Church music is a team sport

Jodie McNeill

If you've ever watched a group of young kids playing football, you'll know that the concept of field positions is largely ignored.

As I watch my seven year old play soccer, it's common to see the entire team (usually minus the goal keeper!) run as a pack all over the field. It's not until they get much older that they realise the benefit in staying in a set position, and waiting for the ball to be kicked to them.

It has become apparent to me that many church music teams play in a similar way to an under-eight soccer team.

All of the melody instruments (such as flutes and violins) usually play every verse, and they often play the same melody line as the congregation is singing. The rhythm instruments (such as acoustic guitar and bass) play with the same intensity throughout the entire song.

A better music team will play like a high-school soccer team. The melody instruments will sit back in some verses and be silent, whilst at other times they will feature strongly. Sometimes they'll play the same tune as the congregation, but sometimes they'll compliment the tune by playing basic harmonies. The rhythm instruments will feel happy to be 'subbed off' for a verse or two, and then warm up as they reach the intensity of the final stages before the final siren blows (so to speak!)

This mindset shift makes a powerful impact on a church band. It's not impossibly difficult to achieve, but it does take a commitment by all members to not all just run around the paddock, chasing the ball.

My church has a monthly practice on the last Sunday of the month, where we meet for a half an hour after morning tea to rehearse next month's new song.

When we last met, we listened to the song on CD, played it together, and then when we'd mastered the basic rhythm, melody and structure, we stopped to listen again. On this second listening, we noted what the producer had chosen to do to make the song sound good on the CD. The first verse was quieter, but the chorus was louder, and so on. The melody instrument played the introduction, but then stayed out until after the first verse and chorus.

Then we marked these notes up our music sheets, and tried to do what the CD did. The result was outstanding. We'd gone from being an infant school team to being in the high-school league.

I learnt this trick on one of the TWIST Music Conferences. It's had a tangible impact on the music in my church.

In late June this year, we're having the next 'TWIST Away' residential music training weekend at Port Hacking. It's a bring-your-own-instrument with hands-on sessions on how to work better as a church musician in a church team. 

Church music is a team sport. How does your church band play?

Due to the intimate residential nature of the weekend, places are strictly limited. Visit the TWIST website for more details.

Jodie McNeill is the Executive Director of Youthworks Outdoors, and is an organiser of the TWIST Music Conferences.