Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
In this episode of Sound+Doctrine, we’re looking at part 2 of the topic, “When Your Musicians Could Be Better.” Only this time, we’re asking that question about ourselves as leaders. What practical ways can we grow in our musicianship, what’s realistic, and how do we know when we’ve reached the peak of our abilities? Answers to these questions and more coming up. Thanks for joining us!
Have a question about this episode? Shoot us an email at [email protected]
David Zimmer: In this episode of Sound Plus Doctrine, we’re looking at part two of the topic “when your musicians could be better.” Only this time, we’re asking that question about ourselves as leaders. What practical ways can we grow in our musicianship? What’s realistic? And how do we know when we’ve reached the peak of our abilities? Answers to these questions and more, coming up. Thanks for joining us.
DZ: Hey, my name is David Zimmer, welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine Podcast.
Bob Kauflin: Hey wait a minute! My name is Bob Kauflin, you usually just let me just say it like right after you.
DZ: I did, I know I switched it up.
BK: You just… Wow so spontaneous. Hey, well today, we are… This is part two of a podcast we did previously. And if you haven’t heard that one, you might want to go back and listen to it. And…
DZ: Part one is When Your Musicians Could Be Better.
BK: Yes, yes. Exactly right. And we talked about, yeah, how to handle those awkward conversations of yeah, just when your musicians could be better. Well, this may even be more awkward, this conversation, because we’re talking about when the…
DZ: I hope so.
BK: We’re talking about when the musician who could be better is you. And I’m taking about you specifically, David Zimmer. I just thought I’d take this context to…
DZ: Uh oh.
BK: Yeah, just address some…
BK: Of the ways that I think you could be better.
DZ: Wonderful, yeah…
BK: No. Just kidding.
DZ: In the previous episode, we talked… We did have some helpful tips for song leaders.
BK: We thought they were helpful.
DZ: In terms of picking the right keys, hopefully choosing the right songs. Things like that, but I thought we can give more specific thoughts to yeah worship leaders. So, for someone who’s in a small church or in a big church and they wanna grow, I guess the two main questions I have is what can they do to be better? To get better?
BK: Practice. Okay, next question.
DZ: We’re almost done.
BK: Yeah, it’s gonna be a short podcast.
DZ: And then are there minimum standards for leading music? Which I think.
BK: Oh good, yeah.
DZ: I think will be a really helpful for people. I hope, it eases the burden a little bit.
DZ: Of do I need to be as professional as I’ve seen…
DZ: On screen or on camera or whatever. But, back to the first question. How can music leaders just get better?
DZ: If they know that they need to grow.
BK: I think I joked about practice, but there really is no better or no other way of getting better musically. So, if you’re a guitar player, you know the things you could improve on are how many chords you play easily. Guitar players use capos a lot, and capos are great; they add different kinds of voicings and stuff. But it is nice to be able to play, different chords and just to be fluid in that. So that, that can be one thing to practice. Could be strum patterns. Some guitar players are stuck in three guitar patterns, three strum patterns…
DZ: That’s so true, yeah.
BK: And it’s like “no, it’s really different” or even picking. It’s just, it’s a joy to play… I’m a keyboard player. It’s a joy to play with a guitarist who has more tools available to them. It’s the most enjoyable to play with, a guitar player who’s confident though. Even if they can’t do the exactly what is needed for a song, if they are confident you can usually get by. And it’s amazing what congregations can get by with, which has to do with your second question. But so yeah, chord theory is really helpful. If you’re in a church where they’re reading notes, obviously being able to sight read better is always good. Knowing the songs is sometimes just a big part of it.
DZ: Huge. Yeah.
BK: And we talked even this past Sunday, about… I was out of town, you led, and just the tendency to look down at the music.
BK: And because you weren’t sure, you weren’t as familiar with the song as you could be… And I know what that’s like too. So yeah, just being more familiar with it, so you’re not as tied to chord charts or music, and you’re able to concentrate on things that are more important.
DZ: And I think that’s such a great, point, because you can engage more with those that are in the room.
DZ: And with those that are with you in the band.
DZ: When you’re not tied to a music stand.
