Monday, December 12, 2011

Q & A: Audio Techs & Enclosed Booths For The Drummers

Hi Mathew, I enjoy reading your blogs. Very good commentaries and rebuttals on interesting topics. What is your opinion of church audio techs? As we all know, the skill level is a wide range of talent, depending on the church size, number of people performing, number of people who can actually run the sound booth, etc.

I am currently playing in a church situation where all the drums are mic’d and we have 2 overhead mics for the cymbals. The entire set up is enclosed in a plexi-glass cage so the techs can monitor the sound exactly. These audio guys make issue with the cage door being closed at all times, the mix has to be perfect – which usually means the drums are somewhat soft, etc. I get the feeling they think that just because there are drums in church, that automatically means the drums are too loud.

These audio guys want to be able to control every sound on stage. Yet I can walk into the nearest bar or other non-secular venue and find an excellent Blues band playing, the band is mic’d perfectly, yet one can sit 20 feet away and still be able to hold a conversation at normal speaking volume. The drums aren’t enclosed, the guitars all have amps, etc. No soundproofing on the walls. Yet it seems every church MUST have the drums enclosed, the guitars fed directly into the system, etc.

I must ask, in all of your experiences playing church venues, is this the norm? Or a better question may be what is the mindset of church audio techs? And I must be honest in telling you I’ve almost had a row over the drum sounds with one particular tech being too cocky / egotistical. We sorta have a difference of opinion in that area. And one problem I have with all audio people is that most of them are not musicians, trained or otherwise and can’t seem to grasp how a particular instrument works. Like drums and dampening and muffling the heads.

Thanks a bunch for your time and expertise!
David


David, thank you for your kind words. I have played in a dozen or so different churches over the course of my career and I have had similar experiences with the audio techs that you have had with a few of the previous churches I have played at. I don’t find it at all uncommon for there to be some tension between drummers and the audio techs. However, keep in mind that sometimes the audio techs are carrying out the policies dictated to them by the music director or the pastor and they may not be squelching out the drums on their own.

This is especially the case with enclosed sound booths. Designing and building this kind of booth requires a resource allocation and approval that would go far beyond the audio techs authority. The cost of an enclosed sound booth along with the micing system, plus whatever other ancillary sound equipment that would be needed, would be quite expensive. The people in the church who hold the purse strings would be the only ones who could approve that kind of purchase. In most of the independent denominational churches, it would be the pastor that would have that kind of purchasing authority.

I visited a church a while back where the set up is just as you described in your situation. The drummer is caged up inside a fully enclosed booth as if he was on display in some kind of freak show. I am surprised that they did not post a sign in front of the booth that says, “Please don’t feed the drummer.” I saw the crash cymbal move when the drummer hit it. However, I could not hear the sound of the actual crash itself. So I walked over to the sound booth and asked the tech if he could turn up the crash cymbal mics. He was not receptive to my request at all.

After the service, we got into a little argument and I asked him, “Tell me that you don’t see anything wrong with the drummer hitting the crash cymbal and not being able to hear the crash. Don’t you see anything wrong with that picture?” His only response was, ‘well I am just doing what I am told to do.”

Concerning the issue of drummers playing in enclosed booths, I don’t know exactly how common or widespread that is. If you watch Christian TV you will see that ever so often. I personally don’t like the concept of enclosed booths for drummer’s in a live audience setting. Now, if we are talking about a recording studio, that’s another matter altogether. The reasons I don’t care for enclosed booths for drummers are as follows:
1. The acoustics of the room you are playing can often times deliver pretty good mix of sound all on its own. The only time acoustical adjustments should be made is when you need to compensate for what the room lacks. For example, the church I am playing at now is an old church that was built back in the 30s. Playing in that room is like playing in a canyon. And of course, one of the ways we compensate for that is by having the drums behind a plexi-glass shied.
2. Enclosed drum booths potentially squelch out the coloring and texting that a drummer might do when he plays the soft songs in the latter half of the song set. By coloring and texturing I mean, the use of cymbal rolls and tinkle punctuations, chimes, rain stick or other devices and techniques that give a nice aesthetic ethereal sound that enhances the music and the mood of what’s going on at the time. The sound techs are usually more preoccupied with the overall mix of the vocals and rhythm section and they normally are not sensitive to coloring and texturing that the drummer or percussionist may be doing.
3. Enclosed booths are not generally percussionist friendly. If the drummer is in an enclosed booth then what do you do if you want to have a percussionist? Do you build a booth for him too? If the percussionist is not put in a booth, then that begs the question, why is the drummer in a booth and not the percussionist? If the percussionist is put in a booth, that would cost the church more money. A lot of praise bands view the percussionist as expendable and would rather not have a percussionist at all if they have an enclosed booth for the drummer. That way they won’t have to deal with that whole issue.

I played at a church where the leadership insisted on electronic drums for basically the same reasons other churches use enclosed booths for acoustic drums. I lasted about a year at that church before moving on. However, I had other issues with that church that figured in to my departure besides the edrums.

Like you, I too have experience playing with secular bands in secular venues where there was a good mix of sound with minimal intrusion by the audio tech. As a general rule, I have noticed that there are a lot of good business and technical practices used in the secular venues that seem to be ignored at the church level. I think it would behoove church praise bands to adopt some of these practices in their music programs. Some churches are better at adopting these practices than others. I think it depends and the background and experience of the music director and how involved the pastor is in the music program.

Of those pastors who are heavily involved with their praise bands in terms of dictating policy, I have noticed that the pastors who are also musicians tend to be more understanding of the needs of the band that those who are not. At the church I am playing at now, the pastor is not a musician and does not get involved in mirco managing the music program. He is smart enough to realize his limitations and he lets his music director run the show.

That is pretty much my perspective on audio techs and enclosed sound booths and I hope that it provided some insight.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

DVD Review: Drum Grooves For Worship, by Carl Albrecht

One concept I have strongly emphasized and will continue to emphasize in my seminars and blog articles is that, praise music is a genre unto itself with its own set of distinctives and nuances. If a musician wants to play praise music, then it is up to him or her to learn what this genre requires. (I would apply this same principle to the other genres as well.) On the same token, it is up to those musicians who have the knowledge and experience in the praise genre to teach the younger and less experienced musicians what those distinctives and nuances are. Among all the instructional DVDs for praise drummers that I have seen so far, the 2008 instructional DVD by Carl Albrecht entitled, Drum Grooves For Worship does that best job of teaching praise music distinctives and nuances for drummers that I have seen thus far.

Before producing this DVD, Carl spent several hours doing research on the top 100 CCLI songs and sub-dividing those songs into 7 distinct groove patterns. In addition to this DVD, Carl also published his research observations in writing and gives a much more detailed account of each song that he listened too. These observations are available on pdf that you can down load from his website, http://carlalbrecht.com/wp-content/uploads/Drum-Grooves-For-Worship.pdf. In this pdf, Carl not only gives you the different groove patterns, but he indicates the ideal tempo for each of the songs, as well as the kick patterns for the verses and choruses. This pdf could be used as a cheat sheet for those younger, inexperienced drummers who are learning the different praise songs.

Here are the 7 grooves that Carl has identified:
Groove #1 – Straight 8th note feel (17)
Groove #2 – 8th note w/ filler 16ths - Alternative Rock Feel (26)
Groove #3 – 16th note “Train feel” – Rock or Latin (20)
Groove #4 - 8th &/or 16th note feel in Ballad Style (27)
Groove #5 - 6/8 Majestic Feel (7)
Groove #6 – Shuffles or Swing feel – Triplet minus the middle* (1)
Groove #7 - Odd Time Grooves – . - 5/4 - etc. etc.(3)

Keep in mind that a praise drummer needs to learn as many different groove patterns as possible in order to be as versatile as possible. However, a good praise drummer should learn to master these seven grooves first and then move on from there.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this list of groove patterns are the top groove patterns of CCLI’s top 100 for 2008. I am quite certain that in a few years there will be new songs in CCLI’s top 100 that weren’t there in 2008. My best guess is that the first five groove patterns will more than likely still hold their existing places. I am not so sure about the last two, we will just have to wait and see.

As for the DVD itself, I found Carl to be very articulate and telegenic. He conveyed all of his points very well and all of his points were very relevant for praise drummers. Carl demonstrated groove patterns covering well over a dozen different songs. One thing I found very interesting is that Carl did not use any instrumentalists to accompany him while demonstrating the different groove patterns. Instead, he sang or hummed the songs as he played the grooves. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In Carl’s case, he happens to be a fairly decent vocalist in addition to being a good drummer and percussionist. So for him, the singing and humming actually worked.

In addition to teaching the seven basic grooves patterns of praise music, Carl also gave a lot of practical advice for praise drummers in regards to developing good practice habits. Drum Grooves For Worship is an excellent teaching video for all praise drummers at any level. I highly recommend it, I was not disappointed with my purchase of this product.

