Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Line6 Helix LT Review

Helix LT... a digital pedalboard? Surely my analogue pedals are better?


For some time I've been using my trusty analogue pedals hooked up to a slightly modified Fender Blues Junior amp. This setup took time to put together and was carefully assembled with various pedals I've sought out, found second hand or got for a good price!

The History - my thought process to see if it helps you!


When my church moved venue to a building on a 'lively' main street in a city (with very little parking nearby) I found myself having to park on double-yellows, drop off the kit, park nearby, walk back to the church - then repeat the process in reverse. Carrying an amp and pedalboard (plus extras) for even half a km isn't that easy!

I 'happened to' read something about the Helix LT online - a God-incidence more than a coincidence perhaps! But having read up on the Helix, I became pretty convinced that this digital pedalboard was a solution for playing very regularly and endlessly lugging heavy kit! But would the sounds really stand up against an analogue setup that I'd refined over 12 years or so?

A number of YouTube comparisons and blind tests convinced me over a couple of weeks! Videos like the ones below showed me that the Helix (and Helix LT, a stripped down version of the Helix but with all the same sounds) easily stood up against an analogue setup.

I could hear small tonal differences but it's so close as to be impossible to be noticeable, even by guitar players - especially through PA systems and with varied PA operators too! As for people in the church, they neither understand or care to be honest. 'Does it sound OK' is probably as far as many people go as hopefully their (and our) focus as worshippers is on God.

But hey, we know good tone and a good sound and doing our best honours God...




So after a few more YouTube videos on setting up the Helix and the various options it offers, I took the plunge, selling some old kit to help fund the purchase.

To cut a long story short, my lovely amp and analogue pedalboard are currently sitting feeling a bit unloved and redundant. Having used the Helix for about 4 months now, I can't imagine going back. Sound quality is outstanding, usability and reliability has been outstanding, it's easy to use and change and it doesn't break the back to carry it! And the sound guys love it as no more hassle with mic-ing up amps and feedback!

Setting Up the Helix LT

Image from the Line6 site


The Helix LT comes with a number of presets already set up. As ever, these are incredibly varied and move between highly useable to not that useful. A guitar pedalboard has to reflect so many different people and needs that the manufacturers understandably use presets to showcase both the pedalboard and its many potential varied uses! But to be honest if you just used these, you could have a brilliant sound without needing to change much - except possibly volume levels between presets.

The Helix LT is very varied in the way you can use it. You can use it by setting up a number of presets for various songs (you can buy many worship presets online such as from Guitar For His Glory and others). So for example one preset for 'Way Maker' and then another for 'Living Hope' etc. You then scroll through the presets using the 'preset' dial to the left of the LCD screen. You can still turn the pedals on and off at will.

You can also setup the Helix LT with a preset and then use what are called 'snapshots', so effectively these are presets from within a song - such as a press for an intro / turnaround riff, another for the verse, the chorus etc. This saves doing an Irish jig all the time on the board. This setup can be combined with the 'preset' setup outlined above. In this scenario, you can then use the eight 'stomp switches' to move between snapshots within a preset.

The way I chose to use the Helix LT was to mirror a standard worship electric guitar pedalboard setup.

My Helix LT set up in a  'traditional pedalboard' mode

Setting up the Helix LT in 'pedalboard' mode


1. Use the left 'preset' dial to scroll to a new preset.

2. On the next screen you will be able to select various 'pedals' to go onto the pedalboard. To do this, you use the dial to the right of the LCD screen and click down. This reveals a series of options which you can scroll through to decide what 'pedal' you want - e.g. I have a compressor first in the line.

In this window, I'm setting up a reverb pedal.
The 'mark' in the middle of the LCD is just an air bubble behind the screen protector 


3. Keep on adding 'pedals' to the board using the right hand scroll wheel and clicking down to select any options you choose. You can at any time scroll around the board to choose an individual pedal and then make changes to the settings. In the example above you have a reverb where you can change the decay / predelay / low cut etc.

Each pedal or amp has varied options, When it comes to choosing an amp or amp/cab, there are up to 3 screens of choices you can use. You can route pedals and amps in different ways as you'll see in the 'behind the scenes' setup of my pedal board.

When done, your preset may look a bit like this...


