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“Less is More” in Practice

We have had some great comments about the first post “Less is More” on both this site and a sister site Some of them stole my thunder on what I wanted to share in part 2 of this post. In the first post, I wanted to share the principle of less is more, and in this post I want to share what it looks like in practice. How do we do this?

1. Acknowledge your role.
What is your role in the band? Are you the bass player? drummer? keyboard player? Is your role primarily supportive of the melody? It it to set and keep the groove? Is your role a solo instrument? If so, when do you play?

2. Take only your share.
A common example of how we should be aware of our part in a group is the example of having a pie that the entire band would share. How much of the pie should one person take? If there are three different instruments playing, how much volume should each one have? Should one person have 50% of the “pie”? This is typically why bands overplay because each player tries to play more than their fair share.

3. Find your spot.
Ask yourself: where and when do you need to play? All the time, during intros and instrumental breaks only, during the chorus only? What volume should you be at various points in the song? Typically, solo instruments need to be careful not to walk on the vocal lines, but need to find “holes” in the melody or at least be very careful with what they are playing.

Also find your spot concerning texture and range. If you have piano and guitar only, the piano player may want to avoid the middle register where the guitar is. But, if a bass player is added to the mix, the piano player may need to lighten up on the left hand as not to walk on the bass. Being conscious of this will make you a better band.

4. Make them miss you.
One of our students was rehearsing a band and asked the guitars to drop out at a certain point. He said “make them miss you”. If you play all of the time, you are never “missed”, and the texture may never change. Good advice!

5. Discipline yourself
Play with self-discipline. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You may have a great solo line that needs to not be played. You may want to put a piano gliss in every song. Not playing can also be a sacrifice of praise.

John 3:30 contains a great principle for life. It says “He must increase, but I must decrease”. This applies in a worship band context to say that I must be willing to decrease to helping people focus on God.

7 comments to “Less is More” in Practice

  • Howdy from the Adelaide Church, Rostrevor Baptist Church. Just looking around at different websites from all around the world to get ideas on how to make our site more useful. You have a great site. We hope your site and church bless the community greatly. Thanks!

  • Caleb Gordon

    It is a very difficult concept to put into practice sometimes. We often think more=more, but if there are 4 people in the band for example. You have 1/4 of the role and 1/4 of the sound.
    Being in the mix is also difficult to do at first. We have to be aware of what is going on in the music. It is not wise to play full volume for the whole song, in the same octave or even the same part. It makes more interesting to have multiple parts all complementing eachother.

  • Awesome ideas, Dr. O!

    I have been very well-acquainted with the less=more concept for quite a while now, but recently have had to really start paying attention to it. I have not had the skill level in the past to worry too much about being obnoxious and over-playing and I have a pretty good understanding of not playing all the time or at least varying dynamics, but then I started gaining more skill.

    This has applied primarily to when I play bass because I feel the most comfortable being creative with it and have been learning a lot of new things recently that I have really been trying to apply to my playing. But then my temptation has been exactly the problem: to play too much when I really shouldn’t.

    I have been doing my best to really start listening to bass parts in other songs and learn what it sounds like to be the foundational instrument of a band. I am also doing my best to start looking for “holes” in between phrases so that a bass run or line doesn’t interfere with a melody and distract people from the lyrics.

    As has already been stated: no instrument should play anything that competes for the lyrics of a worship song. The words (and the Word of God!) are what affect people, especially when those words are taken from the pages of scripture. We can have the most beautiful arrangement in the world, but if it distracts people from the message of the Gospel, those musical efforts become one more set of filthy rags that we add to our pile of worthless offerings to God.

    Bottom line: play (or don’t play!) only what reflects and enhances the message of the cross.

  • Billye Poledore

    I learned a lot thank you

  • Jonathan George

    Going from the front man for the past few years to becoming the rhythm guitarist who basically plays in the last bridge and chorus of songs has really been an experience. I am not at all complaining but am instead thankful. All these years I i have been known as the “frontman” and never honestly took a step back and looked at how I can help the band, not take away from it. Last semester showed me that whatever I do, I need to make sure that God is the center. Whether it is leading the whole song or playing one or two swells in a set, I have become humbled. I truly believe that if I hadn’t trusted God and followed His lead, I surely wouldn’t have grown and have the knowledge about what I can do for the band and not take away. I found that when I play less, I praise more.

    I am starting to learn what true sacrifice is and that has got to be the hardest thing that I have ever done.

    • Roger

      Jonathan – thanks for sharing. It is clear that worship in the NT is not about the killing of animals but the sacrifice of praise. For you this has been a refocusing time. Love “when I play less, I praise more”!!!!

  • Abbie Chen

    I agree that less is more, and that our roles vary depending on what instrument we are playing, but also on the song we are playing.
    If we are all playing vigorously it makes it hard for band members to hear one another. If as a band you can’t and don’t listen to each other then we are not in line with, “less is more.”
    We need to constantly remind ourselves that God is the center and not us. All these gifts he has bestowed on us should be used to glorify him, not to draw attention to ourselves.
    When we play less we are also practicing how to serve others and to put others first.
    I believe that when we are playing less; we are practicing that we need less of ourselves and more of God.
    I have also learned recently that when I am not playing in the band I focus more on God because I don’t have to think about what I need to do next as I do when I am playing.