How you communicate is just as important as what you play.
As I’ve covered in previous issues of [WM], most worship songs don’t have a built-in part for you to play on a mandolin. So, to find our “place in this world” (for those of you keeping track at home, yes, that was an obscure Michael W. Smith reference) we mandolin players must frequently resort to thieving parts in the arrangement from other instruments. Sometimes those parts are on the recording but are not played on our stage, making it easy to take them for yourself. Other times it takes real effort to get along with the other musicians as we fit into the arrangement—we are all human after all and it is our lot in life to sometimes struggle with relationships.
The goal is two-fold. First, to figure out how to best fit in with the other instruments throughout the worship set. Second (and equally important), to not disrupt the spirit of unity in the band. I mean, let’s face it—musicians are sometimes known for being a bit…let’s call it…temperamental.
How you communicate is just as important as what you play. What follows are some examples of the type of communication that will help you keep the “team” in “Worship Team.” (If anyone who knows me personally asks, my official story is that I made these “examples” up totally out of thin air.)
Here are some statements I recommend against using, and some alternative communication strategies.
“That hook you are playing sounds a little thin (or sounds a little boring).”
Most worship teams are a volunteer army—sometimes your lead player can match Lincoln Brewster lick for lick, but often (especially on the weeks that I fill in on electric guitar) the lead parts have to be simplified. Some common strategies for helping out with your mandolin: double the lead part, harmonize the lead part, or even trading off and taking turns playing that hook during different parts of the song.
No guitar player likes to hear that his lead lines sound weak or uninteresting, so you’ll want to approach it diplomatically. I’d say something like, “Hey, it might be fun to try….” or “it might add some ear candy if we…”
“Your rhythm part is all over the place?”
One of the points of emphasis in my mandolin workshop is that the drummer owns the rhythm. The snare drum is good. The snare is your friend. When in doubt, find that snare and match your mando rhythm to it. Naturally, this presupposes that the drummer is doing something remotely consistent in his snare pattern for you to line up with. In all fairness to drummers, memorizing the nuances of every rhythm for every section of every song can be a pretty tall order.
If you have a song where the drum pattern isn’t ever being played twice the same way, wander over within earshot of your drummer. Explain that you “want to make sure that your mandolin rhythm is not stepping all over the drums and so can you please show me the part you are drumming on X section?” Simply asking the drummer to demonstrate the drum pattern on purpose is typically enough to ensure he will play it that way every time.
“Your pad is washing out the lead vocal.”
In a perfect world, your worship leader would be notice and address this before you ever could. It does, however, speak to the more general idea that in a good arrangement the various instruments each have their own frequency ranges so that everything (including the vocal) can be heard properly. If a keyboard pad and your mandolin tremolo are playing the same notes in the same octave, listeners will have a hard time distinctly hearing either one. And if either is in a frequency range that obscures the lead vocal…well, that’s possibly one of the unpardonable sins of worship band.
Tell your keyboard player that you’d like to hear exactly what she is playing so that you can occupy a different frequency space. If you happen to notice that one of you is covering up the vocal, point it out in terms of the two of you working together to lock in the best way to support the melody.
With any of these examples you’re trying to emphasize that your intention is to add something artistic and musically intelligent to the arrangement (which is true). Maintaining team unity is of the utmost priority, so don’t ever feel shy glopping on a generous portion of humility when interacting with the band!