontaneous worship” or where we will transition to the next song.

In the end, you can’t pick and choose what commandments to obey. You can’t just avoid some of them because you think they’re too hard for you to follow. Likewise you can’t just choose not to improve musically because you think it’s too difficult or you don’t have enough time. Don’t take the easy way out, and be sure your musicians avoid that trap also. “All things are possible with He who strengthens me.” Bring the very best you have to offer for the Lord. “Bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.” Your sacrifice is to continually learn to play and read more skillfully. So if you would like your worship band to step up to the next level maybe improving your charts should be your first step in the right direction.