Creative Gear for the Worship Stage

Your Backstage Inspiration

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Drums. Bass. Guitars. Piano. Vocals…. what else????

After 20 years of leading worship in the contemporary church, I have acquired various musical instruments that have helped me develop musicians, challenge bored creatives, and inspire possibilities on the worship stage. Most church backstage areas have an excess of unused gear just collecting dust. I hate this! These unused instruments could be a pathway to new inspiration and opportunity.

There is a good chance most of your teams have under-challenged musicians that could use another instrument or two to wake them from their three-chord slumber. Adding new instruments will excite the band and elevate its sound. It will also inspire the congregation as they see and hear new instruments. Adding new instruments will require your musicians to be flexible, vulnerable, and courageous, but I found most musicians appreciate the challenge.

If the Church is the hope of the world and we are tasked with sharing that gospel of hope through music, why should our instrumentation be so limited? Here are some creative gear ideas that might already be hiding backstage:

IN YOUR BACKSTAGE AREA

  • Tambourines and Shakers – Extra percussion is a great tool to have for modern worship. Often times I will employ a horn/string player to use percussion on a song if it doesn’t call for their “normal” instrument. Background singers can also help out by adding percussion to a song. If you can clap in time, then you can play hand percussion. 
  • Hot Rods, Brushes + Mallets – Many times newbie drummers or folks that play with only one style of music will not have alternate sticks. I have found that in most 4-6 song sets could benefit from one or more stick changes depending on the song. Encourage all your drummers to have a variety of sticks, but the church should have some on hand. 

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  • Accordion – This is not a joke. I have lent out the church accordion to MANY keyboard players over the years. I encourage  them to search youtube for lessons and play along to a slow song using the keyboard (not the button) side. It’s a fun and life-giving musical tool to use for a song or two. Can sound like a pad or cello, not always polka. 
  • Ukulele and/or Mandolin If you have more than one  guitar player, often times I will ask one of those players to learn mandolin or ukulele and use it in a song or two. 
  • Cajon or Any Hand DrumI have trained up many drummers starting on hand percussion. They play along with the main drummer. As they get better I eventually have them trade seats with the drummer for the slow song. All of a sudden, I have more drummers! Check out Monk Drums, a very cool drum company that makes affordable custom cajon’s.
  • MelodicaIn Germany, they use this instrument to teach kids music. It’s a fun little piano that just about anyone can play. Don’t use it for every song or every week, but you can pull it out for a little inspiration. Keep the alcohol wipes handy.
  • Glockenspiel or Bell KitThese instruments add a loud and significant punch to melody or riffs on vamps. They get a workout at Christmas time! 

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  • Baritone and Hi-strung Guitars. Baritone guitars are tuned super low and sound in between a guitar and bass. They are fun and can work on some songs. High-strung or Nashville tuning is a way to string your guitar to make it sound “chimey“. If you have extra guitars hanging around the church, consider making one of them hi-strung.
  • Extra Snare Drums and CymbalsSince the snare drum and cymbals are so critical to the overall sound it’s nice to have some extra high-quality options for drummers to choose from. If you have better drums and options at church you will suddenly have more drummers! 
  • A Midi Keyboard Controller and Old LaptopI lent out an $99 midi keyboard and an old church laptop (with Reason and Garageband loaded) to a 10th grade homeschooler. She came back to church with pads, Rhodes, and all kinds of sounds loaded up ready to play. This stuff is no longer rocket science. CPU>USB Cable>Old Laptop>1/8″ cable>DI Box>Sound System. 
  • A Real Fender Rhodes Electric PianoThis is a popular sound that you hear on recordings and many keyboards already have a “Rhodes” sound built in. I have found it to be inspiriting to actually have the real thing on stage. They require some maintenance but really add to the overall expression of sound. You can usually find them on craigslist for $600-1000. 

