My goal in this is to give you and your keyboardist a common terminology so that you can communicate more effectively, identify what sounds you want and produce a well designed performance that evokes powerful emotions and connections in your church community.
The first word I want to address is the word “warm.” Stuff is called warm all the time but it's hard to quantify what that means.
A warm sound is a pad that has this nice low-mid energy. It's not getting in the way, it's not sitting on top of what the electric guitars, vocals, bass or the kick drum might be doing. It's serving as a foundation underneath everything.
It doesn't have any of that bright sizzle on top that can distract from quieter moments. Instead, it adds a feeling of connectedness and intimacy.
Protip: One of the really important things about finding a warm a pad is to make sure it's not too static. You want there to still be some motion and energy–what we call a little bit of modulation.
Check out the example below to hear what I’m talking about.
Next, let's talk about the bright sound. This is the opposite side of the warm sound.
When I think of bright, we're talking about stuff in the higher frequency spectrum that's actually maybe above or right alongside what the guitars are doing. That has a lot of energy on the top end that's perceived as more aggressive, more powerful and it's more complex harmonically. You might still be playing in the same range on the keyboard but there are harmonic frequencies on top of it that add a little bit of extra energy.
Oftentimes with these bright synth pad sounds, you're still serving as the foundation to the mix, holding everything else together, but you're able to dynamically lift as your drummer switches to the high hat or starts washing out cymbals and as your electric guitarists start playing with more intensity. This increase in brightness from the pad goes right along with that; still serving as the foundation but rising as everyone does too.
Lastly, let's talk about the most overused buzzword right now in the worship space–the shimmer pad.
You can have a shimmery texture or quality to your pad sounds which does something really specific in the mix, but it's really easy to overuse this kind of effect and overwhelm what your vocalist or your guitarist is doing.
It’s still worth using, but you have to make sure that you clarify why you're using this type of sound and where this type of pad sound actually sits in the mix.
Check out the example below to hear the proper balance that doesn’t overwhelm everything else.
Now let’s talk about how a couple simple effects from software like Mainstage or Ableton can greatly increase the quality of your music and make them sound more like today's top worship songs.
First off, I want to talk about reverb. If you're a guitarist, I'm sure you're probably familiar with the effect that reverb can have. You can use it on keys in the same way.
Reverb adds a sense of size, depth and space to your sound. It can soften up the initial impression of what you're playing, create some room and increase the hang time of your chord.
Now, let's talk about delay. All the guitarists discovered delay in 2002, and keyboard players are just getting around to it now.
In the same way that you can change the character and the rhythmic complexity of an electric guitar with delay, you can achieve a lot of the same cool effects with piano.
This is commonly used on some slow songs where you'll hit a chord on the one, and let the delay trail sort of add that extra oomph to it. You can also use it when you're playing the piano as a lead instrument, to give you an extra bit of memorability to a bridge or something like that.
In really powerful worship moments, it can also add more texture and make the piano sound a little bit more interesting.
Lastly, I want to return to shimmer. We already talked about shimmer when it comes to a pad, but you can also apply shimmer as an effect to any sound that you have.
When I’m playing the piano all I have to do is turn on the shimmer reverb. The shimmer will swell in behind what I'm doing and then swell back down. If I'm moving through chords, it's never overwhelming the initial playing, and it feels really organic and natural.
It's a really great effect to give your keys players because it's got a nice production value element to it, it adds an ethereal ambience and it doesn't require a lot of theory knowledge to use. As long as you're not overplaying, it's going to make you sound like you know what you're doing.
So those are six fundamental terms for you and your keyboardist. My hope is that it empowers both of you to create a powerful experience for the people you’re leading.
If you want to take the next step with this training and dive deep into equipping and empowering the keyboardist in your worship band, then check out Worship Leader School. David has created an entire masterclass exclusively for members that will:
✅Give you a deep dive into the effects that we touched on today.
✅ Show you an in-depth tour of all the gear and software for this setup.
✅Explain how to communicate and work alongside your keyboard player so you have smooth transitions in worship
I’d love to chat about how this class can help you grow as a worship leader.
Feel free to setup a call here.