How to Fix Music Problems in Rehearsal

The best orchestra, band, or ensemble will encounter problems in rehearsal that need fixing, adjusting, or extra attention.  The question is not if you will have to fix something in rehearsal, but when.

In graduate school I studied conducting, and part of that study included many hours in front of choirs and orchestra leading readings and rehearsals.

I remember the first time I was in front of an orchestra.  I was terrified, over-dressed, hot and sweating in a crowded room full of high class musicians and a talented visiting orchestra conductor.

Not only was I expected to conduct a movement from a Beethoven symphony, I was expected to rehearse it.  When we made it through (if my conducting led us through it successfully) I was also expected to go back and work on problem spots.

I remember very little from that experience other than what I just described, making it through some difficult passages well, and then thankfully sitting down in my chair when I was done!

I am not conducting Beethoven symphonies these days, but whether I am in front of a choir or an orchestra or leading a worship band I am still expected to lead us through the music and then rehearse problem spots.  The better the musicians the more fun it is to play the music and the harder it is to pick out problem spots, but they are still expecting me to help them play and sing better.

Whether you are a beginner or professional, the techniques are the same as well as simple for fixing problem spots in music.

  1. Listen as you lead.  As you go through the music be listening for spots in the music that seem off or that have obvious mistakes.
  2. Stop on purpose.  Before you stop the music, know where you want to go in the music.  Stopping without a destination invites all kinds of chatter and lost time, as well as signaling that you do not know what to do.
  3. Go first.  Particularly in worship bands, after you stop the music lots of people are likely to have suggestions on what to do.  Do not ignore them, but always do your ideas first, even if you are not certain your ideas are the best.  This demonstrates that you are in charge and that you know the music.  After you have worked the section you wanted to touch on, then answer questions and visit requested spots in the music.  If you go with the other suggestions first your rehearsal will lose momentum and your leadership will be eroded.
  4. Break it down.  If you go through a problem spot and you cannot identify the problem, start removing instruments or voices to isolate the issue.  If you have a tempo issue in a worship band, have just the bass and drums play the section and make certain they are together.  Then add the acoustic guitar, the keys, and then the electric guitar.  Finally add the vocals back in.  Use a similar approach in rehearsing vocals.  In orchestra, try the section with just strings or just winds, etc.
  5. Play it in context.  Once you have isolated the problem and fixed it, go back and sing/play the entire section surrounding the problem spot to make certain the musicians can replicate the fix in context.

What about if you cannot identify a problem?

  1. Identify potential problem spots before rehearsal.  If in rehearsal things seemed pretty good, go directly to a potential problem spot you identified.  Break down the parts briefly and work that spot.  Do this for all of the potential problem spots.
  2. Play it again.  Once you have worked your pre-defined difficult spots, play the piece again.

Worship bands, orchestras, choirs, and wind ensembles all have their own cultures, but the laws of rehearsal are the same.

What other techniques have worked for you in your situation?

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When the Bold and the Beautiful Collide

The world is full of beauty and beautiful art, and transcendence and beauty somehow feed my soul.  I am also drawn to bold and daring statements, even if I would not be apt to make the same statements myself.  Rarely do I find the two combined.

Dive off of a cliff

Most of us are like this.  Whether or not we are bold, daring people, we love stories about overcomers and underdogs, mountain climbers, and base jumpers.  And whether or not we are painters, sculptors, or musicians, we appreciate beauty in each other and the world.

When beauty and boldness collide the result is extraordinary art, experiences, and relationships.

Just the other day I once again came face to face with bold, beautiful art.

Rowland Augur (Collin Rowland and Dan Augur) blend multiple mediums into one-of-a-kind imaginative expressions.  Their work is refreshing in a day of cookie cutter, one-of-a-million, assembly-line art.

I enjoy their art because it inspires me to think differently and bend artistic boundaries I once thought were rigid.  Their art reminds me that God cannot be boxed in, that while we can learn to know him personally (and we should) there will always be something mysterious, something other about him.

I also enjoy their art because Collin Rowland (the “Rowland” in Rowland Augur) happens to be my brother-in-law.

How about you?

Where have you seen the bold and the beautiful converge, and what was your response?

How to Guarantee Good Communication

We all want to guarantee that we are coming across clearly, that we are being understood. Truthfully, though, we are often misunderstood.

When we are misunderstood we tend to have two reactions:

1. We blame. Often our first instinct is to blame the other party for not caring or for not being open minded. We communicated our ideas well, so goes our reasoning, so there must be a problem on the receiving end.