NEW INSTRUMENTS IN PRACTICE 

  • Lead your drummer to use mallets on the cymbals for the slow part of the song to create dark orchestral swells to add emotion.
  • Ask your bass player to play the glockenspiel for a song that doesn’t need bass.
  • Instruct your drummer to use brushes on a slow 6/8 song to help create a softer element in a song.
  • Have your acoustic guitar player play the tambourine on their thigh like they are clapping.
  • Lend out your Cajon to a youth who has good rhythm, invite them to play the next week.
  • Strip down the stage to acoustic guitar, hi-strung acoustic guitar, accordion cajon and Fender Rhodes.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.

Mike O'Brien - Worship Team Training and Development

On Stage Sound: Vocals {VIDEO}

Singing In+Through Your Microphone

On Stage Sound: Vocals

Great sound starts ON STAGE! Because most churches meet in smaller rooms with less than ideal sonic landscapes, singers must be attentive to their relationship with the microphone. Even if your drums have a shield and you are using in-ear monitors, the vocalists must still sing directly in and “through” the microphone. Check out this video for more on stage vocal tips:

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.

Mike O'Brien - Worship Team Training and Development

Winning the Volume War For Pastors VIDEO

Winning Volume War - Pastors

Great sound in our gathered worship spaces is all about removing obstacles. How a congregation perceives sound from the stage should inspire more singing, not less. A music volume that is weak is just as much a distraction as piercing frequencies that assault the ears of the faithful. Churches often meet in strange rooms at strange times. We have revolving volunteers with competing values working the knobs. Because of this, it’s ok for churches to be vigilant in the evaluation of sonic environments. This video (and some notes below) will give inspiration and ideas for senior leaders as we work together to win the volume war:

1. Decide the culture of sound that you want

Certain leadership values will encourage concert-like environments, while others lean towards a more ancient future space. Many will say you want it all! Cast a wide net, but choose which side of the boat and tell your worship leaders and sound teams what you want. Your language for this value is more important than the number on a decibel meter. Pastors, check out this brilliant post from Dan Wilt on the values of volume. 

Winning the Volume War for Sound Techs VIDEO

Winning the Volume War for Sound Techs

In churches, our sound volunteers have a difficult job: take a novice rock band, a poorly tuned room, inferior equipment and somehow get it all sounding beautiful before noon on a Sunday. “No feedback!” and “not too loud!” sums up many church’s sound techs manuals. Hurtful volume at church has less to do with decibels, but with the poor timbres that painfully pile up. As a result, many churches put so many volume safeguards in place, it results in a very timid and sad sound. Many have taken the role of simply babysitting the soundboard, but I suggest we take a more active role in the worship experience. If what we proclaim through our gathered worship is true, then it would make sense to desire a captivating sonic engagement! Sound techs, let’s work with the worship leader and musicians to get the most beautiful, dare I say loud mix, without it hurting the average ears. Here are some practical tips:

Winning the Volume War for Drummers VIDEO

Drummer Volume WareYour drummer and the drum set together make up one of the most critical variables in the overall sonic landscape of your gathered worship space. Many of us struggle from week to week and drummer to drummer to get the right balance.  This quick video will give you some tips to achieve the volume and velocity from the drummer that is best for your room.

You might want to check out the Introduction to Winning the Volume War HERE

Winning the Volume War for Drummers gives 4 simple tips on how to help control volume and perceived volume in our services:

1. Tune your heart
Drummers, know the power you have to make the sound beautiful or brutal. Lay down your preferences (and your heavy metal cymbal set) and be a team player. You have been given incredible influence.

What is Your Investment in Worship Training?

Worship Leader Bootcamp: Nashville TN June 14-17 2016

As a worship leader there are many things I learned in the local church by just faithfully showing up. I was the the guy who could just make it happen every week, and I did it for years. Ultimately, I realized that my call to worship ministry was more than just putting together 5 songs. I had to recruit and grow a constant stream of musicians. I had to choose accessible songs for teens, parents, and retirees simultaneously. I had to ask musicians to practice. I had to deal with a legacy church member who didn’t let anybody (including me) touch the soundboard. I had to learn how to care for my soul. I was expected to do the work of a shepherd, knowing only how to hold the staff, not actually knowing how to lead a flock.