Friday, July 1, 2011

ARTICLE REVIEW: My Response To Carl Albrecht

On June 28, 2011, Carl published a piece on his web site entitled, The Calling of a Worship Drummer. http://carlalbrecht.com/category/worship-drumming/. In this article Carl encouraged praise musicians to take their spiritual office seriously by urging them to develop and hone their musical skills and to grow spiritually at the same time.

Carl cited five very relevant scriptures to support his points:
• REV. 5:10 “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.”
• II CHRON. 34: 12 – 13 “The Levites – all who were skilled in playing musical instruments – had charge of the laborers and supervised all the workers from job to job.”
• I CHRON. 25: 7 ““…all of them trained in music for the Lord…”
• I SAMUEL 10: 5 – 11 “…they will be coming down from a high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps … and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.”
• I SAMUEL 16:23 “…David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”

Carl also indirectly cited two scriptures without giving their references that were also very relevant to his premise:
• “The Lord truly inhabits the praises of His people.” (Psa 22:3)
• “He said He will be found when we search for Him with all of our heart.” (Jer 29:13)

It is basically a good article. The only issue that I have with the article is that Carl needs to get his terminology straight. In his 1,400 word article, Carl mentions the word “worship” in its various forms 20 times. Or 21 if you include the picture at the beginning of the article that shows Carl holding his drums sticks in his right while raised in the air, with the caption below reading, “Carl worshipping.”

Carl has the same misconception about worship that most Evangelical Christians have. Praise and worship are two completely different concepts. The problem is, most Evangelicals have difficulty making the distinction between the two and they end up using the pop cultural definition of worship as opposed to the Biblical definition. Take the photo of Carl at the top of his article. One raising their hand or hands is an act of praise, not worship. Here are just two scriptures that support the concept of praise being manifested through the lifting of hands:
• Ps 63:4 “I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.”
• Ps 134:2 “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.”

Praise is an activity based concept and the scriptures teach that praise can be manifested through: giving of offerings, thanksgiving, or a verbal declaration of praise; and/or by shouting, dancing, lifting of hands, singing and playing musical instruments. Those are all activities. This is why I refer to myself as a praise drummer as opposed to a worship drummer. There is no verse in the Bible that reads, “lift your hands in worship.”

Worship on the other hand is a posture based concept and not an activity based concept as praise is. This is where most Evangelicals go wrong. They associate worship as an activity and it’s not. The scriptures teach that worship is a posture and an attitude of bowing. The notion that worship is defined by lifting hands and music is simply NOT BIBLICAL. I challenge anyone to show me one scripture that defines music any other manifestation of praise of as worship.

Here are just two scriptures that well illustrate how praise and worship are different:
• II Ch 20: 18 & 19 Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.
• Ne 8:6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Some of you might be thinking,… “Gosh Matthew, aren’t you being a little nit-picky here? After all, you just said that Carl’s article was good, so why are you splitting hairs over the semantics of worship?” If you were thinking that, let respond to you this way.

Suppose you visited a church where the Ushers pass out the bread and wine after the Pastor says, “will the ushers please come forward to take the offering.” Then, the Ushers pass the offering plates after the Pastors says, “we will now partake of Holy communion.” I think calling communion, “the taking of the offering” and the taking of the offering, “communion” is just a ridiculous as calling singing and music “worship.”

So my point is we need to call things what they actually are and we as Christians should be using the Biblical definitions of those terms if a Biblical definition is applicable. So, if Carl were to go back and revise his article by replacing all the references to worship with praise, then his article would be even better than it is now. It is as simple as that.

BTW, I just recently bought Carl’s instructional DVD, Drum Grooves for Worship and later this Summer, I will publish a review on it. I will not make an issue of how Carl used the word worship in my upcoming review since I have already done that here. Suffice it to say, aside for the worship issue, I loved the DVD immensely, so you can expect my review to be more on the positive side.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More Products by Keith Banks

Back on March 25, 2009, I did a review on a 2006 instructional DVD that was written, produced, and performed by Keith Banks entitled, Defining A Worship Drummer. In my review of that DVD, I addressed the product’s strengths and weaknesses. As for the product weaknesses, one of my comments was, “I thought the teaching side of Keith’s DVD could have been a little less philosophical and a lot more practical because he never taught any special drumming techniques or nuances that would have been relevant to the praise genre, nor did he ever give any general drumming tips.” At the time I wrote that, I did not know that Keith had produced a CD entitled, “Finding The Pocket of the Groove” that same year he did his first DVD (2006).

“Finding The Pocket of the Groove” is a CD that features 33 different drum grooves from 9 different genres such as latin, fusion and straight-ahead jazz, funky & soulful, rock, latin, reggae, hip hop, and R &B. This would be a valuable product for any praise drummer simply because a lot of praise songs sample from a variety of genres. In order to be an effective praise drummer, one needs to be familiar with the various styles, and this CD can help you do that. This CD is also a very good practicing tool for bass, guitar, piano, keyboard players, as well as drummers and percussionists. It will help a drummer with his/her timing and develop the groove and feel the pocket.

In 2009, Keith produced two more instructional videos entitled:
Series I, Dynamic Drum Lessons (Beginner & Intermediate Drummers)
Series I, Dynamic Drum Lessons (Advanced Drummers)
Both of these videos are very practical and teach a lot special drumming techniques and nuances that are relevant to the praise genre.

The DVD for Beginner & Intermediate Drummers covers the fundamentals of using the proper handling of the sticks and foot techniques. It also covers some basic rudiments, the essential counting system of notations, basic structure of building drum fills, and developing dynamic grooves. Keith also wrote a book that accompanies this DVD that scores all the exercises.

The other DVD for Advanced Drummers teaches the following concepts:
• The funk clave
• Cross over hi-hat
• Phrasing & articulating creative drum fills
• Thinking out the box drumming concepts
• World & cultural rhythms

I am of the opinion that clave should be illustrated on all drum rudiment charts along with all the double stroke rolls, paradiddles, flams, ruffs and etc. simply because all pop music as we know of it today is based on the clave (the 3/2 son clave in particular). Although there are different ways to play clave on the drum set, Keith shows the viewer how to ride the hi-hat with clave.

The cross over hi-hat concept is where the drummer uses the snare hand to hit the hi-hat between the back beats of 2 and 4 while the other hand is riding the hi-hat. The reason Keith calls it “cross over” is because the snare hand crosses back and forth from the snare to the hi-hat. Many drummers are using this technique and it does help add some spice to your groove whether you are riding your hi-hat or your cymbal.

This DVD features two songs and on one of them entitled Avivanos. In this song, Keith demonstrates his “out of the box” thinking and his phenomenal independence by putting together a double ride combination. Keith played 16ths on the snare at a tempo of 92 bpm with his left hand while playing the hi-hat and the snare with his right. In another segment of the song puts together a paradiddle combination between the kick and the snare while riding the cymbal.

Keith gives the viewers their money’s worth with plenty of material. Any drummer who can master all the techniques taught in this DVD will be one bad cat. The only down side of the DVD is that it did not come with an accompaniment book as the DVD for Beginner & Intermediate Drummers did. Of course, it’s very understandable why there is no book. Preparing an accompaniment book for this DVD would be a greater undertaking because the exercises are a lot more intricate than the exercises in the first one. But, then again, the fact that this DVD has more intricate exercises would be an argument for writing the accompaniment book.

The title to both of these DVDs reads, “Series I.” So this begs a question. Does this mean that there will be a “Series II” coming out anytime soon? Only Keith can answer that question.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

I am going to begin this article by making a statement that has gotten me into trouble in the past. And that is, churches are a consumer product. Yes, as repugnant as that might sound to you, this is the God’s honest truth. Think about it. For those of you who attend church regularly, ask yourself why you are attending the church you are currently attending. When you are on your way to your church, I bet you pass by several others before you arrive at yours. The bottom line is, everyone who attends a church, has a reason they pass by other churches and attend the particular church they are going to. One’s selection criteria could range anywhere from denomination and doctrine, location, the charisma of the pastor, the music program, the children’s or youth programs or whatever. In today’s day and age, it is not at all unusual for an individual or a family to attend one church for a few years and then up and leave and attend another church for a few years.

For the musician playing in a church praise band, this dynamic comes into play even more so. As for me, I have attended eight different churches in the last fifteen years. Of those eight churches, I left only three of them over a disagreement with the music director or the direction the music program. Then, there were two churches that just made me a better offer than the ones I was currently playing for at the time. This is the hazard one has to contend with if one’s selection criteria for a church is whether or not there is a chair for that person in the praise band. The music business in general is very lucid. Groups come and go and the musicians who play for groups come and go. The music program at any given church can be very lucid too, even if the musicians playing for a church praise band are playing for a higher purpose than their secular counter-parts.

