It seems that every church I visit has the musicians arranged differently on the platform. Are there any guidelines as to what is best?
Many churches have asked about practical ideas in platform arrangements of musicians and singers. Naturally, it is impossible to cover every situation in every church because of the many variables in congregational size, physical space limitations, etc. But by carefully considering the following suggestions you will hopefully find some ideas that are applicable to your situation. These will be especially helpful for considering future platform positioning and for those involved in new building plans.
Some of these ideas may seem really basic to some people, but since we have folks from big churches as well as really small churches who read these, giving the full picture seemed like the best idea.
Worship Leader’s Proximity to the Congregation
Some churches have a platform that is quite far removed from the congregational seating, either by height or by horizontal distance. Because an effective worship leader will often take at least some cues from the response of the people, too much distance can hinder this vital interaction. Sometimes worship leaders prefer to have a large distance between them and the people, but this is usually because they feel that the distance somehow gives them more credibility or authority. (i.e., “I am the leader.”) However, if a person is committed to leading people in worship (as opposed to just putting on a show or being “up in front”), he should seek the proper balance concerning proximity. For extremely large congregations this may be impractical, but in most churches the worship leader can easily be positioned close to the congregation. The closer the placement of the primary worship leader or team to the congregation, the better the interaction.
The Rhythm Band
The musical core of a church’s worship team is often referred to the rhythm band. Sometimes it makes up the entire worship team. This group consists of piano and/or electronic keyboard, guitar(s), bass, and drums. These are the basic instruments that carry the rhythm and play the melody on which the harmony is built. (Depending on the musical style, an organ may also be considered a part of the rhythm band.) Other instruments (flute, violin, oboe, harp, etc.) are considered solo instruments and are less foundational (musically speaking). Therefore they aren’t considered a part of the core group.
It is important that the members of the rhythm band be placed close together. There is a tight rhythmical interaction that takes place during services and rehearsals. Without these musicians being in close proximity to one another, there can be real problems with tempos, rhythms, chordal progressions, and basic communication.
Many churches have an organ on one side of their platform and a piano on the other side. Some churches even put drum kits on the opposite side of the platform from other percussion instruments (cajon, djembe, congas, timpani, etc.). Although aesthetically such an arrangement looks very nice—it gives a balanced appearance—musically it is extremely ineffective. These key foundational instrumentalists should be positioned near each other to allow them the musical interplay they need (i.e., the bass player can match the drummer’s kick drum patterns, the pianist and the organist can communicate chording changes, etc.).
Instrumentalists other than the rhythm band need to be handled carefully. They can be placed slightly away from the core group (with proper monitors), although it is helpful to have them as close as possible. Individual miking of these instruments is not always necessary, although this will depend on room size, acoustics, and more
Worship Leader’s Proximity to the Rhythm Band
Just as the rhythm band members must have interaction with one another, the worship leader must be able to interact with at least certain key musicians. This is, of course, assuming that the worship leader is not one of the rhythm band members. If he is, then the necessary interaction is simple. If, however, the worship leader is not one of the key instrumentalists, then certain arrangements are vital.
Most significantly, the worship leader needs a clear sight line to both the drummer and the lead accompaniment instrumentalist. This could be piano, keyboard or guitar, and may even vary depending on the song. The worship leader must be able to indicate desired tempo changes to the drummer at any time. In the same way, he must be able to communicate key changes or song changes, etc., with the main accompaniment instrumentalist(s). Without this communication, his leadership is greatly hindered. Simple hand signals to indicate tempo changes, modulations, song endings, etc., can be very effective but only if primary players have an unobstructed view of each other.
The primary vocalists usually consist of the worship leader (singing melody), two or three harmony singers, and perhaps an additional melody singer (especially if the worship leader does a lot of vocal embellishment or if his/her vocal range is more suited for solo work rather than congregational worship). These primary vocalists should be positioned close to each other in the same way as the rhythm band. This will help them hear one another and avoid clashing harmonies. If monitors are used, this can help immensely, especially if the vocalists can be given a more vocal-oriented monitor mix. If possible, each of these primary vocalists should have their own microphone to help obtain the proper levels in the overall sound (house p.a.) mix.
If a choir is being utilized, they can be positioned off to the side or toward the back of the platform area, as long as they can hear (preferably through monitors) the instruments and other vocals. Many churches making a transition to praise and worship simply leave their choirs where they have always been positioned. This can be fine. If it’s working, don’t fix it.
Visual Projection Equipment
Most churches use video projection to project song lyrics onto a screen or wall for the congregation to sing. Under ideal circumstances these are very effective, but sometimes there are problems. Placement of the projector can be crucial.
Two major considerations are important:
- The words should be easily viewed by the entire congregation (sometimes two projectors are needed, one on each side of the room). Your goal should be to enable people to participate fully in all that happens. If the words cannot be easily viewed by everyone, full participation won’t happen.
- The projector(s) should not interfere with the musicians. Some churches have the projector positioned so that it actually shines in the eyes of the musicians. This can be a real a problem if they are trying to read music. Occasionally the musicians’ essential sight lines are blocked. Be sure to consider placement carefully.
- Sometimes, rather than projection, a large screen video monitor might be a better option. If your room isn’t too large, it’s definitely worth considering.
Serious consideration needs to be given to the placement of furniture. Items that will be used frequently such as a pulpit/lectern, communion table, baptismal font, etc., need a prominent place. However, exactly how prominent that place is will be determined by the your priorities, goals, and vision.
For the sake of simplicity, let me make some primary statements.
- Placement of anything on the platform should always take into consideration the flow of traffic (people moving about) on the platform. For example, does the location of the communion table (that some churches use just one Sunday per month) mean it blocks the walkway where the musicians usually go to or from their instruments? Are microphone cords or speaker wires strewn across the platform, making walking precarious? Will the new drum kit block the pastor from getting to the pulpit?
- Placement of anything on the platform should also take the congregation into consideration. In one church I visited, the middle sections of the first few rows could not see the projected words because of the large pulpit. It rendered those pews, though still available for seating, entirely useless.
These are not rocket-scientist considerations, but they are important. Unfortunately, the little things are often overlooked.
In all of these things please keep in mind that Scripture does not give us any absolutes about platform arrangements. These practical suggestions come from years of worship-leading experience and interaction in hundreds of different types of churches, and I hope they will benefit you and your church.