The generally accepted definition of a “Worship Band” has seen a drastic change over the last 50 years. What began as piano and organ has transitioned to a full band complete with moving lights and pre-programmed loops, tracks, and even videos to create the ‘worship experience’. We have indeed made huge leaps forward in the area of musical worship. The addition of pre-programmed tracks in both large and small churches was, for the most part, only an afterthought for most church music directors several years ago.
First, it is important for every band-leader to understand the musicality of their players whether they be volunteers or paid, amateurs or professionals. Many churches that exclusively rely on volunteers will sometimes find that the talent pool can be all too shallow. Introducing a moderate or beginner musician to a click track can be a daunting task and then the addition of a loop or track along with it can exacerbate the problem. Encouragement and patience will become your best friends in this process. Be sure that the musician doesn’t feel inadequate, but rather that this is an expansion of their skills, not a deficiency. Through my years of working with many different church musicians, I have always found that playing to a click (even if you are not using a track) is a great way to build musicianship. Using a standard click is an easy first step if you are looking to move into loops and tracks. Having a solid foundation will be pivotal to growing you and your teams musicality, while also providing a platform to help musicians grow and develop their skills.
Tracks Types: Full Loop Tracks vs Loops Elements
I’m finding that the incorporation of some type of track or loop element is an every week occurrence. What isn’t consistent though is the degree to which they are integrated. There are several different types of tracks and loops. The loop discussion seems to be focused on two distinct types of tracks: the shorter loops that can be cut on and off throughout a song to provide small pieces of musical flair or the full blown tracks that provide anything from drum kits to symphonic orchestras.
Loop Elements (Shorter Loops)
Individual loops or short, programmed, segments are great ways to add a little ear candy to any song. This could be just a simple drum beat or a shaker sample that loops over and over continuously until stopped. Utilizing some of the new technologies that have sprung up in the most recent years has been a great way for smaller churches or worship leaders to add sounds without having to pack 20 people on stage. With the development of synth, and electronic sounds the possibilities have become almost infinite in what can be reproduced from a simple laptop computer. Even taking a simple song like “Hosanna” by Paul Baloche and inserting a simple drum loop can take the song to a different level or sound. Being able to build on that dynamic can really help a musician “feel” the song better and your band will start playing together rather that just next to each other.
Full Loop Tracks
Tracks, on the other hand, are a great way to provide band members with a consistent way to play a song. They are created to fit full arrangements of the song. You can also use multi-effects in tracks that may not be possible with shortened loops. This is because you can have more than one loop element playing at the same time. Using tracks can also help a programmer build a verse or chorus differently. One example of a track I am building is the song “Manifesto” by The City Harmonic. After the bridge interlude the last chorus just explodes with sound creating a huge final chorus of singing at the top of your lungs. Having a full track for this song has allowed us to do more musically than we could have without it. Almost every part of the song had some sort of special effect or dynamic change that would have required a lot of special attention while playing the song. One missed cue could produce a train wreck since we are committed to a specific arrangement.
You might also want to add another backing melody just for the second chorus or just the last chorus after a bridge for an extra dynamic for the end of the song. This can be done with short loops but it can be quite difficult to manage, unless using a program such as Ableton Live. Most full loop tracks from Loop Community come with vocal cues, which act as a band director and guide the band through the song (verse, 1, 2, 3, 4).
The downside of full loops comes in when there are times as worship leaders you want to add an additional chorus because the congregation seems to be engaging in a different way on one specific Sunday morning. This can be frustrating if you’re only using a full track arrangement because you are locked into a specific pattern for a song. Software like Ableton Live can alleviate this problem and give you the flexibility of short loops in a full length format.
So Who Wins?
In the end, I don’t believe that one option is better than the other. I think a lot of factors can influence the ultimate decision. We must consider the flow of the song, the community response, and several other factors. Your team may play better with short and simple loop elements, while the worship team down the street thrives alongside the full tracks. The number of available players and instrumentation will always be a factor. Always remember that as leaders, we need to encourage our band members to continue to practice and improve individually. That personal time will flow into the band and the overall improvement of the team. This will help create an enjoyable environment for musicians to enjoy creating music and using the talent God has given them to glorify His name, which is the ultimate goal for every worship team.
About the author: Anthony Kidd is a band leader at People of Mars Hill in Mobile, AL. Describing himself and his work he says: “I love creating music. Hearing something in my head and being able to create makes me happy. I am simple but I love complex. I try to create a simple complexity in all of my tracks……does that make me weird? I am weird. I also am greatly humbled that people would be willing to invest something into music that bounces in my head all day.” Be sure to check out some of his tracks on his contributor page here.