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Posts in Behind the Scenes
Building a Prophetic Culture
 
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Have you ever received prayer and the person started to share about the very things on your mind or the dreams in your heart? Or have you ever received ‘impressions’ about someone’s emotional state or situation as you pray for them? Perhaps, you’ve also had dreams that ended up actually happening in real life. Well, these are some examples of the prophetic.


I believe that the prophetic is not complicated. It’s so simple that even children can move in it! I have activated children as young as 6 years old to do so. When I teach them about the prophetic, I love using the analogy of a postman. The job of a postman is to deliver the letter that he/she has received from the post office to the recipient. Prophecy works in the same way. Our role is to receive words or messages from God and deliver them to people.

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God’s heart for humanity is relationship, and relationship-building requires communication. God wants to communicate with us! One of the main elements in the prophetic is recognising God’s voice. Without hearing His voice first, we cannot receive any message. There’s a difference between learning to ‘hear’ His voice and ‘recognising’ His voice. The ability to hear His voice is already within us. Our job then is to recognise it, just as a newborn learns to recognise the different sounds they hear around them. 


“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:15

The prophetic is birthed from a place of intimacy with God. Growing in it is about cultivating this friendship. When we pursue His heart, we get to hear His heartbeat for humanity. It is through intimacy that the prophetic can be released with His love.

God does not want to just receive you as children into His kingdom and ignore you by not giving you the ability to hear His voice. God is a good and tender loving Father who loves to speak to His children. We have the privilege to hear His voice daily because of His love. 

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“But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” 
1 Cor 14:3

The heart of prophecy is to reveal God’s heart to the person in front of you. It is not about calling down judgement, or a doom and gloom message. The essence of a prophetic word should be edifying, encouraging, and comforting for the people receiving it. The heart of the message must be filled with God’s love and hope. A prophetic word is an encouraging word that always has the element of God’s restoration and redemption in people‘s lives. Encouraging words build people up, while negative words tear people down. 

“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”
1 Cor 14:4

Paul said that when we release prophetic words, the church is being built up. A strong church is not defined by its physical size but rather, it is made up of strong people. When we prophesy over our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are building them up with God’s destiny for them. When a prophetic culture is established, the fruit is an encouraging atmosphere—one where people encounter God’s love through prophetic words. 

Learning to hear from God is a lifelong journey. The truth is that we do make mistakes and hear wrongly along the way. But the main thing is seeking to maintain a heart of purity as we grow in hearing His voice, admitting our mistakes, and moving on. We should not stop prophesying just because we have made some mistakes along the way. A toddler does not stop learning to walk just because he has fallen down a few times. 

The primary goal of the prophetic is not about operating in a gift as much as it is about knowing God’s heart. Growing in this gift is actually growing in hearing His voice on a daily basis. Before you can hear a message (for others), you have to first identify and discern the voice of God in your life. 

He speaks to us all differently. Sometimes, it could be a specific verse from the Bible. Other times, we may get an impression, a vision, or a voice in our spirit. He can also speak to us through dreams. If you can hear God’s voice for yourself, you can most certainly hear God’s voice for others. Don’t disqualify yourself from being used by God to release the message of love that He has for the people around you. Everyone can prophesy!

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Ps Clement Sim, one of AG’s guest writers, graduated from the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM, Bethel Church) in Redding, California, and is currently a pastor at Soakability Church, Singapore.

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4 KEYS to playing without scores
 
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“I grew up reading notes on the stave! How do you improvise? How do you know what chords to play?”

 

Sound familiar? Over the years, I’ve encountered many classical pianists and musicians who ask similar questions. I then realised that there often is a real question of how to make the jump between playing what you see on a score and being able to improvise freely.

 

I can relate to this struggle. I grew up taking formal piano lessons, working tirelessly through the grades of the formal examination systems.

 

I’ve always enjoyed music, having grown up in a musical family. However, it was only when I joined the worship ministry in my home church when I was 13 that I discovered this whole new facet of music and improvisation that brought me much freedom and growth.

 

It was when I experienced the power of music to express thoughts and emotions beyond words and when I experienced the Lord’s presence powerfully during times of worship that my love and passion for music grew.

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I began to experiment with chords and learned to play songs by ear, and soon grew to love improvisation! I could spend hours at the piano, playing, experimenting, and learning new songs, replaying the tracks in the CDs repeatedly and copy them exactly. As I grew in freedom to create and express what I could not in words and as I began to create new tunes to the Lord, my relationship with Him grew together with my musical abilities.

 

Some people think that you either improvise and play by ear OR sight read music very well – I would say that’s a myth! I know many brilliant classical players who are just as brilliant even in jazz improvisation!

 

Music is a language. This means that the ability to listen, speak, read, and write music are like that in any other language.

