Recent Comments

Less = More

When I was in second or third grade, I flunked my first math assignment ever. It was an assignment on placing “greater than” or “less than” signs in equations. I was really good at math, but I missed every single problem. I was devastated. The good news was that it was easily fixed. The reason that I missed them all was that I had reversed the “greater than” and “less than” signs. I actually understood the assignment, I just was backward in my application.

I think that sometimes we are backwards in our thinking concerning our music making in worship. The way we currently think is that if I am part of a worship band, I need to be playing all the time. However, I think the opposite is true. I believe that worship bands across America could greatly benefit from one easy and small principle: less is more.

We as musicians want to contribute and play all of the time. Somehow we have come to believe that more is more, and that we are to be busy as musicians all of the time.

However, when we play all of the time, our texture as a band becomes uninteresting. It all sounds the same for the most part. If we will discipline ourselves and plan for a variety of textures, it will be more interesting to listen to (or sing with) and will be more aesthetically pleasing. If you go to an orchestra concert, not everyone plays all of the time. These are professional musicians who get played NOT to play. When everyone takes a turn as the composer and conductor indicate, what results is beautiful music.

The great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis has been been deemed the master of understatement. He is reported to have said that the more important notes are the ones you don’t play. Less is more.

14 comments to Less = More

  • Wes Morgan

    From the standpoint of a jazz musician, playing less is something that I am accustomed to. We play these great songs that our jazz vocalist sings to but if everyone is always playing you never hear the beautiful melodies the vocalist is stringing together; the shout section of the song is when everybody plays. Likewise limited instrumentation in the verse portion of songs allow the lyrics to come out and the chorus is the climax of the instrumentation.

  • Isaac Murrell

    As I was pondering this, I saw the irony in that many things in the Christian life are upside down and how playing music, and using it to express ourselves in worship to God, is bonded with this principle. I thought about the topsy-turvy-ness of “losing our life to save it” and how this applies with music. It’s as if we need to learn to become disciplined while playing music, especially during worship, and we need to let go or “lose” our own desire to be heard. By this we are putting others and their instruments first and letting them have a voice when appropriate, and by this we allow “Less” to take over. In playing less, we gain more out of it, just like when we let go of our own life and selfish wants. We gain more, and have a much more beautiful and exciting life (as well as eternal life), through Christ and what he has for us. It is important to realize that we are playing and contributing to music even when we don’t play. However, we aren’t contributing to ourselves, but to the band or group as a whole and this can even be seen as an act of service. I think there is beauty in this irony.

  • Ashley Auch

    Something I’ve been learning this year is that worship does not occur strictly when one is creating or participating in music. Music isn’t worship; it’s a medium through which we can worship. With this understanding, I think it becomes easier to apply this “less is more” principle. I think it’s difficult sometimes for musicians on a worship team to sit back and give others a voice, not because of pride or envy, but because they miss the fact that they can contribute their worship just as effectively without playing notes. I think it’s important for a worship team to demonstrate through this “less is more” mindset that worship is not synonymous with music.

  • Beau Salgado

    I am fairly new at the worship band experience, but I have gotten a little experience over the past semester and have noticed a few things one of which is this: less is more. Like Dr. O mentioned, it really just becomes a mash of sound one everybody is in and stays in. I think of how some people when writing songs, match the music to fit the words and perhaps it should be the same worship music. The band should arrange itself around the words of the song (which really is the whole point the music is pushing). That is just an idea, but let me mention something else.

    It seems that the issue at hand is one solved by working just a little bit harder in crafting an arrangement for each song. I’ve noticed that usually bands do well at intros. The leader will ask for some keys with the violin going. This sounds good–it opens the song up with instruments you can hear and recognize and most people are not playing. It is thought out to a certain extent and arranged. We should take that same aspect to every verse and chorus. Along these same lines we should have an idea for which instruments will be coming in and where. Well thought-out music and parts will easily resolve this.

    Another thing I have learned, about the mash of sound and how to avoid it, is from Patrick Anderson. He’s mentioned to our worship band not to have a bunch of instruments in one range of notes (like three guitar playing open position E chords) because it all muddles together. Instead craft the guitar up higher with the organ lower and so on…it really does sound better when doing this because you can hear the instruments rather than a mash of sound.

  • Grant McCurdy

    I feel that, although musicianship and instrumental prowess can be fantastic aspects of our worship, the intended focus of our music is the lyrical message- even if we subconsciously quite often focus more on the musical arrangement and emotive content. Given this emphasis on the lyrics, I agree that a “less” approach to arrangements helps keep the spotlight on a strong meaningful message. A raw piano/vocal arrangement can be incredibly effective in delivering the songs message, and also surprisingly contemporary.

