DEVELOPING YOUR MUSIC TEAM: Wayne Huirua
The Role of the Music Team Director
Often people are given the role of Director without really understanding the responsibilities involved. Generally it’s because, of all the musicians, they are the one to show commitment to church life, have some administrative ability, and demonstrate a certain amount of leadership. Is this the right approach? What are the responsibilities of this role? What should the primary gifting be? For instance if one is a musician and given the role of music director in a small-mid church.
In this case the Music Director is often being called upon to be worship leader, pastor, musician, singer, producer, arranger, technician and administrator all in one!
Should he or she be a one (frantically overstressed) man band or a team builder with fingers in many pies?
Tasks of the Music Director
§ Align music vision with church vision and strategy
§ Lead worship leaders in facilitating vision
§ Develop style that holds with church protocol
§ Provide training, development and pastoral care for team members
§ Production and arrangement of music and vocals
§ Stage, light, sound and visual production and design
§ Equipment purchase and maintenance
§ Develop systems to administer all of the above
It is absolutely essential for everyone to understand the role and strategy of the creative department within the larger vision of the church. This means constantly keeping those involved informed and up to date but it achieves at least three things:
§ Allows them to see the value of and helps define their role in the bigger picture.
§ Because they understand the larger vision it immediately establishes a mindset of ministry over music.
§ It encourages creativity and initiative from everyone not just a few, and therefore a much more meaningful involvement. Ownership.
Structure and Objectives
1 Chronicles 25 describes how David set up the Temple Music. It’s interesting to note a few main points:
§ The directive from David to three leaders was to “prophesy with the accompaniment of music” (Prophetic)
§ Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were all holding prophetic offices, but came with different skills. (Prophetic, team)
§ They were all under the King’s supervision (larger vision)
§ All 288 players were master musicians (skill)
§ All players came from Levite families (calling)
So our greatest priority, like any priest in the house of God is to ‘prophesy’ i.e to hear from and communicate the will and heart and purposes of God to his church. (see Foundations 2 – 3 levels of communication)
Our greatest weapon as christians is our personal testimony. As representatives of our church our testimony should reflect the work of God in our house specifically. People should see in you evidence of the word and work of God in your life as received through the strategy and vision of the specific house you belong to. For example, you hear a sermon on Sunday, it convicts you challenges you, you respond to it and decide to action it. Monday you put it into action and God responds to your faith and brings home the bacon, you receive a new level of understanding, a breakthrough or miracle provision of some kind, Tuesday at your cell, connect or small group you testify about this and encourage others, you’re a musician in the team and write a song about it, Wednesday you bring the song to the team and because it’s so fresh and relevant to ‘now’ of course others relate to it and get excited about delivering it. 2 weeks later after working, demoing and rehearsing the song you present it to the church. Again because others received the same word as you and responded to it the same it hits the mark. The song is ‘prophetic’, it accurately reflects what God is saying to us but also helps us corporately express our response.
You could put it this way, if the preachers job is to preach the word, our job is to sing it!
The advantage is 6 months later everybody’s forgotten the sermon but they’re still singing the song. When they hear the song they’re taken back to the moment the word hit them.
If we are not reflecting personally the word and work of God in our own lives first we have no credibility and therefore no right to represent the church from the platform.
This therefore is our priority – to reflect God in our own life and hence the need for pasturing, connection and accountability within the church. James says God gives grace to the humble. I’m convinced the power of the church is accountability and submission for open confession and transparency so we remain humble before one another and God and therefore we qualify for the flowing of God’s amazing and incredible grace by which we stand.
Then there are the practical steps. Once we get the word, we have to write the song, work the song, demo the song, rehearse the song, present the song. Easy to write in one sentence!
Where the rubber meets the road in all of this is always going to be plain skill. If it’s good music we want, then it’s good musicianship we need. There are no secrets or surprises to good musicianship, pretty much the basics and a whole lot of practise. The key is always going to come back to leadership.