 

Ideally, we want to be able to do equally well in all these aspects as musicians. You should not feel handicapped when attempting to improvise because of your strong classical background. Instead, you would be more equipped because of the strong understanding of music you already possess.

 

How do you begin creating freely when you’ve been taught from such a young age to simply follow what’s on the page? I can imagine the trepidation because trying to play something that isn’t on the page has been ingrained as “wrong”.

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May I suggest that the first place to begin? Dare to try.

 

The process of improvisation often challenges you to simply make a sound and create something first without prior judgement. It takes time and practice for one to get used to translating the God-given tunes and harmonies in your heart and mind to actual sound. If you are completely new, begin with playing a familiar tune that you have memorised with no written notes provided and slowly get used to doing so. Before you panic and think that this is all too abstract, here are some practical tips to help you on your journey.

 

1)     Play any piece of music with a greater harmonic and melodic understanding.

Gotcha! Most of us are guilty of taking a piece of written music and playing through it without really getting a composer’s ‘bird’s eye view’ of how the piece was written and structured, both harmonically and melodically.

 

Pick a piece you are already familiar with. Study the chords and the harmonies that support the melodies! Once you understand those, take it apart and attempt to play it in another key.

 

For example, take apart the simple “Fur Elise” by Beethoven – could you find the chords and then transpose it and play it in E minor instead of A minor simply by knowing the chord numbers? (e.g. i, V, iv) The more songs you analyse, the more you will see patterns and apply it to your own playing!

 

2)     Listen & Copy!

As a baby first encounters language by listening and then imitating, we can also learn the musical language by listening widely and attempting to recreate.

 

Listen to a piece of music, then attempt to replicate and play what you hear without the guidance of scores. Try to play it as closely and accurately as the original.

 

Begin with simpler pieces first - Pop songs or worship songs are a good start as they often have simpler chord structures!

 

Some quick tips:

  • Chart the bars with the relevant time signature

  • Identify the bass notes

  • Identify chord qualities, chords, and cadences

  • Identify melodies and riffs

  • Play back what you have learnt and compare it with the original

  • Attempt to play it in different keys, keeping true to the voicings, grooves, etc.

  • Learn to apply similar chord progressions, voicings, and styles to your playing

 

3)     Re-organise

You may be used to playing the melody with your right hand (RH), and arpeggiated and moving harmonies with your left (LH). Try placing majority of the chord on the RH instead while keeping the LH simple with mainly the bass note or with the 5th.

 

When playing as an accompanist, refrain from playing the melody line throughout. Practise forming chords with good voicing and voice-leading with the RH and LH while being aware of the melody.

 

4)     Dare to create

Take your instrument – (even your voice!) and create something new. Add chords to it. Or reharmonise a familiar hymn with different chords! It may not sound like the best composition at the start, but similarly, becoming eloquent in a language requires you to practice stringing phrases, then sentences, then an entire speech or poem together.

 

Ultimately, view music as a whole, while keeping in mind its ultimate goal of expressing things often intangible and communicating with others. I believe God created music for communication and for us to simply enjoy its beauty.  

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Cultivating the Heart of a Worshipper
 
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“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He trims so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. The branch cannot itself produce fruit, unless it abides on the vine. Likewise, you cannot produce fruit unless you abide in Me.” – John 15

God is looking for a garden. One that is bursting with fruit of many kinds, one whose weeds have been tended to, and whose leaves do not wither throughout the seasons. God is looking at the garden of our hearts.  A garden in which He can take delight in and enjoy.

Fruit is a natural produce of a healthy tree. One that is firmly rooted in the soil sustained by minerals and nutrients of the earth, one that is exposed to the sustaining grace of sunlight, and one that has daily access to the life-giving properties of water. You see, in the kingdom, if our hearts are the garden, then the soil, water, and sunlight are the presence of God and His Word in our lives. Just as a tree does not have to strive to produce fruit, we simply need to ‘abide’ in the right conditions for us to flourish.

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 As worshippers, we flourish in our God-given destiny and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit when we learn to expose ourselves to the very source that will cause us to grow and become like Him. We do not ‘fast track’ fruit by our own efforts, we simply surrender our beings unto a very, very good God and the growth will naturally happen.

The key to the presence of God is to worship. To be able to worship God is His gift to His sons and daughters. It is this very act of worship - the laying down of our wants and rights, surrendering to His will and offering up a sacrifice of praise - that cultivates the garden of our hearts. It keeps us on the path to becoming more and more like Him – this is the reason why we live, breathe, and exist on this earth. We fulfill our purpose when we know the Father, become like Him, and represent Him to a world that so desperately needs Him.

