advice for the modern worship musician
Things You Were Never Told
(But Should Know By Now)
Cover design by Sara Lewis
Cover photo by Laura Milner
Interior photo by Kimberlee Miller
Edited by Jayme Lewis
Proofread by Cheryl Lewis, Toni Krupka, and Erica Dean
Copyright © 2011 Jayme Lewis. All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-1-4675-1727-0
The text, graphics, and design in this publication are protected by
copyright law. Any duplication or transmission, by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
is an infringement of copyright.
Thanks to my beautiful wife, Sara, for standing next to me
through all these years of the craziness and for putting up
with my addiction to working too hard and pushing myself
to the limit.
Thanks to my parents, Mark and Cheryl, for giving me the
opportunity to do what I love and supporting me.
Thanks to my brother, Jason, for always pushing me.
Thanks to my mentor and friend, Victor Wooten, for being an
inspiration and for taking the time to share your knowledge.
Thanks to Ben Kolarcik for leading by example.
Thanks to Jon Maghini at M Basses for making the baddest
basses on the planet.
Thanks to D’Addario Strings and Planet Waves, Patrick
Chen at Mono, Will Cady at Source Audio, Peter Montessi
at A-Designs, Frank and Glen Appleton at FEA Labs,
Voodoo Lab, Jay Baldemor at GruvGear, Pedal Train, Jam
Hub, Justin Huth at Aguilar, and Michael Griffin at Essential
Sound Products. You have all done amazing things for me
and my career and I am forever in your debt.
Thanks to Dr. Kessner for showing me what I am capable of.
Thanks to Saul Velasco for teaching me everything I know
about playing in the pocket.
My eternal gratefulness to Christ my savior for finding me
when I was lost.
Jayme Lewis is a bass player, producer, teacher, and
composer residing with his lovely wife, Sara, in the greater
Los Angeles area of Southern California. The youngest
of two, born on September 22, 1986 to Mark and Cheryl,
he began his musical journey at the age of four when his
mother started teaching him to play the piano. He was
introduced to the bass guitar at the age of seven by his
father, and after hearing the title track from Stanley Clarke’s
debut album, School Days, Jayme developed a passion for
the low-end instrument. Since then he has spent a lifetime
studying music and playing professionally.
In 2005 he earned an Associate Degree in Music from
Moorpark College and finished his Bachelor’s Degree in
Music at California State University of Northridge in 2008.
Throughout his career he has had the great opportunity to
study with a multitude of incredible bass players including
Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey, Chuck Rainey, Adam Nitti,
Anthony Wellington, Gerald Veasley, Oteil Burbridge, Mike
Pope, Stanley Clarke, Oscar Meza, Bunny Brunel, Will
Lee, Esperanza Spalding, Bob Babbit, Edgar Meyer, Janek
Gwizdala, and Dave LaRue.
Jayme divides his time each day between teaching at the
Lewis Music Academy, teaching online at,
producing and recording, and touring with different bands
and artists across the country. He is known for his work
with such notable worship artists as Ben Kolarcik and Matt
Bayless, and has also done TV/film work for Disney and
Jayme and his older brother, Jason, are involved with
many projects together and have played in a number of
different bands throughout the years. When he’s not playing
music Jayme enjoys spending time with his wife, going to
the gym, building his home studio, and learning card tricks.
Jayme proudly endorses M Basses, D’Addario, Planet
Waves, Aguilar Amplification, A-Designs, Source Audio,
Mono, Voodoo Lab, GruvGear, Pedal Train, FEA Labs and
Essential Sound Products.
For more information please visit
Preface: What is this book about? 1
Chapter One: Knowing your role 9
Chapter Two: Moving the song forward 27
Chapter Three: Playing as an ensemble 36
Chapter Four: Always play for the song 42
Chapter Five: Comfort and confidence 56
Chapter Six: Appropriate stage presence 65
Chapter Seven: Practice 68
Chapter Eight: Applying music theory 79
Chapter Nine: An audience of One 90
Chapter Ten: Concluding thoughts 97
PREFACE - What is this book about?
What is this book about?
There’s something about music books that I just don’t
like. I’ve read a ton of them in my time, and putting music
into another language, writing it down, and trying to get
someone else to understand what you’re talking about
almost seems impossible. Music is something that we hear,
not read about. It certainly takes some getting used to, and
for the longest time I can remember struggling with music
books; they always seemed difficult to understand because
it was hard to hear what the author was describing. Have
you ever felt this way about all those music books you may
have read or currently own? If you’re at all like me then you
know what I’m talking about and most of those books on
your bookshelf just sit there, untouched, waiting for you to
dig in to them one day when you “have enough time.” I’m
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
hoping that this one won’t end up there.
So why read this book then? What’s the point? What
makes this book so different from the other ones? What will
you learn from this and will it make you a better musician or
worship leader?
Those are all great questions. I know you’re asking
yourself right now whether or not you should continue
reading or put this on the shelf for “later.” But I have an
idea for answering such questions. Rather than telling you
what this book is about, why don’t I just tell you what it’s
not about? That will save you some time for sure, and by
the end of this long ramble you’ll know whether or not you
should continue reading. Don’t you wish all books were this
up front?
Let me start by giving you a brief explanation of my
musical background and credentials. I’ve read many
books, heard countless lectures, and have watched a ton
of instructional videos on the subject of music and her
many incarnations. I’ve studied musical history, along
with all the important treatises that have led us to our
current understanding of diatonic structures and chromatic
fundamentals. I’ve learned how to play music not just
from listening to it but also by reading those dots and lines
that appear linearly across a sheet of paper. In college, I
went through numerous textbooks on the infrastructure of
harmonic construction and the melodic components that
PREFACE - What is this book about?
ultimately make up the essence of tonal centers or keys.
I’ve painstakingly analyzed musical composition,
form, and techniques from thousands of recordings and
manuscripts from both virtuosic players and composers
across every genre and at every point in history, not only
for the purposes of gaining insight and knowledge but also
so that I might be able to imitate that virtuosity as well. I’ve
played nearly every genre of music from baroque to rock
to jazz fusion and everything in between. I’ve been a band
mate, a touring bassist, a studio musician, a “hired gun,” a
producer, an engineer, and a musical director.
I’ve also read many great books and have enjoyed plenty
of insightful sermons on the topics of worship, how we
worship, and all of the theological philosophies behind what
worshiping our God is intended to be.
Needless to say, I’ve spent much of my life studying
the art and perfection of music in as many ways as I can
possibly imagine. And believe me, I’m not disclosing
this information to toot my own horn or boast about my
accomplishments, but rather for the sake of offering a sense
of weight or credit to the claims I will be making throughout
the pages that follow.
However, this book will not go over any of that stuff. If
you would like to learn about any of the aforementioned
topics in the previous paragraphs then you should
look elsewhere because this book will not serve those
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
purposes. There is plenty of great material out there already
that covers those concepts, and I’ll even help point you in
the right direction if you’d like. That stuff has been covered
in great length and detail from numerous reliable sources
throughout history and I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel
here. And besides, I doubt you want me to bore you death
with all that technical mumbo-jumbo, unless you’re like me
(hopefully you’re not). Plus, it is not exactly necessary for a
modern worship musician to obsess over all of those things
in order to be successful in his or her expression of worship
I’m going to pause for a second and let that last
sentence settle in, as I may have offended some of you
Now PLEASE – do not misquote me on that! I am not at
all debating the importance of formal music study or biblical
philosophies, nor am I inferring that it is unnecessary, a
waste of time, or in any way incorrect to do! A thorough and
comprehensive understanding in music theory will make you
an invaluable asset to your worship team and I firmly stand
behind those who choose to apply themselves to the study
of musical art, as I have done myself. I also believe that in
order to usher your congregation into the presence of the
Lord you will need a firm understanding of what the bible
has to say about worship.
