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.

Listen Well
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.

Practice Humility
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?

13 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not sure I agree completely about being creative. I wholeheartedly agree that the service is not the place to experiment, nor is it the place to show what a hot-shot shredder you are. But creativity is one of the gifts God has given us, indeed it can be argued that creativity is an aspect of being made in God’s image.

    I play in a small church, and we usually have one guitar, piano and 4 vocalists. Allowing a little creativity allows us to fill the room with a joyful noise. It’s important to be sensitive though, to the worship leader, the Holy Spirit and the congregation in particular.

    Our musical director puts it this way: “John, it’s not nice to surprise the pianist”.

    Some songs work well with only the two instruments, playing the lines and voicings from the albums. Many, written for an 8 piece band, require creativity from both myself and the pianist to “work” and lead the congregation to the Most Holy Place.

  2. What a terrible article. Lack of humility for wanting to take ownership of a song and play their own created licks in place of (let’s face it) rather boring/all sounds the same/3 not diddlies that these recording artists make? Yo should encourage people to engage with the song to write out their own parts. That engages guitarists especially if they know some theory. Today’s worship music has definitely substance musically and even lyrically with its theology. Pantheistic motifs of water and winds and about ME and not enough on the character ofGod. These songs sound like “my boyfriend Jesus” songs to evoke an emotional response instead of Biblical TRUTH. The music sounds the same. The underlying tones, chords, lyrics, lack of syncopation and groove, symbolism, the repetitiveness, all of it. These guys today don’t have much to add to the conversation or for liturgy or theology. It doesn’t engage me musically. It’s too easy to play or lacks interesting musical things that grab my attention to dig my teeth into and ENJOY playing. Lyrically, I’ve heard it before and it doesn’t challenge me or educate me or offer anything of substance. It all feels like milk and not solid food. Churches everywhere do the same thing- play “campy” boyfriend Jesus music that gets the women to sway in the dark with their lifted hands and tears while the guys and teens just stand there. Then the preacher preaches a message that uses mostly personal stories and segments to fluff up a message barely built on scripture, that could’ve taken 10 minutes to say but it takes a blooming hour to get through.

    • I’m with you, Nathan. We’re not a studio/touring/recording band; in fact, we’re not a “band” at all. We’re a worship team, and our responsibilty is to the congregation, to facilitate and create an environment to encourage corporate worship. As the leader of the team, I learn the essence of the song and adapt it to the requirements of the team, and the needs of the congregation. Several “hot” trends in CCM songs are not congregation-friendly, and actually work against using them for congregational worship. One example is the way these hipster groups love to jump vocal registers in the same song. What you end up with is a verse that’s too low and a chorus that’s too high for most of the congregation, and actually frustrates and discourages their participation. If the message of such a song has some merit, extensive re-tooling is necessary to make it accessible to the congregation. I am interested not at all in “sounding like the recording;” I want to engage the Body of Christ and lead them into the throne room of the Most High.

      • Hey Dean – thanks for your comments and taking the time to share them – appreciated. First of all, it is clear that the message of Jeffrey’s article, the value of learning and playing parts might have gotten lost in translation – good for us to hear – and we DO appreciate that. Jeffrey is a good friend, and one of THE most humble guys I know, seriously. He’s just sharing what he has seen work for teams.

        That said, the deeper nerve that his article seems to have hit is not just about the guitar. Music changes, and there are trends. There was a time where people were reacting to the presence of drums and electric guitar in the same fashion that teams are trying to figure out how to deal with octave jumps in the melodies that many worship leaders can’t sing as well as their congregations. There are Christian songs that are not necessarily great for Sunday morning, so it is important of all of use to be discerning about the differences between popular worship music and songs that are ideal for Sunday morning. Are the big labels involved in the mix and do they want radio and YouTube play for their artists? The answer is yes – BUT – these record companies also bring us the artists whose material resonates with congregations from Sunday to Sunday. It is up to us to find the songs that work for our congregations and sometimes that includes totally reworking an arrangements – no octave jumps, no uber-fancy synth parts, just the heart and soul of the songs. This is one of the places that knowing the original guitar part is actually really valuable, at least at my home church, because I just pretty much described what we / I are faced with. We don’t jump the octave, we don’t play all the synth parts, but we also see that a number of these songs are familiar with our congregation and get them worshipping, which is the key. As a guitar player, the parts on the recordings can be an important part of the connective tissue between how ‘we’ need to arrange the songs for our respective congregations.

        Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts!

