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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.

Be A Hiro

Harboring a false sense of sophistication, we’d ridicule him. 

While everyone else in the class stayed politely in their seats, Hiro would get up with his pad and pen in hand, walk in front of the class, and peer over the man's shoulder. This happened every time our professor would sit down at the piano to demonstrate a point! 

I mean, really. Who does that? 

Image via: hiromorozumi.com

Image via: hiromorozumi.com

I went to college with Hiro Morozumi. While we were both jazz studies majors focussing on piano, there was a major difference between us: Hiro did not take up the piano seriously until he was twenty.

That first year at UNT, Hiro struggled. His chord voicings were bland, his technique questionable and his solos lacked groove. As a struggling freshman myself, I took solace in perceiving my playing as better than his – which was not something I could say about most of my peers.

The thing was, Hiro didn't care what anyone thought of him. No question was dumb. He had no pride; he just wanted to learn. And learn he did. 

By the time we graduated, he had smoked all of us! Hiro played for one of the school's most prestigious bands his senior year and was gigging around Dallas every weekend. Today he has a fruitful music career in Japan. 

What Would Hiro Do?

I often remember the lesson I learned from Hiro. Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending rhythm section sessions in Nashville. Some of Christian music’s best musicians and producers were present. As I drove up the day before, I wondered how I could take full advantage of the two days there. I thought this: what would Hiro do? Silly question, really. But it totally changed how I interacted with these musicians I looked up to and honestly, felt intimidated by. 

Whether you are at a studio session, a weekend workshop*, or around a musician you respect, seize every opportunity to learn. Don't ever let your insecurity get in the way of becoming all God has made you to be.


* - This weekend my church, Pinelake is hosting Paul Baloche and his Leadworship Workshop. If you live in Mississippi or near by, you have a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow. 

Let's bless Hiro and go purchase a couple of his tracks on iTunes. I grabbed "Brahaus", "End of A Love Affair", and "Toge".

Question: Any stories of lessons you've learned from other musicians?

The Pitfalls of Opening Choruses

There are many great songs that, by design, open with a chorus: Tomlin's "Chosen Generation" and Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons" are two that come to mind. Also, when introducing a song, it is common to teach the audience songs by going through a couple of choruses at the top before starting the "real" song.  This can unknowingly play havoc on a band. 

Image via: 123RF Stock Photo

It shouldn't be too surprising to hear the typical V C V C B C C form is engrained in worship musician's brains. We are creatures of habit. The havoc of adding a chorus at the top of the song (C V C V C B C C) comes generally when it gets time to go to verse two. Our brains subconsciously process that two choruses have already been played and instinctively a repeat of the chorus or a bridge is where we want to go, not verse two. 

I've seen this phenomenon play out in myself and in my bands over and over again. Definitely something to look out for as music directors and musicians. 

Theory Thursday: Part Five, Breaking Down Time Signatures

Last week’s post looked at the theoretical side of bars and time signatures. This week let's look at the practical application of individual time signatures. 

To demonstrate the importance of this, I can think of nothing better than this blast from my past: 

Ouch, there is a lot to learn here. A few observations: 

  • Starting with the right time signature makes a big difference. Could the two starts be more different?
  • Yours truly was the MD and the pianist. I've got to take responsibility for this disaster. 
  • The band is so bad the soloist doesn’t panic. He starts laughing!
  • The lyric guy displays “one more time around” on the screen as we restart. 

So, what in the world happened? I’ll revisit that question at the end of the post. 

Time Signatures in Modern Churches 

Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) reports biannually the top 100 songs used in worship services across the United States. I was able to make a few interesting observations:

  • 86% are in 4/4
  • 8% are in 3/4
  • 6% are in 6/8 

While theoretically there are scores of time signatures that could be used, there are really only three being used in modern worship music.  

Transient

4/4 Time 

In 4/4 time, also referred to as "common time", there are 4 beats per bar (top number) and the quarter note gets the beat (bottom number). 

Time signatures don't just define how a bar is constructed, but they also imply how the bar should be weighted – which beats are emphasized. In traditional 4/4, beats 1 and 3 are emphasized. These are what I call the anchor beats. Speak this out loud, emphasizing the numbers in bold:

One two three four; One two three four

Your anchor beats are where you will find phrases begin, lyrics are emphasized, and grooves are established. 

Take for example number 14 on CCLI's top 100 list, "Forever Reign". 

Although the drummer is playing every quarter note, beats one and three have a slight emphasis, you especially feel this as the audience starts clapping. Additionally, listen to the lyrical phrase. Beats one and three are emphasized and the key words (syllables) all fall on these beats.

You are good, You are good when there's nothing good in me....
Oh, I'm running to Your arms, I'm running to Your arms...

