Every worship team is made up of different pieces that all need to work together to worship God. As a whole, the goal should always be to honor God first as we offer Him our worship. This takes practice as a team, but as individual musicians there are things we can do to grow in our individual role on our worship team. Below are points on some of the key instruments and their roles in a worship team from some great players and worshippers. Take time to read about the instrument you play and learn about others so together you will grow in the talents and gifts God has given.
The drummer plays a very important role in a worship band. Along with establishing the time and feel of the song, the drummer must be in tune with the spiritual atmosphere of the service. I see the roles of a worship drummer divided into two camps: physical and spiritual. The physical ones are what every drummer in every situation should strive for while the spiritual ones are unique to drummers in a worship service.
As for the physical side, drummers are the foundation of every song. They establish the tempo, feel and style of any given song. Therefore it is extremely important to strive for excellence in your playing. You must be the best player that you can possibly be. Study the drums. Learn everything that you can about drums. I live by the philosophy that you should always have more ability than the situation requires of you. This means learning all styles and all aspects of the drums, even things that you might never use in a real musical situation. In short, a great worship drummer must first be a great drummer! The drummer must understand that their job is basically supportive. The drums are not the lead instrument. Very rarely are songs recognized by their drum groove. The lyrics, melodies and harmonies are the song. Drums should support those things first. This mindset is a great place to start when thinking of what to play for any given song. Ask yourself, “Is this complimenting the melodies and harmonies of the song?” Drummers also must realize that there role is only a percentage of the overall sound of the band. Therefore drummers should strive to leave enough space in their playing for all the other pieces.
The spiritual side is where the worship drummer must really step up and do much more than the physical aspect of drumming. First, the drummer must have a healthy relationship with God. There is no physical element that can compensate for this. One of the most important things a worship drummer can do is to follow and even anticipate the direction the worship leader wants to go. Being the loudest instrument, the drums have the most control over energy and dynamics. Being in tune with the flow of the service is crucial to leading the band through different sections of the song. Finally, drummers often forget that they are not performing but leading the congregation in worship. One of the best things a drummer can do is truly worship while they play for it is an act of worship. Play passionately and confidently! You are leading people into God’s presence. What an awesome responsibility!
The electric bass guitar could very well be one of the most under noticed instruments in a worship team. In fact, throughout some of my years spent on the road and playing in churches, I have even come to find that some church-goers had no idea what a bass even is. Even so, many worship leaders will admit that the bass is one of the most critical parts of the team. The role of the bass is best explained by breaking down the responsibilities into two-parts: providing the rhythmic foundation and providing the harmonic foundation. When I say rhythmic foundation, I am referring to the constant beat (or groove) of the music. It is a common misunderstanding to put entirely all responsibility of the musical pulse on the drummer alone. A skilled bass player helps the team by providing a steady groove that feels good and builds a song’s foundation. Harmonic foundation refers to the melodic movement of a song. Often this will be observed as a song’s “chord progression”. The bass provides a musical reference point of where a song is melodically and where it is going. I often compare a good bass player in a worship team to a clean room in your house. It doesn’t always stand out; it feels just like it should.
The role of the acoustic guitar in the context of a worship band may seem obvious to some, but it actually takes a small of amount of “digging” to find its place among the other instruments. At times beginner instrumentalists focus on the tonal content of the acoustic (the actual notes or chords that are played) but actually much of its character is found in its percussive element. So what does this mean for you and your next worship set? Instead of trying to learn new chord shapes (which is a great thing to do!) learn consistent strumming patterns (practicing with a metronome goes a long way too). Whether the acoustic is the lead instrument or just a supplement to the electric guitar or piano, listening to the drummer and locking in with what they are doing will help tighten up the song that is being played and create space for other melodic instruments to fill in!
When we talk about playing in a “worship band”, we’re talking about a balanced relationship between the focused science and art of music and the free passion in connecting with God through worship. That being stated, playing the electric guitar in a worship band is as simply complex as striving to be both an excellent musician and carefree worshiper at the same time.
