Greetings to all of you worship low-enders out there – it has been a while since my last worship bass column! I have been involved in a number of great things that have kept me away, but I am happy to be back. I hope your bass blessings have been plentiful since my last writing.
One major shift in my personal worship bass life has been leaving one church ministry to join another. No juicy, tabloid-worthy upheaval at play; rather, I felt a calling to move to the new opportunity when it arose. I’ll take advantage of this space for one short moment to offer my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Highlands Fellowship for allowing me to grow as a worship musician and for putting up with my band-leading shenanigans during my tenure there. To Blue Ridge Church, thank you for your warm welcome and I’m humbled to be a part of your team!
This change has had me thinking, from a very personal point of view, of what it takes to successfully integrate into a worship team as a bassist. Interestingly, I was often asked for advice along these lines when I served as a bandleader. I now have to, as the saying goes, “eat my own dog food”! Informed from both points of view, here are some quick tips for being successful as the “new kid” on a worship team.
The number one job of a successful worship bassist is to support the worship leader and back the team. When in doubt, playing strong, solid, foundational parts that support others will always win the day. It is crucial that you enable worship by making the music feel good to the others on the team. This is a big shift for many bassists, who believe that they should “play to” the congregation. Make the worship team feel solid first and then you can enjoy the worship with on the congregation.
This should be obvious, but I’ve met many who insist on “winging it”, for one reason or another. Carve out time prior to rehearsal and/or worship to learn the music and your parts. Listening to the songs on the drive to rehearsal and hastily jotting down notes on a fast food restaurant napkin doesn’t cut it. (Not that I’ve ever done that, of course, but I know a guy…) I’ve never found that over-preparation is a problem, while the opposite leads to uncomfortable rehearsals and ultimately, short tenures with worship teams.
Every Song Is A New Song
This advice goes along with being prepared: don’t make assumptions about song arrangements. Let’s say you see a song on the set for the week that you’ve played approximately 7,391 times. While you may feel like you know it inside and out, there is a good chance that you’ve assimilated changes and tweaks over time that may or may not fit in your new setting. Revisit the original source material, along with any notes that are given to you, and ensure that you’re on the same page with your new team. By the way, this is good advice for those established and playing with a team weekly: don’t make assumptions and check out the tracks, notes, and charts give to you, to avoid being surprised.
Bass player: no. Bass musician: yes!
“Bass musician” is not just the title of this excellent publication, but is the highest version of being a “bass player”. Bass players play notes without thought; bass musicians think about the notes, rhythm, dynamics, song parts, interaction with other musicians, and more. Aspire to bring your best musicality to the worship. There should be a reason for every note you play and a defined way in which you play it.
Flexibility makes friends
The worship leader needs a whole note instead of four quarters in the first bar of the verse? Great. You are asked to be softer during the bridge? Great. The bandleader wants you to not double the lick with the guitarist, even though you spent a lot of time learning the part? Great.
I’m not suggesting that you become a mindless robot (very much the opposite!); however, if you are able to musically make changes that are asked of you, make the changes. In my experience, being flexible keeps the worship strong and the team happy. By the way: if you choose to follow the advice above to be prepared and play musically, your playing is often accepted as you first present it.
Your cool ideas may be cool…someday
But, you have a great idea! Like, really great! Substituting a C-7 in the second bar is sweet, sweet magic and you are positive that it is an earth-moving change. It may be, but some ideas are better to save, initially. Learn the team’s arrangement, as it is, then decide if your suggestion is still valid. If the idea is still rock-solid, there is almost always a preferred method of sharing ideas. Find out what that method is and then wait until an appropriate time to suggest the idea to the worship leader or bandleader…and then be cool if they want to keep it their way.
Don’t be a sound engineer’s nightmare
Here’s a free tip on how to ruin your day: make your sound engineer unhappy. Know ahead of time what your signal chain needs to be and how to get good, solid sound. If you are using the church’s equipment, come early to set it up. If you’re expected to use their gear, don’t demand that you be allowed to bring 22,000 pieces of equipment of your own because “you have to have your sound”. If you do need to bring your gear, make sure it works and that you can get a solid sound, easily.
Find the groove
The last hint is a bit subjective, but in my experience, I have found that every team has their own groove. Often it’s not a simple overarching theme like, “play everything a touch behind the beat”. Usually, it is a sense of how the team interprets different feels, tempos, and time signatures. Working to discover the “breathing pattern” of a team is challenging, but is well worth the work.
I hope these suggestions help anyone who is trying to join a team or, like me, is integrating into a new team. Further, these tips are good to review for those who have been playing in the same setting for years. Change is difficult, but change can lead to amazing things – just remember that it takes effort from you!