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Playing in Church.


Sardonicus

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An opportunity to play in my church band arose last week and so I jumped at the chance.

Obviously I plan to lock in with both the drummer's kick and the pianist's left hand but are there any other pointers that any church bassists can give me?

"Praise Him with strings" - Psalms 150:4

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not a church bassist - although I have played in churches - the main thing is the type of church. The acoustics in an old stone high vaulted church were lovely for classical guitar, but suck for bass.

A more modern low ceiling building should present less problems acoustically.

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As @MacDaddy has pointed out, the building will be a big factor.

 Couple of other things to be aware of, based on my experience a few years ago.

Congregation demographic can influence what is tolerated volume and frequency-wise. I played in one church where the bass might as well have been silent as the congregation didn’t like the “frequency”. 

Older Keyboard players can often have a classical background and will be used to “taking care” of bass lines with their left hand. So I would often politely have to ask them to move their left hand to the right, before I taped it behind their back.

However, It can be a good opportunity to develop your improv and listening skills as there are very few ready written parts, mostly chord charts. If it’s a gospel style church.... then I envy you, great bass lines to develop!

Usually an encouraging environment, depending on the BL, but keep listening to the BL during the “set” and most of all be nice to work with.

Oh yeah, always play fretless 

psalm 37: “do not fret....”

Things may be different these days of course as it’s been a long time since I visited a church let alone played in one. But either way, it’s nice that you have jumped at the opportunity, shows an enthusiasm and motivation to be part of things.

Cheers

John 

 

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You are going in to a situation where maybe everyone is not an experienced player. That is ok, but your job might, on occasion, be about holding things together rather that laying down the funkiest grooves. And that is OK as well because the music is there to support not to shine. Not all keyboard players understand slash chords so C/E might well be read as a C chord and your playing the E could sound pretty muddy. The comment about pianists and looking after the bass end is completely valid - and sometimes it is just too much agro to educate them so you will need to pare your parts right back to not get in the way. There are all sorts of valid arguments about educating them, but in the heat of the moment they might forget and then it is your job to make the band sound good. You are there to enable the congregation, and that is cool. I could go on about this stuff all day!

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There’s some amazing gospel musicians, Andrew Gouche for instance. He played with Chaka Khan for quite a while. 
 

When I first left uni I was advertising my bass playing services. A church phoned me and asked if I’d be interested in playing at their services. I went along and auditioned, the head guy there was the drummer for the band. I was asked to join, they were paying me £50 for two hours on a Sunday morning, which was pretty nice. I went along the first week, just to sit and watch; bearing in mind I’d only ever been to church twice before then in my life, a wedding and a funeral. I felt such a charlatan though, I didn’t go again.

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42 minutes ago, ambient said:

There’s some amazing gospel musicians, Andrew Gouche for instance. He played with Chaka Khan for quite a while. 
 

When I first left uni I was advertising my bass playing services. A church phoned me and asked if I’d be interested in playing at their services. I went along and auditioned, the head guy there was the drummer for the band. I was asked to join, they were paying me £50 for two hours on a Sunday morning, which was pretty nice. I went along the first week, just to sit and watch; bearing in mind I’d only ever been to church twice before then in my life, a wedding and a funeral. I felt such a charlatan though, I didn’t go again.

I felt like a charlatan playing pop-punk tunes in a pub... until I got paid.

If you're a pro, then you're a pro. Don't have to enjoy the event to do a good job.

Edited by fretmeister
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5 minutes ago, fretmeister said:

I felt like a charlatan playing pop-punk tunes in a pub... until I got paid.

If you're a pro, then you're a pro. Don't have to enjoy the event to do a good job.

It was because I’m an atheist. It just didn’t feel right somehow......I was also slightly concerned that if there was anything to it, I might get struck by lightening 😁

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1 minute ago, ambient said:

It was because I’m an atheist. It just didn’t feel right somehow......I was also slightly concerned that if there was anything to it, I might get struck by lightening 😁

I am too. Still wouldn't bother me.

I once got booked for a magic show in a church. In hindsight some of the routine could have been viewed as taking the fosters, but I got paid and the punters had a good time.

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1 hour ago, pete.young said:

Beware the induction loop lest it interfere with thy single coil jazz pickups!

Ain't that the truth! I have (too) many basses and which ones the Induction Loop chooses to attack is utterly random - single coils, humbuckers, Piezo - it just does not care.