If you are truly dedicated to being a praise musician, you are going to have to live with the possibility that you might be playing in a few different churches over the course of your musical career. Another cold hard reality is that praise band musicians more often than not, are more loyal to the praise bands they play with than the churches they are playing for. One exception to that rule happened when a guitar player once told me that he had to wait three years before the music director would let him play in the band. I then asked him: “Instead of waiting three years to play in this praise band, why didn’t you just find another church that could use a guitar player?” He then gave me that how dare you look, and said, “I would never leave this church. This is my church home and I love the people here.” I responded by saying, “well okay then, that’s the choice you made. Obviously this church and its people are more important to you than your desire to develop and hone your guitar skills.” I don’t fault the guy for the choice he made.

So, it all comes back to one’s selection criteria for a church and the choices one makes regardless if you are a serious or casual musician. If you are in a situation where you are not happy with your role or the lack thereof in the praise band at your church, you have two choices. Accept the situation for what it is, or change churches. As for two of the three churches that I left over musical disagreements, they way underestimated my resolve to leave them for a better situation after I expressed to them my wishes and desires. As I have grown older, I have learned that it is better to just leave and look for a better situation than to stay and complain and thus risk causing discord and contention.

By the way, just so you know, I am very happy with my current praise band situation and have no plans to leave anytime soon. And the reason I am where I am today is a result of the choices to stay or go in the past.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

If You Have A Drummer, Why Not Drum? (A Response to Branon Dempsey)

Back in April of 2009, Branon Dempsey published a two part article on his blog entitled, “To Drum or Not To Drum” (go to http://www.worshipteamtraining.com/ArticlesOnMusic.html). These two articles cover the dynamics of how the drums (acoustic as opposed to electronic) mix with the other instruments in the smaller churches that tend to have small praise bands.

Before I begin my review of Branon’s work, let me first mention the Branon and I go back a ways. I played drums and percussion under him for two years from 2002 to 2003 while he was the Music Director at Family of Faith Lutheran Church. For the most part I think Branon’s articles offered some good insights. As for the points in Branon’s work that I would take exception to, I would like to politely offer a different perspective and smooth out a few rough edges.

First, I will highlight the positive parts of Branon’s work. In the beginning he correctly identified one of the biggest challenges a small praise band faces when he wrote:
…”the fewer instruments you have, the drums will only stand out that much more. In other words, if all you have is a piano, a guitar and a drummer, it's going to take more dynamic range for the other two instruments to balance out the drums.”
I know this to be true from first-hand experience. I have played in small churches under the scenario that Branon just described. I remember how I had to adjust my playing in order to maintain the ministry value of the music under that kind of arrangement.

Branon also did well in explaining the purpose of the drums in a praise band when he wrote:
“As for drums, the main purpose of the band is to support the singers, the end result to lead the congregation in worship and in song. I have seen and heard many church bands that spend way too much time on the drums, when they lack the other instrumental support to the music/singers as a whole. The drummer's job is like the band, to provide a clear sense of timing and pulse.”

Branon gave a lot of good practical suggestions on how to apply external volume controls on the drums by using carpets, shields, banners and other acoustical modifications. There were good tips on how the band members can better communicate, as well as some practice tips for the drummer. On the whole I think it was a good article that needed to be written. There are a lot of small churches out there that struggle to field a complete praise band and often times have to make due with less than ideal conditions. So that two part series of articles definitely filled a vacuum.

Now, allow me to dot and cross a few Is and Ts in the parts of Branon’s work where it fell a little short. For starters, he made the dependability and the reliability of the drummer an issue. Although he was correct in emphasizing the importance of having a consistent drummer, this is not an issue that is unique to just drummers. I have been playing drums in praise bands for almost 25 years, I can tell you quite a few stories about the inconsistency of a few guitar and bass players. The fact of the matter is, everyone in the praise band needs to be consistent.

The reason consistency issue is a lot more pronounced in the smaller churches is because the talent pool of musicians is not as deep as the larger churches. Those small churches who are fortunate enough to field a complete praise band, often times run into trouble when one of their musicians goes on vacation, a business trip or gets sick because they may not have a back up musician available to step in as a sub. Even the most faithful and consistent praise band member does not usually play all 52 Sundays out of the year. Having back up musicians is not a luxury that most small churches have.

I think Branon could have done a better job of laying out his premise and making some distinctions. For example, he wrote:
“Now let's talk about skill. As said before, it is always better to not have a drummer than to have one who is uncontrollable.”
When I think of an “uncontrollable” drummer, I think of an uncooperative drummer who is totally out for himself and disrupts the objectives of the Praise band while being under an illusion of MTV grandeur by playing loud all the time and playing fills every two bars whether the song actually needs them or not. I think we need to first start with the premise that if a drummer is coming to play at a church, then he needs to respect Praise music as a genre and be willing to learn to master all the nuances and techniques that are required to be an effective praise drummer. This is something all musicians of all genres have to do if they want steady work. If I go play a country music gig, I will need to use my vocabulary of country licks and chops on that gig. If I were to play like a metal drummer on a country gig, I probably will not get a call to play with that band again. Playing the Praise music genre in church is no different.

Let’s make the distinction between the beginning drummer who is struggling to keep time and the drummer who can keep good time, but may lack the finesse to play softly at those key points in the song service. If we are talking about the former, then we are talking about a competency level issue. In this case, I would advise the Music Director to find a tactful way of telling this young inexperienced drummer that he can’t play until he gets his timing together. Then again, the same could be said about a beginning guitar player who can’t quite make those chord transitions and keep up with the chord progressions of the songs.

As for the case of a solid drummer who is having difficulty playing softly, this problem can be easily compensated for. Although I give Branon credit for addressing volume reduction when he made some suggestions on external acoustical options, he never thoroughly addressed the issue of stick options. There is a reason I keep a set of brushes, multi-rods and mallets in my stick bag in addition to regular drum sticks. This is something all Praise drummers should have so they will be better able to provide whatever coloring or texturing a song may need. But, the multi rods can especially come in handy for those drummers who are having volume issues. Cross Sticking is another technique that can be used to take the edge off the volume.

The skill level issue is another problem that many small churches have to deal with. Breaking into a praise band in the larger churches is often times very competitive. And it can be difficult for a young musician to get in some quality playing time and experience if his church has a deep talent pool of musicians. To a large degree, the smaller churches are sort of like the minor leagues for praise musicians. They are more desperate for talent and they will be happy to have any kind of musician regardless of skill level. A lot of the larger churches have a youth group that might have a youth praise band. This is also another way young musicians can get some experience.

In part two of Branon’s article, he spent two paragraphs raving over “drum machines/loops/clicks.” I refer to those things as the “synthetic drums.” His advice on synthetic drums was sound. But, Branon never made it abundantly clear that the synthetic drums should be a plan B measure when there isn’t a drummer or a minimally competent drummer available. Remember, synthetic drums have their limitations. They are mechanical, predictable and they don’t have a heart and soul. They are unable to, as Branon would say, “match the moment,” or produce an ethereal (another word I learned from Branon) texturing or coloring effect.

When discussing the issue of the synthetic drums vs the live drummer, there is one hard cold reality that we need to keep in mind. The fact is, if any church in our day and culture expects to see any significant growth, they will need to have a good red hot praise band. Period! I don’t care how well the Pastor delivers his messages. If a Pastor does not have a good praise band backing him up, his church will not see any significant growth. I can make the argument that a church with a mediocre Pastor, but a good praise band has more potential for growth that a church with a really good Pastor and a mediocre praise band. So, using synthetic drums as opposed to working with a beginner level drummer who is struggling may be the most expedient and convenient way to go in the short run. However, in the long run I think they would be doing the music program a big disservice. So, if you have a drummer with the minimum required time keeping skills and he has a teachable and cooperative spirit, I say use him as much as possible. In the long run the music program will be better off for it. I don’t know of any church that developed a successful music program using synthetic drums.

Please understand that my critique of Branon’s two articles on the drums is in NO WAY intended to impugn Branon’s credentials and credibility as an accomplished Musician, Song Leader and Music Director. In fact, if the music program at your church needs some help in the way of coaching, training, workshops, clinics or whatever, Branon would be the guy that I would highly recommend for this. He holds a Masters Degree in Music, and understands every facet of running a church music program. He is proficient on keyboards and guitar. He used to be a drummer when he was in High School, so he knows how to communicate with drummers very well.

Branon has an excellent grasp of music theory, he can read music and write and compose and has written many praise songs. He is very good at evaluating talent and coaching accordingly. Branon is equally proficient in coaching vocals and the rhythm section. He also is very knowledgeable on the technical aspects of a music program. He knows his way around a sound booth and recording studio. So when it comes to church music ministry development, Branon is the complete package. For more information about how to contract his services, go to the Worship Team Training web site that I referenced at the top of this article.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Q&A ON FILLS

Question:
Do you have any tips of drum fills? I want to be creative with my drum fills and not just play notes that don't mean anything.

Daniel, Houston, TX

Answer:
Daniel, before I address the actual playing of fills, allow me to first give you some basic guidelines for doing fills that I have used. These guidelines are especially applicable when playing praise music but can apply to other genres as well.

