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Church Sound: Just How Good Are You As A Technician?

Is some practice and rehearsal in order?

By Gary Zandstra October 18, 2011

As a church sound technician/operator:

· How good are you at what you do?

· How much time do you spend practicing and improving your skills?

· How are you practicing?

· What do you do to practice?

If I posed the above questions to a musician I would get solid answers from them. The answers would vary, but here is what I would expect to hear.

Q. How good are you at what you do?
A. I am a great player. (Then again, what musician doesn’t think that?)

Q. How much time do you spend practicing and improving your skills?
A. As much as necessary, usually at least a couple of hours a week.

Q. How are you practicing?
A. I play along with the rehearsal tape that the worship leader sends out each week.

Q. What do you do to practice?
A. I either put on headphones and play along, or I crank up my stereo and play along. 

Three of my daughters, currently taking lessons in piano, violin and voice, are amazing when it comes to practicing. At our house, the piano is always being played and you can also almost always hear someone singing!

The reason for all the joyous sounds constantly going on at my house is that each them rehearses 1 hour a day on each instrument. One daughter does not take violin, but it still adds up to That a cumulative total of 8 hours a day of practicing!

The practicing varies from building fundamental skills (scales, etc.) to practicing pieces that they will later perform. The more skilled they become, the practice focus shifts somewhat – less of the fundamentals and more on the pieces.

Now, as a sound operator/technician, how much time do you spend practicing and honing your skills during the week? As noted above, most worship team musicians (at least the ones I know) spend a couple of hours a week practicing, and this is usually before the couple of hours of rehearsal they have as a group every week. So the average musician is practicing 4-plus hours a week.

On the other hand, most sound techs I know show up for sound check and then mix the service. In a lot of cases, they’re not even familiar with what particular songs being performed sound like on the recording. They either never get a rehearsal disc (or playlist), or if they do, they rarely/never listen to it.

Should a sound tech show up for rehearsal? Maybe. I think it’s most beneficial for a tech to arrive for the last 30 to 45 minutes of a rehearsal. Usually by this time, the band has the kinks worked out and can run through the entire song.

With the contemporary service at the church I serve, I have the luxury of the band coming in, sound checking and finishing rehearsal in the space 1 hour before the service begins. They show up around 8 am and rehearse in a separate room until 10 am (when our traditional service ends), and then they move into the sanctuary to rehearse until 10:40 am, with the service starting at 11 am. This allows my sound techs the opportunity to mix through each of the worship songs before the service.

How is a sound tech supposed to rehearse? As with musicians, there should be a combination of fundamentals as well as specifics. I recently pulled out my copy of Dave Moulton’s “Golden Ears” training CDs to brush up on my fundamentals. I also have a habit of playing notes on the piano and guessing the frequency of that note. (More about that here.)

The other obvious thing is to listen to recordings of planned performance pieces ahead of time. Simple things such as “is this a guitar or piano driven song?” as well as more complex items like “what type of effect is used on the vocals?” can be easily discerned by listening.

Bottom line: just as musicians have a responsibility to practice and show up ready to go, so do sound techs. So let’s rise to the occasion!

Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 25 years.

About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.


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tlmp says

Well, what do you mean by “good”? Good at what? If you are asking how good the sound is on Sunday, I would say it’s getting better. So, “good” is relative and doesn’t have much meaning. I’ve heard people say well this guy is good and that guy is good, but in audio, if you can get any kind of decent sound happening that means you are good. In my church there is a magic blend of voices that I try to achieve, that brings the whole thing to life. If I don’t find this blend then I have failed to do my job. Sometimes I don’t find it until the last song, but when I do find it then that song may go on for a half hour or so, making it all worth it. We are not trying to achieve an award for the best sound, we are just trying to get the Lord to come and bless us and if he does that then it doesn’t really matter how great the instruments sound.

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