Its easy to watch a video from a church like Bethel or Hillsong and get overwhelmed. I mean look at this list of worship leaders and musicians from Hillsong. There is over 50 different names on that list. I don’t even have 50 people in my whole church. So when I listen to something like this, I find myself feeling like the music is unattainable for me, and for my congregation.
We run on what I like to call “Bareknuckle Worship” everything is stripped down because we don’t have any equipment. We have a four channel PA system that has two PA speakers and the tweeters are blown in each speaker. We have 2 microphones and 2 acoustic Guitars that run into the PA, filling it. Then our piano is run into its own amp, and the bass does the same. We have to keep everything simple because we have no real sound system, and no way to mix during the service. We have to be able to, as Ron Popeil used to say, “Set It and Forget It.”
This leads me to a cautious attitude concerning worship. I have to be intentional about which songs I choose to teach my team. Add to this the fact that most of my musicians didn’t play anything a year ago and are still actively learning their instruments. This makes it difficult to teach a song that has a myriad of guitars and other instruments. However, its not impossible. It just requires a level of vision and creativity.
Its not even simply the ammount of instruments that a group like Jesus Culture or Hillsong has, but the kinds of instruments they have. Electric guitars lend themselves to upbeat songs like “Take it all” becuase they are fast songs, and they are heavy. Songs that have distortion, and synth sounds in them are often difficult to translate to acoustic settings.
With acoustic settings, it is easy to cover a song by someone like Phil Wickham, who is primarily an acoustic artist himself. Its easy to do things that are written the for the style you play, however sometimes there are songs that aren’t in my style that are really powerful, and really speak to me. Songs I want desperately to play but lack the instrumentation.
This is where arrangement and composition come into play. I need to be able to strip a song to its bare essentials and then make it sound good. To take a popular upbeat praise song like “Happy Day” by Tim Hughes and make it carry that fire and passion through an acoustic. Take a look on youtube and you will find several different attempts, but while none of them are ‘bad’ they all seem to lack something. You can tell just by listening.
So how do we overcome this? Well frankly, trial and error have been my method of choice thus far. I practice a song at home for a while to see if I really like it, to see if I can make it sound good when its just me and an acoustic guitar. If It can pass that test, then I take it to the church and play it there in the sanctuary alone to see how it fills the room. If it still works, then I introduce it to my team.
But there is a beneficial aspect to bareknuckle worship. It requires musicianship. It means that you have to play better because your equipment isn’t going to make you sound better, if anything our equipment actually makes it worse. I am in a position I doubt that many would like to experience, but at the same time it is an exciting place to be because when we do have a proper sound system we will be playing at a higher level than we are now because of our practice, and we will be able to sound even better with the help of the sound system.
So what about you? How do you prepare for bareknuckle worship. How do you handle it when you have to do a stripped down simple set?