Backbeat

The backbeat emphasizes the 'off' beats in 4/4 time. If 1 and 3 are the anchor beats, 2 and 4 are the off beats. More than anything else, I think the backbeat has been the defining characteristic of modern popular music over the last sixty years. The backbeat is what makes you want to dance or clap your hands.

Interesting story, when I was 22 years-old I applied to be the worship leader at a church. Things went well, and I was scheduled to come lead worship for the church as a last step in the process. I sat down with the pastor the week before to discuss the music, and no joke, he said he had changed his mind about the music for the church and no longer wanted drums or any percussive instruments. I asked him why. He said "I've come to believe that a strong backbeat can lead someone to sin."

No joke. He said that. After staring at him for a good ten seconds, I cocked my head and said, "are you for real?"

I never made it to Sunday – thank the Lord. I often wonder about that pastor and his church....

Regardless of whether it causes you to sin (it doesn't), the backbeat is the staple of modern worship music. The backbeat is almost always defined by the drummer's snare. Kick patterns change, strumming patterns change, but the common thread through all 4/4 songs are not the anchor notes, but the backbeat. The more the anchor notes are emphasized, the straighter the song will feel. The more the anchor notes are implied and the backbeat is emphasized, the groovier it will feel.

3/4 Time

In 3/4 time, there are 3 beats per bar (top number) with the quarter note getting the beat (bottom number). The waltz is in 3/4 time: One two three One two three. 

The drummer in 3/4 time will most often play the kick on beat 1 and the snare on beat 3. Check out "Jesus Paid It All", number 76 in the top 100 worship songs so far this year.

As music continues to mature, you'll find that bands, their drummers in particular, are getting more creative in defining these time signatures. Take Hillsong Live's "Stronger". Notice that in this pattern beat 1 is definitely still the anchor – all the chord changes, groove emphasis, and lyrical phrases land on beat 1 – but the drummer is emphasizing both beat 1 and 3 with the kick and placing the snare on 2 and the "and of 3". 

6/8 Time

In 6/8 time, there are six beats per bar (top number) with the eighth note getting the beat (bottom number). Beats 1 and 4 are emphasized, creating two groups of three: One two three four five six. This can also be thought of like a big 2 count: One La Li  Two La Li   One La Li  Two La Li. 

The drummer in 6/8 time will generally place the kick on beat one and the snare on beat four (or the big 2). Check out Tomlin's "Indescribable". 

3/4 vs. 6/8

You may have noticed that 3/4 and 6/8 are mathematically equal. So why have both in music? Great question! 

We know that in 3/4 the quarter note gets the beat. Quarter notes are made up of two eighth notes, right? Therefore 3/4 is made up of three groups of two eighth notes.

In 6/8 the eighth note gets the beat, allowing for two groups of three eighth notes. This creates a completely different groove.

Transient

Conclusion

There are really only three time signatures that make up modern worship music: 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8. An understanding of how these time signatures operate and are weighted will make a big difference in the effectiveness of your band. 

I started this post with a video of our band's crash and burn back in 2009. So what happened?

  • The previous song was in 6/8 
  • The eighth note pulse between the songs was almost identical. The previous song in 6/8 was at 160 bpm (eighth note gets the beat). The song that crashed was in 4/4 at 80 bpm (quarter note gets the beat – which means the eighth note is at 160, the same tempo as the previous song.) 
  • The piano part of the second song started with a pattern 3 sixteenth notes. The pattern of three sixteenth notes in 4/4 creates a syncopated feel. In 6/8 it is a natural, straight feel. 
  • Although the click track changed, some folks in the band were still feeling 6/8 and didn't switch.

Time signatures make a big difference. Understanding the theory behind how they work will help you avoid a crazy mistake like the one we experienced. More importantly though, it will help you become a confident leader. The Church needs competent and confident leaders in our worship leading groups. 

Question: What are some of your most embarrassing moments in your bands? Anything ever go haywire with time signatures? 

Theory Thursday: Part Four, Measuring Music

[This is part four of the Theory Thursday series. Find out more about the series here. Find all music theory posts here.]

As I've led bands over the years, I've been surprised how many musicians don’t really understand the measure. Both self-taught and trained musicians can undervalue how bars and phrases work. This causes all sorts of problems. 

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Why Measure?

It's easy to think about measuring in the context of construction. Let's say I want to build a tree house for my twins. But imagine I start without knowing the difference between centimeters and inches. Maybe I’m too lazy for a level, so I eyeball everything. And while I labor over getting just the right color of paint, I spend little time considering weight distribution. 

I can build this tree house. But will you let your kid in it? 

What about roads? Do I have to know the rules of ‘right of way’ in order to drive? Do I need to have a sense for the length of a mile? Must I know a double yellow line should not be crossed? Do roads even need to have lines at all?