1. A big misconception among many young drummers is that they see fills as an opportunity to show off their chops and prowess. This very well could be the case in some circumstances. However, the main purpose for fills in the first place is to enhance the song. Drummers should let the nuances of the song dictate the kind of fills they should do.
2. The best time to play fills is at the transition points of the song. Example, playing a fill when making the transition from the Verse to the Chorus, the Chorus to the Bridge, and perhaps a lead into a modulation.
3. Try to avoid playing fills in the key lyrical points so as to not create a distraction from the ministry value of the lyrics being sung. If you do, make sure that your fills are done in such a way that the words are enhanced or punctuated so you would be assisting in the ministry value of the song and not creating a distraction.
4. Remember that fills are like spice in your food. Some spice is good, too much spice can be bad. The more fills you put into a song, the less value and impact they will have. However, the fills can increase in their value and impact if there are less of them.
5. Remember that the kinds of fills you do and how you do them is just as important as the quantity of fills you play in a song. The “less is more” principle not only applies to the quantity of fills played in a song, but also to the kinds of fills being played. In praise music, it’s very rare that you would actually have to fill up an entire four beat bar with an intricate sixteenth note triplet round house fill. Many times a simple two beat fill consisting of a quarter note and a couple of eighth notes will suffice.
6. Consider doing some fills on your hi-hat. There is no law that says all your fills have to played on your toms. The same licks you play on your toms can be just as easily played on your hi-hat. The advantage to playing a fill on your hi-hat is that it is more subtle and less overpowering;
7. Listen to the recording of the original artist who produced the song you would be playing. Often times, the drummer (or the drum machine) in the original recording can give you a good idea of what kind of fills you can do and how often they should be played. There will be times when it may not be feasible to duplicate exactly what the original drummer did stroke for stroke on the recording. However, you should always try to duplicate the general effect of what was recorded;
8. When in doubt, don’t fill. It’s better to do error on the side of doing less fills and be asked to do more, than to do more fills and be asked to cut back. There aren’t very many bands in the mainstream secular genres or in church venues who like their drummers to over play their fills.

Now that I have established the guidelines for doing fills, let me address your question directly. While it’s good to be creative in everything we play, drummers (especially praise drummers) need to keep in mind that they are not the main focus. Our job is to keep time and be felt and not heard.

As for coming up with ideas for new fills, a good place to start is with the rudiments. Think of ways you can apply the various rudiments to create new fill patterns. Also, in addition to creating new fill patterns, try playing same fill patterns but with different sticking patterns and on different drums or cymbals. Example, if have a fill pattern where you are playing sixteenth notes with single strokes (RLRL RLRL), try playing those same sixteenth notes with double strokes (RRLL RRLL) or a paradiddle (RLRR LRLL) with each hand playing a different drum. The bottom line here is that being creative with your fills doesn’t always mean you have to come up with new fill patterns, you can play the same fill patterns and mix it up with different sticking and drum patterns. To the untrained ear, it will more often sound like an entirely different fill altogether.

I know that doing fills are fun and glamorous and many observers will evaluate drummers solely on their ability to do fills. But just remember, fills are only a small aspect of drumming. Playing grooves are far more important. Playing poorly on your grooves will get you fired a lot quicker that playing poor fills.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Latest Invention

I now call this invention the DCMP, which stands for, Dolly, Case and Mobile Platform.
video

Friday, September 4, 2009

Memo To All Houston Area Church Drummers

On Sunday, November 1st, from 3:00 to 5:00 pm, the Percussion Center will be sponsoring the 3rd annual Texas Big Beat (TBB). This event will be hosted by the Houston Airport System and will be held at the Airport Services Complex, 4500 Will Clayton Parkway, Houston, TX 77032.

TBB is a drumming charity event that raises funds to support underprivileged, special needs and at-risk children to develop self-esteem and strong learning skills through music and educational programs. This is a drumming event where drummers of all ages and experiences come together to support children in having an education that allows them to fulfill their dreams for a positive, productive life.

At this event, drummers of all ages and levels of experience bring their drums and set up along side one another. The celebrity drummers will be introduced as they play a round of drum solos. The entire group (including the celebrity drummers) will then play several songs together. Prizes will be given out throughout the program and the group will have additional opportunities to play along with the celebrity drummers.

TBB was inspired by an event called Woodstick held in Seattle for the last 6 years. The World Record was set by the Seattle event in 2006 with 533 drummers. (There is a rumor that the drummers in London, England have recently surpassed that number) TBB is taking on the challenge of breaking the Guinness World Record of gathering drummers to play together in one venue. Also, there will be a total of 11 cities holding "Big Beat" events in cities across the United States and Canada. All of the events are being held on the same day and will be connected via technology to drum together and create a new multi-city record!

In order to break these records, we will need as many drummers as possible to attend this event and this would include CHURCH DRUMMERS. Given that this event takes place on the same day that we do our Church gigs, there may be some scheduling conflicts that Church drummers will have to contend with.

If you play on Sunday evenings, you will more than likely have to contend with a scheduling conflict. Even though TBB is from 3:00 to 5:00 pm, most Sunday evening service start at 6:00 pm. When you factor in the drive and cartage time after the event, and the fact that most praise bands have a rehearsal prior the actual service, you will come to realize that you will not be able to attend TBB and your Sunday evening Church gig. Be prepared to have to tell your leader that you will not be able to play that Sunday evening.

For those of you who play only on Sunday mornings, keep in mind that even though TBB begins at 3:00 pm, you want to arrive there as early as possible. Preferably, no later than 1:00 pm. Arriving as early as possible will enable you to find a god place to set up and take your time doing it. Also, you will have some time to relax, grab a bite to eat and mingle with the other drummers. Depending on when your morning service starts, will depend on how much of the service you will miss. In most cases, a drummer playing at the morning service should be able to play the entire music set in the service before leaving. However, if your praise band plays a song or two after the message at the end of the service, then it is highly likely that you won’t be present for that if you want to arrive at TBB around 1:00 pm.

Given these obstacles that you may have to contend with, allow me to offer you a few tips that might help you out.
1. If your Music Director or Pastor happens to ask you why you will only be attending the first part of the service, or that you will not be attending at all on November 1st. When explaining your situation, be sure to emphasize to that you will be attending a charity event that will raise money for needy and underprivileged kids. Frame it in such a way that they will perceive you as using your drumming talents for something constructive and worth while that will benefit society and that you will be putting your Christianity INTO PRACTICE. Avoid mentioning anything about breaking world records, or that you will get to meet celebrity drummers, or that you will be having fun hanging out with other drummers. They will only perceive that to be trivial and insignificant and will think that your time would be better spent playing in church.
2. If you play in the morning service and leave right after the music set and don’t stay for the entire service, and the church you are playing for doesn’t have a house drum kit. Make sure that the drum kit that you will be playing on at church will not be same drum kit that you will be taking to TBB. Be sure to have a separate kit all packed in your vehicle that is ready to go.
3. If your church has more than one drummer and/or a percussionist, encourage them to participate in TBB as well. Consider having one of you stay behind and play the music set at church, while the other drummer(s) go to TBB with their drum kits and the kit of the drummer who is staying behind to play at church. This same concept can be applied to the evening service as well. Send one drummer back early to play at the church while the other(s) stay to finish the event and pack up.

The bottom line here is that Texas Big Beat will need to have as many drummers present as possible. In the end, those children who are the recipients of the Cherish Our Children and Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundations will be ultimate winners whether or not we can set any world records. For more information about TBB and the charities it is supporting go to: www.texasbigbeat.com. You can also register online for this event. See you there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Coloring & Texturing, Part I The Chimes

INTRODUCTION

Coloring and texturing has to do with those special sound effects that a drummer or percussionist may provide during the course of a song. Although these effects do not hold down the groove and maintain rhythm, they can do a lot to enhance the esthetic value of the song. I think praise music has more opportunities for coloring and texturing than the other pop music genres. Coloring and texturing effects could range from cymbal rolls (with mallets or sticks), the rain stick, shakers, to other assorted percussion instruments. In this article, I am going to address coloring and texturing with the chimes.

When I am playing in church, whether the assignment is playing drums or percussion, you can be sure that a set of chimes will be one of the pieces of equipment that I will bring to the gig. Notice that I am referring to them as “chimes,” as opposed to “wind chimes.” Wind chimes are the kind of chimes that are activated by the wind and they are commonly arranged in a circular fashion and are usually found on peoples’ porches and patios. These are not the kind of chimes that I am talking about. In this article, I am going to give you some practical advice on how to use a set of chimes arranged in a straight line for a musical situation.