All I am saying is that these pages will be covering
PREFACE - What is this book about?
the road less traveled by introducing the lesser known
topics. Lesser known, perhaps, but equally important and
valuable to the modern worship musician.
This book also won’t teach you how to play common
chords on a guitar or piano, and it won’t show you how
to navigate through a standard lead sheet or chord
chart. I’m not going to give you instrument-specific lessons
or techniques and I promise that you will have a better
understanding of what music truly is by the time you are
done reading. This book is not intended for guitar players,
drummers, bass players, keyboard players or singers, but
is intended for all musicians of all instruments who play in
worship settings and wish to develop their craft beyond the
scope of their current abilities. Is this you?
Now that you know all of the things that this book isn’t
about, what in the world can I possibly show you within
these pages? After having interacted with and listened to
countless musicians throughout my career (both inside and
outside the church) I have found certain important aspects
of their playing abilities to be missing or incomplete; players
ranging from beginners to pros, each of them missing
the same musical elements and each of them making
the same “amateur” mistakes and errors... And each of
them completely unaware of these holes in their musical
So I thought to myself, How can I show them what
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
they are missing? How can I skyrocket their musicianship
tenfold, turning them into the players they never thought
they could be? It almost seems too good to be true,
right? Actually, I know that it’s possible because it
happened to me when I was about 19 years old.
I had been a bass player for nearly 13 years, was in
my last year of college working on a Bachelor’s Degree
in Music, and had considered myself to be a very
“professional” musician already. Well, at least until I got
fired from a really prestigious musical opportunity by a big
name producer. I was devastated. What do you mean,
I’m not good enough to play this? I’ve got more music
education and experience and have been playing longer
than most of the musicians that you’ve ever met! I know it
sounds really arrogant but trust me when I say that I thought
this was going to be an easy gig, and I couldn’t believe that
I didn’t make the cut. This was one of the lowest points
of my career, and it wasn’t the best place to start as a
graduating senior stepping out into the realm of professional
After a few days of sulking and trying to rebuild my ego I
decided to take the advice of the producer from that project
and began listening to music. I mean, really listening;
not analyzing chord structures, voice leading, and all the
technical stuff behind their playing that I’d normally be
listening for, but just listening to what these studio players
PREFACE - What is this book about?
and touring musicians were doing. At first I didn’t really get
it, but after a while it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I began to notice certain things that these players were
doing (and not doing). These musicians weren’t shredding
it up or boggling my mind with musical mayhem. They were
doing, well, something else… Something that I wasn’t.
I began listening to other types of music, everything from
pop to rock and R&B to salsa, trying to see if there were any
similarities between genres that made these players sound
so good. And then it clicked – Ah ha! They all had it! They
were all doing it! These ideas and concepts that I was
listening for applied to all styles of music, especially worship
music. I began to hear what they were doing and what I
was missing, and I knew that if I was going to improve my
playing and take myself to the next level that I was going to
have to be able to do those things too.
So after many years of laboring on this stuff (and building
a steady career as a working musician at the same time
because of it) I have decided to write a book for the people
like me who never knew these things; to show them in plain
writing all the aspects of musicianship that they should
know by. I’m going to show you the things that no one else
has told you before. Sound interesting? If yes, then please
read on and enjoy. If not, no hard feelings. You’ll learn them
eventually the hard way, just like I did.
No technical jargon, fancy vocabulary (beyond the
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
basics), or intricate concepts. This book is intended for
anyone and everyone. I guarantee that nothing within these
pages will go over your head or make you feel stupid or
inadequate. In fact, it should do just the opposite; you’ll
probably realize how much you already know.
Don’t be surprised if you slap yourself on the forehead
and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” This book is for you,
and hopefully you will gain a better insight of what it means
to be a true musician and worship leader, how to sound and
play like a pro, and how to better serve within your worship
ministry. But most importantly, I hope you realize that these
things were there all along; you already knew them but you
just needed help finding them.
To be honest, I think that’s the real reason that no one
ever taught these things to you, that you never read them in
a book, or that you never heard about them before now. It’s
hard to teach you something you already know, isn’t it?
Let’s begin.
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
Knowing your role
I know it seems simple. If I’m a drummer, my role is to
play the drums. If I’m a singer, my role is to sing. A guitar
player – play guitar. Easy, right? Well here’s the problem:
thinking like this will only tell you what instrument you’re
going to play, and you probably already know how to do
that very well. But it tells you nothing about the other things
you’re responsible for in the ensemble. Remember that
phrase, the things you’re responsible for, because each
instrument and voice in the group does something that no
one else can do. And if you’re not doing it, who is?
So let’s say (and hope) that we’re a little more
sophisticated than this: I know that if I’m a drummer I am
responsible for playing rhythms and keeping time for the
entire group. If I play acoustic guitar I’m aware that I need
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
to know my open chords. If I’m a bass player I need to
know how to play the root notes. Electric guitarist – use
a bunch of distortion and delay pedals (sorry for bagging
on guitar players, they make it too easy). I’m off to a good
start; a great start actually. At this point I understand the
fundamental properties of my instrument and what it’s
meant to sound like. But the problem here is that this is
the line where most people stop. They decide to stop
progressing, or moving forward, and stay in this state of
musical ignorance for their entire career.
Yes, drummer, you play rhythm and keep time. But
there is so much more that you are responsible for besides
that. Yes, acoustic guitar player, you need to be able to
strum open chords, but you need to do a little more than
that in order to be noticed. Yes, bass player, root notes are
a good start. But in order to fulfill your role in the band you
need to be paying attention to much more than only what
you are playing. I can keep going on and on but I think you
get the picture here.
The first key to becoming a better worship musician is to
realize your role beyond the scope of what your instrument
is capable of doing. Your instrument is responsible for
one thing; doing what you make it do, and that’s pretty
easy. However, you (the musician) have much more to be
concerned with.
I know that in the preface chapter I stated that this
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
book wouldn’t include any instrument specific lessons
or techniques. And in a way I’m going to stay true to
that statement: what I will be doing within this chapter
is delegating specific responsibilities to each individual
instrument of a typical worship ensemble. And please, do
yourself a favor and don’t skip over the sections that you
think don’t pertain to you. Because although you may think
that they don’t concern you, they actually do. Knowing
your role in the ensemble is a double-edged sword; you
have to know what everyone else’s job is in order to
fully understand your own. Imagine a football team; the
quarterback knows his role is to throw the ball (duh!), but
if he doesn’t understand the duties of his team mates he
will not understand the play completely. That will definitely
affect the outcome of the play, and ultimately the game as
well. So let’s get started.
The Rhythm Section: Bass And Drums
The bass and the drums are two very special (and
often neglected) instruments that, for the purposes of
this segment, will be combined into one instrument and
hereafter referred to as the rhythm section (sometimes
a rhythm guitarist or pianist can be added to the
rhythm section, but we’ll deal with them separately in a
minute). Now although the bass and drums are two entirely
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
different instruments altogether they actually serve the same
purpose, thus making them the same instrument when
played together. Allow me to explain:
These two instruments obviously sound different, I will
not argue that at all. Snares, tom toms, and cymbals sound
nothing like vibrating bass strings, and it’s absurd to argue
that they are the same instrument in terms of their aural
character alone. But the role that they play in the ensemble
is identical; they have the same purpose and the same
goal, which is to become the foundation of the ensemble
as a strong, solid platform for the rest of the group to
stand upon. Technically speaking, they must become one
instrument, establish a groove and sit in the pocket together
for the entire song. Failing to do so will result in a weak
foundation and ultimately cause the group to fail as well.
