Friday, June 19, 2009

Coloring & Texturing, Part I The Chimes


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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