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5 hours ago, owen said:

You are going in to a situation where maybe everyone is not an experienced player. That is ok, but your job might, on occasion, be about holding things together rather that laying down the funkiest grooves. And that is OK as well because the music is there to support not to shine. Not all keyboard players understand slash chords so C/E might well be read as a C chord and your playing the E could sound pretty muddy. The comment about pianists and looking after the bass end is completely valid - and sometimes it is just too much agro to educate them so you will need to pare your parts right back to not get in the way. There are all sorts of valid arguments about educating them, but in the heat of the moment they might forget and then it is your job to make the band sound good. You are there to enable the congregation, and that is cool. I could go on about this stuff all day!

@owen Has it nailed here, I think i have played more hours in church bands than i am ever likely to manage at "secular" gigs, one thing that i would suggest is that if you have a 5 string (and are comfortable with it) then that would be my choice, the most common bass that i take along on a Sunday morning is a 5 string singlecut with chrome flatwounds on it, this covers 99% of what i need. (although i have used ukebass, EUB, P-Bass, and fretless on different occasions when i felt like it) quite a lot of the music will have been originally written on a keyboard instrument so Eb is sometimes the key of choice.

 

don't expect to have the music in the right key for every song, and it might be anything from proper sheet music right across to a handwritten chord sheet (quite often with 2 different sets of chords depending on who used it last and what fret they like to capo at on their guitar. i played with one worship leader who only really knew the chords for the key of g so they just stuck a capo on wherever they needed to to be able to sing. some songs might ot have any written music at all but these tend to be 3 chord songs and easy to busk.

the ability to transpose on the fly is probably the most useful thing i ever learnt, sometimes the leader will forget to take the capo off so launch into a song in a different key to the one agreed upon.

and if they have kids songs then i have been known to kick in an effects pedal or two (the bassballs was especially good for this)

making friends with the PA team is worthwhile too, the church that i attend doesn't run the bass through the PA at the moment so i control the level on stage, i always have a word with the PA operator after the pre-service run through and make sure I'm at a sensible level, often i'm told to turn it up a bit! (I've taken ownership of the house rig as i've paid for all the servicing etc over the last 10 years, a lovely Trace Elliot GP11 AH250 head with a Peavey 4x10 and a slightly cobbled together but nice sounding 1x15)

Matt

 

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4 hours ago, Newfoundfreedom said:

I never even knew music in churches was a thing in the UK. 

The USA gospel churches, yeah I get that. But the only type of music I've ever seen in UK churches is an old organ and maybe a choir. Certainly never any kind of band. 

It seems to be growing in popularity, I know a few people who do it. My very brief association with it was in 2015. It wasn’t a real church though, it was a unit just outside of the city centre. Really not what I was expecting at all.

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I play bass in our church band and am on a rota with all the other musicians.  I get to play about once or twice a month and the band line-up changes each time.  We do not have a rehearsal during the week but get together about an hour before the Sunday service to run through the songs - generally about 4 or 5 - and ensure we are all playing from the same hymn sheet!

We play a mix of hymns and more modern worship songs to a mostly young congregation of about 120 people.  The church attracts many students and young families and we are blessed with some good musicians.  We have three keyboard players, three violinists, two oboe players, several flute players, three semi-acoustic guitarists, a couple of drummers and even a trumpeter/saxophonist when needed, plus several vocalists.  We don't all play at the same services so that members have the chance to enjoy the meeting without the pressure of playing every week and it also prevents a clique from forming.  At 69 years of age I am the second oldest member of the music group and it is really great to be able to play music and have some fun with the younger people in the group.

I would like a mid-week rehearsal but there is so much going on at our church there is not time to fit one in!  At our Christmas Carol service I found that two of the carols I had been playing at home were in a different key to the rest of the band.  Not only that but we all had variations on the words too.  That made things "interesting"!

I have no control over my sound as the bass is plugged direct into a DI box and fed through a mixer at the back of the hall.  Again, we have a rota of mixer operators and some of them don't understand fold-back.  I am squashed into a corner between the keyboard and drums and am also behind the speakers so cannot hear how the bass is sounding.  To make up for not getting a mix from the system I use a 'Y' connector to feed my bass into the DI box and also into small street busker's amp at my feet.  At least then I can hear myself.

As has already been mentioned, the main thing is to enable the congregation to sing and praise.  It is not a performance and I always try to hit the root note in every chord change.  I am not a brilliant bass player by any means but most church songs tend to concentrate on about three chords - usually Eb Bb and F with the odd C and G thrown it for interest.  Root and fifth or an ocassional arpeggio are all that is often needed.  There are one or two songs that I have been able to put more in but "Less is more" is often best.

When playing in a church band park your ego at the door.  Play as well as you can to honour the songs and God but remember it is not a show and you are not the star.  I sometimes watch American "super church" bands on YouTube and they look more like rock concerts than church meetings.  A different culture I suppose.  Enjoy the experience and play well but do it with humility.