Let me back up for a second and dissect some of the
things I have just stated, for though they were quick and
easy statements they are monumental and powerful in their
meaning, so lets take a closer look at what you just read.
Sounding like one instrument
Like I already explained, obviously they don’t sound the
same. But they need to sound like one instrument when
played together. This is quite easy to do, because the kick
drum and the bass guitar actually occupy much of the
same low frequencies in the sonic spectrum. They naturally
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
sound good together for this very reason.
The bass and the drums are kind of dependent on each
other in this way, because neither of them are really capable
of leading a song on it’s own (of course that is absurdly
incorrect, for I’ve met plenty of virtuosic players who can
play beautiful music completely solo on a bass or drum
kit, but let’s pretend momentarily that this is an exception
for playing in a worship team); the bass player requires the
drummer in order for his groove to make sense, and the
drummer depends on the bass player for his drum beat to
have any context. It’s an easy concept to grasp, but so very
important when playing worship music as a rhythm section
participant, or trying to successfully lock with what the
rhythm section is doing around you.
In keeping with this idea that the bass player and the
drummer need to sound like one instrument, this implies
that they must play as one instrument as well. We do so
by establishing a kick pattern and staying together when
that pattern changes. If you don’t know what a kick pattern
is (I didn’t until I got fired), it is simply a pattern that the
kick drum will follow in the main sections of a song. For
instance, during the verse the drummer may place his kick
drum as two eighth notes on the first and third beats only.
Therefore, whatever beats the drummer is playing, the bass
player must place his bass notes on the same exact beats
and nowhere else. Of course there is room for variation
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
and they don’t need to line up perfectly 100% of the time,
but you should stay here the majority of the time. If you’re
having a hard time understanding what I’m saying just pull
up a contemporary country record and listen. You’ll hear it
instantly. The bass and the kick drum are almost tethered
to each other; playing one means playing the other. This is
how you accomplish sounding like one instrument.
Let’s look at the word foundation itself. It’s really
important that you understand what a foundation truly
is, what it does, and why it’s so important because that’s
what the rhythm section truly is at its basest form: a
foundation. So, what is a foundation? Let me paint you a
Imagine that you are walking into a building. Take a
look around for a moment. What do you see? Or more
importantly, what’s the first thing you notice? If you
walk into someone’s house, you might notice pictures
on the walls, the color of those walls, the specific pieces
of furniture that surround you... Notice that what really
catches your attention is the “stuff,” or things right in front
of you in the “spotlight,” so to speak. But ask yourself this,
What are those things standing on? What is right there
underneath them so that they can even be noticed in the
first place? That’s right; a foundation.
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
Now here’s an interesting dichotomy: you didn’t notice
the foundation at first, did you? Be honest, unless you lay
concrete or tile for a living I bet foundation isn’t even a word
in your general vocabulary. But here’s the coolest part: that
foundation was there the whole time. You were walking
right over it and you never noticed it was even there. All
because the foundation was doing its job. Cool stuff, huh?
Even more interesting is this: there’s only one way you
would notice the foundation unless you were looking for it,
and that’s if there’s something very wrong with it. Imagine
walking into that same building and seeing a huge crack
running through the foundation. All of a sudden, the
walls are bent inwards, the picture frames are swinging at
an angle, and that expensive flat screen TV is teetering,
almost ready to fall to the floor. Now you really notice the
foundation by the fact that it’s not doing what it’s supposed
to do. Isn’t it interesting that you don’t even notice the
foundation when it is doing its job (in fact, you almost
expect it to be working), but you can’t stop noticing it once
it’s broken?
Such is the plight and the responsibility of the rhythm
section. No one really notices you are doing your job
when you’re doing it right, and rightly so, because the
firm foundation you are laying down gives the rest of the
ensemble room to stand (and stand strong at that). When
the rhythm section is playing well, everyone notices how
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
great the guitars sound, how clear the vocals are, and so
forth. But if your rhythm section is a weak foundation for
the band, suddenly no one can hear the song correctly. It
sounds weird, for some reason (your listener may not know
why), and it is because there is a crack in the foundation of
the band. The average person may not have the musical
knowledge to know that the bass and drums are the ones
responsible for the music sounding so bad, but they’ll know
something is up.
Grooving and Pocket Playing
Pocket? Groove? What’s that? Funny words, I know,
and where they come from I’m not too sure, but these two
words are pretty much synonymous with each other. Here’s
my best attempt at describing these sounds to you in
words: listen to one of your favorite songs. Are you tapping
your foot, nodding your head, moving your body or dancing
to it? If so, you are hearing a pocket or groove that your
body is reacting to. It is created by the bass player and
the drummer locking together, as perfectly as they can as
one instrument, so that their rhythmic patterns are in sync.
It’s most likely caused from the kick pattern that they are
syncing with, or the syncopation that their notes are creating
within that kick pattern. But when the rhythm section is in
the pocket your band is slamming, for sure.
It’s funny, but a solid rhythm section that stays in the
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
pocket can make up for a lot of things, like a sloppy guitarist
or out of tune vocal harmonies. It’s not going to solve all of
your problems, but all of the best worship leaders know the
importance of the rhythm section.
Guitars: Lead, Rhythm, And Acoustic
Guitar players get a bad rep often times for being
“dime-a-dozen” players, and to an extent this stereotype is
not completely untrue. Personally, I know about 30 guitar
players that I work with on a regular basis, which is about
500% more than any other instrument. Okay, I may be
exaggerating a little, but let’s admit it, everyone wants to
be a guitar player. I wish I was! But of all the guitar players
that I know there are a select few that get the most calls for
worship music. It’s not because of how fast they play or
how much musical knowledge they have; it’s something else
altogether. Not being a true guitar player myself I have the
unique opportunity to describe the role of this instrument
by looking at it from an outside point of view. With my
experiences of being a teacher, producer, and music
director I have noticed that the guitarists I enjoy working
with the most seem to have something in common: They
understand their role very well.
The acoustic guitar is undeniably an iconic instrument
in modern worship music. The acoustic guitar is also
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
unique, in that it is very much capable of leading a song
on its own without needing a band to back it up. But it is
very important to know how to play well with others. I’d
say that is probably the number one “mistake” (I use this
word lightly) that I see most acoustic guitar players make
(and piano players are often accused of this as well), which
is overplaying. When you play guitar by yourself you are
missing certain important elements, namely the rhythm
section, so you try to create them on the guitar (which
is awesome to do). However, once you add a drummer
to the mix you no longer need to lay a heavy back beat
where the snare should go, because guess what? The
snare is there to do that for you. And you no longer need
to play every single D/F# chord with your thumb, because
guess what? The bass player is hitting that F# for you
too. Understanding the role of the rhythm section will truly
help you know what your role is, which is supplementing the
rhythm section and adding to its stability; not choking the
musical elements out of it!
Acoustic guitar playing is also much more than just
strumming open chords. Granted, that is what you do
much of the time, but you serve a role that is similar to the
rhythm section in that you provide a firm foundation for the
guitar section of the ensemble. There is a required amount
of delicate understanding in the execution of your playing
in order for the instrument to sit just right in the mix. For
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
instance, many acoustic guitar players like to play really
loud because their instrument is getting lost when playing
with the full band. But sometimes you need to play soft,
and sometimes not at all (we’ll discuss this more in a later
chapter). No sports player likes taking the bench, I know,
but understand that sometimes this is necessary. Think
about it logically: when you have three electric guitars, a
drum kit, and a bassist playing together how could you
possibly compete with their volume? If you are trying to
beat them then you’re playing a game you cannot win. But,
if you wait patiently you will have your chance to shine and
add your musical two cents to the group.
