7 iPhone Apps that can make you a better musician

Are you a musician that owns an iPhone? Take a look down Connor McKnights list of suggest apps that can help you lift you game.

Evolver.fm – iPhone Musician Apps by Connor McKnight

Music teaching apps consistently rank high in the app stores. Tuners, metronomes, digital songbooks, reference guides and more benefit everybody with a smartphone or tablet, from the dorm room dabbler to the gigging professional.

Electronic musicians have been riding the digital wave for some time, but even the open-minded coffee shop crooner can benefit from technology designed to sharpen skills and bring new life to practice routines.

Metronome Plus: The Finest Metronome in the iTunes App Store ($2)

Designed by musicians with ease and simplicity in mind, Metronome Plus is the cleanest, smoothest-operating metronome app we’ve seen for iOS. Simple to use and brilliantly packaged, with no extraneous features or small buttons to fumble over, this app is dead accurate when it counts with user-customizable accents, meters, subdivisions and sounds.

Peterson Strobe Tuners’ iStrobosoft Puts You in Tune for Sure ($10)

Offering an unparalleled degree of precision in a software tuner, the Peterson iStrobosoft is a mobile equivalent to the long line of respected Peterson hardware tuners. This top-choice tuner can be calibrated to within one-tenth of a cent (one-thousandth of a semitone), and comes with built-in input boost and noise cancellation technology to ensure that you’re always tuning to the note that you want to be.

Roni Music’s ‘Amazing Slow Downer‘ Facilitates Song Learning ($15)

Amazing Slow Downer offers users the ability to slow tracks to up to one-fourth of their original tempo without altering pitch or clarity, making it the perfect practice tool for transcribing and playing along with your favorite songs. Features including an adjustable looping function (with Save option), easy transposition and pan controls make this app worth the price.

Free iPhone Guitar Teacher Walksoft ChordBank Helps Write Songs for $4

ChordBank is a comprehensive chord index featuring over 2100 chords in over 20 common qualities. The app’s strengths are its clean interface, fret-position selector and playback options (did we mention it’s free?).

Reverse-Engineer Music With Reverse Chord Finder Pro ($10)

The yin to the Chordbank yang, Reverse Chord Finder Pro bridges the gap between fretboard and lead sheet. This inverse chord index offers the option to input notes on the staff, keyboard or fretboard, allowing users to program chords for up to 12 strings at a time to accommodate a wide variety of fretted instruments. Reverse chord pro also gives three possible chord names for a given fingering and plays back the selection in either block chord or arpeggiated form.

Technimo iReal b Lets You Fake It Until You Make It ($8)

Rebranded for copyright reasons, this is the app formerly known as iReal Book. A ‘fake book’ app that offers an easy way to create, export, print and share chord sheets to popular songs, as well as play them back with a mock three-piece accompaniment in a number of available styles. The app comes with 50 chop-building exercises with additional chord sheets easily downloadable. iReal b also offers in-app purchase of additional comping styles to bolster the included three. The app is compatible with iRig and other quarter-inch connectors for easy jam-along with other benefits including in-song transposition to any key, global transposition to concert keys Eb, Bb, F, G and number system notation, tempo control and looping functions to aid in practice.

Circle of Fifths: Crucial Music Theory Basics for iPhone ($5)

What list of music-education tools would be complete without the circle of fifths? Circle Theory packages this essential musician’s reference tool into an interactive chart that can help musicians of all levels to better understand the fundamentals of Western music theory.