In my set up, I've got a compressor > overdrive > overdrive > volume pedal > dotted eighth delay > cave reverb > 14/ note delay > bigger reverb > chorus.

I have then taken the signal to two separate amps (a model of the Vox AC15 and one of the Blues Junior). I've changed the mics used on these to personal taste (edit these in the options that will appear when you have selected an amp). Both of the amps go out to the same output.

One small tip is that by selecting the 'guitar' input on the top left of the LCD screen, you can also access a noise gate which I have turned on!

For this preset, I also have a small 'plate' reverb on all the time which is not assigned to the foot switches.

There is also the option to add an 'impulse response' (IRs) to your sound. At a ridiculously basic level, an impulse response is a sort of simulation of the 'character' emitted by a speaker or cab. Many guitar players using digital modellers swear by these impulse responses. There are various ones online and can be found for free as well as paid for. You can also create your own. These add a tonality to the pedal that reflects various cabs and speakers.

On the image above, you will see what looks like a 'pulse wave' (in red) - it's the third icon along on the second line. I actually have a few but have them bypassed as found they didn't add anything to my sound. This is an intensely personal preference so try a few and see how they work for you.

4. In order to view this in a traditional pedalboard 'mode' you simply touch the 'view' button on the left of the Helix (with the 'home' icon). This toggles back and forth from the screen above. When viewing the pedalboard mode, it will look like this.

My Helix LT setup


All of the effects you can see have been assigned to a foot switch on the Helix LT. This is done by lightly touching one of the foot switches (don't press them, just touch) while a certain effect is selected on the Helix. You can then save this / assign the effect to the foot switch. This will then colour code.

To save the preset, simply click the 'Save' button above the preset. You can also re-name the preset at any time. Presets can be copied to another preset number as well if so needed. I have the board set up a bit like this, plus an 'acoustic' simulation preset and one for a bass guitar (bass amps are included on the Helix LT).

In this mode, I can then turn effects on and off. The effects are also colour coded.

Helix LT colour coded effects / foot switches


Conclusion

The Helix LT is outstanding and with an amazing quality of sound too. It has varied outputs, although I generally use the XLR out(s) direct to the mixer. The only thing I did find was that adding in a separate pedal (in my case a POG type pedal) made the unit more noisy so I simply use the Helix LT as a standalone unit.

In terms of accessibility, the unit is as complex or as simple as you want to make it. You have the option to create standard pedalboard as I have done - or create presets of individual songs with snapshots of sections of the song. I can tell a slight difference in tone from my board / amp setup but nothing that would make me want to return to my analogue set up. It also avoids all the troubleshooting of hums and buzzes that I used to get with my analogue board.

Bear in mind that you will need to download software to your computer in order to keep the board updated. This also gives the option to setup the Helix LT via the computer if you so wish.

You can YouTube a number of demos of this that showcase the pedal far better than I am able to but all I can say is that I highly recommend this. Someone said this is the first time a digital modeller has closed the gap with a traditional setup. For the average worship guitar player like me, it's ideal.

If I had to rate this out of 10, it would be 9.5. Simply amazing.

Protection / Case


The Helix LT isn't cheap so looking after it has become important. The first thing I did is to order a screen protector for the LCD screen. These are DIY jobs - so a layer of protective strong clear 'plastic' with 3M tape on it. I bought mine from https://glenndelaune.com/helix-patches.htm - it's worked fine so far although you could easily rig something up yourself if you didn't want to pay.

For a case I didn't get a Helix specific flight case (heavy and pricey). Sadly the Helix LT is just too large for the Gator GK-2110 case which I already had (too big by around 1cm in width, aagh!) Instead I bought the Gator G-MULTIFX-2411 case which is a bit too big and not quite as well padded in my view. But it's still a lot better than nothing and only £30 or so with delivery.

I have the Helix LT  inside a black pillow case as a 'dust protector' and some additional padding in the Gator bag.





Wednesday, 10 July 2019

That Worship Sound - Worship Essentials for MainStage Review

Worship Essentials


Worship Essentials, from That Worship Sound (Abel Mendoza) is a set of keyboard patches that can be used in Logic and MainStage for use in worship sets. I've been using this for a couple of years now and it's an unbelievably good tool. In fact if you've got a set of MIDI keys and a Mac, getting MainStage and Worship Essentials is as invaluable as an iPad is with onSong!