For instance, when the final bridge of a song drops
down and is left bare and vulnerable, bordering a cappella,
what instrument is there to fill in the gaps? You guessed
it. Who is there driving that first verse before the drums
really kick in? Yep. You. Whose sparse, delicate finger
picking helps to draw the chords of that first down chorus
together? I think you get the point. Like the human voice,
all acoustic instruments have a very delicate quality to them
when played softly, and in many situations this sound is very
much desirable. The truth is that the acoustic guitar plays
a huge role in filling in the gaps and guiding the rhythm
section to the lead instruments.
Now, electric guitars are interesting, to say the least,
because it’s hard to talk about them without talking up their
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
ego (and I don’t mean that to offend them). They really are
the body of the group, or the centerpiece; if each instrument
was a limb, the guitar would be the core or the body that
each limb is connected to. The guitarist is the person that
most people look at, identify with, and secretly idolize. The
electric guitar is in the spotlight, whether he wants it or not,
so it’s important to know what to do with this spotlight once
you have it.
Another interesting thing about guitar players is that
they are perhaps the most diverse and scattered instrument
across the genre spectrum of music. In other words, fiddle
and lap steel guitars probably won’t play much else besides
country and bluegrass. Horn sections are most common
in classical, jazz, and R&B ensembles. Many instruments
are also ambiguous; a drummer can lay down a nice beat
and the bass player might interpret it as a funk groove while
the singer might have heard that drum beat developing
into a rock song. But guitars are all over the map; they
play almost every genre of music and can adapt to multiple
sounds, styles, and tones. A blues player will have a
“blues-y vibe” with certain riffs and licks, while punk rockers
dig power chords and octave leads, and metal heads like
head banging, mega-overdrive pedals, and scale-shredding
at blistering speeds.
It’s not subtle at all and it’s beyond evident. The electric
guitar is as diverse as it is popular. So this begs the
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question, Which style of music should I use when playing
worship music? I wish I had an answer for you on that one
but I don’t. Each player will have his own personal taste,
but the most skillful guitarists will be able to blend in and
adapt to whichever genre of music they are asked to play.
That means be as versatile as you can be. We’ll talk more
about this in another chapter, but for now understand that
you need to play each song with the right taste (and realize
that what is “tasteful” for the song may not be what comes
naturally to you).
So here we are at a crossroads: the electric guitarist has
a role of leadership, of standing in front and being the guy
in the spotlight, and he hasn’t even started playing a single
note yet! So what does he do from here? Well, the genre
of music you are playing will tell you that. Does the song
have a prominent guitar melody? Does it require the use of
20 delay pedals and communicating with whales (I’m only
half kidding)? Should he play open chords, power chords,
clean, crunch, or distortion? Needless to say, playing
electric guitar means knowing how to orchestrate; knowing
when to play the leads, when to play chords or riffs, and
when to use effects or dry, “un-effected” sounds. This will
come from musical maturity (we’ll talk about that soon, as
well) and it’s overwhelming for sure, but rest assured that
each worship band and the song list will dictate these needs
for you. Also, your worship leader will hopefully help in
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
guiding you to the appropriate playing style.
Auxiliary Players: Keys, Synths, And Piano
Perhaps the most often overlooked player in the band
is the auxiliary player: keyboards, synthesizers, and
piano. This of course will depend entirely on the type of
music you are creating because the piano is certainly not
an auxiliary instrument in a traditional, classical church
setting, and a Hammond B3 is definitely not a background
instrument for gospel music. But for all intents and
purposes we will look at these instruments as background
instruments for the sake of learning to function within
modern contemporary worship settings.
Keyboard players generally require the most knowledge
of musical theory since their instrument literally dictates
it; music is the piano, whether you’d like to admit it or
not. Each note on the musical staff represents a specific
pitch on a specific key at a specific place of the piano. So
for those of you who are non-keyboard players, if you
ever have a musical question in regards to what you are
supposed to be playing, your keyboard player is a great
person to ask, for they are usually very knowledgeable.
Auxiliary members are responsible for doing a lot of
behind the scenes kind of stuff, and honestly most people
won’t even notice it’s there until you stop playing. Things
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
like laying down ethereal soundscapes or “pads” while
the leader is speaking to the congregation so that there
is no silence or down time, or setting up the next song
with a similar pad or doodling on the piano... Of course,
the interesting thing here is that you have two completely
different roles and they often happen at the same time:
not only are you a background instrument, but sometimes
(depending on the song) you share the same “spotlight”
qualities as the electric guitar player. If the song is piano
driven or keyboard intensive you will be placing your
backseat role in the, well, back seat, and picking up the
slack as the leader of the group if the song requires it. So
be ready for anything.
Along the same lines, auxiliary players need to play a lot
of instruments. I mean, they are all technically keyboard
instruments, but the specific instrument that each song
requires you to play will dictate the way you have to play
it. In other words, you cannot and should not play a B3
organ the same way you would a piano, or treat a mono
synth patch like a Rhodes... Knowing your sounds and
when to use them is one thing, but knowing how to play
within the context of the particular sound or voice you are
using is another battle altogether. Auxiliary players have
some of the most difficult responsibilities in the ensemble
because they will usually end up doing something different
for each song, and the role that they play for each song
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
can differ as well. Auxiliary players need to listen intently to
figure out what needs to go where. Like a fine chef, finding
the right flavor and adding to taste, it is a difficult thing to
do, and is more of an art than a science.
Singers: Lead And Background
Okay, this one is usually pretty obvious. What in the
world should a singer do in the group. Hmmm, let me
Well, it seems easy enough, right? But just like each
of the other instruments that we already covered, there’s
always more to it than what meets the eye. Singers sing,
yes, but are also responsible for the more human aspects
of the band’s perception from the audience. Let’s face it,
anyone who is not a musician wants to be one. They watch
the guitar player intently and secretly do air-guitar when no
one is looking, or you may see someone drumming on the
tabletop next to you (wishing that they weren’t because of
their complete lack of rhythm and timing). Some people
identify with the guitar, others with the drums, but everyone
(and I mean everyone) can identify with the singer. And the
reason is this: almost everyone has a voice.
Granted, not all of us feel we have been blessed with the
ability to sing, but the general population has working vocal
CHAPTER ONE - Knowing your role
cords and so we are naturally drawn to it. Most people even
think of the lead singer as the leader of the group, or that
the group is even his or her band. So, for the singer there
is a great responsibility to be the face of the group. As a
singer you are the one that everyone is watching closely. No
pressure, right?
Now there is of course a hierarchy within the category of
the vocal section, and it is typically divided into two camps:
the lead vocalist and the backing voices. The leader has the
job of leading the vocal section, and by leading I mean more
than just guiding the song from the verse to the chorus... I
mean leading the voices so that they are moving together
as one voice, much like the rhythm section is one voice
comprised of two or more instruments. The lead vocalist
needs to sing the song with such confidence and control
that the rest of the singers can follow; follow not only the
song’s linear structure to the next part of the song but also
follow the lead singer’s phrasing and note length. There is
nothing more disappointing than four people trying to lead
a song (and yes, I see it all the time). If the backing voices
aren’t sure how the leader is going to phrase the lyrics they
will attempt to do this on their own. It’s not a pretty sight.
