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