    Whatever musical arrangement we choose must serve to further the lyrics (which in turn glorify God) and therefore they must not distract from them. This means not overcomplicating the songs. At the same time, in light of the worship to be had through skillful technical playing, there can be times when the whole focus of a song is to give an instrumental sacrifice to God. However, in such instances we should extra focused on being the best we can be in our respective instruments in order to give the best sacrifice we can. It should not come easily to us, it requires effort.

  • Jason Carnegis

    When I first started playing in my youth group band, I thought that as the electric guitar player I should be playing at all times. I then realized that I was playing in the youth group band for the wrong reasons which was to show off that I could play guitar. I think that understanding that as a musician you don’t have to be playing all of the time during a song and that you can contribute to the song by changing the dynamics of the song by dropping out at certain times can be a matter of the heart. In order to fully understand the concept, it took me as a musician to become more humble and understand that I was only one part of the group and wasn’t any more important than the bass player. As the blog states, it can make the song sound the same and cause the song to lose it’s effectiveness. This is why worship leaders need to look for musicians at their church who are interested in playing to contribute to the worship experience and who are humble people as well.

  • Andrew King

    I was recently running sound for a concert, and a friend and I were back at the board talking after the soundcheck. I was telling him, “Something just doesn’t sound right, it’s like a huge wall of sound just hitting you, you can’t hear anything specific.” This bothered me mainly because I was running sound and was trying to make things sound as good as possible, but in talking after the show, I realized what my real problem was with the music. Everyone was playing with amps on 11 and drumsticks flying…the whole time. From the four stick clicks into the song, till the final hit, everyone was ALWAYS doing something. It made the music sound uninteresting and didn’t make me want to listen to it. Simply by the fact that there was no dynamic range, the music lost its flavor.

    By the end of the show, the listener walked away feeling like, “what did I just hear” and probably feeling a bit deafened. This can happen in worship just as much as in the punk rock from that night. Losing our musical flavor can be an instant turn-off to anyone worshipping with us. It can become a distraction to be only able to think about the wall of music hitting you. Every musician must know their place and be able to stay there, otherwise it is very easy to fall into a very boring musical trap.

  • Roger

    Some great comments! Gonna follow up with part 2.

  • Hannah Johnson

    I think that some of the most meaningful worship experiences that I have had have come from acoustic settings. Sometimes in the simplicity of everything the message and the words are the main focus rather than the music. It is then that you heart and mind can focus on the meaning of what you are singing rather than how it sounds. Music isn’t the focus of our worship, it is what we are singing to God instead. Without having all of the band and the noise people can almost relax and worship God in complete understanding of what they are singing. Sometimes, less really is so much more.

  • Kaitlynn Sinclair

    I definetly agree with the whole “less is more” concept. This concept is something that should be developed in any musical group out there! If everyone played at once in a band (jazz, marching, symphonic) what you get is complete chaos! The composer’s specifically wrote the music so that it doesn’t matter who is or isn’t playing, rather it’s all about each part contributing to the whole picture. This should be the same in our worship bands today. Of course, there are very little worship songs written by a composer who wrote for a whole orchestra. Nevertheless, it still matters the not everbody try to play or sing at the same time. Even more so since worship is never meant to bring the focus on ourselves. Every member of the band should have a chance to play and praise God but in an organized and professional matter.

  • Sara Austin

    I completely agree with the “Less is more” idea. My church back home is very guilty of this. We rotate on different worship leaders each week at our church and last time I was singing. The leader asked me to harmonize the entire song. I tried insisting that it would sound better if I only harmonized at certain parts, but alas, he still wanted me to do it the entire song. As we may we do well with dynamics in our worship service at my church, we definitely have a problem with the “less is more” concept. It tends to be a, “let’s just play, free for all” kind of deal. I will have to show some of the worship leaders at my church this article!

  • Daniel Lyle

    Hmm… Roger, how much playing time would you say is an appropriate amount?

    • Daniel, that is really hard to say. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules here. It depends on the nature and style of the music, and what instrument that you are playing. Songs that are guitar driven may have the guitar in the whole time, but perhaps the keyboard player not as much. If the song is piano driven, perhaps the opposite is true.

      Watch some good bands, and use your eyes and ears to see what good players do. Hopefully you can learn and emulate the style from them.