Worship Essentials has come a long way since it was originally launched and has improved markedly and excellently! See some of the early YouTube videos (which are still very useful for learning MainStage) on Abel Mendoza's channel.

I wrote a review on That Worship Sound saying that this is good for amateur use (people like me!) through to more professional users aiming to nail some of the worship sounds we find in a number of tracks by people like Bethel, Hillsong and Elevation Worship etc.




Worship Essentials comes with a range of patches (see image, left column). These all have a varied range of sounds from pads, different pianos, EP sound, synths, basses etc.

Within the patches are usually up to 7 different sounds which of course can be assigned to your MIDI keyboard faders. As usual, you use the 'Layout' tab within MainStage to assign your MIDI keys to the concert in MainStage.

Note that I have also added a transpose function before now to one of the concerts, with a +1, -1 and 0 function, so that I can easily transpose (and then restore the keys to the correct pitch, using the 0 function). This is fairly easy to do within the Layout mode. There is also a YouTube tutorial showing how to do this - https://youtu.be/Oxc1sEendfM

This is not shown on the image below as I'd set this up in an older, now disused concert I'd developed. I did find that the transpose function in MainStage when assigned to buttons was occasionally a bit flakey - nothing to do with Worship Essentials - but a MainStage issue.


In terms of sounds, one of the huge strengths is the 'drone' function. A drone pad is a synth pad sound that sits underneath your mix or worship set and 'pads' it out a bit and gives it more character and dimension. I use pads constantly in worship when playing alone or with a couple of others, even if we have a keyboard player.

The pads in Worship Essentials (from now on 'WE') are absolutely outstanding, especially in v2.1 of the concert. They are smooth, silky and have some controls within the drone tools centre on screen. These can add intervals and octaves, on top of the existing pad sound. It is beautiful and very easy to control. I've assigned the pads to my 'drum pads' on my Novation Impulse MIDI keyboard, which I've then labelled with masking tape and pen, showing the keys. I've used only the most common keys!

I've also assigned the MIDI keys to scroll within the patches.


As you'll see, I've also labelled many of the assignable functions within WE - namely the commonly used ones rather than all of them. You could easily assign them on a MIDI keyboard using the extra banks



Back to Worship Essentials, I've found that there are a good number of useful sounds 'out of the box' so to speak. Of course you can assign new sounds over on the channel strips, as I have done for some of the tracks we use with 'stabs' that needed to be more aggressive. But I'd go as far as to say you don't really need to change any of the sounds within WE, they are that good.



You do have some options for each sound as you'll see on the screenshot above, showing the Perform page for the patch 'Massive Side Chain'. You can see that, for example, the Piano has options for 'octave', 'bright' and 'soft pedal' where the bass (as another example) has options for 'verb', 'delay 2' and 'arp' (short for arpeggiator).

These additions to each sound change, so for example in the screenshot below (showing the Piano and Delays patch), the individual settings for Pad contains options for 'Drone', Air' and 'Mod', slightly different than the options within the Massive Side Chain patch.



The patch 'That Worship Sound' has an arpeggiation on the quarter note that reminds me of 'Chariots of Fire' - I can't help but play that every time I hear it!

What all this does mean is that unique sounds can be found and created even within each of the individual instruments within a Concert. Once you go up to the 'Concert' level there are also effects that can be applied globally - or more accurately to the patches that are set up to use these settings.

To explain more, at the top of the screen, you'll see (top left) the Piano Verb, Pad Vern and Shimmer. At the top left you'll see things like the Delays. If these are switched on (as the Verbs and Shimmer are in the screenshot above) then you can control the amount of reverb on the pads and piano - plus the amount of shimmer on the pads.

Within each patch, the sounds differ. So when you read options for 'synth', these synths are not all the same. Some patches contain the 'bass' setting, another may contain and 'organ' setting but obviously not all patches are the same!!

Tap Tempo works very well and is incredibly useful especially if playing with a delay or arpeggiation. Other slight tweaks I've made have been to the split keyboard, giving some patches the bass a bit higher up the scale etc but essentially very few changes have been made by myself - which is probably for the best!!

Responsiveness and speed have never been an issue playing live. I've never had an issue playing live either in terms of the Concert being sluggish or crashing. This is with a MacBook Pro which is over 3 years old.

