SONIC SOUP - TIMEKEEPING | Grant Norsworthy
Have you heard this old ( somewhat cruel and grossly generalized ) joke ? How do you know when there ’ s a church drummer at your door ? The knocking speeds up . ( I added the word “ church ” to make the joke more realistic and , to me , funnier ).
The “ voice ” of our church congregation can easily become lost in Sonic Soup . One of the primary sources of congregationalparticipation-killing Sonic Soup is poor timekeeping from the instrumentalists - especially the drummer . If the instrumentalists on the platform are dishing up a sloppy sound - without a well-defined , unmistakable , clear representation of each song ’ s beat - Jack and Jill congregant will flounder . They easily become unsure , unwilling or even unable to sing as an expression of worship .
A congregation may not consciously recognize that the band members are playing out of time with one other . They might not be able to pinpoint the unmusical tug-of-war that ’ s pulling and pushing the tempo of the song in multiple directions . The lack of groove . But they will experience its unsettling effects . The musical accompaniment feels unsafe , sonically soupy and discourages the congregation from participating more fully .
Unfortunately , poor timekeeping can be a difficult problem to solve , partly because the musicians who are not keeping good time with one another can be completely unaware of the problem . This is something that experts call unconscious incompetence . We don ’ t know that we don ’ t know ! Band members who have never played in a band with good timekeeping - with groove - may not know that better is possible and how great the music feels when we are really in time with one another - not just to us in the band , but to the congregation too !
But if it truly is our goal and desire to warmly invite our congregation to worship Almighty God by singing the songs we present , we will do all we can to reduce the Sonic Soup - including the soup that is the product of poor timekeeping . But first , we will need to identify the timekeeping problem , and second , we will work to develop good timekeeping .
THE INTERNAL METRONOME We all have our very own , naturally occurring , personal metronome . We don ’ t hear it with our ears . It ’ s inside our own heads ( or hearts , or souls ) and only we get to “ hear ” it , or at least have a sense of it . We have a perception of what the tempo of a beat is . Some people ’ s internal metronome is more accurate than others . But for most of us , without training , our internal metronome is inaccurate , and it lies to us . An individual instrumentalist can think they are playing in time because they are locked into their internal metronome . But they may not be .
A crowd of people clapping a simple beat on their own ( without any leadership or guidance ) will always speed up . A football team “ singing ” ( more like yelling ) their club ’ s song after a victory will always speed up . They don ’ t mean to , but they will . It ’ s the herd instinct and a symptom of untrained , inaccurate metronomes .
MOST COMMON TIMEKEEPING PROBLEMS : The Added Instrument Ramp-Up In our church band setting , often one instrument - perhaps an acoustic guitar or keyboard - might establish a certain tempo for the start of the song . It ’ s pretty much in time . The congregation is quite able to sing along . But at a specific point of the song - perhaps the end of verse one - we may choose to increase the sound by adding other instruments . Often these other instruments are led by the drums .
Even though they believe they are coming in using the same , previously established tempo , they don ’ t . A jumble or awkward , uneven , simultaneous , untogether time adjustments ensues - perhaps lasting as long as several bars - until something like a new tempo is established . That tempo is usually faster than the original tempo and has been dictated to the whole band and the congregation by the drummer . It ’ s unmusical and uncomfortable . It ’ s sonically soupy .
This More Than Music Mentor instructional video gives a good explanation and demonstration of this poor timekeeping issue . Check it out !
Drums : Keeping Solid Time
The Flustered Fill Many less experienced or less accomplished instrumentalists will rush ahead - unknowingly increase their tempo - whenever they have an extra flurry of notes or a more complicated passage to play . This is true for all of us - keyboardists , guitarists , bassists , bagpipers etc . - but it ’ s most obvious and has the most detrimental effect on the whole band ( and the congregation ) when it ’ s done by the drummer during their drum fills .
The longer or more complicated the fill , the greater the time variation tends to be . In the worst-case scenario , this can produce what I call the “ drum kit down a stairwell ” sound : A cacophony of seemingly random percussion sounds with little or no relationship to our groove . The rest of the band - including the leading singers and the congregation - don ’ t know where the beat is and , therefore , struggle to know when or how to sing !
The Buildup Bolt One of the most difficult things for instrumentalists