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Arranging 101

"That day David first committed to Asaph and his associates this psalm of thanks to the Lord" (I Chron. 16: 7).

This, to my knowledge, is the first time in recorded biblical history that a songwriter gave his tune to an arranger (a slightly loose translation). What was presented to the entire people of God were the first 15 verses of Psalm 105, interpreted through the people that David had chosen personally. What seems to be happening is that there is a chain of command to bring this psalm before God's people. There was obvious trust between David. Asaph, and the men he personally chose to bring the ark of the God to its resting place (also check out I Chron. 23 and 25). They had a shared unity through collaboration. From writer to arranger to conductor to musicians to congregation, there needs to be a consistency of thought, unity of purpose, and a singleness of direction in our worship and musicianship so that people can understand where we are headed. The arranger can help this process along immensely. The collaboration between all these individuals can really get confused without someone guiding the ship, gently leading the song home.

In our first foray into the discussion of arranging music, we will discover that it is both an ancient art and a time-honored tradition in the music world. I should also say that "divine accidents" happen when we change music from its original form. That people are "messing" around with music (even your music) is a good thing. Substituting chord progressions, altering song form, adding musical interludes , new intros, and endings, is as old as the hills. One thing I hope we can do together is to take the word "generic" out of our worship nomenclature. Not that any of us would ever admit to calling our song service generic, but we tend to do things the same way each week, and doing a song the same way every time we do it. (Sometimes we just run out of time to make the music special, and that is ok) For you guys out there in the trenches, working in a small church where your instrumentation might vary from week to week, this column is dedicated to you. Whether you are in a church of 30 where the instrumentation is guitar and bongos (and the occasional zither player from the Greek restaurant across the street), a church of 300 that has a full rhythm section plus the odd (and I mean odd!) assortment of clarinet, banjo, and viola, or even a larger church that has an "unlimited" budget (there is no such thing), we ALL can be creative in how we approach the music that the Lord has given us to give back to Him.

I am the instrumental director of a large east coast church that expects me to do things differently each week. Last week we had a big band for our instrumental back up; this week it is a full orchestra. Next week it will be a small rhythm section, followed by an expanded rhythm section the next week (synths, sax, percussion, etc). Each week my assistant and I have to tweak the arrangements to fit the musicians. Copying and pasting the horn lines for the sting section doesn't work most of the time. And having the clarinets play the trumpet parts of a big band arrangement doesn't sound so cool either.

But even in a small ensemble, strange combinations of musical instruments can co-exist beautifully; for example, soprano sax and pedal steel. Alto flute and trombone (with the trombone up high and the flute down low-very cool). Violin or viola with flugelhorn also has a nice texture to it. What I am talking about now would be considered more orchestration that arranging, but I am going to mix and mingle in this column, so get used to it (you purists!). The main thing about arranging for a worship service is to utilize all the players you have in interesting and complementary ways. Arrange to people's strengths: if some of your players can read music and you can write it, write out some nice musical lines that enrich the song and don't get in the way of the vocal lines. If people can't read, come up with some ideas before rehearsal that you think the particular players can accomplish, and help them to learn it well enough to play it.

In the next several months we are going to be talking about rehearsals (you have to have at least one a week!), self-arranging, and arranging for strings, horns, rhythm section, vocals, studio sessions, big band, orchestra. And these are just my ideas-this column belongs to you. I hope you will feed me ideas on articles that will help all of us communicate the gospel that was entrusted to us. That's right, arrangers: this column is for you.

I know every weekend God moves, even though there might be no designated person arranging the music that we play. We have tremendous resources in CDs, DVDs, songbooks, and chord charts that help us emulate what we hear on worship CDs. How much better it would be, in my estimation, if each church around the world would create the kind of arrangements that suit their players AND congregation (from Bali to the Ukraine, from Sydney to Seattle, from DC to Beijing). I want to move the ball a little closer down the field and let every one of you score all of the time!

What I am listening to now:

"Oremi", Angelic Kidjo (Island Records, Inc.). Funky music from Africa.