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Desperate to overcome the challenges, I attended conferences, seminars and began to read more. My most significant leaps forward in worship leadership came from learning environments outside my church. Specific worship leader training did things that immersion could not.

Dear Pastor: Here’s Why Worship Leaders Struggle to Play Fast Songs

Worship Leaders Struggle to Play Fast Songs

 

Dear Pastor,

I get it. You want an engaging and energetic service. You don’t want to ignore the pain and depression of this world, but you don’t want to contribute to it. Musical worship takes up a significant portion of our services and sets the pace. When the Church gathers, those that are leading and the worship band should be hopeful and expectant. For the record, the Bible backs up your desire, continually telling us to worship with fervent hearts:

Psalm 100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Somewhere along the way, many musicians in the church thought that if we desired to be “real” or “relevant”, we should only show fear, shame, or melancholy on our face! See Dan Wilt’s post on Smile. Because of this, our songs started to match our emotion – all in the name of authenticity. We watch perfectly edited mega-church videos full of exuberant congregants clapping and singing; yet, we hang our head knowing that it’s what you want, but we can’t deliver.

3 Music Stand Tips for Worship Teams VIDEO

Is your Music Stand a Friend or Foe?

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Musicians at all skill levels benefit from having a chord/lyric chart directly in front of them. Music stands are a unique need for the modern worship church culture and unfortunately, a huge distraction for the congregation and the musicians themselves. Increasingly, we are seeing music stands and cpu tablets just inches from the eyes of EVERY musician on stage. What if we used music stands as a reference instead of a lifeline? Check out my quick VIDEO below:

This advice is not for orchestra players that are reading actual musical staff arrangements, but for those who utilize basic chord charts.  

Designing Goals for Worship Leaders

Goals for Worship Leaders

God is very kind to build seasons into our lives. Every new season is an excellent time to recalibrate and make new what has become tattered and worn.

For many, our worship ministries and personal leadership have plateaued. Sure, we get the weekly worship set out and go through the motions, but there is something deep inside that says there could be more. The non-stop voice in our head says, “I wish….”. For years I wanted a better voice but I was too embarrassed, broke or distracted to take a voice lesson. I also wanted a real Hammond B3 Organ. I wanted to get high quality counseling… and the list went on and on. All these dreams (and more) connected with my calling went nowhere year after year. In 2002 I started making a list and a plan of action for everything I could dream in the area of worship leadership and our team. That year, by March – EVERYTHING had already been accomplished! Needless to say every year since I have continued to pray, dream and designing goals for that next year.

We so easily discount these goal making sessions as RESOLUTION PLANS that will only fail. But let me say this: You will inevitably begin and restart cycles of sin this year without a list or a plan. I promise. Knowing that the one who comes to steal and destroy is always working, we need to take the time to listen to what God has for us. There are more tools today to help us succeed than ever before.

5 Hacks for Attracting Worship Team Musicians

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Many churches have a serious problem attracting and keeping volunteer musicians. Let’s face it, getting a team of musicians to show up to church and play music at 8AM on a Sunday can be a challenge. Usually there is sub-par monitoring, messy stages and lots of mind numbing songs to boot. Sometimes there are a series of unclear religious rules for stage and life we have to follow. Musicians can be under challenged or over challenged. We just can’t seem to convince people it’s worth it! For years I struggled as a worship leader making it happen every week. About 10 years ago we made some significant changes in our worship culture. Now, in our church (125-175 attendance) we have 4 bands, 4 sound techs, 6 main stage worship leaders, and waiting lists for all positions. It’s a wonderful blessing! Here are 5 quick hacks for attracting (and keeping) quality volunteer musicians at your church: