Play it in Layers

Kuih Lapis (or layered cake) by by sniffles on flickrMore people on stage Sunday morning equals more sound coming off stage. It’s a simple equation that often leads to disaster. The sound gets murky and the band doesn’t gel. Worshippers get distracted by all the different musicians each vying for attention.

But what if they had humble hearts instead?

What if they felt like it would be ok to simply “be” on stage and not need play on every part of every song?

Layering the sound is the key to keeping it tight when multiple musician’s grace the stage. Here’s an example:

  • Intro: – full band
  • V1: acoustic, drums, bass
  • Pre-Chrous: lead guitar comes in
  • Chorus: full band
  • V2: Drums and bass only
  • etc…

Kinda like a cake huh?

This week at Chase Valley the band includes: drums, bass, percussion, guitar, guitar, guitar, and acoustic guitar. Tonight’s rehearsal was a glorious meld of sonic delight. I’m a more pumped about this Sunday than any other in my entire life.  What makes 4 gutiars work on stage together is playing in layers.

This is my creative chaos.

9 Responses to “Play it in Layers”


  1. 1 blogsology August 14, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Great analogy, dude. Sometimes the challenge is trying to figure out where a layer of mayo fits in a chocolate cake! The more layers, the tighter everyone’s rhythm has to be at the parts when everyone’s playing together. We had 4 guitars a couple of Sundays ago and I probably won’t do it again. I’ve got a couple of players who are tight enough to play as 1 of 3 but not tight enough to play as 1 of 4. I’m stoked that you’ve got the tightness goin’ on!

  2. 2 Mike Mahoney August 14, 2008 at 6:07 am

    Paul Baloche talks a lot about this in his Worship series. There are some good clips on CCLItv. I’ve played them for our team, and for the last few months dynamics has really been a focus of ours.

    The other thing we work on is finding sonic space. Keyboard doesn’t need to be playing below middle C if guitar is playing open chords – they’re occupying the same “space.” So either keys need to go up into a higher register, or guitar needs to.

  3. 3 jimkastkeat August 14, 2008 at 6:18 am

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I lead a band that has 8 on stage (acoustic/vocals,electric/vocals, electric, vocals, vocals, keys, bass, percussion). It’s definitely a conscious effort to be as aware of who’s not playing.

    For me it’s taken a year of the band playing together for us to learn when to add or restrain your sound on stage.

    If you figure out any more tricks, let me know. But until, then cake image is fantastic. (and tasty)

  4. 4 chackler August 14, 2008 at 6:54 am

    I wonder why the modern church goes so big with the number of people on stage – we do the same thing! Every once in a while we break it down to a 3 or 4 piece acoustic setup and the change of pace is nice.

    A key part of the whole thing, as simple as it is, is rehearsal. You also have to have someone step up and take command of the arrangements.

  5. 5 Rick August 14, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Mike has a great point here. As a keyboard/pianist, I try to listen and fit in with what the guitarists are doing. We either have one or two guitars during worship, not three or four. I find that my playing style shifts depending on who’s up there.

    Great post here, Billy.

  6. 6 Billy Chia August 14, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Jeff,
    Another thing that helped layers this week was players not stepping on each other’s “rhythmic space.” We simplified a lot of the songs to mere subdivisions of the beat playing straight whole notes, quarter notes and eighth notes. We took out any syncopation. Not only does this really help multiple guitarist stay tight, it also gives the band a driving “Coldplay” kinda sound.

    Mike,
    Great point, sonic awareness is key! When a lead guitar (or leading keyboard line) is in the same octave as the vocal line it’s a recipe for clash. When playing at the same time time as vocals the lead line has to go higher.

    chackler,
    Yes, rehearsal has to be organized! I prepped 5 times more for this rehearsal than an “average” rehearsal and that really paid off. What makes the difference on Wednesday night (and ultimately Sunday morning) is the time spent before anyone even shows up.

  7. 7 Sarah Chia August 14, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    That cake looks yummy, and I’m very excited to see it all come together on Sunday.

  8. 8 Pamela Compton August 14, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    I can’t wait until Sunday to hear it all come together. Bill told me that practice went well.

    See you guys soon,
    Pam

  9. 9 jordan August 20, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Yes someone has to be a strong producer and give “be silent young man” commands b/c who really wants to just sit there. Yet to quote a wise music theory prof who had worked with Aaron Copeland, “Music is interrupted silence so make sure you have something to say before you interupt.” We have done this with a giant whiteboard at rehearsal (for pics of how we do it…. http://www.worshiptrench.com/?p=94 ).

    4 guitars….you guys should cover Maiden’s The Trooper in four part harmony. That would make you guys twice as good as the original…haha


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