"West Side Story", Dave Grusin (N2K Records). Very cool version of the Bernstein musical with killer jazz musicians (Michael Brecker, Arturo Sandoval, John Pattituci). Japanese import; may be tough to find. My drummer lent it to me.

"Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47" (Leonard Bernstein, NY Phil.; Columbia Records). The finest recording of one of the finest symphonies ever written (contrary to what some snobs think).

What are you listening to now? Let me know. (fwiley@mcleanbible.org)

All articles on arranging are being reprinted due to the kindness of Worship Musician Magazine (© 2003-2004)

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Arranging 101

In the following article, I realize that I am dealing more about rehearsal techniques than actual arranging. Since most of what happens in a worship context has to do with self arranging for a rhythm section (with everyone figuring out their own parts or lifting it from a CD), I think it makes sense for this column. I hope it helps!

In any discussion about arranging and rehearsing, unless you are talking about orchestral arranging, you have to start with the rhythm section. It is the meat-and-potatoes of the musical meal (or tofu and arugula for you vegans). For most of us in the worship-world it is the beginning and end of our instrumentation; but not to worry. The possibilities are unlimited when coming up with arrangements for this small but nimble group of players.

When I think of the rhythm section, I usually break it down into two distinct groups: bass and drums/percussion, and guitar and keyboards. Lets look at the bass and drums first.

The connection between the bass player and drummer/percussionist is the most basic of musical relationships. Everything revolves around the musical interplay between these two musicians. They are the foundation of every song we play, and should be thought of as their own entity, the cornerstone of all our musical endeavors. As we try to isolate different interpretations in a song's "feel", we should look first and foremost to bass and drums. Even the slightest variation of where each of these two musicians plays the beat will have consequences in how the song is interpreted by the other musicians.

Musical Aside #1-the "feel" of a song is somewhat subjective, but many objective criteria lead to that assessment: tempo, incorrect style, wrong voicing's, overplaying, etc.

The placement of each note rhythmically is critical to the overall groove of a song. To help the drummer and bass player find the center of the beat, each beat should be subdivided accordingly (straight 8th or 16th notes for some beats, 8th note triplets for a shuffle beat). This will help players to establish that objective center to the beat, which will make everyone around you more able to relax and concentrate on their part without worrying about keeping time. Try saying the subdivision of the beat out loud. For 16th note subdivisions, say "one-e-and-a two-e-and-a three-e-and-a four-e-and-a"; and for shuffle or triplet beats just say "one-two-three two-two-three three-two-three four-two-three". Breaking down each beat is a simple but effective way to help musicians get the groove inside them.

Musical aside #2-it is everyone's responsibility to keep time, not just the drummer. Time exists on its own, regardless of who is playing (just as your heart beats to a regular tempo, there is a human clock inside you that you need to pay heed to during each song). I highly recommend practicing with a metronome or drum machine to give you a frame of reference. Your sense of time can (and should) be improved as you grow musically, along with your understanding of substitute chords, new musical genres (heard any great Mali or Indian music lately? It's out there), unorthodox time signatures, use of ethnic instrumentation, etc.

Message to bass players and drummers: you will get a solo every ten years whether you need one or not. In other words, guys please just be happy keeping incredible time, ok? We love you for that, especially when you are creating the musical framework for worship. That is not to say there aren't times that we want and need you to stretch out, improvise, and take the song to another place, but they are usually the exception and not the rule (thank God for musicians like Bill Maxwell, Abe Laboriel, John Pattituci, Marcus Miller, and Alex Acuña who can both lay down a serious groove and send us to the seventh-heaven with their soloing. Maybe you have some unsung heroes on your worship team that could play with anyone, but are giving their talent to God. They are headed to the worship hall of fame!). The art of laying down a groove is just that: an art. Where the drummer places the backbeat will either make your spine relax or give you apoplexy. I am sure there is medical documentation somewhere to back me up on that.

Above all, we need to learn to enjoy each other AND the Lord as we worship together, "singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). There is no greater joy than loving God and each other, as musicians and friends. Rejoice!

In the next issue we will examine the relationship between our two chordal friends: guitars and keyboards.