The patches are also available for use within Logic when you download WE. There are also (as of version 2), two separate concerts - one which remembers global settings and another which doesn't. Check the website for more info.

I cannot recommend WE highly enough. It's been incredible in worship when I've just used the pads, or dropped in on ministry times where I've moved to keys away from my usual electric guitar. The reverbs and shimmer give the pads an epic sound when playing live and the ability to slide piano and other sounds in and out have been effortless - by the software - maybe not by the piano player, ha!

WE is very well thought out, has already had some amazing upgrades and does what is says on the tin - essential for worship.


Monday, 8 July 2019

Worship Guitar Essentials 2.0 (with a nod to 2.1) mini review

Worship Guitar Essenitals


Worship Guitar Essentials was reviewed by a friend when on version 1. Since then this concert for MainStage has been upgraded and improved steadily by the creators over at That Worship Sound.

I have used version 2.0 of Worship Essentials (with MainStage 3.4.2). There are a range of guitar options (from single coil to humbucker). There is an increased range of amps and improved controls across the pedalboard. All of this can be controlled with a foot controller.

There are so many options within Worship Guitar Essentials (on/off - tap tempo - double delay controls - several pedals from overdrives to vibe to reverb to delay and compression) that you'd need something like the Behringer FCB1010 which has 10 foot pedals (although you can assign more than 10 patches to those pedals) and two volume/wah type assignable pedals. You'll need all of the assigning you can get!

Sound quality is excellent from the clean sound to the settings created. The overdrives (often the place where sound quality can fail in any pedal or digital interface) are certainly much better than the in-built overdrives to MainStage which are average at best.

I don't use MainStage 3 live with guitar. I know some people do, like I believe one of the guitarists at iHop KC. I would be concerned about latency type issues (which would be admittedly be minimal if using something like a Focusrite or a Gio Apogee) and just prefer a pedalboard in front of me on the floor. 

Other people have very useful tips to manage MainStage 3 playing live (for example click here for 13 tips from a guy called John Mike). 

The good thing about the Worship Essentials series generally is it uses minimal processing power with lots of buses used rather than loaded channels. If you keep your sound fairly basic (don't use too many pedals) you'll always be good to go!

Remember this is good for electrics and for bass!

For recording and home use or practice, this would be outstanding for anyone - this is how I've used it. And for $40 US (so about £32) it's a great value and updated product.

This is version 2.0 where I was using a 'rhythm matchless' preset. It's nice to have varied electrics which are definitely different and I'd say quite accurate in my limited experience. There are also varied bass guitars and a couple of acoustic guitar settings too.




Below is a screenshot of version 2.1 with the added drones and no guitar plugged in.



All in all, a highly recommended worship guitar concert!!

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Free 2019 Worship and Ambient Pads

Worship and ambient pads are amazing for sitting in the mix of your worship set or songs. They provide a nice base to the song, a smooth flow and give great ambience too.

Many times these are fairly 'straight' pads sounds on the root note which is great. I often have to play solo, or with a couple of others and often don't have a keyboard player (unless I play using the amazing pads and sounds from there amazing Abel Mendoza and team at thatworshipsound.com).

So my pads tend to have a bit more 'movement' and harmonics, motion, arpeggiators in them in order to give the worship a few more dynamics beyond a simple pad sound. These latest pads add a few more of these dynamics which may help you. All for free, enjoy!

Direct link - https://youtu.be/U9lQhHLdl18

Our playlist of free pads can be found here...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6K429HuBcs&list=PLOBi-HWvRc_c07fBQ7WR2B7-UMOifY2sr

Really hope and pray these help some people!

We've also now added a few 'minor' keys - these are layers of various pads but only using the root notes so can also be used for major scales! Result!

Direct link - https://youtu.be/klfOoVJOe7Q




Friday, 4 January 2019

TC Electronic Sub 'N' Up MINI Octaver Pedal Review

TC Electronics do a number of interesting pedals, a bit like Electro-Harmonix. When it comes to octave pedals, there's little doubt that the EHX POG leads the way (although Boss may have something to say about that).

What's important in an octave pedal is that the pedal plays both the octaves but also tracks the note accurately and responsively. This is where EHX have led the way in my view.

