Dear [[{First name}]],

Welcome to the April Musicademy Newsletter.

In this edition:

Ask the Expert - Developing musical arrangements

We had a great question emailed by Steven McLellan from Iowa asking about the key determining factors in developing a worship arrangement and also what to do with arrangements in an emergency situation when a musician is suddenly unavailable. It’s a massive topic, so this month rather than lots little articles, we’ve focussed on the topic of arrangements.

A friend of mine once remarked that there are three approaches to arranging a song - beforehand, during the song or wishing you had made an effort to arrange it after you have finished playing!

The key thing to remember is that the chord chart is NOT the arrangement. A full music score can be the arrangement but has anyone ever seen a full score of a worship song for every instrument in the band?

And even if it was available could everyone even read it? Therefore we either need to plan some parts beforehand or learn how to communicate, listen and to fit in with each other on the fly. One of the great things about making worship music as a community is the option to interact and ‘feel’ the arrangement develop as we worship with the congregation. Unfortunately one person’s ‘spirit led’ bass solo can be another person’s most distracting moment ever. So it’s probably a good idea to do a combination of ‘groove’ planning and spontaneity.

For the planning element, try to make sure each of you knows how to play the song before you start to work with it as a band. Don’t waste valuable rehearsal time by teaching the song and the chords. That should be done before you come together collectively so use the time to get the song to gel with all the musicians. Start with finding the right tempo and groove and then build the other instruments’ parts around it. Tempo is often to do with how comfortable it is to sing at a certain pace so choose the fastest feeling part of the song, probably the chorus, and make sure it doesn’t feel rushed. Nathan Fellingham’s Holy Holy is a great example of this. Use a metronome or click in practice times to help you remember the right tempo afterwards.

Don’t over arrange a song with lots of detail unless you make sure everyone writes it all down as they’ll probably forget it otherwise and most of the congregation won’t even notice. But do over practice a song. Rehearse it more than you think is necessary and build up your muscle memory. A good place to start is by copying the parts from a definitive recording of the song and go from there.

So before the song:

  • If using a specific arrangement – know which version it is! I’ve had interesting moments with musicians all playing different versions of the same song simultaneously
  • Rehearse it more than you think
  • Write it down for the visual learners
  • Have some kind of chart that musicians can make notes on
  • Learn to copy instrument parts from CDs

    In order to build any arrangement spontaneously we need to get an understanding of the different elements that make up an arrangement in a song and what we can change. These elements are the groove or rhythm, the dynamics, i.e. how big or small the song sounds at different points, the tempo, fills, harmonies and motifs (which are the repetitive elements that keep returning to add a sense of familiarity – think of the bas part in Lou Reed’s ‘Take a Walk on the Wild Side or the lead line of ‘In Christ Alone’). There are probably other elements I’ve missed too. Did you notice that I haven’t included melody? Melody is the one thing that should remain set that we build the arrangement around, so lots of ad-libs and harmonies from the main song leader can be confusing for the congregation unless they are extremely musical and hugely familiar with the song.

    So which of all those elements can or can’t we change during the song? Let’s take the three key elements; tempo, dynamics and groove. For the tempo, actually no, you shouldn’t change the tempo unless it’s wrong in the first place or there’s a deliberate speed up or slow down as a feature of the song. Many people equate more exciting parts to playing faster and gentler parts to slowing down but listen to any well recorded piece and the BPM stays exactly the same.

    What you’re actually hearing change is the dynamics. So yes, change them well and often to create different feels and moods. Think about how the lyrics are making you want to respond. Do you want to shout or be quiet? Laugh or cry? Dance or bow down. Try to use dynamics to mirror those feelings with your music.

    The key thing is making sure the whole band changes dynamics together otherwise is just makes the odd instrument sound incongruent and out of place.

    So how do we change our dynamics? There lots of ways to add feel to your playing. Play harder or softer, double or half your subdivisions, e.g. drummers play 16ths instead of 8ths or visa versa. The same goes for strumming. You can also add or subtract from the groove by emphasising the key elements of the rhythm or pulling back and just playing the main up strums. Use your instrument ‘colours’ by playing the same part higher or lower. Also remember that not everybody has to play all the time. So pick your moments and make a statement. If you do start or stop, get in and out at the junctions of the song - the verse, chorus, turnaround etc. If you miss one junction, get on at the next, don’t just start playing at a random point.