SELECTING A SET OF CHIMES

If you are playing a church gig and don’t have a set of chimes available, it would behoove you (or the church you are playing for) to acquire a set. Before you buy, first consider this. As is the case with most things you buy, chimes vary in price. The main thing to keep in mind when shopping for chimes is that you should consider the quality of metal the chimes are made out of in addition to the number of chimes hanging from the wooden bar. Having more chimes as opposed to less is a good thing because it gives you a wider range of sound. However, the quality of the metal is equally if not more important. For example, my chime set only has one row of 25 chimes. As far as chime sets go, 25 is on the lower end from a quantity standpoint. I have seen chime racks with 30, 40, and 50 chimes and then some with double rows. In spite of their greater quantity, some them had chimes that were made from a more inferior grade of metal. The higher quality of metal the chimes are made from, the higher their volume and the better resonance and richness of sound they will produce. Most Sound Techs probably will not be willing to dedicate a microphone and a sound channel for your chimes. They will see that as a waste of resources. So it’s important that your chimes are made from a good grade of metal that will cut through all the other sounds of the praise band in order to achieve maximum effect.

WHEN & HOW OFTEN SHOULD I PLAY THE CHIMES

I think the chimes are best used on the lower volume and slower tempo songs that are played in the second half of the praise set as opposed to the high energy and up tempo songs that are usually played in the first half. Even if you play your chimes only on the second half songs, it would still be a good idea to use the chimes sparingly. I view the frequency of playing the chimes the same way I view the frequency of playing fills. Too much of anything can get very tiring after a while. If I use the chimes a lot in one song, I might lay off the chimes on the next one and use another coloring and texturing technique.

WICH DIRECTION SHOULD I GO?

A very common question that I have been asked is: When you play the chimes, which end of the rack is the best place to begin? At the low end going up? Or, at the high end going down? As a general rule of thumb, I let the lyrics of the song dictate which end of the chimes I start at. If the lyrics of the song address the concept of God reaching down to man, then I start at the high end and play down. If the lyrics address the concept of man trying to reach up to God, then I start at the low end and play up. Let’s take the song, Lord I Lift Your Name on High as an example. This song can be played either as a fast or slow tempo. If I were to play the chimes on this song, I would play from low to high while the phrase, “Lord I lift your name on high” was being sung. However, one phrase in the verse of that same song goes, “you came from heaven to earth…” If I were to play the chimes during the singing of that phrase, I would go from high to low. If the lyrics do not suggest a direction either way, then just go with what ever I feel at the time or I don’t play the chimes at all.

Another rule of thumb I use for directional guidance is listening to the melody line. If you hear the notes going up or down, it might be a good idea to play accordingly in order to maintain continuity. Sometimes I will play chimes at the beginning of a song just before I play a full groove on the drums as opposed to doing a groove into with a fill on the toms. When I do this I will generally play from high to low because most fills on the toms are played from high to low. When ending a song I usually play low to high. This is because the person playing the keyboards or guitar might play a partial scale going from low to high on the last bar of the song.

CONCLUSION

After you have acquired a set of chimes, it might be a good idea to find a flat and elongated box for it to use as a make shift case if you do a lot of setting up and tearing down. I recommend using dental floss for a replacement string in the event one of the original plastic strings that suspends the chimes breaks. So, until next time, happy coloring and texturing!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Review - Playing Together As A Worship Band

A Critique of Playing Together As A Worship Band
by Maranatha! Praise Band with Angela Dean & Bobby Brock

General Overview

This book is a product of Maranatha Music, which has been producing praise music ever since I can remember (which is as far back as the late 70s). They have established themselves as one of the leaders in the praise music industry and taken time to pack in a lot of practical advice for praise bands in this relatively shourt 92 page book. I think the brevity of this book is a plus and could appeal to a lot of the non-avid readers who are not usually willing to spend a lot of time reading a full length volume. The scope of the book addresses the dynamics that involve the entire praise band and how it functions as a whole.

A Drummer’s Perspective

The few paragraphs that address the individual instruments don’t really provide any real enlightening or practical advice that most experienced musicians don’t already know. For example, the authors’ main points in addressing the drums are on page 35 were:
· Keeping good time;
· Knowing all the right tempos for each song;
· Being sensitive to your volume levels;
· Locking in with the bassist;
· Having a working knowledge of as many styles as possible.

These are all good points. However, most experienced drummers already know this and they are just as applicable in the secular venues as well as the church venues. As for point number two in particular, the authors were under the assumption the the drummer will count off every song. The way a song is counted off or started varies from group to group depending on what the band leader wants. There are groups where the band leader counts off or starts every song and the drummer has no control in establishing the tempo, he merely maintains the tempo that was dictiated to him. Then, there are some praise bands where the leader will have the drummer count off some of the songs and the band leader will start or count off the others. So, point number two would only apply for the songs that the drummer actually counts off.

When addressing the drums in general, I think the authors made two big oversights: First, they neglected to address the role of the percussionist and his relationship to the drummer. There are hundreds of praise bands out there that have percussionists. Why were they excluded in this book? Does Maranatha not have any percussionists playing in their praise bands? Second, the coloring and texturing of a song by the drummer and/or the percussionist was never addressed. Coloring and texturing is one of the main distinctives that makes praise drumming different from drumming in the other genres.

Product Weaknesses

The first two chapters were more philosophical while the last three were very practical. As far as the philosophical side goes, I think the authors were very short-sighted in their thinking. In chapter one they started off by defining worship according to the English definition. Which is, as they wrote, “to ascribe, assign, attribute, and declare worth to something.” Okay, whatever! But what about the Biblical definition of worship? Shouldn’t that figure into the equation? If they were to mix in the Biblical definition of worship, they would be very hard pressed to find any verses that would suggest that worship has anything to do with playing instruments and singing. This is because the Biblical definition of worship means bowing or falling prostrate. For more information on the true Biblical definition of worship, read my book, Are You A HEREDEWOSO?

In the next section in chapter one, the authors went on to address the charactertics that are unique to a “worship” band. On page 21 they wrote, “in the typical live setting, the goal for the artist or band is to express their creativity, musicianship, and even stage persona as an outlet for their art form and/or for the appreciation and entertainment of the audience. Accordingly, in virtually every style of popular music performance, there is an underlying tone of ‘look up here and watch us play for you.’”

I think the author’s perspective is all wrong here. First of all, if you watch the bands in secular venues whether it be at a club, private party or concert. Their objective is not all that much different than that of a praise band in a church. Secular bands try to compel their audiences to engage just as a praise bands do. Where praise bands differ from their secular counter-parts is that a praise band performs for two audiences (God and the people) where as a secular band performs for one audience (the people). Therefore the dynamics of the two venues can be described this way, a praise venue is triangular in nature while a secular venue is bi-lateral in nature. That is the main difference.

All the rules for producing good music in a secular band pretty much apply to praise bands as well. If a praise band is going to be effective in their ministry, they too must express their “creativity” and “musicianship.” Praise bands project a “stage persona” just as much as their secular counter-parts do. So, where do the authors of this book get off with the idea that these concepts don’t apply to praise bands?

In chapter two, the authors described the different functions within the praise band and they began with the leadership first. They first described the duties of the “Worship” Leader (I refer to this function as the Song Leader) and then they described the duties of the Music Director. I thought the authors gave some responsibilities to the Song Leader that really belong to the Music Director. And they pretty much ignored the function of the Band Leader. I don’t think they did a good job of making the distinctions between the leadership functions within a praise band.

I would characterize the leadership hieracrchy of a praise band this way: It all starts with the Music Director. The MD is the one who reports to the Pastor and is responsible for the quality of the product of the entire music program. Then, you have the function of the Band Leader and the Song Leader. The Band Leader is responsible for directing the musicians within the praise band. The Song Leader is the one who leads the singing during the actual service. As is the case with most praise bands, the MD is also acts as the Band Leader and Song Leader. However, this is not always the case. I knew a case where the MD delagated the Song Leading responsibilities to someone else, but functioned as the Band Leader and played rythum guitar. Then, I knew another case where the MD was the Song Leader and appointed someone else to be the Band Leader. So, depending on the abilities of the MD and the resources of the church, the MD could fill just one, two, or all three leadership roles in the praise band.

Product Strenths

The book gets better after you read through the philosophical side book and get into the practical side. The authors provide some excellent tips for running a rehersal and the praise band in general. One concept in particular that the book taught that I was particularly impressed with was the “100% rule.” The principle behind this concept is that a praise band is like a big pie, and all the members are like slices of that pie. So, if you are in a 5 piece praise band, then you are 20% of the band and you should play within your 20% so as to make room for your band mates.

The authors provided some good information some common techniques that are practiced by most praise bands, such as: dynamics, vamps, and breakdowns. They also addressed concepts such as: musical and thematic continuity; harmonic, program, contextual, and logistical transitions; and mirroring. All praise bands will face challenges from time to time and the authors made it a point to list most (if not all) of these possible challenges and gave some good suggestions on how to deal with them. And they gave some general suggestion on how to keep a praise band vibrant and strong on an ongoing basis.

