Friday, December 21, 2007

Improve Your Ear, Improve Your Serve - John J. DiModica

The keys to serving well as a musician in worship ministry are more common than you think.

Consider this: playing music is dialogue not monologue. It is not a bunch of individual voices speaking simultaneously, but rather a lively exchange between instruments. It's a musical "conversation," if you will, where one musical idea inspires another. Performing, then, should be a mutually enjoyable, interactive experience. For a variety of reasons, however, when music is played, it is often not this kind of engaging dialogue but rather the opposite. The good news is that by developing good listening skills, we can greatly enhance our performing experience. Those we regularly play with will benefit, too.

Let me start with a question that may seem unrelated to the topic. What is your motivation for being on the worship team? It should be, of course, to serve. Our desire, therefore, with our instruments (which includes voice) is to serve the music ensemble. I am not a solo act, nor am I auditioning to get noticed in the band or congregation. We are to serve within the worship music group. So, if we are serving, then we are listening so that our playing is appropriate and complimentary. We should be concerned about blending not standing out. We allow other instruments to lead, and we don't overplay to draw attention to ourselves. We are supportive of the vocalists and the lyrics. We cannot accomplish these objectives if we are self-serving. Therefore, in order to fully serve in a worship group, one must develop good listening skills.

Now that we have the appropriate motivation, let's address some basics.
One thing is for certain: you cannot listen to other instruments if you are unsure about what you are playing on yours! For that reason, to be a good listener, one must be proficient and confident about their own performance. If one is groping and floundering in their own parts, they will not be able to concentrate on the big musical picture.

Practice Makes...

I am a big proponent of the idea that all musicians should strive to improve their skills. This is a matter of stewardship. In other words, if God gave us a musical skill, then it is incumbent upon us to develop that skill. It doesn't matter if you are young or old or busy or not, everyone one of us has a responsibility to improve on the raw materials with which we have been gifted..

I listen to players that are still stuck in a particular musical decade and shake my head. I like the music of the '70s and '80s but not in every worship song in 2002! We should make an effort to learn music from different cultures such as Latin or Caribbean. Take some lessons, learn some music theory, read some music books and magazines, research the Internet, buy some CD's. GROW! The better you are as a musician, the more confident you will be when playing with others. This means you will not be stuck listening to yourself to survive. You will be able to play your parts while listening to others to compliment what they are playing/singing, too. By doing this you will allow for improvisation and spontaneity.. That's where the life and joy in playing comes from!

Set Up for Success

Another important factor that can help or hinder good listening within the ensemble is, frankly, the ability to hear. Some worship groups are set up so that not everyone can hear everyone. My brothers and sisters, this ought not be so. You can't respond musically to what you cannot hear, right? It is important to ask yourself, this "Can I hear everyone? Are the monitors helping or hurting the situation? Is the way our band set up ideal for listening to one another?" It may be time to reevaluate your monitor system and band setup. You are probably way overdue for a good, comprehensive sound check, too.

With regard to setup, each situation has its own unique set of variables. In general you should group similar instruments together- voices together, rhythm instruments together, bass player directly next to the high hat on the drums), horns together, too. By placing instruments of similar function close to one another, they are better able to listen to one another. That is our topic: listening! One of the first things I do when I'm brought in to help a worship ministry is to address the band set up. Often correcting this one thing can solve a number of other common problems.

It is my hope that this article will get you thinking about this important topic and ways to be a better listener. Share these ideas with your worship leader so that he/she can begin to emphasize and develop better listening habits within your worship group. I guarantee by doing so, your worship experience will be more rewarding for you, for the other players and singers in the group and for the congregation. Feel free to email me if you have any questions related to this topic, and be sure to check out the "Archives" link for more helpful articles. Until next time and forever, may the Lord bless and keep you.

John J. DiModica served as Worship Leader and Assistant Pastor at a thriving church in Miami, Florida for nine years. Now living in Tennessee, he has been touring and teaching with Integrity Music since 1995 including performing with Don Moen, Paul Wilbur, Lenny leBlanc, Ron Kenoly and Alvin Slaughter. John has a music degree from the University of Miami (FL), and additional studies at the Eastman School of Music (NY) and Berklee College of Music (MA). Currently, his activities include composing, music production, session musician and private bass instructor. For help in producing a recording or to schedule John to speak, visit his website.

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