DZ: And so even I realized that even going back and watching… We do a live stream and going, “Yeah, I’m looking, I’m just tied to the music stand.”
BK: Yeah or not tied.
DZ: But when you lift your eyes and you can see people and they can see you, and it’s much more engaging and it doesn’t feel like, “I have to get all of these lyrics and chords.”
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: So practicing the songs…
DZ: More than you think you should before a Sunday or a Wednesday evening, if you’re doing a different service or whatever. And then, yeah, learning it to the point where you can get your eyes off of the stand.
BK: Yeah, so part of it’s knowledge that’s specific to the song, and then the other part is knowledge that’s more general musically, so that’d be chord knowledge, fluidity, scales, picking, all that kind of stuff.
DZ: So would you recommend that someone would get lessons for that or…
BK: I don’t… It depends on the person’s situation. I mean, I know that most people who lead are volunteers. Really across, at least in the States, and I would imagine definitely in other countries as well. The idea that because I’m a musician, I’m gonna be a full-time in a church somewhere. I don’t think that’s so common with a lot of churches. So I recognize that people have jobs, they have lives, they have families. And so the amount you can actually give to it, it really varies. But I do know this, a little bit of time given to practice is better than nothing. And I think sometimes we just think, “Well, because I can’t do the big thing, I can’t get it all done, I’m not gonna do any.”
BK: And we wait for those three hours to open up where we can really practice it.
DZ: Right, right.
BK: You know what? Just spend… One morning, just spend 20-25 minutes going through all the songs, reflectively, meditatively, thinking about them, thinking about what you’re doing. That will so serve what you’re gonna do.
DZ: That’s so good.
BK: If you’re in that place where it doesn’t come naturally, and I’ve been playing for 50 years, and that all comes pretty naturally to me. So I don’t have to play a song beforehand. But you know what? Sometimes I do, either for a transition. I’m like, “Yeah, how would that song flow into that song?” Or just to remember how a song goes, just being familiar with the song when you get there to the Sunday morning is just so helpful. And there are so many things available to us, you asked if someone should take lessons. Yeah! I mean, for your vocal, for instance, a lot of people have learned to sing just by singing. Believe it or not, when you take lessons, you can actually get better.
BK: And you can take lessons from, say, at a college, community college or someone in your area who might teach classical or something, but they’ll teach you how to use your voice and just… I remember seeing this difference in McKenzie, our youngest daughter, who sings on a number of our albums when she… We first moved to Louisville, she had a lovely voice, I was just telling her this the other day. But it was untrained and so she didn’t have the strength, she didn’t have the stamina, she didn’t have the range. So she went to Boyce College and studied voice, and man, what a difference it made.
DZ: It’s incredible. I mean, even just breathing techniques.
BK: Yes, how to breathe. Exactly. How to use your diaphragm, all those things.
DZ: Will help your pitch and yeah.
DZ: All of that.
BK: That applies to whatever style of music you sing.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: So lessons can be really helpful. They have stuff… Plenty of stuff on YouTube, websites, for minimal cost, I could recommend some, but I haven’t looked at it for a while. So but you can find stuff, ask for recommendations of ways to improve what you do so that you’ll be better equipped to serve God’s people.
DZ: Yeah, that’s so great. Something you mentioned in terms of just taking 25-35 minutes in a morning to just reflect on the songs that you’re singing.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
DZ: I just think not only the musical preparation, but just the heart preparations.
BK: Yes, yeah.
DZ: And even thinking through transitions, I think we could take a podcast to talk about how do you transition from one song to the other?
BK: We should. Yeah, that would be great.
DZ: But just briefly, if I wanna grow as a song leader and I don’t know how to get from this key to this key without stopping everything, it’s dead silence. I re-capo…
BK: That’s a wonderful moment.
DZ: I shift my charts, I put it in front of me.
BK: David, you need to get that app where they have just the synth pad going behind you the whole time in whatever key you want.
DZ: That is… Yes… That’s the safety.
BK: I’m not saying you should get that app.
DZ: But I mean, can you give any brief thoughts to transitions?
