In a worship team gathering one random Tuesday evening, my friend (a brilliant musician and producer) stood up and said, “Sunday isn’t the time to be creative. This isn’t the moment to practice that new pentatonic scale pattern you learned, or try out your new guitar pedal. We’re here to serve the worship leader, to serve the song, and to lead people in worship. Play the record. You are all skilled players, or you wouldn’t be on the team. But this is not your moment to shine, it’s our moment together to worship.”
And I completely agree.
Am I saying you can never be creative in your worship environment? No, not at all! But I am saying understanding the original parts from the original recordings is worth the effort to learn and dive into as a baseline for you and your team, and it will yield results that will elevate and enhance the worship experience.
Learning parts is all about listening well. Tune into the line, use EQ to isolate the part, or go online and search for tutorials. Anything you can do to help you define and learn the original is a good thing. Training your ear to hear parts as they exist in the context of tone and sonic landscape will help you recreate those lines in your Sunday environment. From personal experience, you will also learn things you may not have sought out that will help you in your playing overall as well! There’s nothing like learning from the masters!
Once More, With Feeling
Once I have learned a part, I like to pause for a few minutes, then go back and listen again, playing along with the original recording. This not only helps to solidify the part in my mind, it also helps point out where I need to further refine or adjust. Sometimes this step is the key to really honing in on the nuance and cleaning up the part. In my role as a guitarist, this step helps me take pressure off of my leader; they know I have done the homework. It’s easy to think that once I’ve learned a song, I have it, but the reality is that sometimes this second round of scoping reveals places I haven’t quite gotten the part exactly right.
I once had a guitarist tell me he would learn the parts for an original song of mine, but he was not worried about learning parts for a song from a well-known worship leader. To me, this spoke to his lack of humility. Nationally touring artists play the same parts every night, on purpose, to preserve the context of the songs and the experience of the audience. We should follow that example on our teams because we want our worship experiences to be great for everyone involved, every time.
Phrases like “I didn’t learn that part, I’m just going to make it my own,” or “I’m going to do my own thing with it,” could be an indicator that we are not fully committed to this concept and are potentially pushing the limits of grace from our leaders.
I will admit I struggled with this in the past. I had to wrestle against the desire to want people to hear me play, and I did not always win the battle with self. But I have learned that focusing on part-playing helps me know my contribution to the team is solid and allows me the opportunity to more wholly engage in worship, enjoying the entire experience more fully.
And isn’t that the goal anyway?