We were recently at a large worship conference where the headliner worship artist flew in by himself and opted to use one of the bands that was already there leading worship. At one point in the worship set, at the high point of the song, the worship artist stepped back from the mic and nodded to the guitar player (you know, the nod that means “dude, take a solo, have fun, worship!”). The guitar player looked like a deer in headlights and didn’t know what to do. The worship leader then gave him another bigger nod of the head (thinking that he didn’t see the cue), and then it was even more awkward. It was obvious that the guitarist did not know how to improvise a solo, or how to freely express himself on his instrument.

As a musician, one of my favorite scripture passages is 1 Samuel 16:14-23, which reads:

14Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. 15Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16Let our LORD command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.” 17So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” 18One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.” 19Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul. 21David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” 23Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

Isn’t it interesting that Saul didn’t ask for a singer? He asked for a skilled musician; someone who could play well; and it was through an instrumentalist the evil spirit was cast out. I rarely see worship services where the musicians get a chance to express their hearts of worship musically in a solo. I grew up on Deep Purple, Kansas, Journey, Boston, etc., and solos for the most part were a melodic musical statement, a language of themselves. Solos were like singing, and created intense emotion that would move people. For worship instrumentalists that don’t sing, soloing can be a form of expressing their individual worship to God. It’s their voice, as it was for David.

When I witnessed this situation at this particular worship event, I vowed to myself that I would continue to teach all of my students how to solo on their instruments so that they can have freedom of expression in worship. When the worship leader gives them the nod, they will be ready, willing, and able to express themselves for God’s glory.

If you’re a youth leader or music teacher, try giving your students this exercise while practicing this week for Sunday’s service: While playing along with the songs, have them pick out the vocal melodies by ear with their instrument. This will give them many ideas for note choices, phrasing, etc. Once they know the notes, have them try doing an answer call (a repeat), after the singer sings a line. It’s a very cool effect. This will really open their minds to soloing and will be an amazing, effective training practice tool for developing melodic solos. Then they will be able to spontaneously express their hearts of worship on your worship team.

May you be blessed as you pour into the next generation of worship leaders and musicians!


  1. Please please don’t!!! Guitar solos have no place in worship. I have been involved in worship for 30 years and have over 20 songs published with Vineyard Worship. I have NEVER witnessed a guitar solo during worship that has worked well! People lose their connection with God immediately, and just watch a guy show off usually. Its a bad idea. Worship leaders and bands exist to help people make a connection with God and keep that connection as long as possible. The connection is fragile and distraction (i.e. solos, out of tune instruments, pitchy vocals, etc.) destroys it. 🙂

  2. I would like to offer a different perspective on the situation described here in hopes it might be of some help.
    We could all probably agree that there are not only different “types” of skill, but different skill levels in skilled musicians. With that said, I see the issue here as the failure of the “headliner” – the “star” – not the guitarist.
    I think the crisis began with the assumption of the worship artist. There was either no time or no thought given to getting to know the team he was working with (or they him) and their particular skill level. Evidently up to the point of the solo, the guitarist was at an appropriate skill level. It becomes apparent when called on to do a solo that he is not “skilled” as a lead guitarist. The leadership failure of the artist was not only a personal embarrassment, but he humiliated the guitarist and made it look like it was his fault. Even worse than that, any worship that may have been going on was totally disrupted as the focus shifted to the glaring error.
    I would suggest that the context of I Samuel 16 is music, not worship. It does speak to a certain skill level, but doesn’t actually describe what that level is, just that he plays “well” (to be good, well, glad, or pleasing). There’s a lot of room for personal conjecture in that word, which I think could unduly distort the term. Also knowing the many scriptural accounts of David and his music (Psalms), I would hesitate to state emphatically that it was only instrumental music he played. One source – BibleWorks Greek LXX/BNT (BGT) version – actually has the word yallonta (sing, sing praise) in verse 17 instead of “play”. I would still go with “play”, but wouldn’t categorically dismiss singing.
    Speaking of Psalms . . . I think it’s informative for us musicians to note that God did not provide us with a single extant melody or musical score for any of the Psalms. He did preserve for all time the lyrics however. Music gives us an emotional and colorful help to worship, but worship can and must occur without it. Too many times in the church today, many can’t or don’t separate “music” from worship (e.g. “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman) and therefore fall short of worshipping during giving, the sermon or other parts of the service. That doesn’t mean that we can’t worship God for His exquisite gifts to man as we hear beautiful music (like in a concert), but that should not be the main focus of our worship. Music has a bad tendency to turn congregations into passive audiences.
    Even though scripture is used in this article, the foundation that supports the philosophy of the band here is firmly and overtly rooted in secular rock band culture (Deep Purple, Kansas, etc.). This fails to recognize the infinite difference between a rock concert and a worship service. However, that is what the church is getting too many times today – a rock concert. The band is the focal point, the main draw! Sometimes with roving cameras . . . I attended a church in the Phoenix area last year that had several campuses with the main campus having a membership the size of our town (@5,000). The auditorium seated 2 or 3 thousand and I was sitting in the very back. The announcements were given, the house lights dimmed, the flashing stage lights came on, the smoke began to boil and the volume almost blew me out the back door. The sound actually vibrated my guts for the next 20 minutes or so. If I hadn’t been there with a friend, I would have left! The musicians were all actually professionals (not necessarily members of the church) and excellent musicians, I think.
    The emphasis in this article is on the worship band, which is appropriate in the teaching environment of a School of Music, but I would argue that should not be the focus within a worship service. My understanding is that the goal of the Worship Team is to lead the congregation in worship and in order to do that, the Worship Team should become pretty much “transparent” – not draw attention to itself. The team can be a distraction in three primary ways: 1) by playing/singing badly, 2) by playing/singing too well, and/or 3) being too loud. In either case the congregation’s attention is drawn away from the Lord to the team/music. The music, key, tempo, volume, etc. should be geared to help the congregation worship, including of course any theme the pastor might have for the service.
    A solo shouldn’t detract from the mood of the song, allow the congregation to continue to meditate and doesn’t draw undue attention to itself; then it can be an appropriate complement to worship.
    I applaud the necessary focus on excellence from this school, we should all do our best in the service of the Lord and they’re definitely seeking that goal.

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