BK: Oh wow, yeah. Oh I could give a lot of… They’re not necessarily brief. Yeah, first, it is okay for there to be a little silence between a song. It’s not the end of the world, the Holy Spirit doesn’t say, “I’m out of here, this is ridiculous. You can’t even get things going together.” You could have someone else play something if you wanna do that.
DZ: If you had people on your team.
BK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You could stop playing before the previous song ends and put your capo on then.
DZ: Even in a capella moments?
BK: Yes, yes. That would be a great time to do it. But even if you’re playing, you end a song and let the band end it. Now, if you’re alone, if it’s just you, I would just plan those out.
DZ: Yeah, yes, yes.
BK: And I would say, “Okay well here I wanna put this capo on.” I’d plan to say something, I’d plan to share a scripture. What I wouldn’t do is just spontaneously fill that moment with stuff that nobody really cares about and everybody’s thinking they’re just doing this because they have to change and put a capo in it.
DZ: Yes, yes, right.
BK: Yeah, it can be… It’s an opportunity to say something, “We just sang this and now we’re gonna sing this, and this is what God says in his word.” And you’re changing the capo while you’re doing that but it’s purposeful, it’s an intentional– Our words matter. The words we say all the time matter. It’s amazing how much scripture says about the words we speak. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, Proverbs says. So it matters what we say and we can think about it, plan it so that that moment where we do need to make a change.
BK: It’s being used for something and so, yeah, that’s what I would… And you could work on that.
BK: You can practice that.
DZ: But that’s all coming through preparation.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
DZ: And I think that it could be convicting to any leader, any song leader, because they admit, “Well, I picked the songs and then I show up, and yeah it’s a little awkward in the transitions… ”
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: But in that preparation time, you can be thinking exactly through those things.
DZ: Which I just think will be, it’ll help it be seamless. Which doesn’t feel jolted. We’ve been in a setting where we’ve heard someone leading a song where it just feels so jolted like, “Oh, I stopped.” Okay, he’s changing keys or capos or whatever. So that’s really helpful.
BK: Yeah. I think sometimes we can forget that all these different elements are connected. It’s not like a cafeteria line where you pick something from here, I pick something from here. It’s like a conveyor belt, at least it should be. It could be. We’re telling a story, it’s a probably a better image. Where each part connects to the next part. And so we’re responsible for making that happen. We’re connecting the content, that’s what’s being connected. So the music supports that, but there can be a real, we can have a real tendency, as you said, to just assume, “I picked the songs,” which we’re gonna do some podcast eventually on liturgies and just how to think about that. But say someone’s singing, “I picked the songs, I’m good to go.” And no maybe you’re not good to go. Maybe you could…
DZ: I’ve been there, done that.
BK: Yeah think about how this stuff goes together and put it together. So yeah, those are some of the ways someone could grow. Don’t be discouraged. I say, don’t be discouraged. Because you have, leading the music for a congregation, is a pastoral function before it’s a musical one. So you’d be thinking about, “How can I care for these people? How can I shepherd their souls? How can I help them deal with sin, suffering and self-sufficiency in a way that helps them see the relevance of the Gospel?” That’s what we’re seeking to do. How can I magnify the glory of God in Jesus Christ? So those are pastoral functions. The music will help us do that. It supports that, complements it, but it’s not the main thing. So if you’re not an amazing musician, it’s okay. You’ve got the word of God, the Gospel, you’ve got the Holy Spirit. That’s what everybody has. And so you can have faith as you’re going into it. That doesn’t mean you can’t get better. And we should be striving to get better at what we do.
DZ: Absolutely, yeah. So it naturally leads into the second question. Is there a minimum standard for a music leader? Or is there ever a point where a music leader should say, “I really need to find someone else to fill this role”? Or…
BK: Hopefully, you’re the first person to think about that rather than the people around you.
DZ: But you’re saying your first function is pastoral. It isn’t: I’m a phenomenal singer.
BK: Yes. Yes.
DZ: And I just think that’s so often skewed.