The attached photo is from our Christmas Carol service which was held in a local secondary school/academy and open to everyone.  There were over 200 people there singing carols then eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine (non-alcoholic!). The photo is a 'still' taken from a mobile phone video while we were rehearsing.  I took my jumper off for the event itself but I think the picture shows me trying to work out why the chords I'm playing don't match everyone else's!

 

Screenshot_2019-12-26 Walkingshaw Family Christmas 2019.png

Edited by LeftyP
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I used to do quite a bit of this, and it taught me to play tastefully, and really be there in a supportive role and nothing more, which was great discipline, and a very valuable lesson. 

I'd recommend the gig to anyone.

Apart from the homophobia. Of course, your mileage may vary.

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@paul_5

Woah - steady on! Please don't generalise about homophobic attitudes in the Christian church. (Let's leave that for a new OT thread)

I'm a Christian who plays bass and sings in a small methodist church alongside an electroacoustic guitarist/singer.

Plenty of variety and I need to bring both rhythm and musicality to the songs as there's only two of us.

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19 hours ago, ambient said:

It was because I’m an atheist. It just didn’t feel right somehow......I was also slightly concerned that if there was anything to it, I might get struck by lightening 😁

You might not be alone.  I once suggested to a bishop friend that I fancied being a bishop, or at least a parson, but I'm not a Christian.  He looked at me and replied "Don't let that stop you, quite a few of them aren't either."    

Edited by lownote12
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19 hours ago, Newfoundfreedom said:

I never even knew music in churches was a thing in the UK. 

The USA gospel churches, yeah I get that. But the only type of music I've ever seen in UK churches is an old organ and maybe a choir. Certainly never any kind of band. 

When I were a lad fifty years ago my CoE church in Sussex had a strong band and choir, including bass, lead, rhythm guitar section and drums.  This wasn't an evangelical 'happy clappy' church of young people by any means, just yer average parish church. We did have our own service alongside the more traditional ones but we attracted just as many adults   It led to quite a few members going on into musical careers or otherwise taking their interest in music forward. 

Edited by lownote12
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it all depends on the church... it could be everything from a venue that holds thousands and the most polished band ever (and you have to play exactly what's on the music), through to a joyful but atonal mess of not-very-good-musicians. You could find out the drummer one week has a PHD in jazz drumming and the next week is a 14 year old who started learning 6 months ago. Be prepared for a massive variety of musical skills, and more importantly listening skills. 

I've found that as the music is often in chord charts, the way a lot of worship leaders on piano and guitar think about them is via the lyrics rather than via the medium of musical bars we would be used too... for instance the music finishes a bar at the end of the chorus, but the leader may truncate the bad and jump straight into the start of the verse... this is a challenge that you get to practice your interpersonal skills with! 

When I started playing church was great way to learn, I got a sheet of music 30 min before playing and had to just nail it- which was a good discipline. Unless it's gospel be prepared to play a lot of simpler less flashy basslines, and sometimes just hold everything together. The big no-no is the crazy flashy thing, or big fill that you don't pull off. If you can pull it off ok, if it fits, but if it's not perfect then it will distract everyone. So don't do anything if you can't actually pull it off... in practice though this creates a lovely dynamic between your playing and your practicing - e.g. I used to read stuff about Jamerson, practice at home and then very quickly be able to introduce what I was learning into my lines on a Sunday... 

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19 hours ago, Newfoundfreedom said:

I never even knew music in churches was a thing in the UK. 

The USA gospel churches, yeah I get that. But the only type of music I've ever seen in UK churches is an old organ and maybe a choir. Certainly never any kind of band. 

Yep, musically it's often a kind of indie-rock style somewhere between U2 and Coldplay 

for example... this isn't Sunday morning, one of the local churches that puts a woman's conference, their Sunday is similar 

 

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23 hours ago, Big Rich said:

An opportunity to play in my church band arose last week and so I jumped at the chance.

"my church band" - I take it that means you already know the style of music and setup if you're worshipping there regularly?

Assuming that, then I guess it depends on your playing ability and experience. I  still have to get the music/lead sheets/chord sheets well before the practice and in the keys the band intends to play them in. (Lead sheets especially as they show what the timing should be). Practicing with YouTube is fun, as you probably won't play in the same key as the video!

Then as @LukeFRC and @owen have said, it's about playing tastefully to support the band, who support the congregation. If you can add fills that support the music then great, but watch that pianist's left hand.

And, please, talk to the sound guy/gal. We're not scary, just tired, and we do actually want the band to sound as good as possible. 👍

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