Conclusion

On a scale from 1 to 10, I would give this book a 6.5. I think this book would be a good resource for those inexperienced Music Directors who found themselves in a position of running a praise band. Playing Together as a Worship Band, would be a good place for them to start.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Article Review - Drumming In Chruch

A Critique of Drumming In Church, Demands And Rewards

The March issue of Modern Drummer magazine featured an article entitled, “Drumming In Church, Demands And Rewards,” by Stephen Brasgalla in the Jobbing Drummer column. Modern Drummer magazine is a publication that addresses drumming issues mainly in all the mainstream pop genres. On rare occasions, they will interview a drummer who is involved in the Christian music scene in some capacity, or feature an article that is relevant to church drumming. In any case, Modern Drummer magazine is an excellent resource for all drummers and I would encourage all drummers to subscribe to this publication. I think it would be good for us praise drummers to let MD magazine know that we appreciate it when they print articles that are relevant to our genre. For more on MD magazine, you can go to www.moderndrummer.com.

As for Stephen Brasgalla's article, I think his piece was very comprehensive and he did a good job of covering the topic of drums as it relates to the contemporary church music scene. The only thing in his article that I would take exception to is his comment in the "Trills, Spills...And Fills!" section when he wrote, "Never play a fill until the band members ask you to." While I would agree with Stephen’s overall philosophy of taking a conservative approach to playing fills, I think waiting until you are asked to play one is a bit extreme. There aren’t very many bands in the mainstream secular genres who like their drummers to overplay, this is not just a church thing. Being a fill-hog prima donna can get you run from a secular gig just as fast as it can from a church gig.

Here are some basic guidelines I use for doing fills while playing praise music:
· Remember that the purpose of the fills you play in the first place is to enhance the song and its ministry value. Fills are not meant to be an opportunity for you to show off your drumming prowess;
· The best time to play fills is at the transition points of the song. Example, playing a fill when making the transition from the Verse to the Chorus and from the Chorus to the Bridge and etc.
· Don’t play fills in parts of the song where the lyrics are being sung. If you do, make sure that your fill enhances or punctuates the words that are being sung so as not to cause a distraction.
· Remember that the kinds of fills you do and how you do them is just as important as the quantity of fills you play in a song. The “less is more” principle not only applies to the quantity of fills played in a song, but also to the kinds of fills being played. In praise music, it’s very rare that you would actually have to fill up an entire bar with an intricate sixteenth note triplet round house fill. Many times a simple two beat fill consisting of a quarter note and a couple of eighth notes will suffice.
· Consider doing some fills on your hi-hat. There is no policy written in any drummer’s code book that I know of that says all your fills have to played on your toms. The same licks you play on your toms can be just as easily played on your hi-hat. The advantage to playing a fill on your hi-hat is that it is more subtle and less overpowering;
· Listen to the recording of the original artist who produced the song you would be playing. Often times, the drummer (or the drum machine) in the original recording can give you a good idea of what kind of fills you can do and how often they should be played. There will be times when it may not be feasible to duplicate exactly what the original drummer did stroke for stroke on the recording. However, you should always try to duplicate the general effect of what was recorded;
· When in doubt, don’t fill. To echo what Stephen wrote, it’s better to do less fills and be asked to do more, than to do more fills and be asked to cut back.

All and all, Stephen’s article was very good. You may read it for yourself by going to my March 19, 2009 post. Feel free to respond with your own opinion.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

DVD Review - Defining A Worship Drummer

A Critique of Defining A Worship Drummer

Go to any drum store, or peruse a drum catalogue or web site, you will find a lot of instructional DVDs or Videos on many different facets of drumming. There is drum instructional material on how to play the drums for any given musical genre, how to do fills, groves, soloing, double bass drumming, percussion, or whatever. You name it; there just might be an instructional DVD or Video for it. Well, there is one exception, Church Drumming. I have not had much success in finding instructional material on how to play the drums in a modern contemporary praise setting until I stumbled across an instructional DVD that was written, produced, and performed by Keith Banks back in 2006 entitled, Defining A Worship Drummer.

No one can ever accuse Keith of being stingy. His DVD gives his viewers their money’s worth with about 2 ½ hours of footage. Throughout this instructional piece, Keith alternated between a performance on the drums and a few teaching modules.

Product Strengths:
• The DVD is very positive and uplifting. Keith has a very good spirit and an infectious enthusiasm for praise drumming. His genuineness and sincerity is quite obvious;
• Keith did a good job of encouraging the viewer to have the right spirit, attitude, motivation, character, and integrity and perspective in general. Also, Keith referenced a lot Scriptures to support his teaching;
• In total, Keith performed five pieces. After you see him play, there will be no question that he is an accomplished drummer and is more than qualified to teach in this DVD. This is one bad cat with some nasty chops!

Product Weaknesses:
• I thought the teaching side of Keith’s DVD could have been a little less philosophical and a lot more practical. He never taught any special drumming techniques or nuances that would have been relevant to the praise genre, nor did he ever give any general drumming tips. Although encouraging your audience to have the right attitude and perspective is a good thing, and it is something that should be in this kind of instructional DVD, I think Keith could have made a better effort to balance out his teaching with both the philosophical and the practical sides of praise drumming;
• I think Keith could have used a better choice of words in his teaching vocabulary that would appeal to more of the mainstream of the Christian community who is into the contemporary praise scene. Using phrases like, “rhythms of deliverance,” and “prophesying on your instrument” may play well at Christ For the Nations and other like-minded denominations. However, if he is looking to widen his span of influence in the Evangelical community, I think it would be good if he would use the vocabulary and vernacular that most Evangelicals can relate to. I think Keith and I are in agreement as far as the end result goes, I just think there is a better way of saying the same thing. For example, instead of saying, “prophesying on your instrument,” I would have said something like, “be vessel for the Holy Spirit while you are playing your instrument so He can be manifested in the music.”
• The word, “worship” or a variation of it was mentioned several times in this DVD. However, Keith never gave the Biblical definition of the word. Nor, did he ever make the distinction between praise and worship. Most of the Scriptures that Keith referenced in his teaching addressed the topic of praise. Although he did reference the clichéd “worship in spirit and in truth” Scripture in John 4:23 & 24. However, this reference does actually define what worship is, it only declares that it will take place at some point in the future;
• I think Keith spent too much time splitting hairs over the difference between “performing” and “worshiping” (or “ministering.”) He insisted that when he is playing in a Christian venue, that he is not “performing” when playing the drums, but rather “worshipping.” I for one do not have a problem with admitting that I am performing when I play the drums in church. And the reason is, when I am playing in a praise setting, I am performing for the Lord, He is my focus. So, how can performing for God be a bad thing if He is at the center of your performance? Again, here is another example where Keith and I are probably in agreement on the end result, but are just using different words to convey the same point.

Conclusion:
In spite of the weaknesses in Keith’s DVD, I think Defining A Worship Drummer is a product that would benefit any praise drummer and I would recommend purchasing it. I think Keith is owed a debt of gratitude for creating this DVD for no other reason than that he has stepped up and created a product in a vacuum where praise drumming instructional materials is sorely needed. At this point in time, Keith’s product is the only instructional DVD for Praise Drummers that I know of. If there are others out there, please let me know and I will review it as well. You can acquire a copy of Defining A Worship Drummer at: www.keithbanksmusic.com.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Drumming In Church, Demands & Rewards

Editors Preface
This article was written by by Stephen Brasgalla and was originally published in the March 2009 issue of Modern Drummer magazine and is being republished on this blog with permission from Billy Amendola of MD magazine. Since this blog is dedicated to church drummers, I thought it would be fitting to feature this piece.


This fact culled from the pages of MD should grab any gigging drummer's attention: Many of today's leading funk and rock drummers cite their experiences playing in church as their most important formative times for building skills in a band situation. Combine this with the fact that churches across the country are scrambling to put together praise & worship bands (often called teams) that appeal to the taste and musical preferences of their congregations.

Once you put your hat in the ring, you're very likely to find churches beating a path to your door--and these are potentially well--paying gigs, not donations of your efforts. This is especially true in more densely populated areas and particularly in affluent churches.

Here Comes The Sun
There's only one downside that comes to mind: If you've built a career on Saturday-night club gigs, then you can be sure that 7:00 am on Sunday morning is going to come pretty early and pretty hard. It's common practice to show up this early to soundcheck and run through the music set for the day. But balance this with the many positives that come with the gig, and you may find a very attractive package.

The finest programs feature top-notch performances and theatrical presentations. To sample the world-class services of some notable "mega-churches," check out the Web sites for Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, Saddleback Church in California, or Northpoint Community Church in Georgia.

A key ingredient to the music of praise & worship churches is a diversity of style and favor. In addition to straight-up rock, drummers may be asked to dive headlong into Latin styles, Indian rhythms, world music beats, reggae, and even hip-hop and punk genres. Don't worry; it's not likely that you'll be required to show a mastery of these styles on your résumé for your very first appearance. The point is, you'll have an opportunity to grow into learning and expressing yourself musically in styles outside of your normal comfort zone.