Your challenge as a leader is to create an environment conducive to learning and improvement, a culture of excellence. Excellence is always moving, never happy to stay where it is. Improvement is self-motivating.
If you can figure out a system to get your team rolling with resources, assessment and accountability then learning becomes it’s own reward and momentum is created. The following resources offer a foundation for musicianship and relevant issues for church (and most other) bands. Take them, integrate them into your system and may God bless your worship!
Recital and Improvisation
It is important for the worship musician/team to develop in both these areas.
§ Recital – The discipline of rehearsing and performing a prepared composition to a consistent standard.
§ Improvisation – The feel and resource to interpret and create simultaneously.
a) When rehearsing our songs we need to be ruthless about our standard. Do not accept anything less than a perfect performance; well; at least it should be error-less. This standard, although seemingly harsh at first soon becomes habit and everyone rises to the task. You will soon notice that the main element in achieving this is nothing more than concentration and focus.
Stop at every error and deal with it straight away. Finishing the song, then returning to the trouble spot is very time consuming and many mistakes can be overlooked this way.
b) Consistency. After the first error-less performance, do it again. If the second time is not error-less then it is not ready. The audience/congregation only get to hear it once. They don’t hear the 19 other times you did it before, only the one you do in front of them, so you want the assurance of a standard of performance that is consistent, the same every time. You’ll thank yourselves when the nerves are jittery, the adrenaline is pumping and the pressure is on.
a) Improvisation is really just composing on the fly. So the knowledge required is nothing special, you just need to know it so well that it’s at your fingertips when you need it. In other words – learn the building blocks before learning to build. In worship it’s atmosphere that is often required and that musically uses all the blocks. The best place to start then is seeking out and analysing a wide variety of music that captures all kinds of different feels and moods. Pull them apart keeping in mind these following things :
§ Listen to and learn the chords and chord structures that produce the different atmospheres. Sadness, joy, meditation, anger, triumph etc.
§ Listen for the sounds that go with each feel. Hard, soft, sustained, short, high, low etc
§ Try to learn what scales and modes apply to certain chords. The theory behind this is surprisingly easy, i.e. there’s not that much to memorise before being able to use it. Books and teaching videos are great for this and help to know what to listen for.
§ More than anything, try to grasp each mood/feel rhythmically. Particularly the use of space. What does a warfare rhythm sound like? A peaceful flowing rhythm? Seek them out and listen close.
§ Listen for how each atmosphere moves dynamically. How does it build? How does it drop again? There are many dynamic tools there for your use.
All of these things go into the resource pool of ideas in the back of your mind. As you listen more, the pool fills more and the more potential you have for creative ideas later when you need them in your own music.
b) Communication when playing with other musicians is paramount while improvising. There’s nothing worse than creatively trying to climb a mountain and nobody else is coming with you. You’re left high and dry for all to see. Communication in improvisation relies heavily on teamwork, keen observation, anticipation and a great ear!
c) Aural development is huge in improvisation. If you can’t hear it in your head first, you certainly won’t be playing it. To follow someone else requires the ability to hear and understand before being able to play. This sort of ‘ear’ really describes a mental musicality. A mind that hears not only the ‘note’ at the centre but the context in which it sits, and anticipates possible directions in which it could go. I believe it is possible to plot a course of learning that will help develop aural skills. In very general terms, it is as follows:
§ Learn to sing basic scales (Major, minor, harmonic minor) without the aid of an instrument. (You don’t have to sing well!) Assign numbers to each note and sing the numbers.
§ Learn to sing intervals within these scales 1-3, 1-5, 1-7, semitones, tones, flats and sharps.
§ Learn to spell out chords, singing the appropriate numbers, e.g. Maj7: 1-3-5-7, Min7: 1- flat 3 – 5- flat 7 etc
§ When we harmonise a major scale, each note becomes a chord. The chords each take a number. I.e. – 1-maj, 2- min, 3-min, 4-maj, 5-maj, 6-min, 7-min7/b5 (half diminished). Chord progressions then become a series of numbers. E.g. 1,6,2,5 in the key of C is Cmaj, Amin, Dmin, Gmaj. Learn the common progressions, recognising each chord and the notes that make up that chord.
Learning to hear the centre tone of each chord is vital first, then picking out the surrounding tones will reveal its flavour. Again there is no shortcut to hours of familiarisation with this.
As each step relies heavily on the one before, it is imperative to learn each one to fluency before moving on.
Like any sort of training, it is absolutely vital to concentrate on weak areas and strengthen those before continuing to work on areas that are already strong. Our tendency is to practise that which we’re already good at and not that which needs it. As a leader you have the responsibility to encourage your team to continually improve weak areas.
Other Musical Building Blocks
a) I’ve heard it said, “You can’t teach feel”. This is true only to a degree. I believe a person’s feel in music will reflect their personality type. If someone has insecurities and is shy, this will of course inhibit their performance, just as an insensitive, brash person will probably not deliver the most tender of performances. If you can reach the person it will show in their music. Only by developing maturity in Christ will one have eternal identity, security and purpose. Experiencing His grace, mercy, tender love and compassion in one’s own brokenness will certainly develop these qualities in oneself. The joy and freedom of life in Jesus is sufficient to overcome any inhibition. Surely all of this will translate into feel for music and other areas.
b) I believe the most influential factor in the feel of a certain piece or song, is rhythm. Every song has a certain groove to it. If you change the rhythm, you change the feel. Slow, fast, spacious or busy. Classical. Rock, jazz – no matter what style, it will have a rhythm or groove that is the key to its feel. If most church musicians I know really understood and nailed rhythm alone, their musicianship would improve 1000%!
c) You can deepen your musical feel by simply listening to a whole range of different styles of music and actively trying to understand and make yourself feel what’s intended. Close your eyes and try to make it through the whole 17 minutes of that classical piece. Feel the dynamic changes; try to see the people playing each sound you hear. Mosh in your living room to that loud, brash noise until the adrenaline is pumping and you start to understand what it is that attracts so many to something so seemingly mindless.
Anybody can appreciate their own style but only those with vision and a desire to truly relate to those outside of their own kind will make the effort to understand other styles. This can only do your music a whole heap of good!
There are two schools of theory also. The European, based around key centres and learning each rhythm, chord and scale by name. The American, based on patterns – a more mathematical approach – using one key and establishing patterns and learning rhythms, chords and scales by number. It is only wise to become familiar with both schools and there are many teaching books available for both styles. Like learning a language though, theory requires usage to become fluent and like languages there can be different dialects and interpretations. Again, using it is the key. If you are surrounded by it, you find yourself using what you hear. Whether it’s working class slang or high-class eloquence, immersion is always the best for learning.
Three words: Practise, practise and practise! I’m afraid there’s no shortcut or substitute for just doing the time and putting in endless hours of practise. Be careful however not to practise bad habits. Be sure you have it right before sealing it in your sub conscious. Better to start slow and precise and speed up gradually than look for speed and agility without a solid base.
Practising technique is all about accuracy, precision and a high level of concentration. This concentration becomes less as habits begin to form and the technique becomes second nature, which is the goal. Then you needn’t have your mind on it when performing, but on the appropriate feel required.
There is an abundance of teaching resources available nowadays that are relatively inexpensive compared to private tuition. Tapes, books and videos are available at bookshops, music stores and libraries. When choosing tutors, it is wise to consider these two things:
§ Make sure you have actually heard them play or sing. There are plenty of people around who can talk big but can’t deliver the goods!
§ Some tutors insist that their way is the only way and will limit your view. Have a bigger picture for yourself and your instrument/voice. Learn what you can from different viewpoints and perspectives. This may mean changing tutors occasionally just to appreciate different schools of thought
As you can see, in all of this, there are really no secrets or surprises. It’s just learning the basics and practising them. This takes commitment, and commitment means sacrifice. This is where the rubber meets the road for most church musicians. If we are sure of our calling then let’s sow our time and effort in faith and we will surely reap the harvest!
