Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rehearsal Tips That Work - John J. DiModica

This month, I’m beginning a new series of articles that offer practical advice for worship ministries. In this first installment, let’s look at a few keys that will help you prepare for worship services - simple, proven techniques and methods to employ in your rehearsals to ensure that every time your worship team, choir, and band step on the platform, it will be said of you as it was said of Jesus, “He hath done all things well.”

Perhaps some of you can identify with the following scenarios…the song where one half of the band changes keys at the second chorus while the other half doesn’t; the song that starts too fast or too slow and never settles in - thoroughly quenching the Spirit; the special place in the cantata where you know things are going to crash and burn because it was never right in rehearsal...

If any of these are too close to home, you have company. In my years of experience speaking to worship leaders around the country, one comment I never hear is, “We are over-rehearsed and everything is always ready!” As ambassadors for Christ, shouldn't our work always reflect His glory in excellence? Why then, do we often settle for less?

I believe that the desire is often there for us to “put our best foot forward” for the Lord, but often we don_t know how to get there. The road to success in any endeavor, including worship, can be summed up in one word...”Preparation.” Are you ready to take it to the next level? If so, read on.

Ready, Aim, Rehearse

Let me start with some basics. I am fond of saying, “It is better to be redundant than vague.” With that in mind, let’s start out with some simple starters you may be aware of which, if overlooked, can severely hamper a rehearsal.

First of all, make sure the facility/room you want to use is available. Go through the proper channels and procedures to reserve the space you need. I was explaining this basic starting point to a class once and someone raised their hand to illustrate the importance of this step with an amusing and embarrassing story. Because they were a small church, they had to use an outside facility for their music rehearsals. The problem that occurred this time was that no one remembered to confirm whether or not the building they needed was vacant for the evening. Unfortunately, when the worship team arrived they had to forfeit their rehearsal to the deceased and the mourners! That’s right-they used a funeral home for their rehearsals! An uncomfortable and unprofitable evening could have been avoided with a little foresight. Never assume anything! Think ahead and anticipate your needs.

Along with having your rehearsal facility/room reserved, make sure you have prepared in advance all music and all equipment i.e., tapes, CDs, overheads, microphones, PA system, engineer, accompanist, etc. Your preparation speaks volumes about your commitment to excellence not to mention makes your rehearsal so much more efficient. Also, by being prepared ahead of time you are demonstrating to the people on your worship team that you believe their time is valuable. This motivates those serving with you and builds teamwork! Nothing leads like example. Nothing.

Once everyone is there and everything has been prepared ahead of time, then what? A social gathering? A prayer meeting? A Bible study? A meal? No. While these are, of course, important to the life of a church, in order to be excellent in worship, you must prepare by practicing. The focus must be on the work at hand. Rehearsal time is precious. It's like gold. If you want to excel on Sunday, you have to pay the price with time and energy at rehearsal working on the material you plan to perform. In fact, let me highly suggest providing instrumentalists and vocalists music and recordings of what you are going to be rehearsing previous to the actual rehearsal. This takes planning, but the results are well worth the effort. Furthermore, I encourage you to suggest to all of your instrumentalists to take private lessons to show themselves good stewards of the musical talent that God gave them. This is another great way to prepare for rehearsals-by improving on your instrument or voice.

Let me now introduce you to something I call “The Cumulative Approach.” This entails working on sections of music and then putting them all together once each section is perfected. An example of the opposite of this would be to learn a new worship chorus by going through the song from top to bottom a few times at one rehearsal and doing the same thing again at the next rehearsal before introducing it to the congregation. You are not rehearsing anything at this point-you are just reviewing something not rehearsing it. There is a big difference. Let this sink in...Repetition is the key to learning. Break the song down into sections. Learn each section independently. Go over the rough spots repeatedly. This is work. This is tedious. This can be tiring. This produces excellence!

Remember the scenarios I described earlier in this article? Those can all be avoided through the cumulative approach. You will not fear the weak section of a song or cantata or whatever because there will be no weak sections. You won’t modulate in the wrong place, because you will have rehearsed that modulation several times until everyone is confident with it. Do you want to know how to avoid the tempo problems? Keep reading.

