A music director (MD) is responsible for the musical aspects of a performance or production, acting to lead the group much like a conductor. At Ivy we have been utilising MDs to help release our worship leaders to more effectively lead our congregations, rather than having to think about the transitions between songs and their arrangements. This has helped us to tighten up our our bands and start to access resources such as backing tracks, enabling us to pursue excellence. Often in times of worship the worship leader will follow the direction of the Holy Spirit and not necessarily stick to a preplanned song structure. We see the role of the MD as helping to prepare a ‘Plan A’ and remind the band of that, but when going off piste helping to navigate Plan B, C or D! For an MD and worship leader to work well together good communication is vital in planning, at rehearsal and in the live situation. Below we have outlined some thoughts that have been helpful in our journey, we hope you find them useful.
The role of the MD in planning
In the best case scenario it would be brilliant for the worship leader and MD to meet at least a couple of days before the rehearsal to plan arrangements and transitions between the songs. At this meeting the MD could also help to pick songs by asking questions about why the songs have been chosen and how they will serve the service ‘Big Idea’. Once the songs have been chosen and arranged the worship leader would then email the band the set list with any links to reference tracks plus notes on the arrangements.
When time is more limited we suggest that the MD draw up a structure for each tune and email that to the worship leader for them to read over. The worship leader would then make any adjustments to the arrangements before emailing that out to the band in advance of the rehearsal. This approach allows the musicians to practice before the rehearsal with a plan A for song structures that will speed along learning new tunes and allow time for more creativity.
In music we refer to the altering the volume or intensity of a song as a change in dynamic. When the worship leader and MD meet to discuss the arrangement of the songs this is not just simply the process of deciding on the order of the verses from a lyrical standpoint but also how these sections differ musically. To help us identify how sections change in dynamic we have listed below some useful terms that can help us to define this process.
Suggested glossary of terms
- Chilled – A section that is quieter in dynamic, with less instrumentation – usually just vocals with either acoustic guitar or keys using a pad sound.
- Driving/Steady – A section with an obvious rhythmic pattern usually accented by drums or acoustic guitar. Think strong kick pattern with interlocking bass line and chugging rhythm guitar parts.
- Lift – A small to medium dynamic increase – perhaps adding bass to a section with sparse drums or having a melody instrument join in.
- Build – A section that develops both musically and rhythmically usually with a dynamic increase.
- Big/Full – A section with a loud dynamic, possibly with a more rhythmically complex drum pattern and bass line perhaps playing 16th notes.
- Sustained – A section with ringing out chords perhaps with a break in the drums to add emphasis.
Techniques for building dynamic
To create dynamic light and shade throughout a song we can employ several different techniques. To demonstrate this we can compared two versions of the song ‘This is living’ by Hillsong Y&F. The first version is an acoustic arrangement of the track and uses very different instrumentation compared to the second version which has produced in the electronic dance music (EDM) style. Both versions cleverly use dynamics to help build the song and keep the listeners interest. When preparing for a Sunday service we have found it a really useful to listen to the original song arrangement to help us identify any techniques used to build dynamic, helping us craft our own performance.
We can see that these two arrangements of the same song use different techniques to create lifts, builds, highs and lows in the dynamic of the song. In the acoustic arrangement there is a reliance upon vocal harmony to help build a section but that technique is completely absent from the EDM version which relies more heavily upon layering of synths. By studying these songs we can hopefully identify and begin to utilise some of these techniques in our own arrangements.
At the rehearsal the MD has a role as a producer, looking to craft the songs in terms of parts thinking about – Riff, Groove and Dynamic.
- A Riff is a short repeated phrase, frequently played over changing chords or harmonies or used as a background to a solo improvisation. Look out for these in the original tune and try to identify which instrument could lead that part.
- Groove – This is mainly around what the drums and bass play. Does the tune have a specific drum part or line? How does the bass line lock in with the kick drum?
- Dynamic – map out the sections of the tune and make a note on which sections need to be quieter with sparser arrangement, which sections need to build and where the biggest section of the tune is. Often it is best to work backwards and find the loudest section of a tune first to see that as the ceiling and then work back from there to create a good flow in terms of build. Don’t be afraid to create space with perhaps just keys and vocals in chilled sections. For sections that require a greater intensity think about how the drummer can use more kick or double up on snare hits along with the bass playing 16s note.
When playing live the MD helps to direct the band in terms of the song arrangements and also helps to signal where the worship leader is directing. This helps the worship leader to focus on navigating the presence. This process can be thought of in three parts
- Flow – directing the band to remind them of the song structures. Practice this during the rehearsal so as not to over do it but don’t be afraid to mark sections as its better to be safe than have a train wreck! Try to keep directions concise – short and sweet.
- Following – If the worship leader is building and moving away from the plan A the MD serves that by helping call the sections.
- Feel – In mellow sections the MD can help the bands lock a basic chord progression to support prophetic singing etc.
We hope you have found these thoughts helpful and inspiring! Please share and comment if you have any feedback. Thanks