Friday, April 17, 2009

Using Loops in Worship - The Journey Part 3

It's been a few weeks since I posted about our journey using loops in worship. Since then, we've made progress but it hasn't been an easy road. Our musicians are at a very comfortable point where they can show up for practice and play the music in front of them without a lot of outside effort. I'm excited that they are at this point - it's been a long time coming to get them this proficient and I'm proud of how far they've come. One of the most challenging parts of implementing loops is that it requires people who are not used to playing with a metronome to practice at home. There have been several rehearsals over the last few weeks where we have prepared click tracks and loops, tried them out a few times and realized that the band simply was not going to be able to pull it off. It's hard to just throw out the plan when there are hours of behind the scenes work that have been spent preparing but that is exactly what we've had to do.

Band practices have been hard for the last few weeks. We'll start our trying to play along to a click/loop and it hasn't worked out well. Sometimes, 30 minutes of rehearsal go by and we're still working on one song and haven't even started on the others. This has led to some very hurried, frustrating practices with little progress being made in the implementation of loops.

Last night at rehearsal, we had a breakthrough. I decided to run our rehearsal like normal with no loops or click tracks. We had four songs we were preparing that the band had played many times before. The preparation went quickly and within 30 minutes we had all four songs at a place where they were ready to go for the night. At this point, we still had about 45 minutes of practice time left so we spent that time working with just one song that had a click and fully sequenced loop. It took a few times to get the hang of it but eventually it fell into place. For many of the band members, it was the first time they had really experienced being locked into the click. It was pretty incredible to see them play at this next level. This will be our new approach to practice for the next few months. We are aiming at August as our goal for implementing playing with a click for every song. At this point, just focusing on one song a week is a much more manageable task than trying to make the transition all at once.

A few final thoughts on implementing loops with a band:
1. Make sure everyone can hear the click - it is annoying at first to just hear it in your ear monitor but it has to be loud enough so that each person can hear it over their instrument. I'm not advocating damaging anyone's hearing - I'm just saying it probably needs to be louder than you think at first.
2. Focus on implementing one loop per service. Simple, repetitive loops are the easiest - even if you get off the downbeat, it may not matter. Eventually move to playing along with a fully sequenced loop. *Triple-check the order of your chord chart - it must be absolutely correct.*
3. We've had success using loops on opening songs. In our services, unfortunately, the opening song is usually the signal for everyone to come in, finish their conversations and grab a seat. That puts less pressure on the song if there is any problem, it won't be as noticeable as if it were in the middle of the set. The plus side is that if the band does pull it off, the loop adds a lot of energy to the opening song - which hopefully starts to solve the problem of people not being engaged during the beginning of the service.
4. If at all possible, get the loops/clicks to people ahead of time. We use Planning Center to distribute our chord charts/loops. Allowing people the time to practice at home is critical - especially for the drummer and lead vocalist. We created metronome links for each song using WebMetronome. You can set the tempo, time signature and accent beats then just copy the link to your musicians and they can practice at home.
5. Prepare your other (non-loop) songs first. This will allow "extra" time at the end to work with the click/loop without stressing everyone out since the other songs are already rehearsed.

Progress is being made. More updates to follow!
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