Churches usually have many volunteers who participate in their music ministries. You'll find that many or most of the players and singers on a praise & worship team will be volunteers and will likely be members of the church. However, church volunteers have widely divergent commitment levels to the music program. Some participate on a weekly basis and some only once and a while. Therefore churches that are serious about their music program will commonly pay the core musicians--and expect them to fulfill terms of their employment so as to ensure quality and dependability. These performers usually consist of a singing worship leader who also plays guitar or piano, a bass player, and, of course, a drummer.

A great benefit of a church gig is that age is almost a non-issue. An older musician who is experienced and stable will be very well received in a congregation. The "weekend warriors" out there, able to afford top-quality equipment and a desire to use it to drive a slammin' band, could find a reality cozy niche in this kind of gig. Young players (even teens), if reliable and reasonably presentable in appearance, will fit in just fine as well. It's worth mentioning that casualattire is commonplace for church performers in this venue. You probably won't be expected to wear a suit and tie.

In Search Of...
So how do you find a church gig? Well, other than the internet (the obvious first choice), cold calling is actually a good option. Ask the receptionist if the church has a praise & worship service. An older but very familiar term is a "contemporary" service. If the answer is yes, ask to speak to the praise worship director. If that falls flat, ask for the music director or pastor. This will likely lead to a straight-forward conversation about their program and whether it includes paid positions for core musicians. If the director expresses interest, this will probably lead to an informal audition.

Assuming that you present yourself well and that you have solid playing skills, you're off and running! There's no limit to the potential for different church venues. But you may find more success if you begin with the non-denominational Protestant churches. From there move to the mainline denominations. In semi-urban areas, there may be fifty or more churches within a five-mile radius of your home!

Perhaps you don't have a specific desire or need to be officially employed by a church. If your musical development is the main thing, then volunteering may be the answer. The "playing field" will open up even wider for you, and you'll reap all the benefits of the musical experience while "giving back" to your community. There's certainly a personal reward for volunteering in a church. It's also reasonably certain that you're going to meet some very nice people and also widen your base of friends and contacts.

So now you've found a gig and you're walking into the first rehersal. There are a few things to keep in mind that will quickly make you an indispensable member of the team. Note that "band" is not the right idea here, becasue it's common for the ministry wolunteers to have a different line up from week to week. "Bands" are closed groups; "teams" are usually wide open, and this has special relevance in a church situation. Therefore being a "team player" is very beneficial.

Now let's detail the areas you'll need to have covered if you want to become the ideal church drummer.

Is There A Drummer In The House?
Bring the equipment you need. Usually a church will have a drumkit that remains set up and in position. The quality of that kit could vary widely, but normally it will be reasonably complete. Therefore you simply need your stick bag, outfitted with regular sticks, "rods" for lower-volume playing, mallets, and possibly brushes. At your option, you might bring your favorite snare drum and kick drum pedal if you're particular about the action you want. If you remove any items from the kit, treat them with care and set them back up as you found them.

Be sitting in the drummer's seat on time, and with copies of the music you need ready to go in front of you. Bring a pencil! Church bands routinely play from lead sheets, which consist of one or two pages of lyrics and chords for each song. Some charts will have melodies on a musical staff, but this is often a luxury. The music is typically repetitive, and you'll be asked to quickly understand and remember how many times the verses and choruses are played.

You're likely to rehears a song you've never heard before, so pencil notations are a must. Bringa three-ring binder and try to put your music securely inside, in the order of performance. It's never appreciated when your music slides off the stand and you become hopelessly lost. If the director expects you to count off each tune, it will be essential equipment to have a metornome with a tap feature. During practice, tap in the tempo that the director likes and then write it down at the top of the lead sheet. This makes things simple and leaves the director feeling very comfortable.

Sound Off!
During the rehearsal, never play until the director starts the tune or otherwise asks you to play your instrument.
There's inevitably too little time to get through all the arrangements and nuances of an entire service. Nothing is more annoying than a musician who is constantly noodling on his or her instrument, creating distractions, and failing to follow the flow of the rehearsal. Yes, it's hard to sit silently, particularly when the director suddenly sidetracks into a forty-five minute special session with the vocalists. But do it anyway. You'll be regarded as worth your weight in gold. Rehearsals are most often sixty to ninety minutes max, so time is usually precious.

Thrills, Spills...And Fills!
Never play a fill until the bandmembers ask you to. This is clearly an ultra-conservative policy, but one that I believe will keep you in the highest graces. Countless MD featured drummers have stated that their prime goal is to play for the song. Never is this more true than in chruch. People are trying to attain a worshipful state of mind, so a sudden cataclysmic drum fill may pull them violently back into space. Better to play a straight beat consistently through the song. When the music reaches a certain point, the director will say, "Why don't you put in a fill right there." Don't be surprised if he or she is very specific about the fill that is wanted. They may be trying to replicate the performance from a CD or make some other specific transition. Again, you'll be revered if you're responsive and conservative when it comes to fills. Avoid putting the director in the awkward position of trying to get you to cut back on your fills.

If you don't know a style or can't sustain a particular beat (or tempo), just say so clearly and directly. Nobody expects you to be the Zen master of every conceivable genre. And with some simple direction, a substitute compromise can usually be made so that you can make it through the tune. But you'll waste a lot less time and avoid unnecessary blows your ego if you're straightforward about your limitations.

Can I Get More Drums In The Monitor?
Learn to control your volume to match the levels of the group.
Church bands often play at strikingly different sound levels. Some groups routinely play at very low "acoustic"-style presentations, while others bring a full stadium onslaught of sound. You must be able to match your playing to the comparable levels of the other instrumentalists and the PA system. Reading between the lines here, you must be able to have control and musicality at quieter levels. This is a skill that many drummers lack and one that takes time and experience to build.

One of the easiest ways to manage this is to have a variety of sticks at your disposal that allow quieter playing while keeping your playing style consistent. Again, use "reverse engineering" tactics here: It's much easier for a director to ask the drummer to play louder than it is to try to get that person to play quieter. Bear in mind that hearing the singer or other vocalist is almost always the most important priority in helping the congregation engage in the music.

Lastly, I would stress the need to play exactly the same way in performance as in rehearsal. Too many players in too many situations (across the board, not just in church) are attentive to their director or their bandmates in practice. Then when the lights come up and there's a positive response from the crowd, the player gets excited or over-involved, suddenly breaks away from a balanced performance, and goes off on their own. This is almost impossible for a director to control mid-performance without creating a scene, so don't put the director in this position. Trust their judgment and try to duplicate your performance in practice as much as possible.

Shake It Up!
Many great players will attest to the fact that church performances were among their richest and most satisfying experiences. Short of being a full-fledged kit player, percussion is another excellent entry point into church playing. As a director, I look for the "egg shaker" more often than any other percussion instrument as a first-call sound effect. Tambourine is a close second for achieving that great pop-rock sound. And never forget our friend the cowbell! Many church bands routinely use a dedicated conga/bongo player for the flavor and dynamics that these instruments add. (Just take my advice, though, and go easy on the windchimes!)

Be a team player, keep a good spirit, and look forward to audience interaction, which can truly be a deep experience level whenever you play in a worship setting. Pay attention to the director and your bandmates, play conservatively when you begin, and keep your instrument silent when other things are happening in rehearsal or soundcheck. Follow these guidelines, and you may find yourself in one of the best musical situations that you've ever experienced. Heed the excellent advice that Cab Calloway gave to John Belushi in The Blues Brothers: "You get wise...you get to church!"

Postlouge:
Stephen Brasgalla is a multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, and praise worship director in the South Florida area who also has an extreme passion for jazz drumming. He teaches drumming and percussion privately in the genres of rock, drum corps, and jazz.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Book Review - The Art of Worship

A Critique of The Art of Worship
(A Musician’s guide to leading modern worship)
by Greg Scheer, Baker Books 2006

All of the bio info on Greg seems to indicate that he possesses the skill set and body of knowledge that would qualify him to write authoritatively on the subject that he addressed in his book. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Pittsburgh and has an impressive resume. Greg has experience in all the facets of music ministry such as being a church musician, composer, and a director of choirs and praise bands. He also has experience teaching as a music professor. By all accounts, Greg seems to be a good model music minister (although I do not know him personally, nor have I ever worked with him).

Greg’s book is quite comprehensive insofar as that it covers most (if not all) of the aspects of music ministry in a church. The fact that his book has 51 foot notes demonstrates that he did his homework. His book covers:
· The potential hazards and pitfalls a church may encounter when making the transition to a contemporary service format with a praise band;
· The details to consider when putting together a praise team and making it effective in a church service;
· How to select songs and build a repertoire;
· The different formats in a church service and how adapt style to structure;
· Each instrument’s role and dynamic in the praise band;
· How to prepare and conduct rehearsals;
· And finally, how to lead the singing during the actual service.