    What about the groove? Groove is hard to define but it’s like the specific rhythmic accents that work with the pushes in the melody to form a repetitive and distinctive rhythm. This generally works through the whole song. You may add or subtract from that pattern to change your dynamics but it tends to stay there for the duration. It’s not just a drum thing either. Any instrument played rhythmically can help build the groove. So no, the main groove doesn’t generally change unless it’s a feature deliberately written into the song. Think of something like Spirit of Radio by Rush – remember that one?

    As a band exercise, play a section of a song three times and each time try to change one of the following; the tempo, the dynamics or groove. See what works.

    So if you are arranging a song whilst you are playing it, work on a consistent groove and look and listen to what everyone else is playing and try to fit in with that groove. If you haven’t got a full band compliment then try to make sure the other instruments cover the main elements. E.g. guitarists make the strumming pattern really solid and consistent if there’s no drummer or get the keys to cover the low end if there’s no bass. Just make that each instrument is only covering one role and not stepping on another’s toes. So if you do you have a bass player, make sure the keyboard’s bass parts aren’t clashing with the bass guitar. Maybe even tie the keyboard player’s left hand behind their back!

    Lastly when using these arrangement tools, try to create musical space, not just to fill it up. Musical space isn’t like space in sports. Unlike football, you don’t always run into a musical space when one becomes available. Let it breathe. Think of it like a store room. You can’t create space in a store room that is already full. Musically that means if it sounds bad or cluttered it probably means there is too much in the store room and you have to strip back the sound to make space. There may be too many musicians in the band or just too many people playing too much at the same time. Remember

    Keyboard Effects in Worship - Hammond organs and movement synths

    Following on in our series on keyboard effects, Tim Martin, presenter of the Musicademy Worship Keyboard DVDs, introduces us to the effective use of Hammond organs and lead synth sounds.

    This month we are going to look at the use of Hammond organ and lead synth sounds in a worship context. The use of both of these sounds is heavily dependent on the role of the keyboard player within the band. These types of sound will tend to be used where there is already a reasonably full band to start with. This means that they will be most appropriate when there is already a full rhythm section. In practice this is likely to mean a group with drums, bass, rhythm guitar and either another guitar (electric) or someone playing first keys (who is likely to use mainly piano and electric piano sounds). As a rule of thumb it would be unwise to overuse either type of sound in a much smaller band.

    Hammond organs (and synthesised emulations of their sound) are commonplace in many styles of modern music from rock to R&B. Originally intended as a cheaper alternative to the pipe organ, the Hammond organ was taken up by gospel and jazz artists because of its distinctive sound and the many possible variations in tone. These variations are selected using nine drawbars (per manual) each of which triggers a different note in the harmonic series for every key. Each drawbar has eight volume settings and it is the combination of these plus vibrato, percussion, overdrive and reverb effects which make up the overall sound of the Hammond organ.

    In reality many of us will rely on preset sounds and patches rather than being able to create our own using dedicated hardware or software. A number of keyboards now offer the ability to alter drawbar and effects settings but there are still a great many which do not. Most general purpose synthesizers have Hammond organ sounds on their ranks but these may be known by different names. They could be B3, rock organ, jazz organ, full bars, soft organ and other similar names.

    There are a number of different ways to use Hammond organ sounds which I shall outline briefly. The first is similar to the way one would use a pad sound – playing chords to support the harmonic movement of a song. This is a very common way of using the sound as it can be much more immediate than a pad sound and also cuts through the mix lot better. You can use this style of playing in both fast, powerful songs and more ballad-like settings. Be careful when selecting sounds for different songs and make sure that the power of the sound matches the feel of the music.

    With any style of Hammond organ playing it is extremely important to keep everything in the correct register. The lower parts of this kind of sound can muddy up the lower and middle parts of the overall mix so these are best avoided for all but fleeting moments – it is better to keep most playing more than an octave above middle C for comfort.

    One time when a lower register may be used is when utilising a common playing technique. Hammond organ players often use long glissandos up to a held note (or chord) in the higher register of the instrument. These can sometimes even be played with the forearm (and often with the palm of the hand). These can be used to great effect when building from a verse into the chorus of a song where the feel wants to be built up greatly. Smaller glissandos can also be used between different chords and this is a very common playing effect.

    Another technique which is often used is to play melodic figures (around chord notes) underneath a held higher note. To use this technique it is important to find a note which will fit with a number of chords in a row so that this can be held over the top of the movement underneath it.

    It is also possible to use Hammond organ sounds to play lead line melodies maybe in an introduction. If this is going to be used along with any of the other styles of playing outlined above it is important to change the volume of the keyboard carefully so that this line is loud enough without chordal playing becoming too dominant in the mix.

    The last important point to make about Hammond organ sounds is the possible use of a Leslie speaker effect. Many keyboards and all good Hammond organ emulators now include the option for adding this ‘swirling’ effect to the sound. To gain the best effect from the use of a Leslie simulator it is necessary to turn it on and off (or from fast to slow) whilst playing. This often necessitates playing mainly with one hand and keeping the other free to push the button or turn the modulation wheel. Some of these techniques are demonstrated on the Musicademy Intermediate Worship Keyboard Intermediate DVDs.

    Lead synth sounds are much quicker and easier to deal with than Hammond organs. This is partly because they are only used infrequently in a worship setting. You will find different lead sounds in many keyboards and these include Saw leads, Sine leads and Square leads along with numerous others. Most of the names relate to the shape of the wave which creates the sound. By their nature lead sounds will often be quite harsh so that they cut through the mix. The best use for these sounds is to create lead melody lines for introductions and links. It is very easy for these sounds to conflict with a lead guitar part if they are playing different things. However, if both instruments play the same riff or melody a very effective sound can result.

    When dealing with any new sound one of the best things we can do is to listen widely and try to hear the application of these voices in different styles of music. Try to imitate or emulate these uses, even playing along with the track at home if possible. Try things out in rehearsals and see if it works but don’t go ahead and use new ideas in a live environment until you are comfortable with them.

    New vocal care products

    We’ve been selling the throat spray Vocal Eze for some time now and getting some good reviews from customers who have used it. Vocal Eze is a herbal throat spray designed to smooth out your voice and is endorsed by a number of artists including Rob Thomas, Tim McGraw and Joss Stone.

    We’ve now added four alternative vocal care products to our range:

  • Entertainer’s Secret
  • Clear Voice
  • Thayers Dry Mouth Spray
  • Thayers Original Slippery Elm Lozenges

    Click through to read more about the sprays and lozenges and do let us know any remedies that work for you.

    Deborah Clarke EP Arise – listen online

    You can now listen to a free sampler of Musicademy vocals tutor Deborah Clarke’s debut EP, Arise, on our website. Deborah is the “student” in our worship vocals DVDs. We’re beginning to stock a range of artist-friend albums including a fantastic new release from Matt Weeks (tutor on our bass DVDs). More in the next newsletter.

    Online Newsletter Archive

    We’ve now been publishing our e-news for a year and judging from your comments, you seem to like the content. We’ve made some changes to our website structure this month and added in a new page containing our archive of newsletters. Click through to read them.

  • Competition result

    Wendy Cole from Lancashire in the UK won last month’s competition. She emailed us saying: “Just a note to say a huge thanks for the music downloads. I found the Song Learner lessons extremely helpful, they break the song down into manageable size sections which leave plenty of time to pause and practice. I found the strumming patterns the best - many internet based teaching instruction has never explained the break down of the rhythm patterns before. It has been wonderful to add new songs to my repertoire and new strumming patterns also. The downloads are just as good as the DVDs. I will definitely be ordering more.”

    Win Five Free Song Learner Downloads

    We really like to know what you think of our newsletter and the Musicademy products so please take a couple of minutes to answer these questions and e-mail them to us. One respondent will win five free song learner downloads and we’ll let you know what they think of them in the next issue.

    1. What did you think of this newsletter?
    2. Which articles did you particularly enjoy?
    3. Any questions for our “Ask the Expert” feature?
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    Please e-mail your responses to enter the draw!

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