Thursday, September 17, 2009

Working With Youth Bands: Adding Horns

I've been working with youth worship bands almost as long as I've been doing youth ministry. There's just something really amazing and fulfilling about seeing young students use their passion for music not only to glorify the Lord, but also to improve their skills and get better as a group and to learn to play for the Lord rather than for the approval of others. One problem always haunted me, though in working with teenagers: what to do with wind instruments. With so many students playing in jr. high and high school bands at school, it stands to reason that an average youth group would have at least a couple of horn players. But the typical worship band format calls for a drum set, bass guitar, and a guitar or keyboard. Horns are not usually figured in.

One reason for this is that horns are tuned to different keys, so when a guitar player is playing in G or C, a horn player will actually be playing in A or D respectively. Also, full orchestration parts are available for popular praise choruses but they don't work well without a "full orchestra". Another problem with the horns is that students who play in school band only know how to read music whereas many guitar players are self-taught and only know how to play by ear, chord charts, or TABS--not real music.

So this year, I had a young trumpet player approach me about playing in the youth band. Since I considered myself to have an average knowledge of music and very little experience writing out music, I explained to him the situation I was in, but assured him that if we committed to learn how to do it together, we could make it work. Well, here is what I found that works and may work for you and your youth band.

For about $50, you can purchase a program called Finale: Songwriter Edition at With this program and a little basic knowledge of single-note melody lines, you can chart out a basic melody, counter-melody, or harmony part for your horn player. Just tell the program what key your band is playing in and what type of horn part you are writing, and it will automatically transpose to the horn key. Once you start writing out the notes, the program will play it back so you know exactly what you are writing (my sight-reading skills are pretty bad). You can also hook a keyboard or other midi device up to your computer and play the part on the keyboard and it will write it out as you play. If you are not sure if your horn player can play in that key, you can easily transpose to the keys that are close to it in range (up a step or half step, or down a step or half step) to come up with a key that will work for both your horn player and your guitar/bass/keybaord players. You can also do multiple parts for multiple horns. If you're really not sure what to write, try writing a simple melody, or just try having the horn play the root note of each chord. So if the band is playing a song in G that plays four counts each on the chords G, C, Em, and D, then your Bb trumpet player will be playing in A and you can write whole notes on A, D, F#, and E. You can also simplify the charts by just having the horn play on certain parts of the song like the chorus or the bridge. This will automatically add depth and texture to your song because certain parts of the song will be quieter and have fewer instruments.

While not all horns are condusive to worship music (i.e. trumpets, saxes, flutes, probably fit better than tubas, French horns, and euphoniums), you may have to be selective as to how you implement certain horns into the group. Also, while it may take some time to work up a few horn parts for your popular songs, you don't want your horn player getting bored at rehearsal. See if she can play some percussion stuff (shaker, tambourine, or even COWBELL) on the songs where she's not playing her horn. Getting kids involved in your band will be a plus for the player and for the band.

No comments: