I remember as a kid my dad telling me the story of when he was driving home from work one day, listening to music and lost in his own world. He approached a traffic light intersection travelling at the 70km/h speed limit only to look up at the last second to realise the light was actually red! After slamming on the brakes and spinning the car out of control, I’m happy to say that he (and the other drivers on the road) was safe, but the traffic camera sent him some funny pictures and a nice fine!
Music directing in its simplest form, I feel, is like driving on a road and navigating through traffic intersections. An effective music director, or MD, takes initiative and plans ahead, not leaving many things to chance or reacting at the last second. They are aware of what is musically going on around them, and have the ability to anticipate and help guide the band through the vulnerable areas of a set with minimal chaos and confusion!
The role of the music director basically came about with the need for better communication between the players on stage. However, as our services became more creatively involved on and off the platform, the importance of the MD grew over time. With this in mind, here are a few thoughts that could really help music directors when approaching your next church service:
1. RELATIONSHIP RELATIONSHIP RELATIONSHIP
If they trust you, they will follow you. This may take time, but time worth investing. You need to know your team, understand your musicians’ skill levels, capabilities and limitations. Build trust with your worship leader. You’ll be able to read better where they are wanting to go, and what they’re trying to achieve in the service.
2. SEE THE BIG PICTURE
Have in mind all of the different musical elements that are needed in a service, and plan your soundcheck and rehearsal accordingly. Consider what each singer and musician needs to hear on stage, and also what your production/TV teams or technical director need to achieve before or during the service.
3. COME PREPARED
Work with the worship leader beforehand so you can come prepared with ideas for songlists/keys of songs/transitions/arrangements/tempos etc. It’s equally important as the MD for me to know my own guitar parts, and also the other parts the rest of the band need to play.
4. BE SEVERAL STEPS AHEAD
Be several steps ahead of what’s happening on and off the stage. It’s like the above example I gave: while driving, you don’t wait to cross an intersection before checking whether the traffic light is red or green. As an MD, you need to be worshipping with one eye open and anticipating the different sections of a song or service. You may be halfway through a bridge, but you’re already thinking about what is coming next (repeat bridge, instrumental, down or up chorus etc.). Always have a plan and give your guys as much of a heads up as possible. It’s the little things that make those spontaneous moments in church awesome.
5. UP-SKILL YOURSELF
Have a holistic approach to your musicianship. Psalm 33:3 says, “…play skillfully and shout for joy.” There is great joy in playing skillfully! Always challenge yourself to be practicing and sharpening your skills in different facets of music. As a guitarist, knowing how to play is one thing, but knowing how to adapt stylistically, create different palettes of sounds and get the best from my gear is another. Much of my job is now spent within Pro Tools. This, amongst many things, has given me a greater understanding of how instruments, parts, frequencies, etc. work individually and together to create great music. Which leads me to my next point…
6. KNOW THE LANGUAGE
Learn how other instruments work and interact, and learn the language with each different role. You don’t need to play every instrument, but you need to be able to effectively communicate to your team in a language they understand. I remember a worship leader once saying to the monitor engineer, “I sound like I’m in a fishbowl… can you make it more crunchy?” You can imagine the blank look they received back!
7. SUPPORT LEADERSHIP
We are here to serve, and we are ultimately in submission to our worship leader and Senior Pastor. It’s not our gig where we attempt to pull off the latest lick we learnt in our bedroom. We are here to help facilitate what’s best for the service and help our congregation enter into the presence of God.
8. RELAX AND BE CONFIDENT
You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do need to back yourself. Even if you’re unsure what to call, just make a call and make it confidently. That way at least the whole team will go with you together, while possibly avoiding a train wreck! Trust your team and their ability. Stay calm and have fun!