The book gets quite technical in some parts. Greg shows his vast knowledge of music theory when he elaborated on the various types of modulations a praise band could do in the last eight pages of chapter four. He even provides scores of these modulations to illustrate his point. Greg also did the same thing in chapter five when he devoted about eight pages to elaborate on the different types of harmonies the vocalist can use. Greg provided a lot of insight and analysis to many of today’s popular praise songs. He addressed their lyrical content and musical style while also demonstrating a knowledge mainstream pop music.

In chapter 5, Greg gives an analysis on all the typical instruments that could be used in a praise band. He elaborates on each instrument’s distinctives and how they contribute to the overall dynamic. For the most part, I thought Greg did a pretty good job of breaking down all the instruments and their specific roles. As for explaining the drums in particular, he did a good job on this instrument as well. However, I think Greg fell a little short in capturing a few of the nuances of the drums.

His first oversight is on page 155 where he incorrectly scored the hi hat line on drum part that he provided to illustrate how the bass drum locks in with the bass and piano. When scoring drum parts, it is a common practice to use an “x” as opposed to a dot to illustrate the hi hat and cymbal parts. Also, he put the hi hat line on the space just below the top line of the five line clef (the place where the note E would be on the treble clef). This space is typically where the 1st tom line is scored. The hi hat line is usually scored on the space above the top line of the clef (the place where the note G would be on the treble clef). See the score key to know more about how the drum rhythm lines are placed.



Greg goes on to provide suggestions on how a drummer can control his volume. I think there some nuances about drumming (and praise drumming in particular) that Greg has overlooked. One of his suggestions for reducing drum volume is, “to not use it at all, opting instead for congas, bongos, tambourine, shakers…” The thing to keep in mind here is that drums and percussion are two different instruments requiring two different skill sets. Just because one can play the drums well does not necessarily mean that he will be able to play percussion well. This is more the case when it comes to playing the congas, bongos and timbales. Tambourines and shakers are typically not too difficult to play. Therefore, many drummers don’t think they are enough of a challenge for them and think it is beneath them to play those instruments. Yes, there may be some acoustical settings that may be more conducive for just the percussion instruments and no drums. However, you better make sure your drummer can and/or is willing to play whatever percussion pieces you want him to play before you put him in that setting. Otherwise, get a true percussionist or a lesser skilled musician who would be willing to shake a tambourine to do the gig.

Another suggestion Greg made for reducing drum volume was to put the drums behind a plexiglass shield in which he referred to as a “drum shell.” This is a good idea. However, proper term is drum shield. A drum shell is the wood, metal or plastic cylinder that the lugs, rims and heads are attached to in order to make the drum.

The use of “Hot Rods” and “Lighting Rods” was another suggestion that Greg gave for drummers to reduce their volume. This too is a good idea. However, the terms “Hot Rods” and “Lighting Rods” are trademark names by Pro-Mark drumstick company. I am sure Pro-Mark would not have a problem with Greg using their trademark names in his book. However, the generic term for this kind of drum stick is called Multi-Rods.

The problem with all Greg’s suggestions for drummers to reduce their volume, is that he only centered around different equipment options. He never mentioned any technique options such as cross sticking. The cross stick technique is where the drummer puts one end of the stick on the snare drum head while using the other end of the stick to strike the rim and thus giving a wood block type sound. Another technique is playing the hi hat on 2 and 4 (with the stick or foot) on the first verse of the song and then graduating to a groove with the cross stick in the next segment.

To Greg’s credit, he did say that a drummer “should be able to control dynamic” without the aid of equipment. He also said, that a drummer should “play sensitively” and be “alert to volume changes within a song” and adjust accordingly. This is very true. To add to that, the ability to play softy in the verse and contrast that with a louder dynamic during the chorus while maintaining tempo is a nuance a drummer will need to master if he wants to be effective in the praise genre. This is especially true for the second group of songs in a praise music set. These songs as a general rule tend to be slower, softer and tend to feature a wider range of the volume dynamic. I think it is the second group of songs in a praise music set that really shows the effectiveness of a praise drummer. A drummer playing the first half of a praise set is not that much different than playing mainstream pop music because these praise songs tend to be high energy, up-tempo and the volume dynamic is not as critical of an issue.

Greg gave five and a half pages of his book to cover the nuances and dynamics of the drums. However, he only gave less than half a page to cover percussion. The title he used for that section was, “Hand Percussion” as opposed to just, “Percussion.” Percussion is a much broader term because it includes those percussion instruments that require sticks and mallets. Such as, the timbales, cowbell, cymbals, jam/wood block and the mounted tambourine. These instruments should not be excluded from the mix.

There are a lot of dynamics and chemistry that go on between a drummer and his percussion counter-part that is very similar to the dynamics and chemistry that go on between the drummer and the bassist. It would have been good if Greg had made the effort to address that. He could have provided scores of drum and percussion grooves to illustrate how these two instruments can bond and lock in with each other as he already did with the other instruments.

Another nuance to playing percussion that Greg did not mention is the coloring and texturing techniques a percussionist can do with the chimes, rainstick, and cymbal effects (with mallets or sticks). The techniques used on these instruments are especially conducive in the second half of the praise set.

I love the cover of the book. It has a photo of a five piece drum set (brand name unknown) accompanied by three crash cymbals, a hi-hat and ride cymbal (brand name of cymbals unknown). I could not have selected a better cover design myself. While I love the image on the cover of the book, I don’t at all agree with Greg’s choice for the title of the book. The title of this book should be, “The Art of Praise, A Musician’s Guide To Leading Modern Praise.” This title would be far more appropriate simply because worship is not an art form while there are two types of praise (music and dancing) that are an art form.

The problem with Greg’s view of worship is that he has bought into the pop cultural evangelical definition of worship and not the Biblical definition. In the introduction of his book, Greg attempted to define worship and praise. As for his understanding of worship in particular, Greg took his cue from Dr. John D. Witvliet who is the director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, in Grand Rapids, Michigan and cited a piece that he wrote in June of 2000 entitled, On The Three Meanings of the Term Worship.

Dr. Witvliet’s article outlines what he believes are the three basic definitions of worship. The first, is his broadest definition. Using Romans 12:1 to support his premise, he defines worship in a general way in regard to our lifestyle and how we live out our Christian lives. His second definition is a little narrower in the sense that he defines worship as the gathering of believers at the weekly church services. No scriptures were referenced to support this point. The third is the narrowest of the three. Referencing Psalms 95:6, Dr. Witvliet defined this definition of worship as engaging in specific act of “adoration and praise.”

Interestingly enough, Dr. Witvliet’s third definition of worship is actually the closest to the actual Biblical definition because Psalms 95:6 reads, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” However, Greg did not cite this scripture in his book. Dr. Witvliet’s never mentioned anything about music in his third definition. However, Greg took the liberty to suggest that this third definition has something to do with music and he did not even reference Psalm 95:6 as he did Romans 12:1. My study of the Biblical definition of worship has showed me that worship is primarily a lowly posture, either in a bowing, prostrate or kneeling position. The problem with the pop evangelical definition of worship is that it is characterized as an activity as opposed to a posture.

There are dozens upon dozens of verses of scriptures that contain the word worship. The exact count varies depending the translation of the Bible one reads. Worship is listed 198 times in the King James Version, and 256 in the New International Version. I find it amazing that Dr. Witvliet only uses two of the many available scripture verses that contain worship to support his position. I would think that a guy who holds a graduate’s degree in theology from Calvin Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in liturgical studies and theology from the University of Notre Dame would be able to make his case using a wider sampling of scriptures.

After defining worship according to Dr. Witvliet’s perspective, Greg then goes on to analyze the phrase, “Praise & Worship.” He identifies this phrase as a misnomer, and rightly so. However, we don’t see this phrase as a misnomer for the same reasons. Greg characterizes worship as an “umbrella term” that incorporates “praise, lament, confession,” and many other “acts of worship.” He argues that the joining of the words, “Praise & Worship” makes no more sense than joining “lament and worship” or “armadillos and animals.” When it is all said and done, Greg then concedes to the pop evangelical norm by stating that he will use this term as is throughout the remainder of his book.

I have studied the Biblical definitions of both Praise and Worship and my research has led me to the opposite conclusion that Greg has arrived at. I contend that Praise is actually the umbrella term that encompasses seven different activities and worship would not even be one of those activities. This is because worship is not an activity, but a posture and attitude. Greg’s “armadillos and animals” analogy is a misapplied analogy. Here is how I would analogize Praise and Worship using Greg’s analogy. Praise is to animals, and of the various types of praise would be analogous to the several categories of animals, such as mammals, reptiles, birds, fish insects and etc. Worship does not fit within animal kingdom analogy. So, if praise is analogous to animals, then worship would analogous to plants.

Overall, I think Greg’s book is very good. Once you can get past the semantics of worship and his oversights in covering the drums and percussion, his book would be very useful for those who want to be involved in praise ministry in any capacity.