Archives For Music

Over the Grave Album Cover

There’s been one album that was released recently that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a long time.  No, it’s not the latest and greatest radio release.  It’s not one everyone in the country is raving about.  It’s an album by a bunch of excellent, no, outstanding musicians from a church in Louisville, Kentucky many of you have probably never heard of.  It’s Sojourn Music’s (a part of Sojourn Church) Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts Volume 1.  Here’s their summary of the genesis of the project:

In the midst of the Reformation in England, Isaac Watts recognized that people needed to see the gospel in the psalms and hymns of the church, and they needed to sing them in language and metaphors that they understood. In this, he became not only the father of the modern hymn, but the pace-setter for contextualizing the gospel for the people of God.

As musicians, pastors and songwriters, our desire was to explore the hundreds of hymns that Watts wrote during his lifetime, to learn from the incredible range and depth of his lyrics, and to re-envision those songs with modern language and melodies. In particular, we gravitated towards themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ.

Steadfast and Challenging Content

  • You can’t really go wrong when taking lyrics straight from Isaac Watts, writer of Joy to the World, one of the world’s most popular hymns, and countless other incredible poems set to music for the church.
  • It’s so good to see that they included “themes that seem unfortunately absent in modern worship — themes about God’s wrath and judgment, His righteousness, and a dramatic vision of the cross and atonement of Christ.”  In a culture filled with grace without responsibility, it’s refreshing to know that these songwriters are willing to talk about issues that every Christian needs to meditate on.

Strong, Singable Melodies

  • A good amount of the songs on this project are very singable and completely appropriate for many congregations, especially congregations that utilize a modern musical style.  I find myself singing “Oh, the Warrior…” and “Only Your blood is enough to cover my sin” over and over throughout the day after listening to the album.  The beautiful notes of “May Your Power Rest on Me” would easily stand alone without a full band behind them.
  • While “Living Faith” and others have generally singable melodies, some of the vocal enhancements on parts of them might be tricky for some congregations, but they are worth the effort to learn them and teach them to the congregation.

Professional Playing and Production

  • There is no doubt at all that every one of the musicians that played on this recording are incredibly skilled on their instrument.
  • The singers are polished and in control of their voices (Living Faith, Reveal Your Love, and especially the vocal with bells hooks on Only Your Blood and Alas and Did My Savior Bleed are fantastic proof of this)
  • The guitarist and bass guitarist show restraint on songs where necessary and fire up the strings like there’s no tomorrow when appropriate.  They are especially fun to listen to on Warrior, How Long, and Reveal Your Love
  • Every song was produced very creatively, from the great use of the Stringed Bass on Warrior to the many non-diatonic minor chords utilized in many songs that has become a signature sound of Sojourn music to me

Even if you do not incorporate modern music into your church’s repertoire, this album is a must have.  For one, it pays tribute to Isaac Watts’ desire to put the music in the language of the people of the day.  Secondly, these lyrics in a fresh new setting with outstanding musicians make this an inspiration to anyone who is looking for music that will direct their minds to God’s character.

Another great thing about this album is that I believe it has many songs that men in particular will want to sing.  While so much of today’s modern music is filled with beautiful poetry, it can tend to get a bit romantic for men.  I could definitely see a group of guys singing “Oh, the Warrior” and much more from this album, however.

You can buy the album directly from Sojourn music here or purchase an mp3 version from Amazon here (affiliate).  So looking forward to the next volume.

Playing the Acoustic Guitar

One important part of learning how to master an instrument is developing your muscles to instantly know where chords, notes, and scales are on the instrument in order to play them without any effort of thinking about them. We learned about what muscle memory is last week and applied it to playing the piano. Let’s take a look at some general exercises guitarists can use to develop muscle memory:

Acoustic/Rhythm Guitar

  • Practice progressions. Find the I-IV-V progression in every key you can play with open chords (chords like C, G, D, E; played in the first position of the fretboard) and run through them over and over daily.
  • Start strumming. Find new strumming patterns to use and work the muscles of your right hand so that they get used to the pattern.
  • Place your Pick (and your fingers) – Train your fingers on your strumming hand to know where each string is so you are able to call out specific notes within the chord.  Practice playing each chord with just your fingers so you are able to develop more finger-picking technique.
  • Break out of the low position of the fretboard. Start learning how to play chords in different shapes and positions higher up the neck.  Once you’ve done that….

Electric/Lead Guitar

  • Know how to play each chord in a different shape and position on the fretboard. Each chord shape can be moved up the frets in order to play it in any key.  Play every different shape and inversion of one chord over and over until your muscles know exactly where to find it in each position.  Once you’ve done that, put the different shapes together in progressions in each position by knowing which shapes to use together with each other.
  • Practice scales. If you want to be a good lead guitarist, you must know your scales.  Period. All solos and lead lines are built off of some form of scale.  Learn major, minor, pentatonic, blues, and every other scale possible.  To develop your muscles to the point of recognizing where your fingers go, start by playing one type of scale over and over again very slowly until you’ve mastered it at a certain speed (set your metronome and don’t stray from that speed until you can play the scale with no mistakes!) Once you’ve mastered the scale at a slow speed, increase your metronome slightly and practice it at that speed until you have no mistakes.  Keep doing this and gradually increase speed as you perfect the scale.  Then move on to a different scale type and start the whole process over.

A great resource for learning to play acoustic guitar for worship can be found here (affiliate) and here’s a great resource for playing electric guitar for worship (affiliate).

I’m not a master guitarist by any means, and I’m sure this is just scratching the surface for what you can do to develop muscle memory on the guitar. Long-time, experienced guitarists – what do you do to develop muscle memory?

(Photo by Asher Lohman.)

Do you ever wonder how some musicians seem to make playing their instruments seem effortless? They not only know where to play notes on a page, chords on a lead sheet, and more, but they seem to be able to do it with their eyes closed. The key to playing like this is something called muscle memory.

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Do you have a trick or tip that has been super helpful to you as a musician? Do you have a question about how to play a chord, how to understand a musical concept, or anything else related to playing music, especially within the local church context?

I’d love to get anyone who might be reading this helping each other out. So leave a comment! Leave a question! If I can’t help you, I’m sure someone else can. Spread the word!

Being as I have a child of my own, I’m now on the lookout for great children’s worship music.  I’ve been seeing this resource pop up in conversations lately and I needed to check it out for myself.  I headed over to the website and found that you could listen to all of their music online for free!  What a great way to introduce someone to the music.  The best thing about these catchy songs is that they’re straight out of Scripture and provide a fantastic way to memorize Bible verses.

Thursday I’ll share an in-depth review and overview of each of the albums from Seeds Family Worship but I wanted to give everyone a heads up to another solid option for children’s music.  Head on over and check it out!