The background voices have the role of following the
lead vocal and trying to mimic its every nuance so that
the blend is perfect between voices. If the lead vocalist is
doing a good job of leading, then the backing vocals have
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
the responsibility of doing a good job of following. You’d
like to think this is pretty straight-forward but I’ve been
involved with plenty of projects where this statement went
undeclared, and the ending result was vocal catastrophe.
Background singers don’t want to stand out or be noticed;
they want just the opposite. They want to sound like the
person to their right and to their left, and they need to
understand the importance of this concept.
So there you have it, the roles of the majority of
instruments involved in a modern worship setting laid out
right before you, nice and simple. Of course there’s plenty
things I left out, didn’t elaborate on, and just plain forgot
to write down. I’m sure that there are instruments I should
have included but did not, and if so, I apologize. Whatever
your instrument is I have no doubt that it will fit into one of
the above categories. This is certainly enough to give you
a solid understanding of what you need to do, and more
importantly what you are responsible for when playing with
a group of musicians in a worship setting. Be sure that you
do not stop at the understanding of your own instrument,
but that you also understand what the other instruments are
supposed to do, as well. The more we understand about
each other the more we will understand ourselves, and the
music we make together will be exactly what we want it to
CHAPTER TWO - Moving the song forward
Moving the song forward
“You need to go somewhere,” he told me sternly.
“What?” I asked.
“I said, you need to go somewhere.” This time he stared
at me, watching intently and waiting for me to do something
that was going to impress him. “Go.”
“Where am I going to go?” I was uncertain of what he
was asking so surely I thought that this question would
clarify things.
“I don’t know yet, just take it somewhere, man. Try
taking it up.”
Nope. That wasn’t any help. “Well, which way is up?” I
asked, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, the song needs to go higher,” he replied.
“I’ve got it, you want me to play higher notes?” I was
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
pretty sure I knew what he wanted this time.
“No, definitely not that.” He looked confused, and I
could tell he was trying to figure out why I didn’t know what
he meant, so he elaborated, “It needs to move. Take it up,
take it down, take it somewhere; anywhere!” Things were
getting heated in the control room of the recording studio,
and the fact that time was of the essence wasn’t helping
“I seriously don’t know what you’re asking me to
do.” Surely this would help me better understand this
wacky producer: “Tell me what you want. Different
chords? A crescendo? A different groove? Give me an
idea of what you’re hearing in your head.” I tried so hard to
be patient with this guy.
He paused for a moment with his right hand softly
strapped underneath his chin, his index finger tapping lightly
on his upper lip, pondering his next words. Then, as if he
realized that he had made a miraculous discovery while
deep in thought he spoke, slowly at first. “Playyyy it liiike,”
his syllables drawn out as he takes a deep breath, “like
you’rrrre,” one more pause and his head tilts back with both
eyes squinting. A sly smile stretches across his face as if
he is about to say something astonishingly profound. “Like
you’re skiing down a mountain...”
Silence in the studio. A few moments pass; he waits and
gages my reaction.
CHAPTER TWO - Moving the song forward
I stare at him, blankly, and blink both eyes. Twice. I
exhale, unplug my bass, wrap up the cable and step out of
the room. I knew this guy was going nowhere. “You’re on
your own,” I say to the artist as I leave the room, while the
producer sits in his chair in front of the recording console,
still tapping his upper lip.
I kid you not, that is an exact conversation I had one
time while working in the studio with an artist and her
producer. It’s a funny story and I tell it all the time when
someone asks me, What’s the most ridiculous thing
that’s ever happened to you on a gig? I have plenty more
hilarious stories I could tell but I decided to use this one
for a reason, because as ridiculous as that producer was
he was actually trying to solve a real problem (bless his
heart). The song needed to go somewhere and I needed
to take it there. I would have appreciated a little direction
from him, and I realize now, looking back on it, that I should
have understood this. But he was right, it needed to go.
Anywhere. But instead I went.
Sometimes we encounter this problem in our worship
teams. We need to make this song sound not so much like
the last one. My personal favorite is, Does this song feel
too repetitive to you? I’ve heard them all, and believe me,
there’s nothing worse than a stagnant song that just doesn’t
go anywhere. It’s our job as musicians to bring the music
to life, to take the song from the beginning, develop it, allow
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
it to end, and then continue the process with the next song
in the set and so on. We need to move the music forward.
But what does that really mean, and how do we accomplish
it? Pay attention, because I’ve taught this lesson to almost
every student I’ve ever worked with, and it starts with roller
The Roller Coaster Effect
In order to better understand this concept of moving the
song forward let me illustrate something for you. Imagine a
roller coaster. Ask yourself, what makes a roller coaster so
much fun? Now let me be the first to admit that I hate roller
coasters, personally, but I do understand why other people
like them. It’s certainly not the speed. I could stick my head
out the window of my truck and drive 110 miles an hour
down the freeway and not feel the adrenalin rush I get on
a roller coaster (my wife might, though). It’s not the height
either. I can step inside any skyscraper in any major city
and look out the window of the top floor; nothing. Seriously,
what is it about roller coasters that make them such a thrill?
Well for starters, they go up. And not quickly either. They
take their sweet time building up the excitement and
anticipation, letting your imagination cause you to panic. Up
and up and up, higher and higher, and just before it reaches
the very top it slows down for a second. A quick pause,
CHAPTER TWO - Moving the song forward
just a brief moment where you say “Uh oh.” It’s that initial
climax of the first drop, allowing you to see your inevitable
plunge consume you in slow motion. Talk about building
up the tension, right? The calm before the storm, and then
BOOM! You’re off.
Where exactly are you going?
You feel like you’re falling at the speed of Mach 20, but
it doesn’t stop there, does it? You go left, and then you go
right, up and down, this way and that, through a loop and
then backwards. Are you getting the picture here? You’re
going somewhere! The roller coaster would be nothing if it
was just speed, height, or turns and twists alone, it needs
to build up the suspense and then take you some place by
combining all of those elements. A straight line is no fun at
all and it’s all about the journey, not the outcome.
Our music needs to do the same exact thing as a roller
coaster. It can’t stay at the same place the entire time
because that would be boring. And when one of your
main priorities is keeping people engaged in worship and
ushering them into the Lord’s presence, the last thing
you want to do is give them reason to be distracted by
the boredom of a monotonous song. So how do we do
this? I’ll try to put it in better terms for you than “skiing
down a mountain.”
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
Dynamic Playing
Sometimes the simplest idea is the best one, and playing
dynamically is both easy and effective. To play using
dynamics means to pay full attention to the level of volume
and intensity at any given moment. For instance, if a song
starts out really loud in the intro and stays loud during the
first verse and chorus, where can it go from there? You’re
already half way through the song and the volume has
been 100% since the start. How do you drive home the
bridge or tear through the guitar solo? You have nowhere
to go now. Remember, the excitement of the roller coaster
doesn’t start at the drop; it starts at the climb.
So think about this: for an upbeat tune try starting off at
about 80% volume (not intensity. Keep in mind that volume
is just that: loudness. Intensity means playing with passion,
feeling, and emotion). Drop down to about 70% on that first
verse, build back up to about 80% at the first pre-chorus,
and then drop off to 50% at the first chorus. Build it up if
you like or come in screaming at the re-entry of the intro riff,
but this time go to about 90%.
I’ll stop there because I think you know where this is
going... Treat every section of the song like it is something
different, a new piece that connects the previous part to
the next one. You don’t have to follow this formula exactly,
but this is a common formula for upbeat worship music
CHAPTER TWO - Moving the song forward
and secular rock music. It is very efficient and will definitely
help to breathe new life to the ensemble’s output. Keep in
mind that you could do the exact opposite of this and still
reach a desirable outcome. As long as you are playing with
the basic dynamics of each section of the song you will be
moving it forward with little to no effort. And by the way,
you can’t change the dynamics of a song with only one
instrument (unless it is a solo piece, of course). The entire
band needs to be following this formula and adapt their
parts to it accordingly.