Musically speaking, electric guitar players focus on being a support-centered member of the band. That means that even when a song is technically “guitar driven”, they still have the responsibility as a musician to uplift the message found in the lyrics. When the electric isn’t acting as a rhythm instrument they then have the opportunity to further support the song by filling in some space or creating ambience with lead lines and licks.
This thought leads them right into the aspect of being passionate in worship. Whatever technical musical part they are fulfilling, they can join in worship with the voices by reflecting the heart and attitude of the moment through the notes they play. Whenever the song calls for them to lift their voices and shout then they “shout” with the guitar. If a sweet, soft, melody is the setting then they compliment that with melodic lines and harmonies. The important thing to remember is there is no formula for worshiping so just let each chord and line be a heartfelt statement to God of how you feel.
I’ve been surrounded by the piano/keyboard for a number of years and have found it to be both humbling and essential. Humbling, because it’s hard to be the rock star behind a keyboard or a piano. You can try, but just face it…you’re not as cool as your guitar brethren (they’re not as cool as they pretend to be). Essential, because played smartly, keys can add atmosphere to worship music that assists in engaging the heart and preparing people to press in deeper. Practically speaking, keys help ‘fill the sound’ out to give room for spontaneous singing, scripture reading and moments of quiet reflection.
Depending on the type of music you are playing, keys can have different functions. In soul, gospel or funk music, keys can have a predominant role in the rhythm – rocking out those chords like nobody’s business. In more rock styling, it is better to create a ‘bed’ of sound or offer melodic accents at strategic moments. Every keyboard/piano player should have numerous sounds in his arsenal – pianos, organs, pads, strings and synthesizer. This adds diversity and color to any given song.
You don’t have to be the world’s greatest player, but you do need to play smart (less is more), have great sounds and have numerous options at your disposal.
The role of the background singer in a worship team is to convey the message of the music through the words and inspire the people to join in the song of worship. This role requires humility, authority and excellence. Humility in that we must recognize that we are human and imperfect – not something to be worshiped ourselves. We have to come to understand and acknowledge at every point that God is the one in control and whatever He is leading us to do, we must follow. We have the privilege and joy to follow Him in leading His people in worship of Him. Humility is key while doing this. Humility requires us to lay down our own tastes and desires, opinions and feelings and focus on what God wants to accomplish and how we can be a part of that.
Secondly, it is okay to accept some authority (within humility) in order to communicate the words and message of the music. That message has the power to set us, and others, free from the sin and chains of this world so it should not be given timidly or half-heartedly. If we carry the message of freedom and victory we should then to shout it from the rooftops with clarity and passion!
As singers, we are musicians and have been given a gift that we must take responsibility for. We must learn and know our music well – melodies and harmonies and where they are appropriate; dynamics, structure of the song as it is recorded and/or as the leader directs it; phrasing and rhythm. We are delivering the message of the song so we have to know it well! Also, be sensitive to where the Holy Spirit, through the leader, is going. If the leader changes the direction of the set in the middle of service we will be able to follow them with ease if we know the songs. We must always be sure to blend with each other as vocalists and with the band as a whole. Listen closely to each other’s tone and volume and try to match the person next to you. The goal, together, is to try to sound as much like one person as possible. Then our voices, as a whole, can blend with the sound the band is creating. This makes for a unified sound – everyone working together for the purpose of worshiping God.
All Together Now
1 Corinthians 12:14-20 talks about all the different parts of the body, each with their own job, working together to the benefit of the whole body. In the same way there are many different parts to a worship team. Each musician working his or her gift well for the benefit of the team, the sound, the atmosphere and so much more. That being said, it is hard to leave our preferences at the door. It is hard to take a simpler approach when you’ve put in a lot of time practicing. But remember that the part you play may not always be the part you want. What is important is eagerly fulfilling the job given to you by your leader. Just like we surrender our desires to God for His plans, we do the same with the individual gifts we bring to the worship team. Don’t let the worship team be the only outlet for your creativity but instead a place where you can offer your best to be used however needed.
Rock Hard Worship Harder