As worship leaders, we are often asked to reinforce the impact of certain moments in a song or set of songs. We also are tasked with being sensitive to the “eyes and ears upward” posture of worship music, which means we need to find ways to reinforce the “groove” or “feel” in the music without putting the spotlight on ourselves.
So how can we provide impact to powerful moments, make every groove “feel” great, and still remain sensitive to the needs of our church families? Here are 3 concepts I try to incorporate into my drumming to meet those needs.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “less is more” when it comes to drumming. But why? Why has this phrase been repeated to the point of becoming a cliché? Well there are a lot of reasons, but the most important to me is this: putting SPACE in my drumming is an acknowledgement that I am not the only musician in the song!
It is not solely the drummer’s job to provide rhythmic elements in a song. The acoustic guitars, keyboards, other percussion, even the vocals and bass provide a TON of rhythm and contribute to the overall “feel” of any song. By leaving space in our patterns we allow all of those other instruments to “speak” without being covered up by tons of drums.
And you know what? There are a LOT of guitar players, bassists, keyboard players, and others with GREAT rhythmic feel! Allowing those other players to have their rhythmic “voice” in a song is not going to detract from the groove in a song. In fact, many times the opposite is true.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve realized that my hi-hat and an acoustic guitar player’s strumming were clashing. From a melodic perspective, it made sense to have the acoustic guitar in that part of the song… So we couldn’t have that part drop out. But it wasn’t necessary for the hi-hat to be in the song. So, I dropped out my hi-hat. And not only did the clashing rhythms go away, but it allowed the song to follow this acoustic guitar players really cool and really odd feel. And it instantly made the track feel better.
As we worship our Creator with music we should always sense the purpose behind our playing. We don’t just want to MEAN to hit the drums, we want to hit them like we MEAN IT.
How does that translate to actual playing?
For starters, we can’t dance around on top of the drums like we’re scared to have them make sound. Of course, we need to be sensitive to our volume level, but we can hit our drums with a solid strike, and keep the volume level low.
Basically, we should put some weight behind our drumming, which means not getting caught up in focusing too much on the “tiny” parts of drum patterns. As drummers, it’s our job to prioritize the aspects of our playing that are important to our family of worshippers… and most people in a worship setting aren’t going to pay attention to that 32nd note ghosted polyrhythm we’re playing with our left hand…
I’m not saying don’t play that part (but maybe don’t), but the focus shouldn’t be on that part of the pattern. Our focus should be on the major kick and snare hits, because that’s what most of our congregation is going to notice and “latch” on to.
We should put our weight, focus, and attention on those aspects of our drumming. And if that means sacrificing something “cool” or “impressive”, so be it. Our job is to lead others in worship, and sometimes that means not playing “cool” parts.
It’s easy to get lost in worship sometimes and lose focus on what we’re playing. I’ve noticed that many times we play things out of habit without really paying attention to the details in our drumming.
This means that every single note, down to the smallest ghost note, must be played on purpose and cannot just “happen”. We all have so many habits and quirks built into our playing that sometimes we don’t even think about half of what we play – it just comes out- and not in a good way!
Being aware and accurate allows us to choose to play certain notes, and to be intentional with how we lead others in worship.
And that’s the ultimate goal: leading others in worshiping the God of the universe!