 
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Drums // Muso × Sound Engineer
 

By Caleb Kay x Caleb Chan

It’s no secret that you only sound as good as your engineer makes you sound, but good sound is really a team effort; the end-goal is to set the team up for a win. Both musos and engineers really want the same thing – to create an atmosphere for people to encounter God – and learning to see from each other’s perspectives will allow us to work towards crafting that atmosphere better, together!

We embark on a dialogue between our Resident Drums Mentor, Caleb Kay, and our Resident Sound Mentor, Caleb Chan, to gain insight on the different approaches drummers and sound engineers take with regards to this instrument.

How is your working relationship?

Kay: There’s been such a natural grace on our working relationship, maybe something to do with having the same name?

Chan: It definitely helps to have the same name. (Imagine if everyone on the band had the same name, the level of unity will be incredible!) We share quite a similar sense of humour, play the same mobile games, support the same football club, love the same God, so I guess we get along pretty well.

What’s one thing that has had a huge impact on getting a better sound?

Chan: Unsurprisingly, communication and being willing to communicate goes a long way.

Kay: It’s something we do before either of us get behind the drums or sound console: explaining what drum sound I’m trying to achieve, and also hearing from Chan on how that fits within the bigger picture of his mix. That gives us both the same target to hit.

Chan: It’s common for musicians to come into a session/rehearsal prepared and ready to play their roles and parts, but not have an awareness of how their sounds play a role in the bigger picture.

What’s worse is when you try to bring up certain things that could help, and they get offended as they feel you have overstepped your jurisdiction and entered their ‘space’.

When Kay and I started working together more, we would talk about what drum sound we were going for, how to achieve it, what could be improved - all in context with how everything fits back into the vision of the leaders and AG. But that calls for a certain openness, and not getting easily offended when something doesn’t work.

Kay: There are some specific traits to the drum sound we attempt to go for at AG: a deep, low-pitched snare; warm toms with a subdued attack, and warm, mellow cymbals. My equipment choice and drum tuning facilitates this, but the rest is in the hands of Chan, so we have to communicate to ensure that this envisioned sound is seen through from source to speakers.

That’s great to hear (ha ha) and it’s so true that communication and trust go a long way towards sounding better. But what about some techniques you’ve both employed?

Kay: Firstly, good sound starts with a good source.

Chan: Good source is good sauce.

Kay: You can’t expect the sound engineer to manufacture sound/tone that doesn’t exist at the source. Have a good understanding of tuning and muting your drums to achieve a wide range of tones, and use cymbals that produce the tone you desire.

Chan: With most (actually all) instruments and singers, getting it right at the source is so critical to better sound.

I’ll add that mics and mic-ing play a huge part as well. What kind of sound are you going for? There are tons of drum microphones available and different mics respond differently and have different characteristics. Similarly, with mic positioning, every inch closer or further, and every angle change, alters the sound dramatically.

Kay’s understanding of drum mic-ing really helps as well! I don’t have to be running to and fro if I want something adjusted, I just need to let him know and he’ll sort it out.

Kay: Yeah, it’s so underrated but goes a long way for drummers to try and understand how to mic your drums – a basic understanding of how mic positioning and placement affects how your drums sound. You’ll help yourself and the sound engineer out a huge deal getting to grips with these techniques.

Chan: Oh, and… REVERB! I always find that drums require a lot more processing than other instruments to sound great. But nice reverbs – used tastefully – make your drums sound massive!

As a drummer / sound engineer, what's the one thing you wished the other camp knew?  

Chan: I’ll share this in relation with drummers as a whole, and not particularly Kay. One big tip for drummers: Learn to mix yourself.

I don’t mean going to the sound board or having an iPad mixer by your side. I mean balancing the velocity with which you strike the various components on your kit.

I’ve encountered drummers who smash their hats way harder than the rest of the kit, or don’t hit their snares loud enough to cut through, or hit their crashes really loudly; all these mean an imbalance in how the kit is coming through the various mics.

Learn to get good balance on your own, even before your sound is picked up – remember drum mics are very close to each other – and amplified by the system. Again, good source is good sauce.

Kay: For me, it can be frustrating when you work hard towards a certain kind of tone, but the engineer just treats your instrument generically, or, because of limited technique or ability, defaults to only one kind of tone.

Chan is one of my favourite sound engineers because he listens widely and is very up-to-date on the current sound of worship music, from Bethel Music to Hillsong to Elevation Worship.

He tries to borrow ideas – attempting to reverse-engineer the Bethel Music snare drum sound, for instance – and in doing this, pushes himself to become better as an engineer. At the same time, he learns how to better reproduce a certain kind of tone that the drummer might be working towards, becoming more versatile!

Any closing words for our readers?

Kay: Just want to encourage all the sound engineers out there: you are more than a face hiding at the back behind the sound console; you are such a vital part of the worship team.

