You do a sound check and can hear yourself just fine but then, like a mysterious cat burglar, it seems as if someone stole the sound from your instrument the moment everyone else starts playing. The music stops and much to your surprise, your equipment is still working – so you motion to get the sound person’s attention and ask for the age-old request, to ‘get a little more in the monitor’. The problem is that this upward spiral of more never seems to satisfy and as managing stage volume is a major issue for many worship leaders, so here today I wanted to give you just a few of the hundreds of ways that you can gain the clarity that you are looking without ever increasing your volume.
- Less Is More
We’ve all heard that less is more but what does it mean? Practically for most worship teams it means playing less notes than you are capable. A keyboardist typically will play 6-7 notes at a time, a guitarist often plays all 6 strings, drummers can play as many as 4 things at a time, and when you play all of those notes along with the bass player and any other duplicated instruments the sound gets very crowded and your ability to make out what you’re playing goes out the window. So as a general rule when you are playing with a group you need to play fewer notes at a time – instead of 6 play 2 or 3 and leave some of the other notes for the other people on your team. If the orchestration shifts to only having you play then add in the other notes and then reduce once others join back in. You know you’re on the right track when you practice your part by yourself and it sounds empty.
- Spread out
Once you are playing fewer notes you then need to make sure you are not playing the same notes as the other instrumentalist. Most guitarist play with open chords and most keyboardist play near middle C, which all sound great by themselves but if you put it all together then clarity doesn’t stand a chance because it’s all the same. Once you move into the other ranges of sound you will stand out in the mix because it’s different. But don’t just stay in the same place all the time, change it up by having the keyboard play high on the verse and then trade ranges with the guitar on the chorus but no matter where you play, as a general rule, your part should sound a little dumb when played by itself.
- Clear Tone
It’s extremely important to have your voice or instrument sound great all by itself however most people set their tone based on what it sounds like when no one else is playing. In a group setting you simply must adjust your sound to match the style and orchestration or you will get washed out.
For electric guitarist there are two main culprits – one is distortion (especially fuzz) and unless the electric guitar is the primary instrument you simply must clean up your tone or the awesomeness that is distortion will spread your sound too far to be able to be distinguished. The second is the tone switch or pickup selector – when you are playing in a group I would always have it on the bridge setting and then only move to the neck setting when the orchestration opens up room for the richer tone that so many blues guitarist crave.
For drummers it’s poorly tuned drumheads, for acoustic guitarist and vocalist it’s eq, and the list goes on. As a general rule however you want to lean toward the bright side of things without leaving a quality sound if the instrument or voice was by itself.
- Check the right hand
Primarily there are two sounds you want to hear from every instrument. The sound of the hit and then the tone that follows. The pick hitting the guitar string, the hammer hitting the piano string, the pluck on the bass, the slap of the stick hitting the drumhead are all what give clarity to an instrument. But what happens for most groups is that all of these sounds are happening at the same time and interval – basically everyone is playing the same rhythm. The easiest way to tell if this is partly responsible for your clutter is to check everyone’s right hand and see if they are all moving in unison.
The drums often drown out the acoustic guitar simply because, if left alone, they will play the same rhythms. To remedy the situation just don’t make your hits at the same time – instead of 16ths on the high hat play 8ths, quarter notes, just the accents or lay off and just play the kick and snare till the chorus where the acoustic player will change to whole notes. The principle is this – if you’re the only one making the hit you will instantly stick out
So banish the volume knob to a last resort and try some of these during your next rehearsal, you will probably find that once you get the hang of these ideas you might actually need to turn your volume down.