The Band Dynamic
Communicating to musicians means talking their language. What you’re trying to do is get them to compose parts on their instruments that are appropriate for the feel of the song, and hold with the big picture of what the song is trying to achieve.
Depending on the structure and style of your band, this can happen in a number of ways:
Somebody composes all the parts and players just play what they’re told.
The players are given the basic song and compose their own parts under supervision and direction (or not!)
The players compose their own parts and are equal ‘owners’ of the sound.
In a hurry, it’s usually the second scenario that is common to churches. While this draws on the creativity of the players and gives them a greater sense of involvement and satisfaction, it runs the risk of being very unstructured and unfocussed. All scenarios need someone to lead, someone who will have the bigger vision of what the song is trying to say and make decisions. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to think up all the parts but you make the final call. With the feel of the song and a few basic principles you can measure up each part and mould the song.
Principle One – Focus
What is the focus part? Whether it’s the vocal or the lead instrument, then the role of everything else is to support it.
I often liken this principle to a picture and its frame. The purpose of the frame is to emphasize the focus on the picture, to point towards it as the centre of attention. If it detracts any attention away from the picture, it is actually worse than having no frame at all. A beautiful, intricate frame may be a fine and crafted piece but if it draws attention away from the picture it is not fulfilling its greater purpose. This does not mean it should be boring, devoid of feel and shoddily made, it just means when making it one must always consider its affect on the picture it is framing. It is the initial attraction and foundational support for the main event.
Principle Two – Workmanship
Like every house that is built, regardless of the design, the basic principles of good workmanship always apply. Everything is flush, straight, clean and solid. The style is added as a planned and purposeful element rather than an accidental oversight (although sometimes this does happen!) This does not mean everything is clinical and passionless with no dynamic interest. It speaks more of technique and actually enforces passion. It says if you’re going to hammer in a nail, then hit it hard and precisely, don’t dent the wood and use good technique for efficiency. This is regardless of the type of material you are using.
Music is the same. Parts should be decided on according to a grand design and then played confidently with passion, precision and groove.
Principle Three – Communication
Communicating what we’d like to hear from our musicians is one of the big frustrations of church worship and bandleaders. In many churches this is primarily because:
We use the sheet music only to songs which usually tells us little about arrangement and virtually nothing about specific parts or…
We pick up songs from recordings only and simply lack the skill to properly reproduce what we hear.
We hear what we want to achieve in our head but simply can’t describe and translate it to the rest of the musicians.
If we break it down, we’re generally asking a musician for three things:
A feel (style or technique of playing that sound)
To follow the structure/form of the song.
Sheet music or charts are certainly adequate for providing the form of a song, and a recording gives the sound and style, so a combination of the two seems logical. We run into problems if we’re trying to rearrange songs, which have no recording to listen to. We can still provide a chart that gives chords and structure. One way of providing the rest of the information is still to use recordings, but of other songs, simply to demonstrate a) sound and b) technique.
Given the chords and structure, the musician then just has to assimilate the sound and technique he’s heard into the chart. This simple tool at first seems a little silly because you come to practise with an armful of CD’s with which to show drum rhythms, guitar licks and keyboard sounds. It may seem to take a bit of time but compared to the time spent trying to communicate things and never really getting it across, it’s worth it. A lot of the time you may be able to quote certain songs and albums and the players will probably know what you mean anyway if they listen to the same stuff as you!
To take someone from not knowing what’s inside your head to an exact sound and an exact style of playing, in a few seconds of playing a CD is a pretty efficient tool. Don’t be fooled by its fussy appearance. Basically, you want to be able to give the players as much information as you can, so charts, CD’s, playing it for them, singing parts – whatever gets the message across! Then they can compose something under much clearer guidelines and you can approve or disapprove accordingly. They make the part; you make the final decision.
Many leaders I know don’t even question what or how players play, they just let them do their thing as long as they do it in time and in the right key. This is one level of playing but I know it is a relatively easy shift to a higher level by applying these principles.
Wayne & Libby Huirua lead worship at Equippers Church