When To Play And When Not To
To play or not to play? That is the question.
No, seriously it really is. Sometimes the best thing that
can help propel the song forward is for you to not doing
anything at all. Zip. Nada. Sometimes the coolest thing
could be the bass line dropping off the map completely
just after a ripping intro hook, leaving the song bare and
empty with just a simple drumbeat and vocals. It’ll definitely
bring the house down once that bass line kicks in after the
short pause just before the following chorus. That sense of
audible nakedness will send chills down everyone’s spines,
and then the re-entry will knock their socks off.
Playing and not playing is an easy concept to grasp, but
understand also that there are varying degrees to which
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
one could both play and not play. For instance, you could
play nothing on verse one, a very simple idea on verse two
but then play a very intricate part on verse three. You don’t
have to do the same exact thing on each reiteration of the
verse, and you shouldn’t. Try your best to be diverse and
unpredictable (unpredictable to the audience, not your
fellow band mates!) because remember that a straight line is
no fun at all.
Saving The Best For Last
Don’t show your hand too early; keep that ace up your
sleeve for as long as you can because as soon as you reveal
it the game is over. I’m not advocating that you should
cheat during a game of cards but that you need to save the
big things for the end. That one moment of BAM! is very
powerful in worship music and can really tug on the hearts
of those involved in the worship service. I call that moment
“kicking you in the face.” What’s getting kicked in the face
mean? It’s where you literally feel like you got kicked in
the face; you lost your breath, you’re taken back, you can’t
find words to describe the emotions you’re feeling. It’s the
climax of the song.
I like to get kicked in the face just after the bridge, at
the final chorus, or after the solo. All of these places will
work fine, but whatever it is don’t use it too early on. Bass
CHAPTER TWO - Moving the song forward
players - use your biggest, lowest note at the last chorus,
not the first one. Drummers - don’t kill your cymbals just
yet, you need to save your strength for the end. You need
to save the best for last; if you use your secret weapon at
the beginning of the song, you no longer have any surprises
that will knock the congregation out of their seats.
Movement; its literal meaning is to change position
or location from one place to another. If you want to
impact your church congregation during a worship service
you have to move the song (and move it forward, not
backwards!). You have to go from point A to point B; failing
to do so will leave the song feeling unfinished or unfulfilled,
and the audience wondering what their Sunday afternoon
lunch plans are. Moving the song forward means moving
people forward, really, and allowing them to react to your
music emotionally. But unlike any other genre of music,
when you move the song forward in worship music, you
are actually moving everyone closer to God, and that’s an
incredible thing to be a part of.
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
Playing as an ensemble
There’s no “I” in T-E-A-M.
This ain’t no spectator’s sport either!
Lead, follow, or get out of the way!
Game on!
Alright, enough of these overused and ultimately useless
clichés, but you really need to think of playing music as a
team sport. It’s all about playing together and functioning
as one unit, not as a bunch of singular parts that move
independently from the whole. The more cohesive you can
be, the better you will perform as a group and thus the more
effective you will be to your congregation. Think about it:
Kobe Bryant is one heck of a basketball player, but he can’t
win an entire game by himself (as demonstrated during
the 2011 playoffs; that was just ugly. Okay, enough sports
CHAPTER THREE - Playing as an ensemble
talk). It’s gonna take much more than just a great leader
or a ripping guitarist to create a memorable and spirit-filled
worship experience. Everyone needs to be reading from the
same sheet of music, so to speak.
In order to play as an ensemble, and not as five or six
musicians playing “music” at the same exact time, you
need to be aware of a few things. Number one, you need to
listen. Secondly, when the going gets tough (I know, I said
I’d quit the clichés. I promise that’s my last one) you need
to be able to roll with the punches (sorry, I couldn’t resist),
and lastly you need to be able to anticipate each other’s
every move. Let’s look at these in finer detail.
This one almost seems self-explanatory, but I cannot
stress enough how important it is. I can tell right away when
a band is not listening to one another; it’s very obvious. The
background singers are stepping all over the lead vocalist,
the guitars are too loud, the bass isn’t locking with the kick
drum, the keyboard player is playing too heavy on the left
hand and making the bass guitar indistinguishable… Ever
experienced any of these problems yourself? Certainly it
wasn’t your fault, was it? Well you could be right and it is
someone else’s fault, but you would only really know that for
sure if you were listening, right?
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
Being a teacher, recording engineer, and a producer I
am required to listen all the time. If I let my ears turn off
for just a moment it can mean tremendous headache (and
heartache) later on down the road. Whenever I’m playing
bass, and even when I’m not playing, I am avidly listening
to what’s happening around me. What’s the drummer
doing? Where is the keyboard? Am I too loud? Can I hear
the lead vocalist?
Oooo, there’s a good one! That’s also a good way of
telling someone they’re not listening. “Can you hear the [fill
in the blank]?” A friend of mine, my musical mentor (and
probably hands-down the greatest musician in the world),
told me once of an experience he had with a very high
profile jazz artist. After a gig he asked the artist if he liked
his playing that night (he also told me that if you ever have
to ask someone that question, you probably already know
the answer). The jazz legend responded, “Sure it was fine.”
Then he paused, “Could you hear me?” The look in his eyes
let my mentor know that he wasn’t completely satisfied; he
wasn’t listening to the ensemble as much as he should have
and it affected how they sounded that night.
So you wanna know if you’re a good listener, ask
yourself, “Can I hear the ____?” If the answer is “no,” then
you’re not paying enough attention to what’s going on
around you. You might be too focused on yourself, you
might be too loud, or you might be overplaying. Stop and
CHAPTER THREE - Playing as an ensemble
ask yourself if you can hear everything, and not just what
you think you need to hear.
In fact, with today’s cutting edge technology of inear monitoring systems and custom-molded IEM’s I find
it funny that people still have a hard time listening to
each other. Here’s a great thing to try out: the next time
you play in church turn your stage volume down and
have the front of house engineer turn your monitor mix
up. Or turn yourself down 50% in your headphone mix
and turn everyone else on full blast. Now you’re really
listening! Can you still play efficiently while listening to
everyone else more than yourself? Not only is it a great
workout for your musicianship but believe it or not your
worship band will sound way better! If you’re really hearing
what the rest of the band is doing, then and only then will
you know exactly what you’re supposed to play (unless of
course you’re supposed to play the lead or melody from
the recording). That is the true essence of playing as an
ensemble, and plus you’ll be able to point out every single
mistake your band mates make. I frequently get dirty looks
from that one.
Roll With It
Obviously there are leading instruments and there are
following instruments, as discussed thoroughly in the
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
previous chapter. However, everyone in the ensemble
is responsible for following each other at any given
moment. Sometimes that final chorus becomes a triple
chorus, not the double chorus you had practiced before
service. Sometimes the ending goes unexpectedly to an a
cappella bridge and you need to quickly switch to that one
pad on your keyboard. Maybe the drummer is really feeling
the movement of the Spirit and decides to stand up midsong, hands raised. Or perhaps the acoustic guitarist turns,
spur of the moment, to a classic hymn, to which you need
to remember the lyrics, and fast.
Whatever the case, you need to be ready to follow one
another for whatever reason. Worship music can be very
spontaneous and can change at the flip of a coin, contrary
to what you planned out during rehearsal. Be ready to roll
with the punches and hold on tight, ‘cuz even though it’s a
bumpy ride it is well worth it.
