This song has two musical components that are very common to contemporary guitar-driven worship music:
- This particular rhythm pattern (shown above).
- The key of E Major
I graduated from a Bible college that will always be dear to my heart, the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I remember my first time of worship there was breathtaking. I believe it was an acoustic set with an acoustic guitarist, a pianist, a djembe player/auxiliary percussionist, and a bass player. I remember everything was much more busy then I was used to rhythmically. Most of the songs utilized more of a busy 16th note feel, as opposed to a more laid back 8th feel. I really loved it.
I came to Moody in 1998, and I believe Jars of Clay’s debut self-titled album had just come out a few years before. So I would hear people out in the plaza, in the dorms, in the cafeteria, everywhere playing Jars of Clay’s “World’s Apart” from their debut self-titled album (maybe I will post a chart of that tune soon). I only bring this up because, this album had a huge impact on Christian music. For one, it brought the acoustic guitar back into the limelight. Secondly, it seems to me, I would regularly hear worship music that was done in the style of Jars of Clay. To put it another way, any time you listen to something a lot, it will rub off on you whether consciously or not, and you’ll start to mimic and emulate it in your own playing. I know that I wore out my copy of that record. So while I didn’t often hear a Jars song in a worship service, the arrangements of the songs were very much Jars inspired. More recently, I’m hearing more of a U2 influence in worship music. The quarter note kick drum feel accompanied by the Edge style delay coming from the electric guitarist is frequently being utilized. “Indy” music <gag> is a thing now too, so certainly I’m seeing that type of music is makings it’s way into worship musical styles with more of a folk feel (Actually, I love folk music. I’m not crazy about the term “indy.” It just feels pretentious to me.).
Let me be clear about something, I am only talking now about arrangements and arranging music in a particular style. When I say “arrangement” or maybe even “genre,” I’m referring in big part to how a song is accompanied. You could take the song “Happy Birthday” for example and do it in any style: folk, rock, hard rock, polka, metal, punk, jazz, techno, classical, muzak, hip-hop, etc. Or, even the instrumentation used can really effect the arrangement: a string-quartet, a power trio (drums, guitar, bass), a choir, a jazz combo, a big band, just piano, organ, acoustic guitar, etc. If you strip any song down to just lyrics and melody (listen to a 3-year old sing it a cappella), you could potentially eliminate any genre labels. Certainly, punk lyrics are going to differ greatly from gospel lyrics, but musically speaking, the arrangement of a song can really change the feel, and in my mind can often make or break a song. That said, I believe that the arrangement should reflect, evoke the emotions, or paint a picture of the lyric. So maybe doing “Silent Night” as a punk tune may be a bit misguided.
To make a long story shorter, Shawn McDonald’s “Here I Am” uses a very similar strumming pattern as Jars of Clay’s “Worlds Apart.” Actually, this rhythm is used on a good majority of the songs from Jars’ first album. I’m not at all saying that “Here I Am” is a rip off, but I am saying that this is an extremely common rhythm. I actually really like this rhythm and use it often. It can provide an exciting energy when you speed it up, but it can make even a slower song more intense. That said, if you find yourself doing this rhythm for every song, call me up, I’d love to teach you a new one. Regardless, if you don’t know this one, it’s definitely a good pattern to have in your guitarsenal (maybe I should start trying to fit the name of my blog into every post). Here is a video of me demonstrating this particular rhythm for the song “Here I Am:”
To learn more about subdividing and strumming, click here (ex. 3.g and ex. 3.h are particularly relevant here). It’s also worth mentioning that I picked “Here I Am” as opposed to another one of the 1000’s of songs that use this rhythm, mainly because the chords are fairly simple. So, if you are new to this particular rhythm, this is a great song to start with.
Now, in regard to the key of E Major, this is a common key loved by guitarists because of the possibilities afforded by the open strings. That being said, there are only two open chord shapes that naturally occur in this key: namely, E and A Major (B7 would be honorable mention). F#m, G#m, B, and C#m would all necessitate the use of a barre. Every guitarist ought to be able to play in this key with the use of barre chords. However, there is one particular system of voicings (used in “Here I Am”) that will allow more of an open resonant sound, and also makes for an easy alternative to using barre chords in the key of E Major. I refer to this as the The Drone System (click the link to see a list of common voicings that demonstrate this system).
This post has gotten out-of-control long. By the way, I don’t mind going too long with these blog posts. I figure that pretty much everything that you need to learn this song on the guitar is right up top in the sheet music. If anybody out there needs more tips or is just interested to hear what I have to say (hi mom), she can read it.