Working In Worship: 5 Tips On Conducting Kingdom Business

In the city of Los Angeles it’s hard not to notice the various churches adorning nearly every street corner. Maybe it’s the entertainment business as a whole and the enemy’s grip on so many lost souls. Or maybe it’s the melting pot of culture and the need to find the home that identifies with your relationship to Christ. Whatever the case may be, if you a professional musician in Los Angeles then you will eventually be asked to work in the church as either a musician, music director, or praise team member. After ten years in this city I have held the distinguished role of guitarist and music director at various ministries, and for the last five years I have had the pleasure and honor of playing guitar for Anthony Evans, travelling to churches and arenas across the country to facilitate worship. In that time I have scene two very obvious types of musicians. There are those who serve the kingdom and those serve themselves. If I am being honest, I myself have fallen at different times into both categories. Here are 5 vital tips to serving God in his Kingdom that will surely bring favor to those around you as well as to you in your own life.

1. Timeliness

It’s no secret that musicians are notoriously late. Knowing this, we cannot succumb to the stereotype, especially in worship, when there are so many moving parts. As musicians we are important part of worship, helping usher in the spirit so that the word can be heard and resonate with as many people as possible. We also set an example for everyone in the congregation. Therefore we need to be on time. In the music business on time is technically late because of setup, so for us, this means get there early. Set up your equipment and get to a place where you can pray and ask God to be present with you so that you can best serve him. The results are surprising.

2. Preparation

Most churches now use Planning Center (www.planningcenter.org) to get music out to musicians. This service makes being prepared easier than ever before. With so many resources on the Internet, there is no reason a musician should come to rehearsal or to service unprepared. Unless you truly have no access to the audio and to the Internet, there is no excuse for lack of preparation. If the pastor up without a sermon he would certainly be deemed an unfit leader. We are leaders in our branch of ministry; therefore we must hold ourselves to the same standard.

3. Dress To Impress

When I was a child it was unacceptable to wear anything other than black slacks and a tie to church. In today’s world many people dress casual for church, but sloppiness, that has become far too prevalent on the bandstand. As Christian musicians we represent two parties every time we pick up the instrument, the music community as a whole and the Christian community as a whole. Know your environment and what is appropriate. It is not necessary to wear a suit when everyone is wearing jeans, but it is necessary to show that you care. People are looking at us from the moment service begins often until the very end.

4. Know Your Gear

Whether it’s Gospel or CCM the current trends in Christian music follow those in secular music. Todays world require sounds and patches that simulate what is happening on the recording. For Gospel music guitarists need a great clean tone, chorus, a nice compressor, and a good overdrive. For CCM guitarist need a slew of effects. For all worship music guitarists need a good delay pedal. Whatever instruments you play, know the sounds, not only the parts. This process of learning patches will dramatically improve your workflow outside of the church as well.

5. Smile, God Is Watching

We are ministers of music, spreading the good Word to everyone, not only through our playing, but also in our mannerisms, in the way we carry ourselves. Smiling, enjoying what you do, which is of course a privilege, goes a long way. When you arrive, shake hands with everyone you can. Ask people how their lives are going. Look for ways to encourage others. The job does not begin and end with the music; it is an all-encompassing job that begins the moment you wake up. We can change the world by being true Disciples of Christ each and everyday. The example we set off of the bandstand is what can truly inspire people.

My name is Chris Vazquez. I am the owner of SoundLife Music Academy in Los Angeles, CA. You can find out more information about our in-home and online instructional services at www.soundlifelessons.com. I am also a veteran session musician in the Los Angeles community, having worked with Leona Lewis, Daniel Powter, JoJo, and many other notable secular artists and well as Christian artists like Anthony Evans and Crystal Lewis. I am also the music director for City Life Church in Orange County, California.

How To Plan Engaging Christmas Worship Services

I found this article on ChurchLeaderInsights.com. It’s one of several sites I’ll be telling you about in a future blog post that I believe can be really beneficial to you as you strive to grow and improve your worship team. What I love about this article is that while the title suggests it will include content specific only to Christmas, the content really covers the one thing most worship teams struggle with all year ’round; getting our audiences engaged in worship. I’ve never seen someone explain WHY they aren’t engaged as well as Jason does in this article:

 

…the congregation doesn’t experience the worship set the way you and I do.

They aren’t hearing what we hear (or should I say feeling what we feel).