Church music resources

Worship Music

Worship Together
Hillsong Music Australia
Sovereign Grace Music
All Worship
Integrity Music
Higher Praise
Bethel Worship Live — Last.fm
Praise Charts
Lead Worship — Paul Baloche
Worship Matters — Bob Kauflin
Maranatha! Music
Christian Book — Worship Music
Vineyard Music
Songs4Worship

Worship Singing

The Pro Singer — online vocal coaching
Music Academy — Worship Singing
Paul Baloche — Worship Vocal Workshop notes

Piano/keys

Play Piano Today – Worship Piano Lessons
Piano Worship Chords
Piano Chord Chart
Urban Worship – Gospel Keyboard
Greg Howlett – Free Christian Piano Lessons and Arrangements
Introduction to playing keyboards in a church band

Guitar

Worship Guitar Lessons
Guitar Chords
Chord Finder
Music Academy – Worship Guitar
The Guitar Resource
Guitar Tricks
Play worship guitar lessons
Guitarists.net
Music Academy – Worship Bass

Drumming

The Christian Drum Experts
An Introduction to Drums in Worship
Tips on becoming a better drummer
50 tips — Drums
Practice tips for drumming
Drum Grooves for Worship

The Cheesecake Theory

Kahlua cocoa coffee cheesecake

A few years ago I was at a Christian music conference which was aimed at helping church musicians play better at church. There was a service on Friday night, some instrument specific tutorials on the Saturday and a couple of all-in group sessions during Saturday day. At the instrument specific sessions, particularly the one for guitar, we were taught a technique for keeping out of the way of the other instruments. This was to play only the DGB strings and generate all the chords (major, minor and suspended chords all only include 3 notes) by using only 3 chords shapes in the 3 major positions on the neck. I found this pretty interesting and subsequent usage has shown that it works, it just requires a bit of planning and practice time.

The main highlight of the conference was the combined worship workshops. At these they introduced us to “The Cheesecake Theory” or building up a band sound. It goes like this:

  • The biscuit base – made up of the drums and bass guitar, this gives the music it’s starting point, everything develops from the basic rhythm and feel coming from the beat (kick drum and bass guitar) and counterpoint (snare). Bass players were told to only play when the kick drum is hit.
  • The cheesy middle – the chordal instruments, piano/keyboard/organ and guitar. Basically these two spend all day getting in each others way, as the guitar can play 6 notes at a time and the piano can do even more! Piano players in particular can be a whole band all to themselves so it is often hard for them not to play only a part of a song. The method they taught us is for one instrument (say the piano) to play longs chords, one to a bar, and the other (guitar in this example) to play short notes, say staccato strum on beats 2 and 4 (often the same beat as the snare). These roles are very reversible, the guitar can do long strums and the piano sharper chords.
  • The topping – be it strawberries and cream or chocolate drizzled over, the main thing to remember with the topping is moderation. In the band it means the single line instruments, violin, flute, trumpet, saxophone etc. They advised us that for most effect to keep these instruments back and allow space. They are best played in introductions and when the song needs a lift, such as in the chorus or bridge, or perhaps in a later verse. Another good time to put them in is in the space between lines, so long as no one else is trying to improvise in that space.

They ran through a couple of examples of playing songs this correct way (everyone being disciplined and playing their role) and playing a song badly. When they played the song badly (I think it was Shout to the Lord) the song was a horrible mess. Everyone was trying to be the star and play over each other, the singer was showing just what she had learned at singing lessons that week, the guitar was doing a magnificent solo, the bass was playing a cracking riff, the piano was being frilly and thumping down low as well, the flute was just playing and playing and playing and the drummer was putting in fills and crashing cymbals with abandon. The meaning of the song was completely lost and I doubt God was glorified, despite the musicians trying their very best and playing quite well individually.

That’s what the conference was about – putting the group above the individual and making sure the words are front and centre, being built up by the music being played, not being overwhelmed by it. One of the other attendees asked what you do when some of the instruments aren’t available, such as at her church there was no drummer or guitarist. So the band took out those instruments and demonstrated how you can still have a good sound so long as you still can keep the 3 parts of the cheesecake – base, middle and topping.

You do have to change how you play a song, however. You often can not have as driving a feeling without drums, not as flowery an intro without piano, but you will be able to get by on most songs. Having a good piano player is able to cover up a multitude of missing parts, they can play the melody or harmony if you have no single-line instrument, they can play chords if you have no guitar, they can play a bass beat with their left hand if you are missing a bass guitar or drums.