So what of TC's version of the micro POG - the "Sub N Up"? This comes in a couple of versions - the 'regular' size pedal and the mini pedal.

The difference between the two, other than the physical footprint is that the regular Octaver has two sub bass control knobs, whereas the Mini Octaver only has one. The regular Octaver also has a switch for its 'Poly Toneprint Classic' sound.

Both have the ability to beam TonePrints to the pedal, as well as a mini USB input. The regular one also has the ability to be true bypass - or optionally can be set up to be a buffered bypass.

A buffered bypass is often used at the front of a pedal chain with lots of true bypass pedals and considered to punch the sound through the bypass pedals more effectively). On my pedalboard setup I have a sadly discontinued Open Road overdrive at the start of the chain and this is a buffered bypass. Does it make the sound better? Hard to tell but I think it probably does.

The Octaver Mini itself has three control knobs... The top one controls the wet and dry signal. If the knob is turned fully to the right it is completely dry (so the pedal is not heard). If the knob is turned fully to the left, the signal is fully wet (so the original guitar sound isn't heard). I've left the pedal in the middle position mostly.

Below this there are control knobs for the octave sub (left) and the octave up (right). The more these are turned clockwise, the greater the amount of effect will be added. Simple.

The other good thing is that one of TC Electronic's TonePrints will allow you to have the octave Up pedal as a separate sub, so you can use the pedal to go down 1 and 2 octaves. Otherwise your sub pedal gives you an octave down and the up gives an octave up.

Of course in use with a delay and reverb (and even a chorus), this pedal will help giving a swelling shimmer reverb sound if wanted.

For me, the pedal now finds its way at the start of the pedal chain on both my acoustic (when playing solo or as a duo) or my electric board. On acoustic, the pedal can act to give me a bass line while my partner in musical crime carries the chords. Or on both acoustic and electric, the octave pedal thickens up a lead line, either to give a specific effect or simply as a 'boost' to thicken the tone.

In practice, I find that the Mini Octaver tracks single lead lines perfectly well for my need anyway!

With chords it's more tricky for any octave pedal as it has to separate out each string and apply the effect simultaneously. I have to say that the Mini Octaver tracks even chords impressively. Here I'm talking about worship songs which generally have a fairly standard rhythmic strum pattern. But even with both the sub and up activated I find it works well. There is a slight bit of latency on some of the bass as you'll hear in the clip but as long as you don't overdo the amounts (when using chords at least), I think it works fine!

Conclusion


Overall, my conclusion is that the pedal works very well. It actually reproduces bass well on a completely wet setting. With chords, it's more varied, especially the higher the settings you use as you'd expect). It can begin to have a slightly detuned, chorusy type of sound. But for adding something else to the tone and adding character, it works very well.

YouTube Sounds Review



'Best' Worship Songs from 2018

Don't you dislike words like 'best worship songs'...! What does that even mean? For us, it's just a title, nothing more. We all recognise that various songs work in differing contexts, groups, churches and occasions. Songs rise up and fall back, others stay longer, some come for seasons and in certain churches.

But from my church, worship events and local area within the missional Anglican and charismatic church, which songs have really been 'taking off'? What songs have I seen God use to really speak into people's lives and seen people sing with a passion in church? Which worship songs have seen God's anointing on them? New songs, old ones, songs somewhere in between....

In no particular order....

Living Hope

Written by Phil Wickham and Brian Johnson, this is a song that has really taken off in 2018. The words are really anointed as is the construction of the song. This is sung with more energy by Phil Wickham compared to the more mellow Brian Johnson. Cross Point Church have done a great version (and electric guitar tutorial). All versions work equally well. This is a song that can cross over between band in a charismatic church and in a more traditional evangelical church. It's a song I find myself singing to myself over and over.

What A Beautiful Name

The bridge still has an incredible anointing on it as we corporately declare who God is and the fact that he has no rival and no equal. Love that. The song has fallen back in use, possibly due to over-use. Still such a powerful song, lyrics and tune.

O Praise The Name

Another incredible Hillsong tune and one that is still going. The chorus is so powerful and can be used and attached to many other worship songs. This is used and declared with passion wherever I go.

Surrounded (Fight My Battles)

A Housefires song that has taken off in 2018, the song is about how we fight our battles through worship. The declaration is that 'it may look like I'm surrounded, but I'm surrounded by you' is a message to a world often hostile to Christianity and an encouragement. The song is simple and powerful.