2. We get defensive. When the other party pushes the blame back on us, we get defensive and start protecting #1, or ourselves. Again we assume the worst: the other party is selfishly considering their own preferences above ours.

Not everyone responds this way, however, and so there is hope.

Recently a friend responded to a misunderstanding by walking back into the situation and doing three things. These are steps anyone can follow.

1. Move towards the other party. Whether you feel the other party was in the right or the wrong, you will only resolve the misunderstanding if you choose to move toward them. Do not wait for them to make the first move.

2. Say how you feel. Using “I” statements, tell the other party how you feel. Example: “When you did this I felt this way.” Misunderstandings in part come from an improper understanding of each party’s feelings and point of view. They will not know how they came across unless you tell them.

3. Take responsibility for the outcome. You must identify what you can do to improve the situation and take responsibility to make it happen. There will almost always be something you can do, and you must do it whether or not the other party reciprocates.

You can never guarantee how someone will respond, but you can guarantee that you took responsibility and did your part, and I have my friend to thank for that reminder.

What misunderstanding do you need to move toward and resolve?

5 Benefits of Knowing Yourself

I am a sucker for personality exams.  I love to see exactly what I am made of and why I do what I do.

Man looking at camera

Not all people are the same as me, and that is just fine.  In fact, that is part of the reason I love personality exams.  I learn how someone else operates, and that knowledge helps me relate to them in a more productive way.

In fact, I have written before about the benefit of personality exams in my post 1 Step to Better Leadership.

A number of years ago the staff at the place where I worked took the Myers-Briggs together.  I was amazed at the results, and, more particularly, at what I learned from the results.

I learned that I was the only true introvert on the staff.

If you are familiar with Myers-Briggs you can chart your personality on a 4×4 grid of possible personality combinations.  I was at the far upper right corner of the chart and the rest of the staff was clustered around the lower left corner and lower center.  The senior pastor was closest to me, and he was two rows away.

Wow.

That’s how my office was as well.  I had my office at the other end of the building and I liked it that way.

I also found that while my boss was more about the journey and adjusting along the way, I was very much about the end goal and I did not like a lot of variation in the path along the way.  That one piece of information served me well over the years in relating to him.  I learned his process and how he got to where he was going.

In short, personality exams can:

  1. Dispel myths and misinformation about similarities or differences between yourself and colleagues, your boss, your spouse, or your significant other.
  2. Reveal hidden causes of conflict and misunderstanding.
  3. Challenge you to face the truth about yourself and others.
  4. Strengthen your team, your marriage, or your relationship with your boss.
  5. Clarify whether or not you are really a fit for your present job.

Sometimes harmony and synergy at work or at home are only a personality exam away.

What relationship at home or work could be strengthened by a simple personality exam?

The Importance of Encouragement

Today I was reminded of the importance of encouraging others.

Orange Glory Restaurant

We live in a negative world.  Every time I drive on the highway I see billboards trying to sell us things by telling us we do not have everything we need or that we are inadequate as we are.

Political arguments swirl around the drain hole of who is or is not getting their “fair share.”

Satan himself is out to “steal, kill and destroy,” and we would be naïve to ignore that spiritual reality.

The point is that you and I are inundated by negativity and the affects of sin every day.

We all need to be encouraged.

One of the greatest blessings of going to counseling over the years throughout and after my divorce was meeting with someone who continually encouraged me in spite of regularly hearing the worst about me.  I would walk into an appointment tense, bound up with guilt and shame, and at the point of tears, and I would walk out refreshed and ready to try again.

During that time I also met with a friend for lunch every week, often at Orange Glory in downtown Rochester, NY, and he would listen, ask good questions, and more often than not pay for my lunch.  He is still one of my very best friends.

We all need two things:

  1. Christ.  As Shauna Nieguist puts it in her fabulous and transparent book Bittersweet, the most important part of dealing with difficulty and pain and loss is the comfort of Christ.  Without him we have no hope; with him we have strength to carry on and a guide through the maze of life.
  2. Encouragement.  Other than Christ the one thing we need is a genuinely encouraging word from someone.  We don’t need to know if everything will work out, although that would be nice.  We need to know we are loved and not alone.

Who has encouraged you?  Have you thanked them recently?  Who do you need to encourage now?

How God Partners with the Composer and Songwriter

A year and a half ago a friend of mine asked me this question and I have been thinking about it ever since.  How does God partner with the composer and songwriter?