As a college-educated musician with years of professional experience, I have been in almost every imaginable musical situation. I know what works and I know what doesn’t! I now pass on to you the wisdom that only years of experience can bring. I can guarantee that if you regularly institute the following eight checkpoints in your rehearsals, you will soon see dramatic improvement in your worship team's presentations.

8 Things To Rehearse

1. Countoffs - Designate the drummer as your “count off specialist.” Rather than him/her guessing which tempo to start the song, during (preferably before) rehearsal, you as the worship leader should determine the best tempo for the song. Have the drummer write down the exact tempo on his/her song list or piece of music. With the aid of a metronome at the conclusion of the previous song, he/she looks at the blinking light on the metronome or listens to the clicking and establishes the tempo before counting the rest of the band in. That is exactly what we do when we perform live with the Integrity artists. No guess work, its the right tempo every time, and it simplifies the count off procedure. Try it-you_ll like it!

2. Musical Introductions - Make them short and sweet for songs which contain vocals. Include a portion of the melody in the introduction so that the song can be recognized. Play it the same way every time.

3. Key Changes - Remember what I said about repetition? Make sure everyone understands when to change keys. Practice this repeatedly. Make sure the worship team can do it right 2-3 times in a row. Near the end of rehearsal, go over the key changes again. Playing them correctly before concluding the rehearsal will build confidence in performance.

4. Tempo Changes - It is critical for the bass player and drummer to have this down pat. The drummer is the key. He/she should play simple, eighth note drum fills that make the transition from the old to the new tempo. Nothing fancy here, just a simple eighth note fill with a retardando (rit.) or accelerando (acc.) into the new tempo. Repeat these sections in rehearsal until they are right!

5. Transitions & Segues - Same idea here. Repeat until right. Make sure everyone knows what to do. If you see that glazed look in their eyes, go over it slowly!

6. Dynamics - This is an important topic. Listening to music that is all the same volume and intensity is about as exciting as listening to a preacher with a monotone voice zzzzzzzz. Dynamics in music reflect the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, i.e….a still small voice or a rushing might wind. Write dynamics down in the music and practice dynamic changes in rehearsal. After a while they will become instinctive within your worship team. Until they are, however, practice playing with dynamics all the time and talk about them. A very simple formula to start with is strong intros, quieter verses, louder choruses.

7. Endings - Don’t you hate when half the band ends while the other half keeps going? Practice the endings until you can do them 2-3 times in a row perfectly. Make sure everyone has good eye contact with the worship leader. In a future article we can talk about band set up, but for now, it suffices to say make sure everyone can clearly see and hear the worship leader.

8. Use hand signals - There are some pretty standard ones I can recommend:

• Clinched fist = end the song
• Index finger rotating in the air = repeat the section you are playing
• Tap your head = go to the top
• Fingers pinching nose = “we should’ve practiced more!”

Work Hard AND Work Smart!

Why is it that so many worship leaders are perfectionists? According to popular personality profiles, it is safe to say many musicians are melancholy. Along with being creative, we have to battle perfectionism. To be productive, however, one must learn to delegate responsibility. As many tasks as you can delegate to other faithful people, the more your ministry will accomplish and grow. Yes, I know you feel like you can do the best job at everything! The person who allowed you to grow into your current position may have felt that way when they were training you, too. They trusted you enough, however, to get you involved, let you make mistakes and grow into the person you have become. I bet if you sat down and thought about it for a few minutes, there would be 5-10 tasks that you do regularly as worship leader that you could hand over to an eager and qualified volunteer. Go ahead...write them down. Now hand them over!

Final Thoughts

While this article’s focus is on the technical aspect of rehearsal. Let me say the obvious, without a heart full of Christ, all the rehearsal in the world will not produce God pleasing worship. Preparation in the Word and prayer must be the foundation for any successful worship leader. The Spirit gives life while the flesh counts for nothing (John 6:63). David is a good example in worship. It was David who played skillfully to the Lord whom God used to chase the evil spirit from King Saul (I Samuel 16:13-23). David had a heart for God-AND he was skilled. We too must have a heart for God and be diligent to prepare (rehearse) to worship him. We can never be satisfied with giving the Lord anything less. “Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy” (Psalm 33:3).

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. www.InFocusMusic.com

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