How to Adapt a Song for Your Band

The worship music world is full of highly produced and densely layered recordings.  How does one listen to a song and adapt that song for their band without using loops and backing tracks?

Electric Guitar

Our worship band is presently without a regular guitarist, something I have not experienced in quite a few years.  Since most of the modern worship songs are guitar driven, we are adapting songs every week.

Here are two steps to guide you when you find yourself in a similar situation.

  1. Find the shape of the song.  By shape I mean the emotional and lyrical direction of the piece.  Does the song follow an arc pattern, building to the middle and relaxing from there to the end?  Does the song grow from beginning to the very end?  Or is the song one feel without much variation?
  2. Mimic the shape.  If the song starts soft and builds, begin with just one instrument and a solo voice.  At each verse add another instrument or voice.  Have the drums start with just cymbals and hi-hat, then let the drummer build to a full groove.  Play a pad on the keyboard and switch to piano or organ at a higher emotional point.  Have the vocals begin in unison and add harmony at the chorus or a later verse.

Your band is not an on/off switch.

Your band consists of a certain number of instruments and voices.  Please do not begin every song with everyone singing harmony and every instrument hammering away.  Thoughtfully choose which instruments and which voices start and what voices and instruments enter in what particular order.

You are the leader and you are orchestrating the music as you go.

Imagine John Williams writing the music for Star Wars.  Instead of arranging the instruments and sounds the way he did, what if he had walked in, plopped down a bunch of music in front of everyone, and told them to play whenever and as loud as they want?  Would we want to listen to the music?

Probably not.

Any person can lead music like that, but it takes an artist to carefully construct the sound their band or orchestra or choir makes.

This week take one song and play it a completely different way.  Be creative.  Make a plan for everyone to come in differently than they have in the past and see how it sounds.

Be an artist, not someone flipping a switch.

How do you adapt songs for your musicians?

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One thought on “How to Adapt a Song for Your Band

  1. No guitarist? I feel for you. Currently it is just me (piano) and a bass guitar some Sundays, plus usually an acoustic guitarist that is very unsure of himself and plays quietly. Sometimes we have a drummer. I will try your idea of using the keyboard occassionally instead of piano, and switching sounds. Thanks!

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