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Arranging 101

Last month we laid down the foundation for our musical experience using a rhythm section with bass and drums. This month we are going to complete the building with guitars and keyboards. The musical hues possible with this combination is truly astounding. We have definitely left Kansas and your parent's churches to discover a musical palette unattainable even a few short years ago. Let the good times role, as in Role Playing.

To a greater degree, we need to look at what we do as character actors in the worship sphere, conducting ourselves with discretion and sensitivity, especially as your group grows numerically. This is especially true for guitar and keyboard players. With the advent of sophisticated sound processing and the ability to access any sound from any instrument (guitars playing synthesizers through pitch-to-midi converters, drummers doing likewise through drum pads, keyboards becoming the Balinese gamelan orchestra, etc), everything is possible today. I want us to be excited about technology without being overwhelmed by it.Let's start with the basics.


Where do you play a chord? In the upper register? Lower? How many notes are you using to spell that chord? Are you "clustering" the chord (playing three or more notes within an octave) or playing it "open" (spreading the chord out over two or more octaves)? This is a simplified version of what a chord voicing is.

When I arrange I look at the "picture" of the song two ways: linearly, (from beginning to end), and vertically (sonically). The linear aspect of the song is important because you want to have an emotional flow that keeps the listeners attention while not being distracting: beginning with a bang or softly, slowly building the song, having moments of tension and release, etc. But the vertical aspect is something that is often overlooked by young arrangers as they over-arrange, adding so many parts that instruments cancel each other out. That can happen even with a small group of musicians, and the guitar and keyboard players need to consider note placement when thinking about the arrangement. For instance, keyboard players should stay away from the higher register as a general rule. As a role player we are accompanists to the vocals, and tinkling around in the upper reaches of a keyboard is usually distracting (the same is true for guitarists as well). And as a general rule guitar players shouldn't play single note lines except for intros, solos, and endings. But I digress.

When listening to modern worship music, keyboards are usually doing very little movement rhythmically, allowing the guitars to create the harmonic rhythm by strumming patterns. But there are times when the role-reversal is important, with guitarists, playing whole note chords and keyboards doing 8th and 16th note runs. One cardinal rule always remains: don't mask the others parts either by overplaying or stepping on each other, rhythmically or voicing-wise.

The Sonic Palette

Today we are given many options to create new and interesting sounds on our instruments, which is both a blessing and a curse. Through the use of midi, keyboard players can layer tons of sounds that add a richness of texture to the blend. Just make sure you are judicious as you add each sound so you don't mask your "main" sound. Likewise, guitarists have incredible sound processors at their beck and call. My advice: grab one sound and stick with it for each musical passage, maybe the entire song. It is like doing a document in word processing and using a different font for each paragraph. It ends up looking like a ransom note (and we know what happens to kidnappers!!!!). Be thoughtful in your sound creations; make sure they work in the overall picture that is being painted.

Listening is the key

Most of us in church work start with a guitar and keyboard and work outward from there, adding drums, bass, percussion, and if we are lucky, a lead instrument (i.e., another guitar, sax, violin, etc). There is usually little integration of all these players but a certain free for all in each song, with he-who-plays-the-loudest claiming victory (drummers, learn to play with Hot Rods or you will find yourselves with a set of electronic drums and no control. The ultimate disgrace!!).

One overarching truth is key for the success of our worship experience: each player needs to be able to hear the other to worship together (be sure and hug your soundman; he is a member of the band too). We are part of the worship experience, not the beginning and end. Our goal is to provide a beautiful framework for God's people to express their love for Him without distraction. In the midst of this moment there will hopefully be times of incredible passion, emotion, and intimacy that come from us as musicians, as we express our gratitude to Him who saved us. Let's keep our eyes on the prize as we sort out all the details. And please remember, this is suppose to be fun.

pg 3

Arranging 101

Ok, we have laid the foundation for our philosophy of what a rhythm section is, and how the various parts inter-relate. Now it is time to put pen to paper, or more likely mouse-to-screen. It is now your turn to let creativity abound and write your own arrangement.

I know most of you want to move on beyond the rhythm section, but let's contain our enthusiasm for another couple of months and start here, since I have been going in such exquisite detail on the subject (and I don't want to run out of my small box of crayons just yet).