Don’t go on auto-pilot, not even for a second. I don’t
mean that you shouldn’t enjoy playing music or a worshipful
moment in the presence of the Lord; I mean don’t let your
guard down. Stay on top of things and anticipate what
is going to happen next. You will avoid whatever train
wreck you see on the horizon of the coming measures, I
CHAPTER THREE - Playing as an ensemble
guarantee it. It’s easy to have memory slips and forget
what your next line, note, or chord is. Anticipate them; see
them before they come. Assume that the keyboard player
is going to lose time a little bit when the bridge drops down
to a soft, quarter note hi hat pulse (he might be too far
from the drummer so we’ll cut him some slack here). Make
eye contact with the drummer and make sure you find a
downbeat together, that way the big, loud instruments all
come in together.
Did your singer forget how to start the song? This one
happens all the time: just start playing the melody of that
first chorus to help him or her remember.
Always bring spare strings and sticks with you! There’s
no excuse for forgetting these. “Oh, I can’t believe I broke
a string, that never happens!” Sure it does, and of course it
happened just moments before your big solo. We coulda’
seen that comin’ a mile away.
Don’t forget to play as a team. You’re in this together
and you’re making it happen as a group. You all need to
bring your “A” game and you need to be there for each
other so you know what’s lying ahead of you. If you miss
something it’s entirely your fault because you weren’t
focused on the ensemble, so don’t get left behind.
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
Always play for the song
Always playing for the song means always playing the
right thing, or I should say the appropriate thing, at the
right time (or appropriate time). This chapter is going to be
a bit tricky to explain because it’s hard to cover this topic
without getting too opinionated. I mean, the main subject
is certainly debatable: we’re essentially talking about
what’s right and what’s wrong, and that will differ greatly
depending on who you are asking. A lead vocalist may feel
that the best thing to do during that first chorus would be
for the instruments to lay out and continue a cappella. The
drummer may feel that he needs to kick the verse into gear
with a jungle-vibe groove on his toms. And let’s face it,
the guitar player always feels that a guitar solo would go
perfect there. Everyone has their own opinion and everyone
CHAPTER FOUR - Always play for the song
is going to get the chance to voice that opinion as soon as
they begin playing. So what do you do? Do you let everyone just play
whatever they feel like playing, do you restrict certain
people of their rights to express themselves, or do you allow
only the band leader to make such decisions? Well, to be
honest, you can’t really control other musicians unless they
are receiving a pay check (volunteers can only be pushed so
hard, you know), you can’t chastise one person in particular
from making decisions without hurting their feelings, and if
you leave all of these important decisions up to one person
you’d better be certain that he or she is capable of making
those monumental verdicts in good taste.
But if everyone knew how to play for the song we
wouldn’t have this dilemma, would we? So how do we do
The solution requires a bit of what I call musical
maturity. We have to be musically mature, much like we
are emotional mature or socially mature. When we were
children and adolescents we were quite the opposite; we
were immature. We did what we wanted, usually did not
understand the consequences behind our actions, and
were completely oblivious to much of what was happening
around us at the time. Economics, politics, and world
issues were either non-existent to us or too boring to even
want to know about.
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
And there’s no problem with this at all, it’s called growing
up. Our society cherishes and strives to preserve that
childlike innocence for as long as humanly possible. We all
had to go through it and most of us have made it out of that
stage of our life in one piece (for those of you still finding
your way, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I swear!). I
certainly wouldn’t expect a nine-year-old to understand
the compound interest on my mortgage or the fixed APR
rates on my credit cards because a nine-year-old probably
wouldn’t comprehend that stuff, nor even care about it for
that matter. What does a nine-year-old care about? What
does a nine-year-old want to do? Play? Have fun? Not go
to school? Do whatever he or she wants to?
Are you catching on to this? Let’s apply this
concept to music now. Ask yourself, How old am I
musically? Seriously. How old are you? And I don’t mean
how many years have you been playing, because that is
two different numbers. The number of years you have
been playing does not equate to your musical maturity, just
like adulthood maturity does not follow any specific set of
numbers. For instance, I truly believe that I became an adult
at the early age of 16 when I began gigging professionally,
got a job, graduated high school a year early and started
going to college. Most teenagers at this age are anything
but responsible. Heck, I have some friends who are now
in their mid-to-late-twenties and still have not matured
CHAPTER FOUR - Always play for the song
into adulthood yet. Maturity comes at a different age for
everyone, sometimes earlier and sometimes later.
So back to my question: how old are you musically? Are
you a musical infant, brand new to the world of the sonic
art form known as music? Are you a musical child,
carefree, still experimenting and searching for what’s out
there, feeling unaware of the endless possibilities you can
achieve? How about a musical teenager - do you think you
actually know something? Think you’ve got it all figured out,
that you’re better than most, and that you’re high school
band is really gonna “make it?” Or are you a musical adult,
fully aware of his roles and responsibilities to himself and his
band mates, completely capable of taking care of business?
Ask yourself, and be honest, because just like the path
to adulthood everyone around you already knows your level
of maturity by what you show them in your actions. Do
you really want to know your musical age? Ask someone
that you play music with, they’ll probably give you a very
accurate response. Growing up is painful, it isn’t easy, and
it’s something that we all have to go through one way or
But we all grew up, didn’t we? One day we got past
our adolescence and there is hope yet for us to mature
musically. The important thing is that we continue to
grow. The minute we stop doing that is when we stop
progressing; we stop getting better. And honestly, who
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
wants that? I’m here writing this at the age of 24, and
though I sometimes wish I could go back to the simpler
days of my childhood and relive it, I’m glad that I can’t. I’m
very happy with where I am today, that I don’t have to
deal with school or bullies, with girl problems and student
loans... I like being where I am now and I hope to continue
to grow into the man that God has chosen me to be. I do
wish that gas prices would go back down to where they
were when I first started driving, but you can’t win ‘em all!
So all this talk about the process of maturity and how it
is necessary to grow as a musician; how do we actually do
it? How do we make sure that we are still growing? Well
it’s quite simple: keep playing and seek knowledge in the
process. Just like your path to adulthood evolved from
the daily grind of living each day, you need to keep playing
music (preferably as often as possible). If you continue to
do this, you will naturally grow. And don’t put gigging off
to the side until you think you’re ready, because you won’t
ever be. Start playing with other musicians now and keep
studying; keep practicing. Keep listening and learning!
Now of course this will take a long time for some, and
an even longer time for others. However, there is a short
cut. There are a few things that you can do to speed up
the process if you choose to pay attention to them. Just
like a high school math class, you can choose to take the
short cut, to pay attention to your math teacher and learn all
CHAPTER FOUR - Always play for the song
about variables and percentages at the age of 14. Or not.
You’ll learn all about it one day when you apply for a car
loan. When I was younger my father tried to explain some
things to me that I would need to know one day, and to be
honest I don’t remember a lot of them. And to this day I still
call him up and ask him to repeat the things I know he told
me at one point in time, like how to apply for a credit card,
whether or not I need an oil change, or what to do when
I get home and find ants all over my kitchen. At the time
I was probably too immature to take notice, but now I’m
listening. Will you listen?
