Using worship pads doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s how to fill out your live sound using only a smartphone.
If you’re like me, you went years using only standard instruments in worship.
Drums, bass, a couple guitars, keys. Maybe a djembe if I was feeling extra creative.
For non-techy worship leaders like me, incorporating pads or loops into worship seemed far beyond my capabilities.
But with the advent of smartphones, and employing a couple other tools, I found that it was actually very easy to use pads to fill out my worship sound.
What Are “Pads” and “Loops”?
Let me back up. What are “pads” anyway?
Pads are any continuous sound that lies underneath the other instrumentation.
For instance, you have a piano player, bass, and guitar establishing the chord changes. Those are all very “plunky” instruments that don’t do a great job at sustaining sound long-term through the song.
Pads fill in the gaps between “plunks”. A pad is an ongoing drone in the same key as your song. The result is a surprisingly full, continuous sound, whether you are adding it to a small or large worship team.
These are also known as loop pads, although, technically what I’m talking about here aren’t really loops. A loop cycles the same sequence over and over. Pads accomplish the same thing — add a layer of sound beneath other things — but they are better because they are much easier to start and stop. Pads are simply a very long song file you can play underneath other instrumentation.
You have probably heard of pads in the context of how a keyboardist plays. The good news is that you don’t need a keyboardist to add pads to your set.
Or, your keyboardist can be set free to actually be creative instead of holding a certain note or chord throughout the song.
So, what if you have a ton of instruments in your worship band. Do you still need pads?
How Do I Know Whether I Need Pads?
I know what you’re thinking. You already have a keyboardist and a lead guitarist who both are great at holding notes, thank you very much.
Or, you think your acoustic guitar and djembe sound great as-is.
But your keyboardist and guitarists have better things to do, and your acoustic set could be taken to the next level.
In fact, I would argue that any size worship team can incorporate pads and take their sound to the next level.
My worship team has a keyboardist and a lead guitarist every Sunday. Sure, my keyboardist can hold an octave and my lead guitarist can do mad swells.
But I would rather free them up to do other things.
Sometimes my keyboardist wants to play piano (or a piano sound on the keys). Often, my lead guitarist will be doing lead lines, not sustained swells.
And, even if they are holding notes longer, the pads just add to what they’re doing.
With a smartphone and MP3s, it’s almost like I have another instrumentalist on the team (who never calls in sick!)
What’s more, I can literally lead worship and run the pads myself. Or give them to a singer or any instrumentalist to run for me.
Plus, pads fill the gaps between songs and make for ultra-smooth transitions. No more dead space — which is a distraction and breaks the flow of worship. Super-smooth worship set, here we come!
Wait. Don’t Pads Have To Change Chords With The Song?
I guarantee that there is absolutely no programming, sequencing, or song mapping that you have to do to run pads.
The pads are literally “drones”. They sustain non-conflicting notes for more than 20 minutes. Choose the pad in the right key, and you can play it behind just about any worship song out today.
I repeat: you do not have to program pads or loop them in any way. The only computer you need is a smartphone. Seriously!
It has to do with how keys work. Take a look at my post about music theory. I describe how certain chords always show up in certain keys. If you play in G, you will see C, D, Em, and Am a lot!
The pads I use choose notes that go with that key — no matter what individual chord is playing at the time. The 20-minute MP3 literally plays the same general notes with slight variations throughout, none of which ever conflict with the song.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that pads are a must-have for any worship team, big or small. But I know what you’re thinking (because I thought it too). How exactly do I incorporate pads into my worship set? I mean, I’m no techy!
If I did it, so can you. Let’s dive in!
So, How Do I Incorporate Pads This Sunday?
Adding pads to your worship set is simple enough to do this Sunday. No kidding.
Here’s a step by step process on how to do it, old-school text-and-image style. I hope to create a video tutorial soon. Stay tuned!
First, you need pads! No problem. You don’t have to create them. That’s already been done for you. (And good thing, because that would be hard). Great sounding pads are a click away. I use and recommend Coresound Pads.
These particular pads blend well, plus are available in a variety of sounds in all 12 keys. You just pick your sound and key, and you’re set.
Don’t want to commit just yet? No problem. There’s a trial set you are free to use in your church before buying. The trial set is offered in a few popular keys. I actually used the free ones two or three weeks in services before making the purchase. (By the way, after using them one week, we never went back to NOT having pads!)
Step 1: Get Your Pads
Your first step is to download your free or purchased pads from Coresound.
If you’re ready to buy, use promo code DEEPER at this link for 20% off your entire purchase.
Save them somewhere on your computer where you can find them.
Depending on if you’re a PC or Mac, your screen will look slightly different than these screenshots. Sorry all you Macs out there, these are PC views, but you get the point.
Step 2: Gather the pads in the right keys for your set
Go into the folder where you saved the MP3s (either your free sampler or one of the purchased folders). At this point, you’ll either have:
- The free sampler which contains various sounds and keys, or
- All 12 keys broken out by sound in separate folders, as shown below
Either way works for this tutorial.