Music Theory, 101

You will need some basic musical tools to start out on your first chart:
  • 1-basic understanding of time signatures (4/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc)
  • 2- basic understanding of key signatures (E major, C minor, etc)
  • 3-knowledge of chord relationships (major, minor, diminished, augmented)
  • 4-ability to read notes on the treble clef (we will leave the bass clef to another time)
For our musical example, I will take an arrangement for a CD I did for Word Music, "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (written by Paul Baloche, ©1997, Integrity's Hosanna! Music). This is a well know song and a great arrangement by Tom Reeves (Westpark Creative), very straight ahead, simple but with lots of energy. I have reduced the chart down so even people who don't read music can follow along (very important for most worship bands). One important rule of thumb to always keep in mind when writing your arrangement: the less interaction you have with the musicians who are playing it, the more detailed you will need to be in your writing. If you are writing for your own band and have face-to-face rehearsals, then you can amplify your arrangement during rehearsals (adding lead lines, bass parts, rhythmic breakdowns, etc). If you are sending the chart to Siberia and won't be present, then it is important to be as detailed as you are able to be in the chart (metronome markings, tempo changes, hints as to the style you want represented, etc). As Ludwig and Amadeus used to tell me when we were growing up, God is in the details. People WILL butcher your music, but at least you'll have a better chance of other musicians getting it right if you give them a good road map to go by.

Because I have a recording of this song the band can reference, I don't have to go into much detail, chart-wise. The chart has the key (G), the time signature (4/4), and the metronome marking (quarter note=116). I have condensed everything to just the treble clef, and even written a mock bass part that is meant to be played down an octave (this way the bass player can at least see that I want them to play whole notes to start off, and not be so busy). For me, the main thing is establishing "harmonic rhythm" (where the chords should be placed), and not the exact voicing of each chord (again, they have an audio demo to reference). On the intro, you can see that I have written a harmonic rhythm for the band to follow. While not exact as to the strumming pattern for guitars, it gives the players something to go by that is representative of what they are hearing (in case they forget). That is the point of having a chart.

At letter D, there is a mandolin solo that is written out (it is repeated three times on the recorded version but I only put in one repeat). Writing letter markings and bar numbers for major song sections (verse/chorus/bridge) is extremely helpful when rehearsing. Almost always, someone in the band (usually the keyboard player) can read music. They can then assist the other musicians in accessing notes, rhythmic punches, and tempo changes in the chart. After doing this awhile, people will be able to do it on their own. Just like a foreign language, reading music is possible for all musicians if they will only give it a try.

Using computers for music notation

Almost everyone today has a computer (or access to one), and we need to get comfortable writing music on them. All major sequencing software has a notation program built-in (Digital Performer, Logic, Cubase, etc), and while they are useful, they won't take you far enough into more sophisticated editing features. The most popular notation software today is Finale by Coda, and an up-and-comer (and the one I use) is Sibelius. Both these programs will serve you well writing any kind of musical arrangements, and both are fairly straight forward in constructing your music, from lead sheets to symphonies. They are not cheap, but are open-ended and always adding new features (scanning music, the ability to record your arrangement, placing your arrangement on the web), to make them valuable tools in your music communication arsenal. Start thinking now of a song you have always wanted to arrange for your band, whether you have software or not. Even if you can't write music, you can begin with the lyrics and chords of a song, and jot down ideas for each section. You might even amaze yourself if you just give yourself a chance. "All things are possible to those who believe"(Mark 9:23)!

pg 4

Arranging 101

We are finally leaving the rhythm section and heading for a group of instruments I enjoy writing for most: the string section. Writing for strings (violin, viola, cello, double bass) gives me the greatest joy because they stylistically they can do it all: capture moments of beauty, get funky, they have a natural blend, can play rapid scale passages, evoke Appalachian spring times, even delve into ethnomusicology (say that five times really fast). Strings can play dynamics and nuanced musical passages better than any other section of the orchestra (they aren't as loud as the brass but can get from pianissimo to forte faster than a Ferrari). Even though most of us use synthesizers to emulate string sounds, there are times when we need the real thing to capture the moment (Christmas and Easter, for starters); so let's see how to do it.