We’re actually playing the music, feeling the connection with other musicians, onstage and amplified.  In short . . . we’re fully invested.  Whereas the congregation can oftentimes feel like bystanders, simply observing what’s happening onstage.

Ever heard it explained that way? Me either, but that makes so much sense doesn’t it? So anyway, check out the rest of the article here. I think it’ll bless you!

The Benefits of an Excellent Drummer in Gospel Music

The benefits of an excellent drummer in gospel music in Gospel Music are second to none. Drummers are an essential part of your church or ministry music department. Drummers provide tempo, time and texture to the overall music presentation for churches and ministries. If there is no drummer, there will be difficulty keeping tempo, difficulty staying on beat and very little complement to the overall musical presentation. It is important that we give the drummer some in our respective ministries and churches.

Good drummers provide tempos which do not drag, nor place the respective song in overdrive. This is critical, because good drummers place the tempo of the song exactly where it needs to be. Good drummers also recognize that their purpose is to keep time, period, the end! Good drummers do not play a solo all throughout the song, good drummers do not play so loud that they drown out the choir and praise team. Good drummers complement the music and complement the service in a way which glorify and praise the Lord in the spirit of excellence.

Drummers are interesting creatures, so if you have a excellent drummer who is mindful of what you are trying to accomplish as a music department, in relationship to the overall mission and vision of the church or ministry, you must be thankful and learn to be appreciative for the drummer you have. In musical circles, there’s a saying which states, “Good drummers are a dime a dozen.” This statement is true. But for us in the Kingdom, we are to do things in excellence. So with that being said, I would like to coin a new phrase, and this phrase is: “Excellent drummers are called by the Lord.” In our music ministries, we are to operate and function in excellence!

Drummers who operate in excellence make a joyful noise to the Lord. When playing, you can tell the difference between an excellent drummer, verses and drummer who is just hitting a snare and bass drum. Drummers who operate in excellence create music and produce an excellent sound with each strike of the snare, cymbals and toms. Drummers understand that there is a difference between noise and music.

Noise aids in distraction, but heavenly music aids in the driving out of any and all things not of the Lord! In the Gospel Music presentation, having an excellent drummer will enhance and increase the quality of the overall music presentation. A mentor of mine would always say presentation is ninety (90%) of any battle. When we as musicians are offering our talents to the Lord, we are in a battle! It is critical that ALL components/departments of the army are accounted for. Drummers are an essential part of the army of Levites, and excellent drummers realize they are Levites and will prepare for battle through the development and enhancement of their respective skill.

In conclusion, be appreciative of the excellent drummer, or drummers the Lord has blessed you with, and always remember to give the benefits of an excellent drummer! Learn to appreciate all the musicians in your music department. Yes, the drummer is a musician as well! Be well, be blessed, and keep rendering service to the Lord!

Cavell Samuels is a man of integrity, honesty and hard work, who has the passion and desire to see things done in the spirit of excellence, and a defender of absolute Bio Pictruth. Cavell’s main desire is that the will of the Lord be done in all areas of his life, and in the lives of others.

Three Ways to Avoid Musical “Drowning Zones”

Cavell Samuels is back this week with another blog post for us. This time he’s addressing a somewhat touchy subject among musicians and members alike; the subject of playing too loud.  Take it away Cavell!

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When something is drowning, it is overwhelmed by a large amount of something. In the following paragraphs, I will list three ways to avoid drowning zones. The establishment of “No drowning zones” in our churches is key in the overall musical presentation of the church choir. What do I mean by “No drowning zones?” I am glad you asked! These “drowning zones “ are times in the worship service where musicians play so loudly that they drown out the message of what the choir is communicating though song.

These “drowning zones” are usually prevalent in churches with less seasoned musicians, or seasoned musicians who have placed the message, mandate and mission of Jesus Christ on the back-burner in exchange for them being the center of attention. It is critical that we as musicians not create drowning zones for our churches and ministries, but that we create atmospheres for freedom of worship and proper articulation of the gospel message though song.
As a musician, I know the pressure of wanting to execute the latest chop, latest fill, run, or chord progression you learned while attending the musical workshop earlier in the summer! However, we as musicians must realize that all we do must properly accompany the choir, praise and worship team or soloist, and secondly, we must realize that we as musicians are rendering our talents and skills “Unto the Lord.” Psalm 95:1 declares “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.”

