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The Music Schop is a resource for worship musicians and pastors. Song analysis of popular worship songs, theory lessons, reviews of worship resources, and tips and tricks for drummers, keyboard players, guitar players, bass players – the entire band. Written by Chris Schopmeyer.

Piano Transcription and Analysis of Lacey Sturm's Recording of "Mercy Tree"

It's the Easter season, and like many churches over the next couple of weeks, Pinelake will be using the powerful song "Mercy Tree" at our Palm Sunday services. 

Transcription

I transcribed the piano part to "Mercy Tree" as a study for myself and to assist keyboard players at our other campuses. I'm going to make it available on the site any other pianists that would benefit from it.

Download it in the key of A or the key of G

Isolating the Piano Track for Study

It is extremely helpful to hear a part like this isolated from the rest of the band. There are a couple of methods to so.

You can hear a majority of the track simply by visiting the "Mercy Tree" product page at multitracks.com. Using the CustomMix® tab on the page, press the play button and scroll down to solo the piano track.

This is a great way to check out parts from most songs used in modern worship services. I encourage you to purchase a custom mix of the piano track if you find yourself coming back to it repeatedly.

[Note: I intend to update this post later with additional notes on this song. Publishing tonight to go ahead and make the transcription available.]

Two Characteristics of Great Drummers

We had eight drummers show up one night for a jam session at Pinelake. It was fascinating to see how differently the bands responded based on the drummer behind the kit. With some drummers it felt easy – everyone played with confidence and the groove was contagious. With others, the band was timid, stiff and uninspired. 

Drummers are the backbone of our bands. They hold everything together, allowing us to stand strong and move effortlessly in different directions. 

Today, two primary characteristics stick out to me for drummers I want to work with: leadership and pocket.

Leadership

Leadership starts with ownership. Great drummers prepare as if the success of the set is completely up to them. And when on stage, they set aside their insecurities and play aggressively.

Here are a few practical applications for becoming a leader behind the drum set.

FORM
Know the form of the song and lead the band through it in your playing.

  • For example, if the chorus is nine bars instead of the usual eight, don't play a fill in bar eight...and then another in bar nine. This sort of thing breeds insecurity in a band (and the audience).

CONFIDENCE
Simply put: play like you expect people to follow you.

CONSISTENCY
Keep the foundational grooves and fills consistent every time you play the song.

COORDINATION
Initiate a conversation with your bass player – he is an extension of you. While playing, make eye contact with the entire band. Smile. It encourages everyone on stage and will help them lock together.

Find your greatest joy not in what you play, but how what you play leads others.

Pocket

Ah, the elusive "pocket". It is hard to define, but you know it when you feel it. Essentially, pocket is playing with great time and groove, locked to the click, and locked to the other musicians around you.

For drummers in our worship-leading context, to find the pocket, start here:

  • Lock to the click first.
  • When in doubt, sacrifice the artistic for something simpler that stays locked in.
  • For each section of each song, know what the groove is (especially the kick pattern) and play those grooves consistently each time.
  • Going back to leadership, talk to the musicians around you about how you can lock in together best.

James Duke - A Guitarist You Should Know

I have admired the electric guitar artistry of James Duke for several years now. Through work with Matt Redman, John Mark McMillan, and Jason Upton, he has greatly influenced modern sounds and trends in worship music.

Last week, I found myself nodding my head in agreement throughout David Santisteven's interview with Duke. Today, I'd like to share a few highlights from the interview as well highlight parts of his blog.

Matters of Urgency

James Duke's blog, Matters of Urgency, is one to bookmark and add to your RSS feed. Here's a few examples why:

  • Only King Forever - Duke outlines his performance approach, gear, etc. for every song on the latest Elevation Church record. Great resource!
  • U2 Guitar Lesson - YouTube video of U2's Mexico City performance of "Please". Duke outlines why he loves the performance and what to listen for. (James, if you're reading, more like this!)
  • Conversations - Duke interviews other influential musicians. These are light and fun with a penchant for digression. Regardless, lots of pearls within.

David Santisteven Interview

David's latest Beyond Sunday podcast is a 40 minute interview with James Duke. A few highlights:

Be Fully Present in the Room
Seven minutes and 30 seconds into the podcast (7:30), he talks of being fully present in the room where you are playing – regardless of style, venue, etc..

Boy, do we need to hear that in modern worship bands!

In the hectic pace of worship music and services, we can get tunnel vision around our sound and performance. We stress about memorizing the song or having good stage presence. But who is the focus in that? Ourselves, right?

I can write a whole post on this, but enough to say it is good to be reminded by Duke that it is about creating a musical expression together (listening, preferring one another, etc.). And all of that is in the greater context of what the Spirit is doing in the service.

Practice Searching Melodies
Around 14:30, Duke is talking about creating parts: knowing how each note of the scale sounds, practicing improvisation, and thinking in the abstract of colors and pictures.

But his ultimate practice tip comes when he says this: "practice searching melodies". I'd love to hear him unpack that more, but my interpretation is this: it is cool and good to practice scales, licks, solos, and riffs, but how often do we simply learn melodies or practice creating our own?

Tone - Hearing Every String
At 24:00 they start a conversation on tone and the specific gear Duke uses. I love the comment of making sure you always "hear the strings", i.e. not over modulating the sound.

On the gear side, at 26:20, he mentions always running a compression pedal and the importance of achieving great sustain. This is a big piece missing from many worship electric guitar player's setup and sound.

Your Right Hand
I believe guitar players neglect and undervalue their right hand. Finding success in your left hand makes you a guitar player, but mastering your right hand makes you a musician. Duke talks at 29:25 about the control he achieves through dynamics (velocity) in his right hand.