Side note: I also create another folder called “~Sunday set”. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Using my “~Sunday set” in my pads folder, I gather all the pads I want to use for this Sunday.
For instance, say my worship set is:
- God Is Able – G
- God of Miracles – F
- Beautiful Name – D
- Open The Eyes of My Heart – E
…then I’ll grab pads in those keys.
Lets’ see how!
Say I want a pad for “Open The Eyes” in E. I’ll go into “Ambient Rhodes” (or any sound) and choose that pad in E. COPY it (do not CUT it. You want the original file to stay put).
Now paste the pad you want into “~Sunday set”. For now, the order in that folder doesn’t matter.
Now I have all the pads I need for this Sunday.
If you downloaded the free sample, you might not have pads for every song. That’s okay. Even if you try pads on a single song, that’s enough to get a feel for what pads can do for your sound.
Also, you might be wondering which sounds to choose. For now, it doesn’t matter. It takes a few services to figure out which sounds go with which song. But, I can tell you that no sound will be “disruptive” to any song. These pads are designed to lie safely beneath whatever else is going on.
One more thing: if you purchased the complete bundle, feel free to put all the pads on your phone. Then, you can build set lists on the fly without a computer. But, it will take about 5 GB of data, so make sure your phone has enough free space. The process I’m describing here requires minimal memory on your phone. Another alternative I’ve used is to move 3-5 pads for popular keys and 1-2 pads for not-so-popular keys to your phone. That will make it easier to create weekly set lists without using up gobs of memory on your device.
Once you’ve copied and pasted all the pads you need for your Sunday Set, it’s time to get those song files onto your phone or tablet.
Step 3: Transfer song files to your phone.
This step is going to be different for Android and iPhone users. We’ll start with Android since that’s what I use.
Transferring files to an Android device
With Android, moving files is a piece of cake. It’s essentially like moving them to another folder on your computer.
Connect your phone or tablet to your computer via USB. You’ll see your device come up on the screen as an available folder.
Open the device. Create a folder in the device and name it something like “pads”. Drag and drop or copy/paste the song files into that folder.
Now, you’ve got all your pad files on your device, ready for the next step — getting your app. Unless you’re interested in how to get files onto an iPhone, skip to step 4!
Transferring song files to an iPhone
Getting MP3s onto your iPhone is a little more tricky than with Android, mainly because you have to use iTunes to do it.
In short, you’ll will save the pad MP3s to your PC or Mac, then import those to iTunes, then sync playlists to your phone via iTunes.
- First, you will remember where you saved the Coresound pad files.
- Open iTunes
- Choose “Add file to library” to add a single pad or “Add folder to library” to add your “Sunday set” folder of songs. (It’s a good idea to add all your pads to iTunes while you’re at it.)
- Create a playlist in iTunes with all your pads
4. Plug your phone into your computer and sync the pads iTunes playlist to your phone.
Now, your pad MP3s are on your Android or iPhone. You’re ready to rock.
Step 4: Get The Songs On Your App
A word about apps for pads
Just to clarify, these pads will work on any app that can play an MP3 file. So, technically, Spotify, Google Music Player and other apps will work. But the reason I recommend Poweramp is because of its crossfade capabilities. You can set up to a 15-second crossfade between pads and get a nice, smooth transition.
Most other apps I tried don’t fade out or crossfade very well. But a fade-out/fade-in feature is essential when using pads. In fact, it’s the most important thing to consider when finding a player for your pads.
At this time, Poweramp is only available for Android. You can skip to Step 4b if you’re an iPhone user, but it might be useful to learn the process on the Poweramp app and apply it to the app you find for iOS.
Step 4a: Android Users – Download the Poweramp App
Luckily, I’ve done that homework for you and discovered that Poweramp is the best solution — that is, until Coresound comes out with an app (which I hear is in the works).
Again, you can try out this particular app for free before buying. The trial is the full version of the app, and lasts around two weeks. When you buy, it’s only around $4 US.
As of now, Poweramp is only available on Android.
Go to the Google Play store. Look for the app “Poweramp Music Player (Trial)”
Once you download, go ahead and open it.
Once in Poweramp, you should see the folder in which you saved your pads. If it doesn’t the app will let you scan your phone for music files. Find your folder and open, and it should look like this:
From there, create a new playlist. In this playlist, you will put all the pads you need for your Sunday set.
And here’s how to add a song to a playlist. Press a song and hold. Click “Add to Playlist” and select your “Set List” playlist.
You have the option of putting all the pads on your phone. That will make it easier to organize Sunday’s pads in a playlist using only your phone. I create folders by key to make it easy.
One more important item before you’re ready to go live on stage with your pads: set up crossfade. In fact, this is the most vital step. If you use Poweramp or any other app, make sure it can crossfade between song files, which is simply fading out of one MP3 and fading into the next. This forms smooth transitions with a swipe of a screen.