While you can get by without an instrument, it is often much better for them to be there. For instance, would you go watch a rock band like U2 or KISS if the drummer was absent? No, the music would be missing a vital ingredient and less than it could be. You could go an watch an orchestra but if it was missing the string section it would be missing some of the magic.

A band works best when it’s members are working together and for a common purpose. In our case at church that purpose it is to glorify God and encourage our congregation to worship Him. Giving your all may mean being restrained and disciplined while you play, but this in itself is showing deference and humility and to be encouraged, not disparaged.

Sorry to anyone misled by the title of this article. For recipe ideas please try Triple chocolate cheesecake or New York cheesecake or Strawberry cheesecake.

SNC Music Review 2007

Mozarteum grosser saal buehne mit orchester

There were a lot of distractions and hardships at Toongabbie Anglican Church in 2007. Early in the year all our full time staff departed for other pastures and while church changed slightly, Sunday Night Church soldiered on, praising our God and learning from His word. Unfortunately the year contained too many personal tragedies and too few joys, but God remains sovereign and we remain his servants.

This year it was great to see more new musicians join the SNC music team. Renee started singing with the band, James joined us playing piano, Emma helped out with her flute and David got back into his drumming after about a 10 year break. All of these new guys showed great improvement by the end of the year, if not technically on their instruments, certainly at playing in ensemble, which is a skill all of it’s own.

I would like to thank all the musicians who contribute to music at SNC, the service wouldn’t be the same without everybody’s hard work and we do a great job encouraging the congregation in singing together, praising our God and exhorting each other to continue in faithful obedience.

Another change required this year was a rotating group of guys running the sound desk. This was a big help to the musicians and helped the service run smoother. There were a few teething problems learning the gear, partly due to it being a new skill and partly due to the equipment having a personality. Thanks to Craig, Eddie and Graham for showing up to church early each week for little reward – the musicians certainly appreciated your efforts.

New music introduced to SNC in 2007:

This was a lot less new songs that we have done in previous years as we only had two New Music Days and only did one musical item (at Easter) all year. The plan is to have a NMD each school term, though the October/November one often gets wiped out by Christmas preparations. This year, we also missed doing one in April/May due to the changes we were going through at Church and an unusually busy and stressful time at work.

Looking forwards to the new year I have been considering the leadership structure of music at SNC, how much time I can commit to it and how best to choose and prepare songs and musicians. One idea is stepping back from leadership completely, but I’m not sure how much help that would be. Another is to have regular meetings, say on the 2nd Sunday of every month to pick songs for the upcoming month. This way whoever would like to contribute to song choice could and we would always be 2-6 weeks in advance. The musician roster could also be chosen at that time, or previously, possibly as far in advance as 3 months. Or we could just continue on as is, if people are happy and I can cope with the workload.

Hopefully the musician roster will be relatively stable, although we start the year short on singers again. I look forward to another year serving God with grace, humility and enthusiasm, hoping that the Lord will bless our church with a congregation keen to serve Him and to sing loudly.

Previous annual music reviews: 2006 SNC music review 2005 SNC music review

Reason Music

Simon sent me a link the other day to Reason Music. Their blurb: Reason is a group of Sydney-based musicians producing worship songs and training resources for church musicians.

They have some excellent articles for church musicians to read. The best so far is Putting together a simple arrangement in Church. It is part of a much larger series called Leading music is a small church.