Be In Total Control
Around 34:20 he talks about keeping your setup simple and consistent. This is a great lesson for me. As a keyboard player, I am always looking for the new and improved sound, but that has cost me in live situations. The best move is to keep my setup simple and consistent so that I am in control, focused on the music and worship.

To take it full circle, as we fully command our setup and music, we become fully present in the moment, in tune with our bandmates, in tune with those we lead, and with eyes and ears open to the Spirit's movement in the service.

A Music Director Can Revolutionize Your Band

Our leadership is at its best when we are free.

Freedom is unencumbered by anxiety, insecurity, and distraction. For the worship leader/musician, freedom is measured by your capacity for loving God and loving the audience in front of you.

Freedom begins with what you control: your spiritual and musical preparation. But what about the puzzle pieces you can't control? Will everyone remember the extra bar ending the bridge? Will the bass player remember to end the song with a 4 chord in place of the 1 chord?

You need an MD.

Dave Wyatt, Music Director for TobyMac. Photo by Renier Van Loggerenberg

Dave Wyatt, Music Director for TobyMac.
Photo by Renier Van Loggerenberg

What Is a Music Director?

My job as an MD is to serve the worship leader (or artist, depending on context) by leading the band to realize the artistic vision. The leader's primary focus is upward, God, and forward, audience; the MD's focus is in front, worship leader, and to the side, musicians on stage.

MD's worry about the band so the worship leader doesn't have to.

Qualifications

The best music directors are skilled musicians, curious artists, assertive leaders, and attentive observers.

Skilled Musician

You can only use part of your brain for playing an instrument when serving as an MD. You must save brain cycles for listening, watching, calling cues, making quick decisions. If you are weak or inexperienced on your instrument, your mind will be consumed with the instrument and will have little left for others on stage.

Curious Artist

As a teenager, I loved buying and listening to accompaniment tracks. With an accompaniment track the vocal was out of the way and I could clearly hear what the band was doing. As an adult, I love multitracks.com. Not only can I hear the music sans vocal, but I can now actually solo individual instruments and create new mixes! You don't have to be as nerdy as me with this stuff, but a good MD will possess a genuine curiosity for how music works.

Assertive Leader

A good MD has opinions and ideas and isn't afraid to express them. When speaking you must be confident and clear. To be heard over the band, you must speak like you are talking to someone on the other side of the room. Of course, this is all in the context of humbly following the worship leader or artist.

Attentive Observer

While serving as music director, you must have a shepherd's eyes and ears. It is important to be aware of the spiritual temperature in the room and the congregation's response. You also must have your ears and eyes available to your bandmates on stage.

Most importantly for me, I must be attentive to the leader in front of me. Before the service, I take notes and ask questions until I understand his/her intent. During the service, my eyes stay on the leader as much as possible. I'm listening to the vocal (and instrument) for cues. After the service, I ask for feedback and what the band can improve on.

The music director position can radically change your band and worship leadership for the better. My next post will be a practical, step-by-step guide for MDs.

What have I left out? How would you tweak this list? Please leave a comment!

How to Keep Up the Chops – Lost Interview with Louis Armstrong

Blink on Blank is a great YouTube channel featuring "lost" interviews. In this one, Louis Armstrong is interviewed backstage in 1964 by a couple of teenagers.

Best quote, from Louis to all musicians past and present:  

You can't take it for granted. Even if we have two, three days off, I still have to blow that horn a few hours to keep up the chops. I mean, I've been playing 50 years.... I got to warm every day. At least an hour. You know? 

Creating Art Out of the Mundane Takes Time and a Lot of Care

You're gonna be staring at this photo for a while.  

What so clearly appears to be four photos pieced together in a not-so-clever photoshop job, is actually one photo – and quite clever at that.  

Photo captured by Bela Borsodi. Created as an album cover for the band VLP. 

Photo captured by Bela Borsodi. Created as an album cover for the band VLP

To create art – something that inspires, moves, or even bewilders us – is a time-intensive process. You do it because you care that it's right. You do it because you care that it evokes wonder and awe. You accept that getting from utterly uninspiring to utterly captivating is going to take a long time, and you love the journey.

For photographer Bela Borsodi, creating this album cover was indeed a journey. 

Final Observation 

With this piece, the need for a time-intensive journey is clear to even the disinterested observer. But in most artistic disciplines – be it mixing a recording, rehearsing a musical transition, massaging edits in a video, or iterating on a logo design – the care we give is not easily understood. When it comes to the audience, all that matters is whether our creation provokes a response or leaves them unmoved.

Art that moves takes time.  

 

 

(via kottke.org

 

(I also suggest Tate Srey's commentary on this photograph at Unified Pop Theory)

 

(This post links to artists whose work I am not completely familiar with and should not be read as an altogether endorsement.)

Open Auditions at Pinelake Reservoir

I love serving with and leading our team of musicians at Pinelake each week. God is doing a great work, and as musicians, we get a front row seat to watch it unfold. It is a privilege to lead people in worship. We get to create artistic expressions used by God, fostering transformational moments in people's lives. 

What you can expect if you join our team:

  • You will grow spiritually.
  • You will grow musically.
  • You will play great music in a professional environment. 
  • You will be part of a community that cares for one another.
  • You will be surrounded skilled musicians that care deeply about their art.
  • You will be part of a team that values the spiritual movement over the performance. 
  • You will be part of a movement of God changing lives in Mississippi and around the world.
  • You will be asked to turn around and invest in the musicians that come behind you. 

Two simple steps to get started:

  • Sign up for an audition time
  • Email us for a link to download the audition music and instructions.