Manual for Musical Slaves to Jesus and the Ping Pong Sound
(=Tips for worship teams trying to play to a click)
Why play with a click/metronome?
-In all music, but especially modern pop/rock music, playing “tight”=accurately in time is huge! It will make almost all your songs sound better, more consistent. Think about what happens to a song when it speeds up or slows down or just starts at the wrong tempo. It changes the feel completely.
-The professionals do, both in studio and live
How do I know this? Both from talking to people I know, like Lincoln Brewster’s drummer, and hearing it said in workshops, like from Paul Baloche at Christian Musician Summits and on his training DVD’s. Plus, next time you go to a show, see if the drummer has a laptop next to him that he is fiddling with between songs. That’s a pretty sure sign (Mercy Me, Crowder, Tomlin, … you name it, pretty much everyone)
-The big churches do
(Ask around in your area, but here locally in Western WA: Northshore Christian in Everett, Overlake Christian in Redmond, Cedarpark Assembly, Eastside Foursquare, Canyon Hills Community Church, … I could go on and on)
-The only other step that I have heard of that makes as big of a difference in raising the bar for your band and making things improve is to memorize all your words and music! (More on that adventure in another section)
But we’re not professionals or a big church, why should we bother?
-Any church can at least PRACTICE with a click. Even just that can help tremendously. I can tell you from personal experience that it helped in our little church. Do you not want to getter better and play with excellence?
Psalm 33:3 “Sing to Him a new song! Play skillfully! Shout for joy!”
Doesn’t it make your music sound robotic/mechanical/_insert negative adjective here_?
-Nope. Just keeps everybody accountable. The pros use it and it doesn’t sound bad to me. Why would they do it if it made their music sound bad? This is their JOB! Nonsense. There is a place in worship to play a song or sections of a song without a tempo, but in modern pop/rock worship, most songs greatly benefit from clear, tight timing.
How much does it cost?
-It can be FREE to PRACTICE with a click. (see below)
-To play with it LIVE, it is best if you have headphones/in ear system. There are tons of other sonic advantages to this, more details below.
How should we start?
Try it yourself first! Pick one easy, well known song to start and do it all by yourself first. As a leader you don’t want to ask your team to do something you aren’t willing and able to do yourself first. And if you can’t play along with it when there’s nothing else going on, you aren’t ready to introduce it to the whole band. It might be harder than you think, but keep trying and eventually you’ll get the hang of it.
Pick one easy, mid tempo, well known song and explain to your team what you are going to do and why you are doing it. Tell them it’s an experiment for just during this one practice. Play the tick tock sound right through the main speakers and the monitor system you have now. Blare that annoying ping pong sound nice and loud so everyone can hear it! Once you get the feel for one song, expand from there. You want it to be a positive experience for everyone so don’t push it too fast, but keep at it.
What if my band (especially drummers) don’t like it and resist?
That’s why you are the leader: to make the uncomfortable calls of what is the best thing in the long run for the team to best do it’s job: serve God and the congregation. Be patient and tell everyone that it just takes practice. You CAN learn to do this. They should start practicing with some kind of click on their own. I can’t tell you how many drummers and drum teachers I’ve heard over the years praising the practice of playing with a click. I’ve never heard a good musician tell me it didn’t help them. Never. I’ve heard mediocre musicians complain. Not excellent ones. Draw your own conclusion.
Best Sources for Click/Metronome/Tick Tock/Ping Pong
There are many possible sources, but my top 2 recommendations are
-Ableton Live (demo version is FREE, lite version is $99 mac or pc) www.ableton.com
-Boss (Dr. Beat) DB90 ($179)
Boss Dr. Beat DB90
Believe it or not, as much of a fan as I am of ableton, we usually use a dedicated little hardware metronome. We actually use a Korg Beat Lab, but they don’t make ‘em anymore. Too bad, because it was perfect at $90!
We use this one over other solutions because I have a lot of drummers (especially jr highers) who
-don’t have their own laptops
-don’t know how to use the software and won’t take the time to learn to use it
-I can leave this device sitting out on the table next to the drums and be fairly confident it won’t wander off. A hardware metronome isn’t really good for anything else and isn’t fun and sexy and steal worthy like a laptop, ipod, etc.