As a church musician, it’s easy to feel limited by a lack of resources. You’d love to have a big church band, but all you’ve got is a couple of piano players, a violin, and a guitarist who first picked up the instrument three months ago. There’s a constant shortage of people to fill the rosters, and you struggle to get through all the songs in your limited rehearsal time each week. Especially when the musos arrive half an hour late.
Then there are the tech issues. Your sound system dates from the 1970s, and the person operating it – let’s face it – he hasn’t got much of an idea. Someone keeps misplacing the overheads, and even when you check they’re all there before the service, when the congregation stands to sing it’s either the wrong song, or there are typos all over the place.
And the congregation is a musical brick wall! You’re sure that if you could only raise the standard of music at church – then they’d get into it. But not only do most people at church seem utterly indifferent towards the music (your attempt to get some clapping going results in a momentary smattering of hands for about 10 seconds) but some of them actually complain – either they don’t like the song selection, or the style of music, or it’s too loud, or too soft… you even heard one person say they dislike the music so much that they wonder why we bother singing at church at all!

So basically the writers have a very good idea of what it’s like to be in a non-mega church in Australia today. Their arrangement tips are good – piano players need to let everyone else play their role, and everyone else needs to actually fulfill the role set down for them – and they address the structure of the songs we play, when to be up and down, when to build, when to pause.

I’d encourage anyone involved in church music, whether a large band or small, to have a read through the articles at Reason Music – especially those coming to our new music day this week.

Your average church band?

Fender Deluxe P-Bass Special

About 8 weeks ago now I bought a new bass guitar. I have had my previous bass since 1999 – a Squier P-Bass Special. It had a black body and white pick guard (later I replaced this with a mirror one) and served me pretty well over the years. It wasn’t perfect – I had to replace the socket, the socket plate, both volume pots and all the internal wiring – and it occasionally had issues such as crackling over the P/A and occasional complete loss of signal during performances.

Squier P-Bass Special Continue reading “Fender Deluxe P-Bass Special”

Book review: Walking the Bible

While it’s on my mind I might let you know of another book I recently read that I got for Christmas: Bruce Feiler’s Walking the Bible.

Walking the Bible cover

Walking the Bible tells a narrative of how the author connects the stories told in the first 5 books of the bible into a geographical, historical reality. The author tells of how the stories of Noah, Abraham and Moses were always just stories, fairy tales or similar, until one day visiting Jerusalem someone pointed to the dome of the rock saying “That is where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac.” Feiler realised that you can actually visit the places where many of the stories in the bible took place, so he began a journey to do so, discovering that many of the stories are profoundly influenced by where they occurred, such as pillars of salt around the Dead Sea.

The author writes in a manner that is sensitive and respectful of all the major religions in the area, indeed, focusing on Genesis to Deuteronomy he addresses a period which is foundational for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. There is tension in places, he is after all in Israel and Palestine for much of his journey, but it is just as frequently between science and the bible as it is between a Muslim or Jewish point of view.

One of the highlights of the book is when Feiler stays at St Catherines Monastery near Mt Sinai. Feiler speaks with reverence of the men who serve and worship there, then goes on a trek up the mountain. St Catherines is the supposed site of the burning bush that God spoke to Moses through.

I found the book very helpful – it did make the first five books of the bible seem more real, more connected to the world I live in. Short of actually visiting the places mentioned, I think reading this book is an excellent grounding in the current state of affairs in the Middle East and the history of our faith.

Read an excerpt from the book: Chapter 1 In the Land of Canaan

Some more extracts from different chapters

Look inside (via Amazon) – really cool

Book review: Honest to God?

Honest to God? bookcover

Honest to God? Becoming an Authentic Christian by Bill Hybels is a book I received for Christmas and am only now getting to. From the publisher’s website:

Synopsis: This analysis of the inconsistencies in the lifestyle of today’s Christians is accompanied by specific examples and discussion of how Christians can restore authentic Christianity in their personal lives and thus nurture a troubled world.
Description: In Honest to God? Bill Hybels challenges Christians to examine their lifestyles and honestly see if God has changed their lives. Some areas he addresses include: – family life – work – male and female role models – spiritual disciplines – sound physical fitness – emotional life – marriage values — “Christianity is a supernatural walk with a living, dynamic, personal God. Why, then, do so many Christians live inconsistent, powerless lives?” Hybels answers this question with – Practical, down-to-earth advice on living the Christian life – 12 signs of inconsistent Christian living — and what to do about them – How to go beyond just “talking” the faith – Honest personal examples about failures and successes — Honest to God? is a clarion call to Christians to restore Christianity in their personal lives and thus influence the world.