Reckless Love

Still being used and still loved, especially the chorus and bridge. The song speaks to a generation that is often confused and needs God's comfort. The only reckless thing about this song is the silly fuss some people online have made about it. Thank goodness God calls us to the throne of grace, not to the throne of 'theological perfection', to paraphrase Mike Bickle. Part of the power of this song is the use of the word 'Reckless' which gives the song its anointed edge. If you don't like the song, don't use it and move on!

This I Believe

Hillsong's declaration of the creed and what we believe is brilliant. We often use this for communion. Similar to this song is 'O Come To The Altar' by Elevation Worship which we've occasionally used.

Great Are You Lord

I like All Sons and Daughters and they've done some great songs in their own unique ways. But 'Great Are You Lord' seems to have actually risen up in 2018 if that makes sense. Again, it's another song that declares who God is. These songs are needed in the church in a dark world and remind us, encourage us and give us boldness as we know our God.

The bridge 'All the earth will shout your name' is also powerful. The chord structure for that is 1, 1sus, 4, 1.

Personally I like the way All Sons and Daughters (the final time around) go: 1, 1sus/6, 4, 1. Try it and see!

10, 000 Reasons

Still going and still loved. It's being sung less but still retains that Psalm 103 praising God at all times vibe. It's more of a hymn as we know and so has an appeal across church traditions. Thinking again of the chord structure,

I heard Hunter at Bethel Music (I think) sing the final chorus with a replacement chord, as follows, which I've done and works well... The normal way is: Bless the (4) Lord, oh my (1) soul, (5) oh my (6) soul...

The way Bethel did it was: Bless the (4) Lord, oh my (1) soul, (3) oh my (6) soul...

Take Courage

We've found ourselves singing this from Kristin DiMarco at Bethel quite a few times. The song has spoken to many people who find themselves in a time of waiting, of hoping, trusting and desperately in need of God. The Bible tells us in places like Psalm 27 and 37 that it's good to wait on the Lord. But sometimes the waiting just seems endless, as I know from personal experience. But this chorus moves from 'Hold onto your hope, as your triumph unfolds' through to 'Hold onto your hope, watch your triumph unfold.' It's active waiting and I've seen many people crying or just holding onto God as this sung sung over them and into the core of their spirit.

Stand In Your Love

'My fear doesn't stand a chance, when I, stand in your love..." I was at Exeter University Great Hall when the excellent Josh Baldwin led his song in October 2018 and the roof nearly blew off. To be fair, it did with every song. The passion for God was incredible. The semi-country, semi-worship style with the electric guitar riff using a slide on the A-shape just adds to another powerful declaration. This time it's for a generation where fear is rising but God is bigger!

Tremble

Co-written by Mariah McManus, this is another tune that has risen up and again when sung at church (and at the Bethel event at Exeter Uni), the passion and worship of God was almost overwhelmingly powerful. I actually find myself walking around and working, singing and declaring "Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble" constantly. The bridge of 'Your name is a light that the shadows can't deny. Your name cannot be overcome' is another declaration and powerful truth that needs to be sung, heard, spoken out and seen manifested in life!

Yes and Amen

Another Housefires song that has seen real traction, again due to a declaration of a truth in God's Word. This time from 2 Corinthians 1.20 that "All your promises are yes and Amen." The inspired shout of "Faithful, you are..." only adds to another song of declaration. Again, when Hunter Thompson sung this at iHop's 2018 OneThing, there was such a passion of worship.

PS check out Morgan Faleolo's version of this (and 'Do It Again' by Elevation Music). Amazing - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys01143j3uA



Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tips for solo musicians, duos or worship leaders. Increase your sound!

Not enough sound coming from just your voice and acoustic? Want to add more sound or instrumentation to your sound? Here we'll look at seven ideas - Pads, BeatBuddy, Stomp Box and tambourine, multi-instruments, vocal harmonisers, OnSong, FCB1010, backing tracks, pads with beats...

One of the things that happens when you play or lead worship on your own or perhaps with just a couple of you, is that you may find the sound isn't as full as it can be. This happens with myself and a friend who play acoustic together. This is where pads can sit in the mix underneath your playing.

Here are some options to increase your soundscape....