Why such an expensive one? For live you will want features like:
-tap tempo button
-faders for subdivision of the beat
-ability to save presets (songs) and move seamlessly from one to the other
For just practicing any old metronome will do even $15 little jobber. For live, you’ll want something flexible and dependable like this standard workhorse.
Ableton Live Software
Ableton Live is by far my favorite choice. Why?
-Pros use it:
It is what Lincoln Brewster’s drummer and many others I’ve talked to use.
-It runs on mac or pc
-The FREE demo version that you can download right from the website will do almost everything you will need to do for click and the $99 lite version will do almost anything a church needs. Gotta love free!
-You can tap the tempo in and it gets more accurate as you keep tapping. It’s a little hard to explain, but you’ll understand once you use it: Tap Tempo Button! Woohoo!
-Even better, you can drag and drop an audio file (mp3, wav, …) right into the program and it will figure out the tempo FOR YOU and lock in with it! Wow! Sometimes it guesses wrong and needs tweaking, but still well worth it.
-You can then slow the song down without changing the key so you can hear and practice part that are tough at full speed!! What an amazing tool!
-You can transpose on the fly! Say the original song is in B because Chris Tomlin sings like a girl and you don’t…. (just kidding) …. and you want it in G and want to play along that way… You can simply drag the transpose knob up or down to whatever key you want. Yes the vocals will sound weird, but you can play along! It’s GREAT!
-At www.interactiveworshiplive.com you can buy whole songs where you can solo in on specific instruments so you can hear EXACTLY what they did.
-Tons more you can do with it too including:
Loops and Tracks
The actual purpose of www.interactiveworshiplive.com is to buy the original studio tracks so you can have sounds for players you may not have that morning, and still have the flexibility of skipping to any section in any order you want. Watch the demo’s and you’ll understand. Think this is cheating? What if I told you that the biggest acts in the business including Lincoln Brewster, Third Day and many more do this all the time? String section that isn’t there? You hear a choir but there isn’t one? Hammond B3 with no keyboard player? Background vocals without vocalists on the platform. If they can do it, why not you?
In addition to tracks like that, there are all sorts of drum loop samples out there that you can buy. Sometime just a little bit of spice like that is just what the doctor ordered to get your creative juices flowing. Check out Third Day’s “Your Love oh Lord” or Lincoln Brewster’s “Majestic” or Paul Baloche’s “Hosanna” or “Offering” or Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Follow” to name just a few fairly recent ones. Again, if the pros are using them in the studio and LIVE, why not give it a shot!
Other possible sources include:
-various ipod/ipad/iphone/android apps
-any recording software: garageband, pro tools, reason, cubase, nuendo, studio one, sonar, … just about any of these programs include a metronome.
-tons of other cheaper hardware metronomes anywhere from $15 and up, check your local music store or online
Q:How long to practice before introducing it live?
A: As long as it takes to get comfortable
You never want to subject your congregation to something that hasn’t been thoroughly tested and approved of by your team first. This shows you take your job seriously and are serving the people, not yourselves. We practiced for months before introducing it live, partly because all we had were floor monitors which aren’t so conducive to live click use.
A: Start with just one song
Again, no need to do all or nothing. Why not try it on your opening song some week once you’re comfortable with it.
A: Once you’ve figured out Transitions!
Make sure you practice not just one song at a time, but whole sets of songs. Transitions between songs can be quite tricky. You might try turning off the accented beat on beat 1 to make it easier to start wherever you want and/or get back in sync if you get off for some reason. You’ll want to figure out who is starting each song and whether you’ll bring a click in before you start or once you are partway through or what. Some songs start off without a definite tempo and then lock in after a bit. Others start with click right away. You don’t want dead air time while you all look at the drummer as he fiddles with it, trying to get the right tempo…that’s never happened to us before…. nope never….
Q: Who all in the band should be listening to the click?