BK: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s the norm. I’m gonna be speaking to a high school class shortly and they sent in a list of questions. And one of them asked about excellence and you know how, isn’t part of worship that personal expression of excellence? And why do we have to condescend to the level of the congregation in terms of excellence and skill. And as I was thinking about answering it I thought, “Well, that implies a bias in the way you’ve asked that question.” What is excellence? Excellence is serving the purposes of God. And doing it in a way today that was better than what you did yesterday, maybe. And that would be serving the congregation. That would be enabling their spirit-filled, faith-filled singing enabled by the spirit of God based on the finished work of Christ for the glory of God. That’s what we’re seeking to do.
BK: Excellence is not showing off what I can do. And so…
DZ: But we can be tempted to think that if it’s sounding amazing it’s equal to the value of the Gospel.
BK: Yes. Yeah.
DZ: I mean, it can be sort of that perverse…
BK: Gospel almost looks better because of it.
DZ: Yes, it can almost be that thought. And so that’s, the bias is so right. But we have this bottom line of like, “Well, this is what, this is what excellence looks like.”
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So to your question, is there a bottom standard? Again, it depends on what kind of church you’re in. There are some churches where if you don’t have a degree, you’re probably not gonna be working full-time for that church. There are other churches that if you can play more than three chords on the guitar, you’re in.
DZ: You’re in.
BK: You’re the best most likely candidate for leading their music right now.
BK: Which you refer to the first question, you can get better. You should get better.
BK: So I think a minimal standard, like what’s the bottom line would be? You can lead people in a way that is not distracting and is edifying. So there’s two sides to that. The first side, not distracting. What’s distracting? Playing wrong chords frequently, not knowing meters, and so changing the meter accidentally on people so they don’t know where to come in or how to sing the song. What else would be distracting? Singing out of tune. Singing really badly.
DZ: Picking songs that only you sound good in.
BK: Yes, yeah we talked about that. Yeah. It’s just… So just doing things… If you’re a drummer, probably don’t have many people who lead from the drums but…
DZ: I say go for it.
BK: If you’re a drummer not keeping good time. That’s distracting.
BK: Yeah, so those kinds of things. So as long as you can play in a way that’s not distracting, that’s the first section. The second part of that is playing in a way that’s edifying, in other words, your playing is supportive of the music, so that’s the second step. A second area, but I think it’s one we can aspire to, and I don’t know, should I say that’s a minimal requirement? It’s a desired component. Maybe that’s a better way of saying it. So you have someone who will play the piano they’ll, just play what’s written on the page, and they’re doing a fine job, they’re not really adding anything, they’re not really bringing something to the singing, it’s not really edifying, just banging away on the piano or just strumming real hard on the guitar and it could be better, but should that person say, “You know what? Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.” Maybe not yet, but I would say, how can I get better? And I’d be asking people, people I respect, can I get better at this? Is there anything distracting about my playing? How do you think I could do this better? I think we tend to assume that, “Well, people are still coming, so it must be okay.”
BK: Preachers can do that too. “People show up, so I must be doing fine.” No, no, not necessarily. You might be really bad. So I think it is, what’s the word? Incumbent upon those who lead the music to be asking, “Am I really serving the church?” Let me say this, if you’re in a band, if you’re with other musicians, you don’t have to be the best musician in the band. As a pianist, I don’t feel like I have to always be leading everything, if there are other instrumentalists who are strong, acoustic guitar players usually, I wanna let them lead as well. I don’t feel like I need to be front and center for everything, but if you’re one of the weaker members musically, no problem, maybe get the tempo started… And I think you mentioned something about this when you’ve led and you have strong musicians around you that you just won’t give as much attention to. But you’re a fine guitar player, acoustic guitar player, so how do you think about that?
DZ: I love when other… Exactly what you said, I love when other people can be taking the parts, carrying the rhythm, a drummer I can trust who’s carrying the tempo in time, that I don’t have to start, I don’t have to count off every song, I don’t have to be playing through every verse. I do think not only as a song leader, but as a full band, we don’t ever really think about the fact that we’re all playing at the same time, which in any other context, wouldn’t really happen if you were in a studio or if you were at a show or if you’re… Typically, it’s, this is my part for the second verse, and then I’m out for the third verse. And we just don’t think about that. It’s like a song starts, I’m all the way through. But even moments in that and as a song leader, letting another male vocalist or a female vocalist take the second verse. And so there’s this idea that it doesn’t always have to be happening at the same time.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
DZ: And you’ll be so surprised at how cohesive it sounds when not everyone’s playing.