Listen widely, be in-the-know of how drums (or any instrument for that matter) sound in current worship music, and learn how to reproduce that tone, always seeking to grow in your ear and your ability!

Chan: And drummers, you are in a position to influence the atmosphere of worship in a very audible and obvious way.

Be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing and learn to flow with Him on your instrument, more than just playing through a song!

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Bass: 3 things you can play besides root notes
 
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BASS. If you’re reading this, you probably have a passion for it, and/or the instruments that produce those frequencies. And for that, I shall dub thee a ‘Low-end Lover’!

This article addresses the felt need shared amongst many a low-end lovers who play in church: ‘Can I do anything beyond playing the correct root notes in time?’ Yes, and I will share some simple approaches you may use to ace up your bass and provide not just a conducive atmosphere for worship, but also through your playing reflect the excellence, beauty, and creativity of the original Creator of groove, harmony, and melody Himself.

But first, what is your role as a bass player?

The Role of the Bass

A general school of thought is that the bass helps to maintain the framework of the music, within which the rest of the band can be free to explore. ‘Framework? Say what?’ Abstract, I know.

The framework is made up of rhythmic and harmonic boundaries - in other words, the groove and the chords of a piece of music, among other elements. Think of a framed-up painting - most artists would not purposely paint outside of the frame and onto the walls. Keeping the paint within the frame - that’s a huge part of the bass’ role. It’s about keeping the groove and chords clear.

Failing to do this would cause the music to sound messy or dissonant, both of which I presume are not #ministrygoals for you. (If they are, why are you reading this?)

So how do you fulfil this? Simple - ensure that you do not deviate too much from the prearranged grooves and chord progressions (a.k.a. chord changes) in a song. If the progression was G-C-G-C in a straight rock groove, don’t play G-Bm-Em-C Bossa-novishly!

Now, on to the juicier, tastier stuff - the 3 things (out of many) you can play on your bass during your church set besides root notes. -Rubs hands-

(One caveat though: Depending on your background, you may need Google ready!) 

Passing Notes

This principle involves moving from one chord to another via a route of in-between, related notes, to outline the chord changes (related to ‘walking bass’). For example, ask: How can I ‘travel’ from G to C in a less-than-direct way?

So from G to C, you could use the notes A and/or B (in-betweens) as part of your route; or even traveling down from notes E to D to C.

Using passing notes creates a sense of movement, which adds energy - great for faster, more upbeat songs.

Inversions

Each chord is made up of a combination of notes, called chord tones. For example, a G major triad (chord or three tones) is made up of the root (G), 3rd (B), and 5th (D). A chord inversion is when the chord tones are rearranged, such that the bass (or lowest) note is no longer the root note, but the 3rd or 5th.

During a G Major chord, most bass players would play the root - in this case, the G note. That’s a good thing, please do that. However, if you want to provide a lift, some tension, or a different tonal ‘colour’ (think of music notes and chords as a collection of strokes and colours on canvas, within that frame we talked about earlier) to engage listeners, you can play B or D during that G Major chord.

Apply this principle to other chords - find out what the chord tones of a chord are, and occasionally add variation by playing a chord tone other than the root. Try it out! Each inversion of each chord provides a very different feel. Get familiar with how each feels, so you’ll know when to use which.

Of course, use this tastefully - don’t play an inversion for every chord! This risks distracting - or worse, confusing - the listener, which causes us to ‘lose’ the congregation.

Chords

“Chords? On a bass?? Is you mad?!” Nope, not right now at least. I would be if you didn’t read on, though! (: Chords on a bass can offer not just added colour, but also provide additional harmonic support for especially sparse portions or stripped-down setups, such as: 1 keyboard, 1 cajon, 1 bass, 0-1 acoustic guitar.

I’m not asking you to play an entire triad. Try and stick to just two notes when playing chords on bass, and do not play them too closely together. All this is to avoid them sounding like your football boots look after a match in the rain - muddy.

For example, during a soft C-D-Em progression, try these shapes for simple root/third chords:

  • C: E string, 8th fret (C) + G string 9th fret (E, its major third)

  • D: E string, 10th fret (D) + G string 11th fret (F#, its major third)

  • Em: E string, 12th fret (E) + G string 12th fret (G, its minor third)

 Conclusion

There are tonnes of other ways you can use and incorporate the above tips into your playing. Experiment at home, figure out what you like, expand your musical vocabulary, and add them into your arsenal. So whenever you need it, you’re ready to whip it out and take the song to another level!

There you have it! Three simple, straightforward, and immediately applicable handles you can adopt and use in your church set. I’m excited for how you guys will benefit from this!

Keep it groovy, low-end lover.

 
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