From Justin Koo
Posted January 16, 2007 at 10:00 PM
I'm playing violin in a praise band next week for a christian worship service. The band has 2 guitars, acoustic and electric, a bass, drums, and me on a miked classical violin, along with the singer and the congregation helping out. Since this is my first experience on stage outside of a classical setting such as solo, orchestra, quartet, etc.. I'm a little bit nervous.
There's no sheet music to speak of other than the lyrics with the guitar chords on them, which helps me little to none since my theory is quite weak.
Does anyone here have any ideas or experience with this kind of setting? I'm hoping i can figure out something useful to play rather than the melody or just a drone.
+play the chord tones, then try to play the third of the chords, then try the fifth... and of course, you can do this in different registers
+play an octave above the voices
+play two octaves above the voices :)
+Even if you have to play the same note for a bar, put some rhythm with it, it'll make it more exciting
+if you want to play harmony at the same time, perhaps try singing along and trying out your harmonies ahead of time
+a lot of praise songs have the same progressions (I-IV-V-I and maybe some VI's), so sometimes you can even put another song on TOP of the one you're doing, if you're feeling really adventurous (and you don't think you'll mess anyone else up)
Often, for ideal building effects in songs, I'll start playing the melody with everyone, then go into harmony, then go up an octave doing some more harmony/rhythm things, then play the melody up an octave (maybe add a trill or turn here or there to keep it more interesting).
Hope that helps!
Here are some of my thoughts, which maybe others will disagree with, but hopefully it will help your juices start to flow.
*Keep in mind you don't have to play all the time - nor on every song - variety in instrumentation and texture is nice. This can also allow you time to enjoy your own church experience, as it might be hard when you're first starting to focus on anything other than what you're going to play next.
*Sometimes I'll simply play the alto or tenor harmony above or below the singer.
*Imagine creating the "string pad" sound of a keyboard - long sustained notes that change with the chord.
*Improvising violinists often have the same mistake - they forget to let the phrase breathe. Since we can play nonstop, we often do. When you start getting ideas for countermelodies or embellishments, let them come to their natural end and pause.
*Experiment with echoing - think of the beginning of the Christmas carol Silent Night - imagine the violin echoing the melody an octave higher on the held dotted quarter, adjusting the final pitch to fit the new chord on "All is calm". You can echo the exact melody, or try to add an afterthought.
*On upbeat songs, experiment with simple rhythmic arpeggios that outline the chord structure. Try out different rhythmic patterns on repeated notes.
*When I first started, I played a lot of scales and arpeggios - passing notes in harmony lines and such. If you play a note out of the chord, just fix it and move on - it's just dissonance and resolution that way :)
*I find that I can play around better when I know the song really well. If you listen to the songs, experiment with singing or vocalizing along to try out different ideas, it'll build your confidence and help you come up with things to play. Once you have something you like, don't be afraid to keep it. I definitely have created countermelodies for certain songs that I always play now.
*Listen to lots of recordings for ideas - take them wherever you can, from fiddlers, electric guitars, keyboard solos, choral arrangements, etc.
*Most important, don't be nervous. It takes practice like anything else, and you will get better at it over time. And you'll probably even get pretty good at reading a chord chart, since they all are pretty much the same :) Feel free to just go for it - the worst that can happen is it'll sound dumb, but people who go to a church with a praise team aren't usually listening to every note played with a critical ear, their attentions are elsewhere, and there's a lot of grace extended for mistakes. Try to always keep in focus who your first audience truly is!
Check out the postings as there was a recent discussion on how to learn to improv that might also help.
Hopefully that isn't too basic and can help you get started!
I like what was said about not feeling like you have to fill all the spaces. If you don't know what note to play, listen to the bass line. For beginners, you can match the bass note. Then think of do-mi-so, built off the bass note. Those three notes are the most important ones. Everything else is ornamentation, whether passing tones or neighboring tones.
(some people advise to do as the Spirit leads, but denominational strife may ensue.)
When you first learn to play by ear, the melody is the easiest thing to figure out. You can play the melody and gradually venture onto new variations from there.
People already have written some good advice, so I'll quit now.
All bands have a variety of skill levels in their musicians. You want to see how the other members of the band react to your playing, to determine your role.
I have played with bands that have amateur players that are very distracted -- almost sabotaged-- if I play anything other than the melody. In that case, I try to play only selected parts of the melody or ask to take an "instrumental" verse to improvise.
If your singers and guitar player are more experienced then you can improvise.
There has been some good advice about chords and bow rhythms. In a band like this the violin often can be a rhythmic filler to give some relief to the guitars. If the guitar sound is very thick, as it often is if there are many of them, you can try to punch through with end of phrase riffs.
Playing chord members is always helpful--an old Jazz Saxophone player told me to just keep moving until I find a note that works with the chord.
The purpose of a praise band is to lead and enhance congregational singing. Often the violin can do that by playing lead-ins to the verses to signal to the congregation to start singing. Use triplets scales leading into verses.
Good luck and have fun. I have done this for years--and it does expand your horizon. I started playing Jazz about 10 years ago after years of orchestral work. All my interpretation is better. I really see the structure of classical pieces with much more clarity--
About playing the scales and arpeggios, I'll have a lyrics sheet with guitar chords, such as G, C, Em Etc... should I pay any attention to that as the scale to be in or should I just go by ear??
I have noticed with myself two misstakes that are easy to make:
one is that you play nonstop, like the others have said as well. the violin should either be a spice or if the violin is playing on the whole song you have to remember that the violin is like a human voice, it has to breathe in between. (at first i had problem with this when i didn't know my way around on the violin so i always played to find the right notes)
number two is that sometimes you can get so caught up in your own playing that you don't hear what the other musicians do, so listen carefully and don't be afraid to stop playing, because sometimes it's better to wait and listen until you hear in your head what the violin should do, than to play random notes.
well this is the advice i can think of.. and for the leading worship part there are two things i can think of.. have one eye on the congregation, to see how they respond, but never let them lead you, because sometimes they don't respond but that doesn't mean that the worship is over, sometimes you have to break through. If the worship leader says it's over then it is, but during the worship anything can happen, so if you suddenly feel like playing like crazy do so, the band usually follow, if you feel the holy spirit on you don't be afraid what people will think, just let the spirit lead you, that's number two play your verry best to God, not to people.
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles is in New York to cover the biennial event at The Juilliard School, including classes by Brian Lewis and Sarah Chang.
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