        God Bless ~ Doug // [WM]

    • Hey Nathan – thanks for your sharing your thoughts – appreciated and valued. As I mentioned in my reply to Bruce, I re-read Jeffrey’s article, and knowing him, his heart, and how incredibly humble he is, his goal was to remind players that the parts and learning them are of value. You have a number of valid points that apply to worship music and pop music in general. Are there Christian artists gunning for their next hit record, I and we don’t know, but there are some songs that have much greater depth. BUT, and this is important, some people really connect over songs that aren’t quite as deep, and if the goal is to connect, then mission accomplished. While I personally prefer music that came at a cost to the writer, there are times that I too love to listen to something light and bouncy, and if it is celebrating Jesus, it is certainly not for me to judge. This article obviously hit a nerve, which is on us to make sure we way what we are trying to say in a way that does not lose the message. I encourage you to read the Worship U article in this issue. They are BIG on teaching the parts on the record because they are of value to the arrangement, and I agree. BUT, there are lots of times that the parts give us a place to start from. We never try and say this is THE way, but we also know that there are a lot of teams out there who feel really isolated and are hungry for input on how to grow in their musicality. Learning to play what someone played on the original recording is a great way to do this – BUT – it is not the only way. Thanks again for your feedback – I and we appreciate it!

      God Bless ~ Doug // [WM]

  3. So tired of holier than thou musicians saying this is only way.
    Grow up,
    If you have one singer acapella, you are good to go.
    Get real X

    • Hey Bruce! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts – we love, value, and appreciate feedback. In having re-read Jeffrey’s article, I don’t think he’s saying there’s one way. My take, for what it’s worth, is that as guitar players we tend to do what guitar players to – be guitar players – noodle while people are talking – take liberties with parts – and think that what we want to play it the best way – which is kind of resonates with what you’re saying. Jeffrey is one of my favorite guys, totally humble, never holier than though, and that is key to why he served as Lincoln Brewster’s right hand guy, plays along side James Duke on Sundays, and also has a vital mainstream career. He listens, learns, and brings humility. Sorry the heart of what he has to say did not come through – we’re working on making sure the meaning doesn’t get lost in translation. We’re here to serve, not to preach. Again, thanks for your comments – they are immensely valuable to us knowing if we’re on target not only with what we want to share, but how we are saying it!

      God Bless ~ Doug // [WM]

  4. How sad Jeffrey that you wish to turn every worship group into covers bands! Music IS NOT the technical skill of creating a copied sound like someone else who plays the same instrument. It is art, it is soul, it is an emotion. As band and worship leader I encourage musicians to feel into a new song what they can bring to the overall sound, yes sometimes that would need moulding and coaxing into something, but the very last thing I would do is send them off to copy someone else. My fellow musicians in the band worship during worship, they give of themselves their God-given talents to the praise of God. If you want to sound like the original artist – buy the CD!

    • Hey Rob – thanks for your message – and for taking the time to share your thoughts – both are valued!

      Per Jeffrey’s article, “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.”

      I know Jeffrey REALLY well, and I can tell you that his heart is not to turn worship guitar players into part copying clones. He’s really not saying it is one or the other. He’s just pointing out the value of parts, and the bit about giving them a second run through is really valuable. There is a lot of value in learning to play what Droff, MGC, or Saint Pope came up with as the song was being crafted, and that has tremendous musical value. He’s not saying that’s the only way to go, but it is a good one, which was his point:)

      Again, we REALLY appreciate the feedback, so thanks again for taking the time to share…

      God Bless ~ Doug // [WM]

  5. As a worship leader, I can both understand the comments and the intention of the article. I’ve been in worship sets where the guitarist is looking for the spotlight–solos at odd places, compression to boost his volume above the rest of the team, jumping around when it’s frankly distracting. I’ve taken that into mind when putting our team out there. I’m the lead guitarist and lead vocalist. Sometimes I even practice fills and solos but in the moment, it seems obscene to infringe on the focus of God so I’ve abandoned them to blank stares from my team (though they have learned by now to pay attention to cues). It’s not really about us, its about worshipping God. If we could lead from a back room with no cameras, I would do it. Pure worship, pure joy. It doesn’t really work that way though. So If I feel it would draw attention to me that would detract attention from God, I won’t do it even if it would be more interesting. However, many recordings sound better with a different style or even tempo. Take Christ is Risen by Matt Mahr. We play it much more upbeat than the recording and congregants have told us they like it that way. I feel the Spirit needs to dictate more than the artist’s recording.

    • Hey Chris:

      Thanks for sharing your insights – appreciated! We all know ‘that guitarist’ who is gunning for the chance to noodle! Love your comment about the worshipping from the back room too:) And yes, the arrangement needs to reflect the team and the congregation, not the original recording…

      God Bless ~ Doug // [WM]

  6. No way would I play in a worship band that sets a higher priority on doing perfect record covers rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to flow through each individual musician.

    • Hey Alex – thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts – appreciated…

      In re-reading Jeffrey’s article, the quote, “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.” really stuck with me…

      I think there is a balance that we all work towards achieving, and to my eyes, Jeffrey is just reminding us of the importance of the original parts – but – he also mentions that it is not at the expense of being creative, which for some of our readers translates to flowing in the sprit with their instrument. That is a much different thing that the player who shows up unprepared and rambles through made up parts. Finding the balance that works for to serve your pastor, worship pastor and congregation is of course key. We are constantly striving to use the right language when offering solutions to teams that makes sure that we don’t sound like one or more of the suggestions we’re making is the only way – we don’t think like that, and we want to make sure that our readers understand that. Always more to learn, so thanks again for shoring your thoughts…

      God Bless ~ Doug // [WM]

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