We are going to start with a string quartet and move up to the full section next month. You can do pretty much everything with the quartet that you can do with a larger group. It has the same instrumentation (two violins, viola, cello) as the bigger group; just not as many of them.

Instrument range:

Violin-G below middle C to G above the staff (it is high for young string players, but they need to be able to play up there).

Viola-C below middle C to C above the treble staff.

Cello-C two octaves below middle C to C above middle C.

Double Bass-E almost three octaves below middle C to A above middle C (the double bass sounds an octave lower that written, so make sure you write anything you want to hear an octave up).

Strings use the traditional clefs (treble for violin, bass for cello) and the alto clef for viola (to accommodate its range, which is between the other two). The alto clef is a bit hard to get use to at first, but becomes easier the more you use it (plus it looks really cool). I have taken three musical passages from a hymn I arranged for string quartet, "At the Cross". Each example sheds a little light on the myriad of choices we have when writing for stings.

In the opening passage of the hymn (example 1), I have the strings playing open voicings, with the violins playing harmonics ("false" tones that sound much higher than played). If you are familiar with harmonics on the guitar, this is the same principle. The tone is more fragile and implied; somewhat ghost-like and haunting. I LOVE harmonics. I have the cello playing four octaves lower than the violins for a dramatic effect, and the viola playing a melodic figure (this goes on for about a minute, but I can't put it all in due to space considerations). There are two ways to write harmonics, with a small circle above the note if they are natural harmonics (notes that occur when played on the open string) and artificial harmonics (notes that are not overtones from open strings, and need a different technique to achieve them. At this point I would urge you to consider purchasing a book on orchestration. The one I have been referring to for the last 35 years is "The Technique of Orchestration" by Kent Kennan) Using a wide gap in the range between the instruments lets each instrument stand out, but again exposes each player (rule of thumb: if you have younger or inexperienced musicians, keep it simple and don't write harmonics or extend the range this much).

In example 2, the violins and viola are playing pizzicato (plucked stings) against the cello playing Arco (with a bow). Pizzicato is a very percussive form of playing, and lets the strings act like a drummer beating out time while still maintaining melodic integrity. Just another example of the wide breadth of styles you can achieve with strings.

Example 3 the actual hymn begins, with violin I playing the melody. I am using close voicings with violin I, II, and the viola to simulate a jazz piano "comping" (playing the melody on the top note with tight harmonies below it). I have re-harmonized this hymn, so any purist out there: beware. This is a fun way to "modernize" the classics and give the listener a fresh hearing of great music.

When writing parts to accompany worship, you might want to write lots of unison or octave parts. This will add strength to your music, and allow the parts to be heard. Just make sure you don't just double the melody all the time, but write in the "holes" (when no one is singing, at the end of phrases, etc).

Here are my favorite arrangers and some of the CD's you can hear there work on:
  • 1-Claus Ogerman (Diana Krall, "Live in Paris"; "Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra". Graceful and unusual string writing for decades!!)
  • 2-Jeremy Lubbock (the king of LA pop arrangers. "Secret Story" with Pat Metheny is one of my favorites. Also arranged the Josh Groban records)
  • 3-Carl Marsh (does tons of writing for Christian projects. The musical "Savior" is fantastic arranging on a large scale)
  • 4-Anything by Dimitri Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Aaron Copland, or Gustave Mahler (members of the Dead Composers Society. The Elite of the elite)
THE LAST WORD Since I know that most of you won't be actually writing for stings but using your synth's to re-create strings sounds, I have two words for you that you absolutely must remember when playing these parts: VOLUME PEDAL. If you use a volume pedal with your left foot (keeping the right foot for the sustain pedal), it will allow you to create the dynamic nuances that make for wonderful musical moments. It only takes a little training to get used to using the volume pedal, but makes all the difference in the world (plus using it for real-life organ parts, horn parts, etc).

