You can hear it building. A steady rising of sonic intensity. A relentless, palpable musical pressure growing and growing until at last. . . the awaited resolution.
Tension and release. We hear it in rock, jazz, classical, country, and folk, as well as modern worship. The tension aspect can be employed for a brief moment in a song, or throughout an entire section (or even longer). When the tension occurs for an extended period, it is referred to as a “build” by many musicians in the modern worship music community. You might find a build occurring for an eight-bar chorus, or during the last section of a bridge. Listen to “Let The Heavens Open” from Gateway Worship and “Tremble” (Live) by Mosaic MSC to hear examples of build sections.
Tension in a build can be created by harmony, melody, rhythm, dynamics, lyrics, orchestration, or combinations of musical elements. As I have studied recordings and experimented in rehearsals, I have accumulated several methods for applying percussion in a build section. The examples below might come in handy and inspire you to create some “building material” of your own.
1. A suspended cymbal roll played with a steady crescendo is a standard go-to device for a build section. Know your cymbal’s capacity, and take care to avoid arriving at the instrument’s maximum volume too early.
A snare drum and a large tom-tom have become part of my standard worship percussion set-up. I try to use those instruments sparingly to avoid interfering with the drum set part. A build section is a good spot to employ the snare and/or tom timbres. Alternatives to sticks, such as bundled rods or cajon brushes, can provide tone contrast to the drum set player’s stick-played timbres.
2. Doubling a portion of the drum set player’s build rhythm can be very effective. This standard build rhythm is commonly played on snare and floor tom by the drum set player. Go ahead and try adding a percussion layer on top of the drum set rhythm. It might be a good time to grab some bundled rods.
3. This one is the sixteenth-note cousin to the previous build lick. Play with both instruments sounding simultaneously, or experiment with a very slight “flamming” effect.
5. A steady stream of single-stroked thirty-second notes works on either snare or tom. (It’s one of my favorites!) The density of notes over a slow tempo gives a certain drive and intensity to a build section. If the tempo gets too brisk for the thirty-seconds, drop down to sixteenths.
6. If you are occupying the timpani spot, experiment with playing a drone roll during a build. Study the harmony in the passage and find a pitch that is common to most of the chords. (The tonic or dominant scale steps of the key are often good candidates.) Start at a pianissimo level and crescendo until the release.