Electric Guitar Bridge

I’ve been writing music since I was a kid.  In high school I had lots of black and white composition books chock full of lyrics.  I was into heavy metal and I had rock-n-roll lyrics for everything.  My writing had all the fine literary style of a high school student high on emotion and experiencing the world for the first time.

I don’t know what happened to those books.  I think I may have thrown them away.

When I got to college I studied music composition as well as poetry composition, and in the 12 plus years I have worked in churches I have done quite a bit of arranging for everything from choir to rock band to orchestra.  In the past five years I have once again started writing pop and rock worship songs in addition to writing classical music and poetry.

I have a real passion for setting the written word to music.

So how does God enter into the songwriting and composition process?

Idea 1: God enters into the songwriting process through his creative image in you and me.

God is creative; he created everything.  He is the ultimate creative power.  Part of the evidence that we are created in the likeness of God is the fact that we can create new things.

For the longest time I thought as Solomon did, that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  This idea led me to a very defeatist line of thinking:  “What’s the point?  I’m replicating things that have already been.”

Solomon was wrong.  He was depressed.  If I met someone in that state of mind I would send him to a psychiatrist.

There are new things under the sun every day.

Not long ago I heard Erwin McManus of Mosaic say in relation to this passage of Scripture, “I am quite certain that the wheel was brand new at some point in time.  In fact, I think Jesus walking on water and rising from the dead were pretty new.”

When we create something new we are demonstrating the image of our Creator God.  Even someone who does not know Christ can be extremely creative and, without knowing it, express the image of God through what he or she creates.

God enters into the songwriting process by the fact that we are made like him: to create.

Idea 2: God enters the songwriting process through our minds and preferences.

When we begin to create something new there is always a nucleus of a thought, an idea that takes hold in your mind.  When that idea takes hold in your mind and catches your attention like never before, you have just experienced a taste of God working through you.

God makes new things out of nothing.  He spoke the world into existence out of a void.  He spoke the sun, moon, stars, and all things into existence out of nothing.  God breathed life into man; without God we could not draw a breath.

In the same way I believe that without God we could not think a single original thought.  When we express a new idea or thought God is revealing himself through us as Creator God.  He is using our preferences and abilities to give fresh expression to himself.

Partnering with God

We have been talking specifically about composing and songwriting, but, in reality, God partners with human beings in every single creative activity in exactly the same way.  Sometimes we twist the pure ideas he places in our hearts, and other times we hear clearly and express his ideas well.

Before you begin the day, thank God for what he has done and ask him to guide your thoughts and ideas, actions and motives.  During the day, when you begin a new project or a meeting, ask God to partner with you.  Ask him to create something out of nothing through you.

How have you seen God partner with you creatively?

The Truth About Preference

In our me-centric world personal preference has become king and queen, dominating nearly every facet of life.

Bread at a Bakery

Wegman’s grocery stores, a favorite of mine when I lived in Rochester, NY, lists almost 500 responses on their website to a search for actual bread products.  Choose between Giant Bread, Garlic Tuscany, Orange Cranberry, and hundreds of other shapes and flavors.

Music Genres List has catalogued over 230 different styles of music.  Dubstep, Opera, and Dirty South are just a few possibilities.  AMC’s Filmsite list displays hundreds of possible movie genres, sub-genres, and hybrids.

With this level of preference in culture, we should not be surprised to find that preference is a major player in church selection and even church leadership.

Humans are preferential.  Choice and free will are actually a gift from God.  We, on the other hand, often go to the extreme of declaring our preference the only correct preference.  I used to believe in a world where someone could make choices outside of preference, that there are black and white answers to everything.

I could not have been more wrong.

My executive pastor recently reminded me that one of the most important parts to discussing worship and music is admitting that your own preferences are always influencing your decisions.

  • When I choose music for a service, in addition to praying, considering Scripture references, and incorporating themes, I will undoubtedly base my decisions on preference.
  • When I look for a recording to guide my band, my preferences will guide me.
  • When someone asks me to listen to a piece of music, I will listen as objectively as I can, but my preferences will be present.
  • When I am hired, my employer in part hires my unique preferences.
  • When I get defensive in a worship or music discussion, I can usually look back and see me on a soapbox touting my preferences.

Over time I am becoming, with God’s help, more aware of my preferences and less judgmental of the preferences of others.

How do your preferences influence your leadership?