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Arranging 101

We want to pick up where we left off last issue in our discussion about writing for stings (the orchestral kind: violins, violas, and cellos. Maybe even a double bass or two). Let me say from the outset that if you don't have any string players but would love to, head over to your nearest college campus and start recruiting. Part of being a worship leader is providing others with an opportunity to use their God-given gifts to magnify Jesus. Get the word out anyway you can; people are looking to serve (at our church we have a good relationship with a bunch of string players from a local university, some are believers and some aren't. They bless us and we hopefully return the favor). It is also a great way to expand the community of faith.

Last month we talked about voicings (how the notes are arranged on the page), harmonics (the ghost-like sounds, similar to guitar harmonics), and pizzicato (plucking the string). This month I would like to talk about when stings should play and what they should play during a worship song.

Part of being an arranger is being a good listener. When you get 8 friends together, they can't all talk at the same time. There is a give and take in the conversation, an ebb and flow of dialog that allows ideas to develop. If one person monopolizes the conversation others might tend to lose interest and mentally "check out". As an arranger we need to carefully place the notes in the song so as to enhance the song and not "steal" the show.

Rule of Thumb #1-Never have all the instruments playing wall-to-wall (from beginning to end). When I write (as I said in my very first article), I always look at the piece both horizontally (from the intro to the end of the piece) and vertically (noting the frequencies that the instruments are going to be occupy, making sure they don't cancel each other out). Remember to keep the conversation flowing and add to what is being said. Strings are very effective in sustaining the intensity of a song, even at very low volumes. You can use them at the intro playing a unison line (mezzo piano), then later on the chorus with the violins playing in octaves while the violas and cellos hold down the bottom end playing some moving chordal figures (fortissimo).

Rule of Thumb #2-Make every note count. If you write too busy (lots of moving parts) either no one will hear it, or it will detract from the vocal line. Especially if you only have a small section (one or two players on each part), try not to get too fancy with your writing.

Our musical example this month is an arrangement for orchestra of Hungry (words and music by Kathryn Scott; © 1999 Vineyard Songs). You might think this is a weird song to orchestrate, but when we have orchestra we try to utilize all the players (I have deleted the woodwinds and brass due to space considerations).

On the chorus of Hungry, I have the strings doing several things:
  • 1-starting out with a chord
  • 2-playing a unison line on bar 2, which ends up as a chord.
  • 3-bar 4 (which is the end of the first phrase of the lyrics) is also a unison line.
  • 4-bar 6 is doubling the rhythm of the melody, but not the melody itself (do that very sparingly).
  • 5-the first ending is the "turn around", heading back to verse two. I am starting each bar in the turn around at the same place (the up-beat of 2), but alternating holding the chord and playing a line.
Why am I doing it this way? Because I think it sounds good! Arranging is simply improvising a group of parts that enhances the listening experience (What a brilliant description. I must be a genius!). Remember: always use your ears! Of course actually fitting all those instruments into the arrangement takes some doing, but it needs to come from inside of you, not from a book.

Lastly, please make note of the dynamic markings (f), the articulations (the accents and legato or slur markings), the crescendo and decrescendo marks, and the road maps (DS, coda, first ending/second ending, etc). Anything we can do to give specific directions to our players, we need to do. Now, go make music.

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Arranging 101

While this article is about arranging, I want to approach this first article for horn players with the reality check that most of you don't have a horn section in your worship band, but a lone player living a life of confusion and frustration, uncertain of what to play and when to play it. Which is probably true for you as the worship leader as well. Or looking at the worship service as his on personal fiefdom, created for him to show the world his considerable technique. When speaking of horn players, I am lumping anyone who plays a brass or woodwind instrument into this article (sorry for the generic "lumping"). Before we go onto writing for brass or woodwinds, I need to help you guys who are fighting for truth, justice, and the ability to be heard above guitars, drums, and synth players.

While we as musicians value skillful playing, God values it even more. Chenaniah was chosen to be the chief musician because he was skillful (I Chron. 15:22). Why is facility on your instrument so important to God? One reason is to bring clarity and not confusion to our worship (I Cor. 14:7-8). God constantly desires to speak to us, to encourage us and bring us joy and conviction. It is difficult to hear God when we are hearing bad notes, there is a free-for-all in the band, and everyone is living in parallel universes. Enough said on that front (while I hate stating the obvious, sometimes it is necessary).

