I’ve been listening to a lot of Maroon 5 lately. (In the spirit of disclosure, I admitted this on my twitter feed. If you’d like to stay up to date on many other silly admissions of mine, you can follow @twright76.)
I’ll confess it’s been a long time since I listened to these guys. When they first came on the scene, I was intrigued, but I never stayed up to date on their stuff. A song would pop up now and then and I’d be impressed, but for the most part, I’ve been unfamiliar with their music.
For some reason, I grabbed a few of their records on Spotify and started listening. Why had I ignored the brand of pop/funk these guys do? It was like hearing them for the first time. (I’m in a funk phase these days…consider yourself warned.)
Naturally, I couldn’t just enjoy the music, though. I had to make worship comparisons! A few things struck me about the music of Maroon 5 and I think there are some good lessons to learn here.
WHAT THEY DO: Maroon 5 has very few instrumental leads in their songs. While we’re used to most songs containing some sort of dedicated interlude in or around the bridge section, Maroon 5 seems to gravitate toward using vocals instead. In the place of leads and solos, you hear crowd vocals or ad libs or even sampled sections of a previous vocal track.
HOW CAN WE DO IT: Leads are hard to manage…you want to allow your folks to worship with their gifts but don’t want them to the be the focus of your worship. So, why not just kill it? Seriously – remove the instrumental from your song and put something there like vocals or maybe just some chord progression groove. You might be surprised at how it invigorates a song!
THE GUITAR’S JOB
WHAT THEY DO: Naturally, a band’s overall guitar tone and approach will change over time, but I’ve noticed that the majority of Maroon 5’s guitar work is rhythm based. Instead of hearing conventional riffs or big distorted power chords, you’ll notice lots of Motown flavored rhythmic comping high up on the neck. The band has opted to make the guitar act almost as a percussion element within the songs. (Much like U2…go figure!)
HOW CAN WE DO IT: The guitar is a versatile instrument and sometimes we don’t expect very much from it. First, you can talk about guitar in this way. Sometimes just managing good, open-ended dialogue about the role of an instrument is half the battle. Once your team is tracking, task your guitarists with finding fresh rhythm parts that are unique without overpower. Maybe make it a challenge…”Hey man, see if you can do this whole song up on the neck and still make it cool…”
LET’S THE KEYS OUT A BIT
WHAT THEY DO: When Maroon 5 has a hook or a specific riff, they often let the keyboard/synth cover it. (For what it’s worth…their keys act almost as a “horn” section…listen and see if they don’t sound like some slamming horn section!) Not only does this still get some riffing in there, it’s a nice contrast with the overall rhythmic drive of the guitars.
HOW CAN WE DO IT? When’s the last time you gave your keyboardist a riff? Sure, synth pads are great, but why not borrow from Maroon 5 and spread out the tonal variety a bit. Give that riff to the keyboard and let the guitar experiment a bit. Not only does it give the keyboard player a chance to contribute an important piece of a given song, it allows your band to sound a bit “different” than normal.
- What other bands “push” us to new directions as worship musicians?
- Have you recently switched up the roles of your instruments? How did it go?