Move Your Music from Good to Great, Starting Now
You know what separates a great author from the rest of the pack??? It’s dynamics. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings several times through but now my wife Julie and I are reading it aloud to each other. That’s providing a whole new perspective! I can’t speed over “slow stuff” about plants and histories to get to “good stuff” about battles and dangers overcome. And I’ve actually gained a deeper respect for Tolkien’s literary genius. He knew good stories need dynamics.
Dynamics works for more than just stories. That’s what separates great music from the rest of the pack. Frankly, Tolkien and other such literary giants would be appalled at the way many of our worship bands approach the songs we play each week. And, while it might feel easy to blame any lack of musical excellence on the amateur musicians who volunteer in our ministries, that’s probably not what’s actually holding you back from taking the next step toward really great music. Great dynamics can overcome a sea of inexperience and amateurism. And the best news of all: Dynamics can be taught and even orchestrated by a great leader (that’s you)!
Here are 3 steps to dynamics success:
- Help your team understand the “why” behind dynamics. I like to use the author illustration by encouraging my band to look at each song as its own little story. I say something like, “Every song needs to have all the elements a good story has; like a climax, a resolution, rising and falling action. Each of you should consider yourself an author, asking how can I contribute to the collective story-telling effort?”
- Actually map songs out for them. And get specific. As a general rule, each section of each song needs a different feel. So tell them to come in here and drop out there. To play loudly here, to sing softly with extra air in their voice there. (This was so depressing to me when I first started implementing it…it felt like robbing them of their creative license. But I was desperate for greater dynamics and mapping was a path to getting better immediately. And I found most of my team actually craved that structure.)
- Persist. And I’m not just talking about persisting over time. I’m talking THIS WEEK. Demand that each member follow their map. If you’ve got a vocalist who keeps blaring right through the soft section, call them on it (gently but firmly, maybe with a tinge of humor to start with) until they get it right in practice. If the drummer keeps staying on the high-hat instead of switching to the ride for a bigger, fuller sound where they’re supposed to, keep going over it until they get it right in practice.
Finally, beware of obstacles you’ll likely run into with some of your musicians:
- The “I have to play/sing everywhere & all the time” obstacle: You may have to give them permission to not play. Show them an example of a great band where certain instruments only play for a short, specific section of a song (like the organ in this song).
- The “I don’t know how to play/sing softly” obstacle: Meet with them before/after practice and teach them what you’re looking for. This is an example of why worship leaders need a working knowledge of each musician’s instrument/role. If you don’t know anything about their instrument, ask them questions about their instrument and discover what to say to achieve the sound you’re looking for.
- The “I only know one way to play/sing” obstacle: One of the most common things I run into with musicians who didn’t grow up with church music is they have no idea what to do with the slow, quiet stuff. They’re used to playing fun rock & roll numbers and, again, you may have to put in overtime teaching them some new tricks!
Is there anything as important as dynamics when it comes to making quality music? Weigh in!