In my experience, it’s best if we all do. I know Lincoln Brewster doesn’t like listening to it, so he doesn’t. He plays with pros though, so he expects a higher level out of his drummers than is probably reasonable for most of us. Besides, there are songs that I start with just guitar on and I want to be sure my tempo is correct right from the start.
Clicks and In Ears
Do you have to have an expensive in ear system to use clicks?
Nope, you can actually use drum loops that you put right through the floor monitors as one way to do this live. We used to do this regularly using the beat from “Your Love Oh Lord” by Third Day. You can sample the first few measures right off the CD and then just loop it and make a CD with a few minutes of that and play it with a regular old CD player or mp3 player. That’s what we did. We used not only on that song, but on others like Chris Tomlin’s version of “The Wonderful Cross”. It sounds yummy! Try it!
Other reasons for In Ear Monitoring:
On the other hand, in ear system really helps AND it helps a ton of other things to. Think about it: if everyone on the team was wearing headphones, you eliminate
-tons of mic feedback issues
-tons of muddy wash from floor wedges and even close up hot spots bouncing off the back walls and back to the congregation.
-your team might actually be able to hear themselves over those loud drums!
There were times before we went in ear when someone would complain that it was too loud and the guy at the mixer board would turn the sound all the way off and ask if that was any better and people literally could not tell a difference because the monitors levels were so loud because we were simply trying to hear ourselves with the drums pounding three feet from our ears. Master fader all the way up or down=no difference. No joke!
The amazing clarity and control that we suddenly had when we went to in ears was amazing.
The musicians were happy because they could finally hear themselves and each other. The sound techs were happy because they finally had real control.
The people were happy because it sounded clearer and better, which by far is the most important! Remember who it is we are serving.
How expensive are in ear systems?
There are legitimate ways to do it CHEAPLY too with inexpensive headphones (think $10 sony’s from Target) and headphone distribution devices (starting at $150 maybe)
I must admit, though, that we are absolutely in love with our Avioms and nice headphones. It runs about $1000 for the main unit and under $500 per unit. We use have 8 and use 7 of them every week, one for each musician/singer. (drums, bass, keys, piano, 2 guitars, singer(s). Yep, that’s about $5000 plus the cost of headphones. We provide $10 and $20 Sonys from Target and if people want nicer, they can buy their own.
None of us use wireless units though. I’m playing a wired guitar in front of a wired microphone on a boom stand. What’s the point? Where am I going to go? A long headphone extender cable costs only a few dollars, compared to hundreds for the wireless packs, and the cable works great for me.
Don’t people object to the look of headphones?
Nope, not one complaint. Maybe that’s because it suddenly sounded so much better! Maybe it’s because I’m kind of goofy as it is and we are laid back congregation. If there ever were complaints I’d show them some live footage of professionals who all do the same thing and all the other churches in the area that are already doing this. And if they want to pay for the custom ear molded ones that hide really nicely, I would be totally open to that instead of the $10 Sonys. But seriously, no complaints.
Don’t you feel disconnected from the people or each other?
Add a room mic (mic the congregation) and you may actually hear them BETTER than you ever did before! Or you can do one ear in, one ear out, but BE CAREFUL. You always want to set your levels with both ears in or you will certainly overcompensate and turn up the one earbud too loud which could cause hearing damage. And as for the band, I can hear them so much better now. It takes a while to learn how to make your own mix, but once you do, it’s hard to ever go back.
Speeds up sound check and makes practice time better
Most churches don’t have a FOH guy AND and BOH guy (Front/Back of House) dedicated to making sure musicians have a good mix. Even if you do, it may take a little while to learn to do your own mix, but once you have that control you may never want to go back to having to point up and down and make hand signals to the guy at the mixer trying to adjust your mix for you. You just reach over and handle it yourself. It’s beautiful and think of all the time you save for soundcheck!!
Is it worth just practicing with a click if we don’t have in ear monitors?
Let me know! I’d love to modify this guide so it’s as helpful as possible to as many as possible.
Feel free to distribute in any way you want.
Solo Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be The Glory!)
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