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.

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.