This making a joyful noise does not mean we as musicians are to drown out the choir, speaker, praise team leader, or anyone else in the service. This joyful noise is a calculated noise, this joyful noise is done in concert with everything else going on in the worship service! This joyful noise is not only to be joyful to the musicians, but this noise must by joyful to the Lord most importantly!

When our corporate sound as musicians glorifies the Lord, the people in our services will be edified and the Savior will be glorified. There have been many instances over the years where the message of the music has been drowned out and all together forgotten during worship service or worship services. As musicians, we must be mindful to not overpower, but to aid and assist our choirs and those who are rendering song selections and other services during worship. Here are a few suggestions on how to avoid drowning zones in our worship services:

1. If you have microphones on your instruments, coordinate with the sound technician to ensure you are not overpowering.

I have seen in smaller churches the Hammond B3 being piped through the house and this causes for the organ to be way too loud. The same applies for the drums as well. If these instruments are going to be loud, please work in concert with your sound team.

2. Keep in mind it’s not about you!

Humility is required in this because let’s be honest, if you are a somewhat skilled musician, people will take notice of your skill. However, this is no reason for you to be the center of attention. Remember, Satan was kicked out of heaven for this very thing! Pride is very destructive, and will cause you to create drowning zones more often than not.

3. Communication between directors, song leaders and musicians.

This is critical, especially if directors and song leaders have expressed concerns that the music has been loud previously. It is extremely critical for musicians to work with everyone to ensure there is the right blend of vocals and music. If this is achieved, the individuals who attend your worship services along with your choir directors and song leaders will be appreciative!

In closing, this was not an all-out assault on musicians in churches and ministries, just a friendly reminder not to create drowning zones in your respective worship services! Musicians, we are a vital part of the overall worship experience. Let us keep in mind that all we do is unto the Lord and what we do as musicians should complement the entire worship service. Remember, work toward achieving “No drowning zones” in our services, be blessed!

 

Cavell Samuels is a man of integrity, honesty and hard work, who has the passion and desire to see things done in the spirit of excellence, and a defender of absolute Bio Pictruth. Cavell’s main desire is that the will of the Lord be done in all areas of his life, and in the lives of others.

How To Identify Keys On A Piano (every singer should know this)

You’ve heard me say it before if you’re a regular reader, but every singer should at a minimum be able to tell the musician what key they sing a certain song in. Especially in Gospel churches where most music is done on the fly and you often don’t know who’s playing for you. Knowing what key you’re going to sing in insures that you won’t start in a key that’s too high or one that you haven’t been practicing in. We’ve all seen that happen and it ain’t pretty!

Even if you’re not interested in learning to actually play, learning your keys on the piano is easier than you think. In fact if you can say your ABC’s (you don’t even need all of them, just the first 7) and recognize a very simple, very repetitive pattern, you can learn the keys on a piano in minutes. Look at this graphic of a piano keyboard. piano-notes-and_keys

The first thing I want you to notice is that, as I said, we’re only using the first 7 letters of the alphabet, A thru G. Now look at the black keys. See the pattern? All the way up the keyboard, you’ll see groups of 2 black keys and then 3 black keys. Now let’s look at the key of C. Notice how the key of C is the first white key to the left of the 2 black keys. Because this pattern repeats the entire length of the keyboard, every time you see 2 black keys the first white key to the left of them will be the key of C.

Once you know where the key of C is, it’s as simple as pressing down the next white key and saying the next letter in the alphabet. Look at the graph again: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. We started over at A when we got to G because in America these are the only letters we use in music.

So what about the black keys?? The black keys represent the sharps and flats in music. This can get involved if you’re actually studying music theory, but that’s not our purpose here. We’re just learning how to identify what key we’re singing in. For that we can use this simple rule: The first black key to the RIGHT of a white key is it’s sharp. The first black key to the LEFT of a white key is it’s flat.

So let’s look at the key of C again. Where is C located? First white key to the left of the group of 2 black keys. So if we look at the key of C, what’s that black key to the right of it? It’s C Sharp! Or, you could call it D Flat, since it’s the first black key to the left of the D key. This also works all the way up the keyboard. For example what is the black key to the right of the A key? You could say “A sharp”, but it’s more commonly referred to as B flat. Either way, if you said it to a musician he’d know where to put you.

If you have a pretty good ear- meaning you can listing to music and find that key on a piano, then now you know how to identify what that key is so you can tell a musician. But if you can do that, then why not take it one step further and just learn how to play! Learning to play keyboard will absolutely transform your singing, and you can learn it on line.