To set up crossfade in Poweramp:
Settings → Audio → Fade, Crossfade, and Gapless → Crossfade Length
Make sure crossfade/fade in/fade out is set for any type of MP3 transition. I set up about a 7 second (7000 ms) crossfade between songs. Poweramp will go up to 15 seconds.
Now you’re ready to run your own pads. All you need to do is swipe right to start the next pad in the playlist. With the crossfade set, you can swipe a few seconds before the song ends, and the next pad starts smoothly, creating an amazing transition!
Step 4b: Find an app on iPhone
Okay, so full disclosure, I don’t have an iPhone, so I don’t personally know the best app to use. Poweramp, unfortunately, is not available on iOS.
Some recommended apps I’ve heard about are iTunes, Queue, and DJay. The first step in vetting these apps would be to check out their crossfade capabilities. That’s the #1 most important (and hardest-to-find) feature.
Whatever app you find for iPhone, the following will be your general procedure:
- Find an app that allows you to crossfade between songs
- Make sure the pad MP3s you need are on your phone or device
- Set up your playlist for this Sunday
- Make sure you can easily transition to the next pad while leading worship.
Step 5: Hook up your phone/device to the sounds system
Okay, so don’t freak out.
Can you hook up a guitar to a sound system? How about a keyboard? You can? Okay, then you can hook up a phone, too. Seriously.
Here’s the equipment you’ll need.
1. 1/8 inch (aka 3.5mm, aka headphone jack) to 1/4 inch (aka instrument cable) adapter. This makes it possible to connect the small headphone jack to an instrument cable. Following are a couple examples of things that will work.
2. Instrument cable (you’ll only need this if you didn’t get the adapter/cable combo [option 2 above])
Any instrument cable will work. Get at least a 6 footer. Click here to order this one.
3. Direct box (aka DI)
Any direct box will do. Stereo DI not needed. I’ll include links to ones I’ve actually used below. There are very cheap options on Amazon at this link, but I can only vouch for the following.
Once you have your adapter and direct box, you need an XLR cable (mic cable). There are plenty of options at this link.
The XLR goes directly into your sound board or however you regularly input instruments on stage. Your phone becomes another instrument. Here’s how it looks all put together:
This view is to show you how it all goes together. Note: When you actually use pads during service, you will place the phone on a music stand or somewhere accessible so you can change pads while playing.
Step 6: Incorporate Pads Into Your Set
So this is the part where many worship leaders get nervous. Adding any new element can be scary, but this is nothing to be intimidated about.
You have a couple options here. The worship leader can run the pads (yes, they are that easy and as I’m writing this, I just ran pads and led worship this morning!). Or you can have an instrumentalist run them. Often the lead guitarist runs them at my church. But as I write this, I just finished a Sunday set in which I ran the pads as the worship leader. No sweat!
Step 6a: Make sure your soundman knows about the pads
This is important. Explain pads to your sound man are and why you are using them. The sound team needs to know that this is just like any other instrument. It will be mixed in with everything else, and pushed into the house. It’s not just for the band to hear.
Step 6b: Start your worship pads!
Okay, the fun part. Start using backing pads for worship!
Sometimes I start the pads before any instruments. They provide a nice layer to help ease into the first song. You could even do a welcome/intro over the first pad.
As you get into the song, you might hear the pads fade way into the background. Sometimes, you wonder if they are still going. Then, you’ll reach a quiet part of the song and low and behold — there are your pads. They fill out the parts of the song that may feel empty with just a guitar or piano “plunking” away.
Step 6c: Transitions
Transitions are where pads shine. Instead of a dead stop, your pads “flow” continuously between songs, even when you change key. By setting the crossfade correctly, the transition between MP3 files is seamless. It fosters a worshipful atmosphere, which is one of your priorities when leading worship.
Here’s how an example transition will go, from 10,000 Reasons in D to Heart of Worship in D.
The pad in D is running for 10,000 Reasons. The song is ending. Let’s say you are having the piano or keyboard close out the song with one instrumental verse:
- Piano outro
- Switch to the next pad about 5 seconds before outro ends
- Pad crossfades into the new key (pad in D fades while the E pad fades in)
- Pad in D is running
- Start “Heart of Worship” in D
Repeat this process for each song transition.
Step 6d: End the set
You’ll decide how to use the pads just like any other instrument. One of the considerations is how you will end the set.
The best plan is to either end the pad while other instruments are playing, or let them run all the way through the end of the song. Keep in mind that it can be awkward to stop the pad abruptly after all instrumentation dies out. One possibility is to have the soundman fade out the pad, or you can do it manually on your phone. Experiment and see what works best for each situation.Conclusion
So, how did it go running pads during your worship set? I’d love to know. Was it a success? Did you run into an issue I didn’t address here? Leave me a comment below and I’ll try to address that for other readers. Until then, have fun adding backing pads to your worship ministry!
Featured image: Rodion Kutsaev/Unsplash
Note: Some of the links on this post are for affiliates/sponsors, which means if you buy using these links, I may receive something in return, and you are supporting this ministry.
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