The answer to these questions is no. But we can all agree: a world without lines would be a world with a lot of accidents. 

The same is true for bands. I witness fender benders almost every week. 

  • Drummers play through a break
  • Bass players go back to the verse a bar early
  • Guitar players play the wrong strumming pattern
  • Music directors count off songs in 3/4 with "one, two, three, four"

Understanding how to measure music matters if we want to have tight bands. 

Reading Time Signatures

Time signatures define our measures. They tell us 

  • What note gets the beat
  • How many beats are in a bar 
  • Where the accents lie

I have no doubt my graphic above – with all the time signatures – looks a little scary to some readers. But time signatures are pretty simple to figure out once you know how to read them. Let's stick with our old friend 4/4 as we unpack this. 

What note gets the beat? 

Transient

The bottom number tells you what gets the beat (bottom=beat). So finding the beat is pretty easy:

  • Replace the top number with 1.
  • Now say the fraction out loud.

That’s what gets the beat. Therefore, in 4/4 time, the quarter note (1/4) gets the beat. In 6/8 time, the eighth note (1/8) gets the beat. 

How many beats per bar? 

Transient

The top number tells you how many beats are in a bar. In 4/4 there are four quarter notes per bar. In 6/8 there are six eighth notes per bar. 


Where do the accents lie? 

The last question time signatures answer is where the accents lie. Going back to the tree house analogy, this is the weight distribution question. It is not as easily explained, but let's try it this way. 

Transient

How many boxes are there above? 

What about in this line? 

Transient

Time signatures tell us how to group music together – the above being a visual representation of 6/8. Just as it is more pleasing to look at an image that has order, so too is it more pleasing to listen to music that has order. 

Unfortunately, I don't know a quick and dirty tip for remembering which beats to emphasize in each time signature. You just have to learn them. We will cover this next week.

Conclusion

How we measure music makes a difference. Today we've covered the why question and how to read and understand time signatures. Next week we will unpack the four most common time signatures: how each one feels, associated drum grooves, strumming patterns, and listen to audio examples for each. I will also post the world premiere video of my biggest time signature-related gaffe on stage. It was a doozy. You won't want to miss it! 

Until then, I leave you with the intro and verse of a favorite Sting song. "Love Is Stronger Than Justice" features a 7/8 groove that slips in and out of a double-time feel.

This Is Well Done

Good music is good music. Great arrangements are great arrangements. And great performances are great performances. These guys have it. Start your week inspired. 

Go to their YouTube page for more great arrangements and performances. "Code Named Vivaldi" is bad to the bone. Not just the music – great video work too. 

Paul Baloche's Lead Worship Workshop Coming to Pinelake

For my friends in the southeatern parts of the USA, I am excited to announce that Paul Baloche and his band will be at my church October 26 & 27. Paul is the writer of songs like "Open the Eyes of My Heart", "Our God Saves", "Hosanna", and "The Same Love". 

Paul's band features some of the best musicians in Christian music. This is a great opportunity to grow and build up your team. Check out this video. 

Highlights of the Weekend

  • Open Sound Check:
    There is so much we can be taught and much to be caught. The weekend starts on Friday at 4 PM when participants are invited to sit in for soundcheck. It's early, but I recommend this. 
  • Friday Night Worship Concert
    You'll be tempted to check out the band, but use this as an opportunity to be ministered to. The concert is open to the general public. Get tickets to concert only. 
  • Saturday: In-Depth Breakouts for Each Instrument

For More Information

Check out Paul's band and the guys leading breakouts here

Register for the conference and see the full schedule here. The cost is $49. (You get 24 hours with Paul's band for the cost of two 30-minute guitar lessons. Huge value.)

There are scholarships available for the first 80 Pinelake musicians that sign up. If that's you, email us first before registering. 

Four Chords

My buddy Grant forwarded this tweet to me.

Transient

Hilarious. I could write a post asking for more creativity, but that's for another time.

Today this tweet reminds me that one of the goals for the music theory series: to help us and our bands understand and use the number system. Once you get there, you quickly see the patterns that show up over and over again in worship music. Playing from memory or changing keys isn't so daunting. 

I like the video below because it adjusts the track's pitch and tempo so they are all the same. This creates terrible artifacts in some songs, but it makes a great point. It only takes a basic understanding of rhythm and harmony to quickly see past keys and tempos, and discover the common patterns that tie so many songs together. 

If you're like me, you'll quickly get the point and won't make it through the lengthy video!

I pray everyone has a great week. Remember, this music we play isn't all that special. It is the Spirit of God in you and in your congregation that makes all the difference. 

Question: What are common patterns you've seen in popular worship songs today?