Electric Guitar in Worship Music: Ian White

Today, we're excited to release the second in our series of more technical posts about playing in a band that leads worship. This one is written by Ian, one of our interns, and deals with Electric guitar:

Hey y'all! Here's some things to consider as a worship electric guitar player: 

-You Are the Sauce/Sprinkles/Complimentary Beer: Though the attitude is shifting gradually from place to place, in most church bands the electric guitar will rarely be considered an essential, bedrock instrument. In fact, as much as the money I’ve spent on gear would like to disagree, most, if not all of the songs on any given Sunday can and will be executed perfectly without the presence of an electric guitar in the mix. This concept isn’t meant to inspire apathy on the part of the electric guitarist, but to give them a perspective from which to really achieve usefulness within the band. Just as one could consume Cane’s chicken fingers without Cane’s sauce, ice cream without sprinkles, or tailgate hot dogs without the customary brewed beverage, so the songs on Sunday don’t need your electric. However, just like the sauce, the sprinkles, or the beer, you have the privilege of adding the sonic finishing touch that will take a perfectly good sounding song and turn it into an aural behemoth of terminal sonic bliss…or something.

Obviously, it’s up to the guitarist to decide what flavor they’d like to add, and a guitarist who can match a distinct flavor to the right song will be an invaluable addition to their team. Just like you could theoretically always dip in ketchup or drink PBR with everything, western music is set up so that certain parts (the 1 and 5 voiced above the 12th fret + dotted 8th delay + volume to reflect the current dynamic level) will pretty much always work. But why settle for something that simply works when you could pick just the right complement to the song, like Cane’s did in the food world when they made rebranded Thousand Island dressing into the best sauce ever for crisply breaded chicken fingers?

As annoying as I’m sure this analogy is becoming, it does have practical applications. First, in order to compose “the right part” for any given song, one has to be familiar with their instrument. Knowing that a part that outlines the thirds of each chord will work for a particular section is impossible if one doesn’t know what a “third” is or how to find them/play them on the guitar in the first place. This implies practice and dedication, which is regrettable, since we all wish we could find some cheat code that makes all our parts win all the time. Such is life.

Second: Utilize common tones, or don’t. A lot of the feel of a song is wrapped up in whether or not the chord changes are emphasized, and when. The electric guitar is powerful in that it can either emphasize the changes in a register that’s really hard to ignore, or completely bury the changes by playing as many common tones as possible. The general concept is that more common tones = more “spacious” feel, and that emphasized changes will make the song feel more lively and punchy. I’ll probably talk more about these in a later post.

Third: Make the tones fit. I played with this guy for a while who had tiny acrobats for fingers, and knew the album part for every song before you had the set on Planning Center, but he insisted on using the same trebly, fuzzed-out, icepick tone for every lead line he ever played, so no one ever noticed how truly talented he was on his instrument.

The lesson here is twofold:

1.     It doesn’t matter what notes you play if every note sounds like liquid death (in the bad way), so don’t let your tone suck.

2.      Vary your tone from part to part. Your silicon fuzz might sound heavy and awesome, but it doesn’t work on that down-chorus of the female-lead communion song. I mean, its hilarious, but it doesn’t work.

It’s my hope to expound upon these ideas in the near future, but for now, I’ve already rambled enough and everyone is undoubtedly sick of me.

Cool beans, 

Ian