By far my top resource on-line for learning about piano, no matter what level you’re on, is HearAndPlay. These guys have a ton of free information that will help anyone at any level understand more than you ever thought you could about playing the piano. It’s really a good thing to be on their mailing list if you’re someone who is serious about learning how to play. You can get some free lessons just by visiting this link. Check it out!
Free Piano Lessons

Follow The Leader: How To Surrender To The Holy Spirit During Your Choir Performances

One thing I tend to stress often with you guys is the importance of really knowing your songs. I mean moving past that “I know it well enough to follow the director” stage we’re all content with. I mean really knowing the song. I’m talking about having the lyrics memorized, not this thing where we’re nervously depending on the director to feed us every line. I’m talking about really understanding the format of the song and how it moves from one section to another one.

But perhaps I haven’t really made a strong enough case for why that’s important and how it benefits your ministry as a whole. Quite simply, the more thoroughly you know a song the more powerfully you’ll minister that song. Something happens when everyone in the group is absolutely certain about every part of a song they’re about to sing.

There is this cohesiveness there. This sense of unity. Everyone is with one accord. And we know the Holy Spirit moves when we’re with one accord. So in moments like these powerful, anointed, spirit-led moments of music ministry tends to happen. But they only happen because we’ve eliminated all mental distractions that normally hinder our spirits from really surrendering completely to God.

When we’re unsure we’re really too distracted with the task of getting through the song without mistakes. So nobody can really follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The director can’t, the song leader can’t, the group members can’t. Because we’re all too busy nervously getting through one section after another.

We become locked into predefined repetitions and formats that we can’t deviate from because everyone is so unsure that if we do there will be some kind of mistake. But when everyone is absolutely on point with every part of the song, there is a freedom that takes place spiritually. In moments like these the Holy Spirit often takes over and leads the director or the song leader.

We did a song Sunday morning that we’ve done many times, called God Is Able. One of those churchy, hand-clapping, foot-stomping songs. So we know it very well. I was directing the choir. We came up to this one part in the song where we would normally repeat it a couple of times and go back to the chorus.

But this time the Holy Spirit started dealing with me and I just didn’t feel led to move from that spot. . So I just kept having them repeat that same two lines, right where we were:

“He’ll be there when you call Him/
He’ll be there when you need Him”

I just kept repeating it and it seemed like the more we repeated that phrase the higher the spirit got in the sanctuary, until everyone was just going in. Well, the whole format changed from there, because at that point everyone was following me, but I was following the leader. We never went to the real vamp of the song. That became the vamp and I just let God have His way right there; with me, the band, the leader and the choir.

We didn’t do anything that morning the way the song normally goes or the way we rehearsed it. But I had the freedom to allow God to just guide me in the direction He wanted the song to go because I know the choir and musicians knew it well enough to follow. I also knew the leader was skilled enough to just flow in the spirit right there, and would have no problem ad-libing as long as the Holy Spirit needed us to. So we all followed the leader. The ultimate leader.

Have a great week!
Ron
Ps. What if you were leading the spirit took over? Could you keep going as long as the spirit needed you to? Would you run out of words, or become anxious or irritated that the director got happy and won’t stop? If so, I have something I’d like you to see. Take a look here.

How embracing technology can take your ministry to the next level

Moving onIt’s no secret we live in the information age. The entire world is literally at our finger tips now. And yet many people are hesitant to embrace technology. I suspect though, that it’s not  as much about fear as it is about that unwillingness we all have to embrace change. After all, doing something new comes with learning, and fumbling, and reading, and time spent having to think- all of which many of us have “switched off” by the time we’re around 30 or so, in favor of our nice, normal, comfortable lives.

But what if I told you that embracing technology is all a part of God’s plan? Have you ever thought of that? Sure it is. It HAS to be. Remember this scripture?

Matthew 24:14

14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that it’s happening right now, and technology is a huge part of what’s making it possible. But what about YOUR message. YOUR ministry. What about what God put inside of YOU? The same technology that is right now sending the Gospel to all parts of the world has been made available for you to use to take your ministry to the next level. That means your singing. Your playing. Your teaching. Your coaching. Your encouraging words. Whatever that gift is that God has given you to bless others. We all have one, some more than one. And we all have them for a purpose

There’s no reason not to take advantage of every tool and resource God has made available to you in order to take your ministry to the next level. And now that we’re in the 21st Century, the time has come to stop resisting change and embrace this new technology that God is using to reach all parts of the world.