1. Pads


These sit 'under' your mix and are not he root / tonic note. They can be a plain synth sound or have a variety of arpeggiations / pentatonic notes to add to the variety. I make some for free - visit https://www.youtube.com/user/zerofourzulu/videos and generally have them at around 25mins per track.


2. BeatBuddy


You can use the BeatBuddy to add beats for your songs. This is one thing I do. I've set up 'worship patches' on my Beat Buddy using the associated software.

The advantage is that you can programme to play different parts of each song. Disadvantage is that you need to programme it using the computer - and then work it (correctly!) when using live. This takes practice but adds a lot as it plays back real drum samples. Just practice, practice, practice and buy a separate foot pedal to trigger play back etc.


3. Stomp Drum / Tambourine


You can use a stomp box / stomp drum (same thing). I use one from Beat Root (off ebay) which is OK but needs some serious sub bass and EQ-ing to get a good sound. My friend uses a slightly bigger and better one from Acoustim8 off Amazon which is physically bigger and produces a better thump for sure. A professional musician friend uses an even better one from Logjam (the Logarhythm).

The advantage is that you can play it and choose when to come in. You can get different sounds depending on where you stomp down. The disadvantage is that it's only one sound (a 'kick drum') and it can get tiring on the foot / leg playing it, especially when standing! You may also need to tie it down as it can often move meaning you're dragging it back towards you mid song!

To go to the next level of this idea, one worship leader once had a kick drum as the main beat and got the bass player to play a tambourine on the floor (mic'd up with a condenser mic and a ton of reverb) as the 'snare'. It worked well.


4. Multi-instruments Simultaneously


Idea 1 - I have one friend who manages (brilliantly) to play a keyboard with one hand playing the basic melody line or the chords - and a cajon with the other hand. This provides a great extra bit of sound with two sound sources. He also sometimes uses a Novation Mininova in the background as a 'pads' sound, or jumps between his keys and the Mininova.

Idea 2 - Another friend has used a Novation MiniNova as a bass sound with one hand (sometimes holding down the sustain pedal to keep the bass note), while using his electric guitar (with a ton of reverb) using the other hand. A capo helps him to play in the right key.

Idea 3 - I have often done a combo of playing pads on a MIDI keyboard using MainStage (Worship Essentials by Abel Mendoza), using the sustain pedal or using the Drone Pad tonic note pad within Worship Essentials - while playing acoustic guitar.

Idea 4 - On a more limited level, you can use more than one sound source for pads. For example using two iPads playing back sounds or samples or triggering Garage Band. Or using pads on an iPad and playing a synth. Or you could run a MIDI pad triggering drum samples and pads.

The advantage of this is having two sounds. The disadvantage is that you need to be able to do this well and it may prove too much for some. Can be tricky to sing at the same time too!


5. Vocals - using a Harmonizer


For vocals I also use a TC Helicon Play Acoustic and run the vocals through this. You will also need to run your acoustic guitar through this so the Play Acoustic picks up which key you're in. If you're playing a single key, then you can programme the Play Acoustic with this key.

I use the harmony sparingly and sensitively, with a relatively low db (volume level) so it doesn't sound too fake or too over-done. But this is a way of having harmony with your vocals and an encouragement to nail the notes every time - otherwise the harmony sounds terrible!


6. Triggering a MIDI synth / chords with a foot pedal and MainStage


Warning, this is a long and involved procedure but if you follow all the instructions and especially use the videos linked to, you'll find a way through! The Behringer FCB1010 doesn't have a MIDI to USB output built-in so you'll need to purchase a MIDI-USB adapter. Don't skimp!

However... If you intend to use the programme iFCB to edit the Behringer FCB1010,  you will need a USB-MIDI adapter or unit that is capable of transmitting MIDI SysEx. Many adaptors don't work with this including expensive and cheap ones. So find one that definitely will allow SysEx. The FCB forums here give some examples - http://www.wabbitwanch.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=6

If you're using OS Mojave then it's possible iFCB won't work (at the time of writing this, October 2018) as iFCB is only a 32 bit app. It may work but I've yet to test it.


