The Cardinal Rule in Arranging and Performance

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 20, 2010

We realize that in crossing the line from rhythm patterns, which can be written down and to groove and feel, which can’t, we’ve sidestepped a little beyond the scope of this book and are now talking about performing. But since most of our readers are probably also performers, let’s expand on it just a little. 

Let’s apply the Cardinal Rule to arranging and performance as well as to songwriting. The instrumentation, tessitura, tempo, volume, dynamics, tone colors, gestures, facial expressions, instrumental “licks”—all the elements together can support the message, or any one of them inappropriately used can distract from it. 

• Improvised licks can add a lot to a song, but they must agree with and support the message. For this reason, we believe it’s important for the improvising musicians to know what the lyrics are saying, or at least know the feeling they convey.  Playing licks just to show off the coolness or cleverness of your playing is fine in instrumental jazz, but in a worship song, (or any song with a message), it’s like standing behind the singers and sticking out your tongue and waggling your fingers in your ears. Now you’ve become a distraction to worship. But properly done, the fills can dialogue with the singer and say “Amen” to the message and help bring it to life. 

• And while we’re discussing performance, what about instrumental solos? How important are they? Instrumental color can provide a refreshing change, so when the voices come back in, it’s a fresh sound and the ear is ready for it again. Appropriate instrumental interludes also provide time to meditate on the message. In the Psalms we often encounter the word “Selah.” It denotes an instrumental interlude and means “Pause, and calmly think of that.” We have seen genuinely anointed instrumental soloists “prophesy” on their instruments and lead a congregation into greater heights of worship. (Guitarist Phil Keaggy is a master at this.)The scripture doesn’t say that David sang for Saul, it says he played, and the evil spirit departed. (1 Samuel 16:23)

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