The two types of horn players that God usually brings in our midst are the amateur who is either dusting off his instrument or beginning in their musical journey, but has a heart to serve the Lord, and the professional who is a new babe in Christ but brings years of musical expertise into the worship band. Each one has strengths and weaknesses that need to be noted, challenged, encouraged, and utilized.

If you were building the model for the perfect musician, no matter what their instrument, it would be someone who played what was "appropriate" for the song and their instrument (I Sam 10:7), while not calling attention to themselves. It would be someone who served the group and the song, who tried to find places in the music that what they played enhanced the worship and "took it to another level", rather than showing off their technique and amazing musicianship.

As a young Christian, I was already a professional musician with a degree in music and years of experience playing with bands. While that was helpful in dealing with music in the church, there was a part of me that constantly needed to be validated, to "show off" my talent level so people knew how good I really was (to a certain extent that exists even today). This is an area that the Lord gently worked with me on, and continues to. You can't hide immaturity, however much you try. Our skills are meant to serve others, not merely ourselves. I am working with someone now who has tremendous jazz "chops", but has a need to display them in every song. He fills every spare space in the music with solo lines that distract from the singing and what other musicians are playing. There are times when virtuosity is called for, when God himself is telling us to soar. Those times are indeed majestic, but they are limited (too much chocolate soufflé would make you sick).

God wants to refine us, working on our attitude and musicianship simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive: our heart and our head reside in the same body. As worship leaders you need to lead your group gently, but always with an eye towards humility in attitude and excellence in ministry. A person's skill level will only take him so far; his attitude will show up in the things he plays and how he relates to the other musicians. While everyone has different tastes and likes within the musical spectrum, it is your job to make sure someone's subjectivity doesn't impede the goals of worship. If someone is overplaying or playing something that is a completely different style, it is incumbent on you to point that out to them, and if possible give them some musical examples to instruct them as to what you are looking for. We are all coming from such diverse backgrounds: multi-ethnicity, stylistic diversity, and instrumental facility all play into the ethos that is our worship experience. Make these differences a positive by talking about them instead of a mass of confusion, musical clichés, and cliques.

And finally (AND most importantly), when in doubt, just play fewer notes. Silence is golden. I think I got that from Confucius, or the other dude.

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Arranging 101

Last month we talked about the life of the solo horn player; this month let's bring their brothers and sisters along for the ride. Since most of what we do deals with a pop music framework, I will try to outline some do's-and-don'ts when we write for a horn section.

The horn section in pop music has been around since the 50's, mostly with black blues bands (Bobby "Blue" Bland was one of the best. Of course, big bands have been around since the 20's). In the 60's bands like Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Chicago brought horns into the mainstream of rock music. Tower of Power is one of the only groups that I know of who carry on that tradition today (In the 90's you had the OC Supertones and now there is Denver and the Mile High Orchestra making noise on the Christian circuit). The church has been kind of slow in bringing horns into worship, mostly because we don't know how to utilize them effectively: they are always playing the melody, they don't know how to harmonize, or they can't be heard above guitars, drums, and synthesizers. Let's try and fix that.

What to Play

I am beginning to get the feeling that most of you are not orchestrators or arrangers of music (if you are, I would love to hear from you), so that puts you in a tough position of not knowing what to tell the horn players to play. Since there is nothing written for them, they are left to their own devices or merely playing the melody. Monotonous worship is what we are trying get away from, and doubling the melody on horns every verse/chorus will lead the congregation to serious ear fatigue. Take a look at an arrangement I did for our horn players on the modern hymn, "In Christ Alone". Since most of the new music we arrange is not written with horn players in mind, we need to let the music evolve on its own before we bring horns in. Since I have limited space in these articles, the example is only of the third verse. I kept the horns out of the music completely until the third verse, after we have sung the song through once. I have the alto and tenor saxes playing a line complementing the vocals, while the two trumpets and one trombone are playing simple chords. What we are trying to do is enhance the melody, not distract the worshipper. As you can see at the bottom of the example, when the chorus begins the brass and saxes switch, with the brass playing a line and the saxes sustaining notes. Nothing terribly ground-breaking about this; just something that allows the horns to find their voice in worship without dominating the sonic landscape.