To go beyond the normal 'pads' use of things, I created the following setup:



Unless you're in the States / Canada and can easily by the Looptimus foot pedal (which has pads already assigned to its foot pedal as one of its options), you will need a foot pedal MIDI controller that plays back MIDI notes. Trying to find this isn't easy and basically as of the time of writing (October 2018), your only options are the Behringer FCB1010 (the cheapest option) or the Roland FC-200 or FC-300, which I believe can play back MIDI notes. The Behringer FCB1010 definitely can.

So you'll likely need to first organise a set list in the same key - or in two different keys maximum. The reason for this is that we're going to use the FCB1010 to trigger not just notes, but chords from Apple MainStage. The FCB1010 has 10 available foot pedals for this use, so you can assign for example the top row of 5 pedals to play back chords in the key of E and the bottom row to play back chords in the key of C.

Using two keys will only work if the songs you're playing back don't have more than five chords in them. So I set up my FCB1010 to play back chords: 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 generally.

In order to do this, you will need to do two things. Firstly, you'll need to set up a concert in MainStage that plays back chords. Secondly, you'll need to set up the FCB1010 to play back MIDI notes and then assign the foot pedals within MainStage to the notes / chords you want to play back from MainStage.

Make sure you connect your FCB1010 and either follow the manual's instructions to set this up to send / receive MIDI note messages. Or visit https://mountainutilities.eu/fcb1010 and try their editor. Or pay $20 and get the editor from Rabbit Watch - http://www.wabbitwanch.com/iFCB.html or get it through the App Store.

Then follow this instruction video here to set up mapping the FCB1010 to MainStage if using iFCB:



If not using iFCB and you're up for the 'pedal dance' option of sorting yourself, this video may prove helpful instead:


I warned it was a little complex....!

Within MainStage, create a new drum pad concert, delete everything. Then from within the Layout tab and Panel Controls section at the bottom of the screen, drag on to the window ten drum pads in two rows of five. You can then label the channel strip as wanted in the Layout menu.

In the Edit tab, go to the mixer and replace the 'Ultrabeat' input with a pad of your choosing and rename - I used the Alchemy synth and navigated to the 'Hotel Endless' preset.

You can remove any of the other (musical) channel strips by deleting them. I then renamed the channel strip to 'Pad'.

Then still working in the channel strip, click on "MIDI FX' and select 'Chord Trigger'. Then the 'Instrument (Pad)' window pops up. This is where your notes will become your chords. But you will need to set this up. To do this, follow this video below (not done by me). You will need to follow the instructions but set up the chords however you need them to be. In the video, he uses a keyboard to assign the notes.

Note - you will be using the same principles (and notes displayed on the Layout and Edit tabs) to assign the chords to the relevant notes - e.g. C1, C#1 etc. These will need to be the same notes already assigned to each pedal from within the Behringer FCB1010 setup. You can change them in the FCB1010 easily if not the same.





To test if this is working, you can manually click while in the Edit or Perform tab of MainStage and see if these play back the correct chords.

Your next task once you've set this up is to assign the pads within your Layout window to the pedals on the FCB1010 (click assign, press the FCB1010 pedal, then click assign again). Do this for each pedal and you *should* be good to go. Save your concert in MainStage!

Now when playing live, you should be able to use your FCB1010 on the floor, connect up to MainStage and by clicking on a pedal you'll be able to play back chords from MainStage as you play them on the guitar. Now you're playing guitar and keys...

7. Pads with strings, sounds, and beats

One final idea that I use is to use my pads sounds from Logic but also add in a beat at a fixed tempo. I then organise a worship set with songs in a certain key and with the same kinds of tempos. The sound is then played back from the iPad in OnSong, triggered by the IK Multimedia Blue Rig foot pedal (you'll need to download and pay for the MIDI add-on within OnSong).

So as one example I did pads in E and put together a beat in Logic at 75bpm. I then used this to play back a few songs with similar tempos in the key of E - for example '10,000 Reasons' and 'What A Beautiful Name' and 'This Is Our God' and 'King Of My Heart' then 'When I Survey' (Tim Hughes version).

I have also done some specific timed songs - such as Reckless Love (Cory Asbury) or Guardian (Ben Cantelon). They are intentionally very minimalist as designed solely to be used by a single or duo set of acoustics for a specific song!

There is also a backing track for the KXC song 'Sing It Out (He's Alive)'.

To this end, I put some of my backing tracks like this onto Youtube in case they could be useful for anyone else. You can find them below...