From set list to key changes to tempo issues to the dreaded 'worship crash'–real solutions for common mistakes.
1. Including too many new songs in the set – Your congregation is there to worship – most will find it difficult to do so if they spend most of the time learning your latest masterpieces. Vary your set list to include a variety of older, recently introduced, and brand new songs and be ready to make changes on the fly if you sense your congregation is becoming weary.
2. Pitching the songs too high – remember that a comfortable range for a woman is about five semitones (half steps) lower than for a man. Change the key down to avoid going above top D, particularly if you are playing in a small church situation.
3. Clunky moving from song to song. Playing a song once its underway is fairly straightforward so make sure you concentrate on rehearsing how to start and end a song. Practicing a seamless flow from one song to the next is worthwhile to focus on. It will help if both are in the same key with a similar groove, and if you are using music, make sure the sheets are side by side on your music stand.
4. Poor band dynamics – conflicting rhythms, one instrument speeding up/slowing down, vocalists overwhelming the sound with too many ad-libs or vibrato. Exercise leadership in directing your singers clearly, and if necessary, get them some vocals training. Get them to listen to each other’s parts and possibly film or record a service to help with some constructive criticism.
5. Lack of leadership – Without clear guidance from the worship leader, it’s difficult for the band to know what they are meant to do, let alone the congregation. Give a good clear brief in practice and use vocal cues and body language to communicate during the set.
6. Overly complex vocals – congregations get easily confused when the lead vocalist slips into harmonies, trills, and ad-libs. Simple clear melody is always the easiest to follow. Leave the harmonies for the backing vocalists.
7. Poor phrasing and blending by vocalists. Make sure that all your singers are phrasing each “musical sentence” in the same way. It can help to have one backing vocalist leading the others so that everyone finishes their words at the same time. In the studio, singers are often asked not to finish the last consonant in a line so that the ending doesn’t sound jagged.
8. Wrong keys or wrong capo positions. Make sure all the band are playing in the same key. Issue your set list in advance with instructions for keys. And if you change your mind, make sure that everyone knows.
9. Tuning – are all your instruments in tune and are they staying in tune throughout the set? Even the right notes out of tune sound far worse than the wrong notes in tune so buy yourself a decent tuner like the Boss TU2 – cheap tuners can be so frustrating.
10. Lack of rhythm and togetherness by the band – this can be caused by many things including poor musicianship and lack of overall direction. Try to generate a sense of team where everyone plays their part to contribute to the whole without any one musician standing out. Also, ensure that you have the relevant instruments in your foldback – i.e. the kick drum and other instruments responsible for rhythm.
11. Winging it – either the result of poor preparation or trying something new out on the spot. Be sure you can accomplish what you have in mind. Are you trying to sing a song without the lyrics in front of you, and you’ve forgotten the words? Does your AV guy have the words for the congregation, or do they have to remember them, too? Do you and the rest of the band know all the chords you need?
12. Technical problems. The sound gremlins can happen to the best of us but try to get there early, set up methodically, and make sure your technicians are well trained in the system they are using.
13. Problems with pitch – You’re starting a new song, and you’ve suddenly realised you’ve started on completely the wrong note.
Try to identify the problem songs in advance and quietly play the note you need to hit on your instrument. Hold the note in your head while playing the intro and then hit it with confidence. Alternatively ask one of the other (confident) vocalists to lead on that song.
14. Over emphasis on the melody line. Make sure your backing vocalists and single melody instruments are playing harmonies. The lead vocalist and congregation are all on the melody line – create some contrast.
15. Worship crash – often caused by trying something complicated that hasn’t been practiced enough. Never try anything complicated until you, the band. and the congregation are really familiar with the song.
16. Starting the song in the wrong tempo. Either invest in an in ear click or sing the song through in your head first so that you can pace the tempo properly. Generally, the chorus is the fastest part of the song.
17. Audiovisual failure – This happened to Matt Redman one time when Andy was playing. Matt just shifted his set list to songs with simple lyrics and gave spoken vocal cues to the congregation at junction points in the song.