I found the book to be greatly encouraging. Encouraged to pray, plan, look after myself and be more genuine in all I do. This most certainly is not a theological textbook but most of the principles Hybels outlines come with accompanying biblical text. I found this book to be a bit of a wake up call to live life as God intends us, rather than what I let myself get away with day to day. It definitely would come from the “Christian Living” section of the bookstore and is a helpful day to day encouragement.

Bill Hybels is the leader of the very large Willow Creek church in the USA, not that I knew that as I read the book. Read this book and get inspired to start living out your faith, rather than just believing you are. It is a difficult challenge, one that will probably take the rest of our lives, but the rewards in your relationship with our Creator and with your friends, family and workmates will be the better for that effort.

Ascension

Today is May 17, 2007. This year that date is remembered as Ascension day, the day 40 days after Easter Sunday when Jesus ascended to heaven.

Ascension Island - discovered on Ascension Day, 1503

Mark 16:9-20

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

For more info, see: Wikipedia: Ascension BBC: Ascension Day Catholic Encyclopedia: Ascension Religious Tolerance: Ascension day Presbyterians Today: The Ascension

Last year at church we had quite a focus on the period between Resurrection and Ascension, as we worked through the series 40 days with the risen Lord. This year we’ve not really paid much attention to such things, but it would a shame to let Ascension and, in a few days, Pentecost pass without recognition of these momentous events in the history of the world and the church.

More music theology discussion

Bass guitar pickup

While preparing for music tonight at church I came across a page over on the Garage Hymnal website: Papers on Church music

They put a link on their front page to these papers as a thought out response to the articles in the Briefing and ensuing debate about whether evangelical churches should play Hillsong music.

I must say it is a better and more thought out article than the one I struggled to write and encourage you to read it. Another good article is Andy Judd’s Case study of questionable lyrics in which the author explains what to look for when evaluating a new song. One of the good points for me is where he reflects on “Shout to the Lord”:

That said, I think there are reasons why you might not sing the song every week. The final example is the statement that “Forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand”. Carmichael identifies this as an Arminian view, a “personal guarantee” to Jesus that we’ll be there for him. This is interesting, because it could just as easily be read as a Calvinist affirmation of the perseverance of the saints (perhaps echoing 2 Peter 1:10 or something). Forever I will love Jesus – because I am one of the elect! Church songs are, after all, to be sung by the saints. But to be honest I doubt anyone sings that line either with particularly Arminian or Calvinistic thoughts in mind. We don’t think about it. It’s just a wishy washy line of good intentioned sentimental feeling, and so for me the second half of the chorus is a little too vague to be helpful. It’s not so much wrong as disappointing.

Also the conclusions at the end of “Why church playing is important” PDF link are encouraging.

Thanks

“What do you say to a musician who has done a really good job?” someone asked me recently. You don’t want to build their ego’s. But encouragement is a great blessing in a church. Personally, what I’d find most encouraging after spending hours battling to get everyone in tune and in time is “thanks, I found singing together tonight really encouraging”.

Prayer

If you are not starting your band practices with a time of prayer and sharing you need to. I know music teams who spend 30 mins together talking about their lives and praying for the service every week. Not a second of that is wasted.

Singing along

I remember playing in a band at KCC recently and having Willow (the sound guru) come up to us and thank us for singing along while we played. Apparently everyone found it encouraging. We didn’t notice, because we were so caught up in the words which we’d played a thousand times but never sang past verse 2 until then. Try it! (flautist are excused, reluctantly).

Take some time off

Everyone should have at least one week off every month. Our church barely has enough musos to make a full band (let alone two or three), so we just have heaps scaled back music on the fourth Sunday of every month. I’m prepared to have no singing (or use backing tracks/organ) if it means giving the musos a break.