BK: And may I say, if you have in your monitors, a large part of that might be reflected in the kind of monitor mix you have.
BK: So if you have a monitor mix where you’re front and center and loud and the rest of the band is not heard very well…
DZ: Or sometimes even muted.
BK: Oh, that’s really bad.
DZ: Sometimes… Well, I don’t like how… I’ve heard… I don’t like how loud the electric guitarist is, so just he’s muted. But it’s just there’s no context for anything else that’s happening, so yes, absolutely.
BK: And when you drop out, the bottom drops out. So you feel the pressure to play all the time.
DZ: Absolutely. Yeah, those are all really, really helpful.
BK: Well, I’m thinking about who might be listening and just thinking there are some leaders who are in the place of, “I’m just not sure whether I should be the one doing this. And I will say, humble yourself, God gives grace to the humble. And ask your pastor, ask some people you trust, “Am I the one to really do this?” Because it’s so unhelpful when there’s a leader who is not really the one who should be leading, and they’re the last one to recognize it. That just makes it difficult for everybody. So be the first one to say, “Hey, I’m happy to turn this over if someone else is better than I am.” And maybe there will be. Don’t be afraid to depend on other musicians, if there are some, they might not be the leader, but utilize them, and then there may be the time when it’s just time to step aside and say, “You know what? You do this better than I do.” And that’s fine. 1 Chronicles 15:22 says, “Chenaniah leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it.” I think the NIV said, “For he was skillful at it.” There is a place for leaders of music being skilled in what they do.
BK: I’m grateful for the training I’ve received as a classical piano major. I played in a band for eight… Full-time in a band for eight years. I’ve been playing music all my life, I’m grateful for that. But I’ve been led by people who aren’t… Don’t have that training. And encountered the Lord, worshipped the Lord in my heart. Encountered the glory of Jesus, been edified, encouraged. So it doesn’t take an amazing musician, but I think it’s interesting that the writer says he understood it.
BK: So a part of what we’re talking about here is understanding music. And if you understand music and how God wants to use it, how we can use it to complement the things we’re singing, the truths we’re singing, how it’s not meant to dominate, how we’re not out to create a musical vibe on Sunday mornings. We are there to enable the word of Christ to dwell in people richly as we sing, that’s direct from God himself in Colossians 3:16. If you can play in such a way that enables the word of Christ to dwell in people richly without being distracting, you’re doing your job, and so you should be encouraged. It doesn’t mean you can’t get better, but you should be encouraged that God’s using you.
DZ: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, if you are a song leader or a musician and you’re tuning into this podcast, I pray that you’re encouraged. I pray that some of these little tips can be put into practice and for the sake of the benefit to your church, to your local context to the glory of Jesus, so thanks for joining us.
BK: Amen. So David, this is the last episode of season two.
DZ: I know.
BK: And it’s been great.
DZ: It’s been so wonderful.
BK: Is there going to be a Season 3?
DZ: There will be. We are releasing season three Lord willing in August.
BK: It’s gonna be so fun. We have so enjoyed hearing from people about the podcast.
BK: And people have shared, they’re not even doing music in their church, they’re not a pastor, not a leader, not a musician, they’re just in the church. They’re just saying, “Oh, I listen to you guys, really love it.” If you do love it, it would really help us get the word out if you subscribed or left a review, a nice review. As opposed to a mean review, unkind review. And also, if you have questions that you’d like us maybe to address in the next season. At any time you can email us.
DZ: Yeah, you can email us at [email protected]. And that’s all spelled out, so no plus sign, I know that’s been a little bit confusing, [email protected]. We would love to get your questions and maybe have an episode about a question that you’ve submitted.
BK: But we’ve already done one, so I’m just gonna end on the question and we love that. We love to do that. I hope this has served you and we look forward to seeing you next season.