Developing a sense of timing in your worship team

Someone once told me that music with dodgy tuning is folk and music with dodgy timing is jazz… So does that mean lots of worship bands are actually playing sophisticated jazz-folk? All jokes aside, so many worship teams could improve their sound immensely if they just focused on improving their sense of timing.

Most musicians think they keep pretty good time, that is until they have play to a click. Then we find most people naturally speed up, which makes a song feel like its running away with itself, or worse still, they slow down, which sucks all the energy out. Now imagine if you’ve got both these forces working against each other in the same song and you’ve got a recipe for rough, shabby music. The right notes out of time is actually worse than the wrong notes in time!

Tempo vs dynamics

Sometimes this is down to misunderstanding the difference between tempo and dynamics. Generally in pop based music, i.e. the style in which most modern worship songs are written, the tempo never actually changes. The dynamics; its loudness, softness, gentleness, or aggressiveness may change but still the tempo stays rock solid. But when a worship song goes to a quiet verse many people slow down because they’ve fundamentally misunderstood this. Of course in some genre’s, particularly classical, you can play with tempo to create tension and release, but when done properly, this is deliberate, rehearsed, the band does it together and still comes back into time. Most out of time playing in worship teams is accidental, unconscious and to be honest until someone can really play ‘in time’ they should leave the experimenting well alone. So how do you approach this, especially if your musicians are in that unconsciously incompetent bracket?

Is your team guilty of speeding up?

I sometimes play a game where I get a group to clap along to a metronome click at a mid tempo pace. I then turn the click off and ask the group to keep clapping and stay in time. Two things can happen, either after about 30 seconds the clap degenerates into something resembling applause or the group stays together but the clap speeds up. The thing is most people in the room don’t realise it’s speeding up until I turn the click back on and they’re probably two or three beats out. Try it, see what happens. If they are ok repeat the exercise but slow down the click to something like 45 Bpm. Timing discrepancies really show up in awkward tempos.

How to re-train them

So what can you do about it? First, encourage everyone, not just drummers to regularly play to a click as part of their practice regime. (Your musician’s do practice right?) Granted it’s boring and quite painful to begin with but will massively improve all things musical. If they still struggle with general rhythm, get them to put some two or three minute clicks at different tempos on their ipods and just absorb them on a daily basis. That subconscious understanding of time will really get under their skin. Again try it, it really does work!

But there are many other things to improve timing. Body movement hugely helps, so if your musicians are a bit stiff get them to feel the time in their head, shoulders and torso. Learning to dance helps too!! Second, if you can see someone else moving to the groove and confidently keeping time, stare at them!  When playing the metronome game its amazing how much more a group stays together if they look around and follow people who are confidently feeling the tempo in their bodies. Third, think in subdivisions. When counting time don’t just think 1 2 3 4, think 1 e and a, 2 e and a, 3 e and a, 4 e and a, like drummers do. The smaller the subdivisions the easier it is to stay on track. If you can’t bare practicing to a click, change it up by playing along to well produced CD’s and closely listen in detail to the parts and timing. If you can record yourself doing that and play it back with a critical ear then more the better.

Lastly developing timing is like going to the gym. Timing improves as you work on it but the reverse is also true. If you stop practicing to a click you’ll get rusty more quickly than you realise so unfortunately we all have to keep working at it, whatever stage we’re at. But the good news is if you’re looking for one thing to get your band playing together better, start with timing. A little development will make an enormous difference.

Improve the musicality of your worship team

We have two courses (available on DVD, as online downloads and also in our streaming subscription site) that are designed to improve the musicality (and timing) of your worship team:

Worship Band Skills from MusicademyPractical Worship Band Skills – our most comprehensive course yet. A must for any worship musician

Play By Ear, Improvise and Understand ChordsPlay By Ear in Worship – half price!

Other posts you might like:

Dynamics – its a lot more than just loud or soft

Why and how to play to a click – a guide for worship teams


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