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Intentional Acoustic Sets

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“We’ll just do an acoustic set”

We’ve all said that, right? Just an acoustic set. Like it’s a let down.  I’m right there with you. In the past, when my lead guitar player fell through, I would feel disappointed at the thought of changing the set to work acoustically. I was caught up in the idea that in order for our worship time to be filled with cool moments, emotional highs, and loud voices, I HAD to have a full band. I couldn’t even tell you how I arrived at this conclusion. And then something really great and unexpected happened. The Creative Director at my church came up to me and said, “Can we try something a little different next week? Maybe work out an awesome acoustic set? Do something unexpected and shake it up a bit?”

My reply: “Um…okay…”

Even though it didn’t seem like there was any way to make it “awesome”, I decided to give it my best shot. I dug into the music. I let my mind think outside of our (my band’s) boxed norms. Instead of having the mindset of playing each song exactly like you would hear it on the record, I explored new possibilities. And guess what? It was awesome.  Now we try to throw in an acoustic set once every couple of months and I am full of anticipation and excitement when I go to plan it out.

How can you create fantastic intentional acoustic sets? How can we take our acoustic sets from obligatory and boring to intentional and awesome?  Here are a few ideas:

1. Pick your instruments and vocalists strategically

Does your church or drummer have a cajon (box drum)? Moving your drummer from a full set to something like a cajon will give you a more intimate feeling while still having great rhythm. Along with the cajon, I usually use one acoustic guitar (sometimes two).  Depending on the music, I like to add the ukulele as well. It’s a fun and different instrument that adds a nice quality. Look at your music and play around with different instrument combinations.  Vocally, my focus is on balance and warmth. When switching over to an acoustic set, your vocals will be more exposed than with the covering of a full band. I prefer to have 3-4 vocalists in this situation. I have had the most success when the majority of the singers had a rich, warm tone and only one vocalist had a thinner, higher sounding quality to their voice. Do your best to strive for balance.  Sometimes, fewer vocalists will be beneficial, too!  If you normally run four or five vocalists on a weekend, try knocking that down to two or three to create a different vibe or emotion.  Experiment with these variables to see what is most beneficial for your church!

2. Create moments using dynamics and different arrangements

You can accomplish this by looking at a song with fresh eyes. Sing through it by yourself with just your guitar or piano and let yourself fall into worship. What happens? Did you end up singing through that final chorus a cappella? Did you feel a drive and swell at the end of verse 2 that took you to a big chorus where you could almost hear the congregation singing along with only your drummer banging away on the cajon? Get alone with the music and let it move you. Experiment.  Don’t forget your vocalists! What I like to do for an acoustic set, is have an extended vocal rehearsal before we add all of the instrumentation. Typically, I just tell each person what to sing and when. Which is still fine if that works for you and your team. But when I’m looking to try new things, we just gather around the keyboard and start singing. We break away from what we would normally sing and try new parts. So if it’s a song that I normally lead, I ask a different person to try out the melody and we sing around her. As the Worship Leader, you need to be listening and picking out the things that do work. Maybe you only end up changing three or four things from your norm, but I promise, it’s worth exploring to get those new vocal moments.

3. Be sure to consider the visuals

On a normal week with a full band, we are spread out over the entire stage. For an acoustic set, we come closer together and move downstage center. Sometimes we stand close to one another and sort of huddle around the cajon. Other times we sit on stools in a semi-circle. Try out a few options and see what looks best visually and gives you that intimate feel.  Tell your light person what you are doing. Lighting is HUGE for setting a mood and creating an environment conducive for worship. If you have wild and crazy flashing lights that typically go with a rockin’, up-tempo opener, you probably don’t want to use those for your more mellow version of that song. Remember that communication is 55% of what the audience sees.

Hopefully you can go into your next acoustic set expecting awesomeness instead of feeling like it will be a let down. The key is to be intentional. Have you already had success with this? Comment and share your ideas with us. I would love to learn some new ways to approach worship acoustically.

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3 Responses to “Intentional Acoustic Sets”

  1. Stephen Green April 3, 2015 at 12:34 am Reply

    I love the ideas here! I lead at a small church plant where an acoustic set is the norm and my band has learned to use it with great versatility. We’ve been able to strip it down for those intimate moments, but are also able to “rock out” a song with just an acoustic guitar, bass guitar, and a cajon (a conga/bongo set works great as well). One of the best worship sets I’ve been a part of (in my opinion) was just two vocals and two acoustic guitars. Even with a small set possibilities are seemingly endless.

  2. Laura Blankenship April 4, 2015 at 5:06 am Reply

    Stephen, that’s so great to hear! Keep up the good work!

  3. Why does our worship team say unconditional of Trevor G. is not a church song

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