If you can't read music but you want to create some nice parts, you can either get with someone who is able to write parts for you (piano player?) or record some musical lines into a tape recorder (that way you won't forget them in the heat of rehearsal). If you have a regular group who play each week, I suggest getting together before rehearsal and playing along with the CD. Certainly a more democratic approach, although usually one of you has a bit more training and can figure out what might be appropriate for the song (I do suggest that you encourage others in the creative process, though. All of us need encouragement to enter in).

Lastly, you need to include the sound engineer in all your sonic decisions. They are critical for not only what you hear as a horn section, but what gets out to the congregation. You might want to alert them as to what you are playing, and when ("loud unison line on the chorus"; "on the verse, the brass are playing with mutes, and the saxes are playing flutes", etc.). The sound guys are your friends; remember that!

Whatever you do, do it as a team. Unity in the music will go much farther that hip ideas and the latest sounds.

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Arranging 101

As the New Year begins, we tend to look back at what we did in 2004 and toward where we are going in 2005. This is the golden moment of possibilities, a time ripe for letting our imaginations run wild and bringing those "God thoughts" into reality. From an artistic perspective, God has given us so many tools to make music it is almost overwhelming. From an orchestrator/arranger/songwriter perspective, I now have millions of different sonic hues on my pallet to choose from, thanks to synthesizers and computer-generated sounds. It is truly mind-boggling.

As we look at all the choices out there, it is also a time for solitude and for listening (ok, it's always important to listen). Hopefully you have spent a good bit of time after the Christmas rush being with family and friends, slowing down from the hectic pace of church programs to reflect on the coming year. What will you do differently this year? What will you learn this year? How can you make technology and worship intersect so that people hear God and not the "cool" factor?

This leads me to what I really want to say to all of you: we are on this planet to express God's fullness, His abundance. It is very difficult to show forth God's magnificence in a monochromatic way. God is always vibrant, always intense, always powerful (even when He speaks in a whisper: I Kings 19:12).

As most of the music we do in church is one-dimensional, usually from a basic rhythm section sound, our people are not being fed the wide cross section of sounds and styles available to us: jazz, blues, classical, world music, folk, country, etc. Now before you either get mad at me or get depressed because you will never be a "great" musician, I want you to go back to the "listening post" we talked about at the beginning of this article and make one new year's resolution: every week you will listen to one new CD in a style that you are not familiar or comfortable with. For you rockers out there it could be classical music; for you jazzers it might be folk music (don't worry, you don't have to sip espresso and wear a turtleneck sweater). One thing I will guarantee: you will enjoy it and your congregation will benefit from this educational experiment. Thankfully, we now have a tool to do it easily.

Enter I-Tunes, the easiest way to preview music. From Mozart to Sting, Chris Tomlin to Bach, Miles Davis to Sara Grooves, Angelic Kidjo to Shostakovich, you can preview music on I-Tunes and purchase it if you like what you hear. Very cool. Or if you don't have a computer you can still go to Barnes and Noble, Tower Records, or your local record store and listen to entire CDs. More tools for the new millennium.

And lastly, if you are a worship leader who plays a beat up guitar and your band consists of an accordion player who was over the hill before he started, a junior high clarinet player who squeaks, a high school trumpet player with braces, and a piano player who "doesn't like all that modern worship music" (sound like noise to her!!)-rejoice! You are right where God wants you to be. Play to YOUR strengths, enjoy all the great music that God has given us, and let it permeate your soul. Maybe down the road God will have you use the new music you will be listening to this year in a drama, or as prelude music before the service starts. The possibilities are endless; the time is now.

PS-I want to thank Bruce Adolph for allowing me to be a part of such a great magazine as this. This is the one magazine I have read that is totally hands-on and at the same time inspired by the Holy Spirit. No easy task. Please support not only Bruce but all the other writers. They are on the frontlines for you. Until we meet again, I am signing off.

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Arranging 101

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