Did you know for example, that you can you get one-on-one coaching with me from anywhere in the country? Did you know that we can do live, face-to-face coaching via video, in real time via Skype? Oh, I see. You don’t know anything about Skype and don’t want to have to download something (even if it’s free). And you don’t have a webcam or a microphone so you don’t want the hassle and expense ($50 or less for both) of buying them and setting them up. I understand.

Well would it surprise you to know that you can also do it right from your Facebook profile? YES!! Still don’t trust it? Well, do you trust your cell phone? Because guess what, in the age we live in now, you can make calls all over the country without any long distance charges. So you can even take a lesson with me by phone! I’ve done it myself several times when I studied with a vocal coach out of California.

And the great thing is, there’s no need to stop with just voice lessons. As I type this there is a church music department preparing to install a web cam in their sanctuary so they can do a live praise team workshop with me over the internet. Another long-time reader is planning to take a lesson with me via phone. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve studied with me already, via my free video vocal training course. Still others have been taking vocal lessons with me for months in my new home study vocal training program Vocal Ministry Breakthough. The possibilities are endless now.

In the 21st Century you can study almost anything you want with anyone you want from anywhere you want. Think of the freedom that gives you. Think of the incredible levels of access you now have. God has literally erased all boundaries and limitations to you having everything you’ve been praying about for your ministry. It’s time you open up your heart and mind and start embracing all of the great and wonderful things God has put in place to get to us everything our heart has desired. It’s time to, as Kirk Franklin said, “Get Up And Live!”

  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:19

 

The Truth About Hard Keys (And What They Can Teach You About Life)

Like a lot of Gospel musicians, there are keys I’m not too fond of. They’re usually “white keys” like A, B, D E and G. Many Gospel singers feel the same way about these keys in particular. What makes these keys so unpopular with many Gospel singers? Well, most musicians, myself included, would tell you these keys are harder to play in. But I was watching a training video one day that kinda changed my whole perspective. Not just about “hard keys”, but about anything I find difficult to do.

So anyway, I was logged into the Gospel Musician Training Center (aff. link) looking at one of the many song teaching videos they have there. It’s an amazing membership site where you can go to watch instructional videos of instructors teaching you some of the most popular songs in Gospel music, step-by-step and chord by chord. Amazing resource for learning to play real songs real fast. Check it out here.

Anyway this particular song happened to be in one of those keys I really find hard. And because the instructor himself is a Gospel musician he already knew there would be many watching that video would would cringe when he told us what key it was in. So he mentioned it right up front. But what he said was so simple yet so profound that I never forgot it.

What he said basically is that the particular key in question wasn’t really harder than any other key. That, he said, goes for all the keys musicians find difficult to play in. We only find them difficult, he said, because we’re not used to playing in them. Spend some time playing in these keys and getting used to them, and you’ll eventually find them as easy as any other key.

These keys are perceived as harder to play in simply because we don’t encounter them very often in Gospel music-even less in our local churches. So it’s not that they’re any harder, it’s simply that we haven’t developed the muscle memory in those keys because we don’t play in them often. In fact if we’re honest many of us will actually change the key of a song if it happens to be in one of those “hard” keys. So they continue to be hard keys for us because we never really spend as much time deliberately playing in those keys as the ones we like.

I kept thinking about that and God kept revealing to me how that works in so many other areas of my life. How many things have we labeled “too hard’ simply because it was awkward the first time we tried it? How many things could we learn to do if we simply spent some time practicing it?

Pretty-much everything in life we find challenging can be mastered by developing the same “muscle memory” that enables a musician’s fingers to automatically go where they need to go in any of 12 different keys and hundreds of songs. Think of all the things we do now on auto-pilot, without even thinking.

When I get in my car, for example, I unlock it, get in, adjust mirrors, the seat, put on my seat belt, put my foot on the brake, put it in gear, put my foot on the gas and take off….all simultaneously, in seconds and without thinking about a single step. challengesRemember how hard and complicated and cumbersome that process was when you were first learning it though? So what if you thought about every difficult or unfamiliar task that way?

What are the “hard keys” in your life? In your ministry? Identify them and you’ll probably realize that just like the hard keys on the piano, they really aren’t harder than anything else you’ve learned to do.