Be Tasteful
Make sure that what you’re playing is tasteful. Again,
there is a lot of room for opinion here because really,
what is tasteful? Tasteful to you may be completely untasteful to me. I personally hate foods like tomatoes and
zucchini... Really, any kind of food that’s soggy - count
me out. However my mother loves zucchini. Is she wrong
for liking it? Well, in my opinion, yes. But I can’t take that
opinion from her. So if you think about it, each player has a
certain taste, neither right nor wrong but uniquely their own;
a specific way that he or she interprets a song. When I need
to put a band together for a specific project I am going to
take into consideration whether or not their musical taste
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
will fit with what I am trying to achieve. If I have a drummer
who plays every polyrhythm he can muster, that might
be great for a jazz fusion project but not for my worship
record. This vocalist may have more soul in her voice than
Aretha Franklin, which would be great for a gospel band; but
maybe not a, edgy rock band. Taste is what makes us who
we are; it’s what makes us sound the way we sound. We
are each unique in our personal tastes and interests. What’s
I have decided to be salt. Think about it: you can add
salt to almost anything. If you put food in your mouth and
notice that it doesn’t taste right, but you’re not sure what it
needs... Try adding salt. It’ll probably do the trick. It’s not
the be all and end all of flavors but it certainly works most of
the time, doesn’t it?
Metaphorically, I want to be salt, or tastefully versatile. I
want to be able to be add myself to any mix and bring out
the good flavors of everyone else involved. By adapting my
style I can add the right flavor that I need to. For instance,
if I’m playing with a rock band I know how to keep steady
eighth notes pumping with high intensity. If it’s a jazz
group I know how to walk a bass line and play solos. If
it’s a gospel group I know how to lay down some groove
and funk it up. By studying multiple genres of music I am
able to blend in with whichever one I happen to be playing
at the moment. This is beneficial in many ways. Mainly, it
CHAPTER FOUR - Always play for the song
gets me a lot of calls for playing opportunities (every week
I get about three different churches calling me, asking if I
can sub for their bass player on Sunday morning). It also
means that I know when to play the right things, or how to
play appropriately depending on the genre of music. For
instance I know not to play slap bass style on a rock tune or
to walk through jazz changes on a hymn. It also infers that I
have achieved a certain level of higher musical maturity; that
I can play with great taste and not take away from what the
ensemble is trying to do. I understand that I am playing for
the song, not myself.
So how do you play tastefully in a moment of
worship? That is such a difficult question to answer, and I
don’t really have an answer for you. It’s kind of like asking,
“What’s the best way to ask out a girl?” There are too many
right answers and even more wrong answers (not that I’d
know from experience). You’ll have to let your musical
maturity guide you to the right answer, and if you apply the
concepts given to you in this book I have no doubts that
you can develop the right answer.
One more thing about playing tastefully is that you need
to be cautious about how much taste you add and which
flavor you will be adding. For example, peanut butter
tastes great. So does ketchup and so does caramel. But
that doesn’t mean that I need to add all three of those
condiments to my burrito. Some things will mix together
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
better than others, and as you grow and mature as a
musician it will become clearer to you which of those you
should choose to use in a given scenario. The song will
always tell you what flavor is required so be sure that you
listen to it intently. Most importantly keep in mind that all of
this talk about taste is a matter of opinion, and that I can be
100% wrong about all of this. Your mileage may vary.
It’s Not What You Do, But How You Do It
Have you ever had to deliver bad news to someone but
tried to do it in a way that didn’t offend them? I have. One
time I had to tell a drummer that I absolutely hated the way
that he played, that I thought he ruined us on every gig, and
that I would refuse to be involved in a musical project with
him ever again. I wanted to leave the band, badly. So what
did I do? I told him that I didn’t think I could keep up with
his drumming anymore (which wasn’t entirely untrue). He
took it as a compliment and replaced me with some other
unfortunate soul.
No doubt, I didn’t feel that way at all, but I had to get
rid of the guy somehow. I could have told him off but what
good would that have accomplished? I didn’t want to make
an enemy, I just didn’t want him to be a colleague. So I did
the best that I could; I improvised. The key here is that you
can actually have multiple outcomes while still approaching
CHAPTER FOUR - Always play for the song
the situation with the same intentions. The only difference is
how you attack it.
Here is a common formula for some modern
contemporary worship songs:
1) Drummer plays a four-on-the-floor drum beat.
2) The acoustic guitar player is strumming the exact
same rhythm that the drummer is playing.
3) Both electric guitar players have 10 delay pedals, and
yes, all of them are on.
Now, I’m going to get a little instrument specific here for
just a moment but bare with me, you non-bass players can
learn a thing or two from this. In a common situation like
this there is only one thing for the bass player to do: play
straight ahead eighth notes for the entire song. The entire
song. I’m not kidding, I’ve tried everything. There’s no kick
pattern to lock with besides quarter notes, the lead singer
asks the sound guy to turn me down in his mix if I try to play
anything else, and the guitar parts are bouncing back and
fourth like ping-pong balls in a game of table tennis. I’ve
got to play eighth notes, plain and simple. No choice and
no fun.
Well, actually, that’s not true at all. It doesn’t have to be
plain nor simple, and there are plenty of choices to be made
and fun to be had under the given circumstances. There is
an often misguided complexity about playing simple parts,
that they are easy and should be avoided. Sometimes
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
the hardest thing to do is to play something simple, and
coincidently it is also most often the right thing to do. The
answer is yes - I do have to keep playing eighth notes for
the entire song. But No - I don’t have to play the same
exact thing for the entire song. Get ready, because here
comes the most complex breakdown of the simplest idea:
1) Intro: Here I lay out completely and let the moody
keyboard pad and acoustic guitar set the tone while the
electric guitars play some filler leads and contact a whale
somewhere in the Arctic.
2) Verse 1: I roll my volume knob down about 50% and
play whole notes on the higher octaves for the first half, then
70% volume for the second (still playing softly though).
3) Pre-Chorus 1: I kick it in a little bit by playing those
eight notes, but they’re very reserved. I’m stopping each
note with my left have before I play the next one (staccato),
as if a singer were taking a quick, short breath in between
each syllable. I’m trying to separate each note and give
space to the music.
4) Chorus 1: Volume is the same, eighth notes are still
going, but this time they’re a little stronger and a little longer
too; the gap in between each note is slightly longer (only by
about half of a millisecond).
5) Half Intro: Now I’m letting the eighth notes reach their
full length (legato) but still have not reached 100% volume
yet. Remember, I want to save the best for last.
CHAPTER FOUR - Always play for the song
6) Verse 2: I cut the volume down by laying my palm
where the strings meet the bridge and plucking the notes
gently with my thumb (this is a technique called palm
muting). This gives it that classic, muffled Paul McCartney
sound. Very old-school tone.
7) Pre-Chorus 2: I’m still palm muting those eighth notes
with my thumb, but digging in a little more this time.
8) Chorus 2: Now I switch back to playing with my
fingers, similar to the first chorus but this time with a little bit
more intensity. We’re not full blast yet though.
9) Bridge/Solo: Almost there... The feel is just about the
same as the last chorus; I don’t want to change too much
because there is a lot happening with vocals and guitars
during this part of the song already. I don’t want to get in
the way at all.
10) Final Chorus: This chorus is going to be a double
chorus. The first time is a down chorus, meaning that I’m
going to drop off completely and let the acoustic guitar and
lead vocalist take it for just a second. The rest of the band
pauses for just a moment, and then BOOM! We all jump
back in and kick the audience in the face. I’m digging in as
hard as I can, 110%, playing big, loud, in-your-face eighth
notes. When I see everyone’s hair in the audience flying
behind their heads then I know I’ve done my job.
11) Outro: I keep up the super big eighth notes until the
end, and save my biggest, lowest pitch (a bass player’s
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
secret weapon) until the last note of the song.
Wow, that was a lot of work for a really easy song that
basically required me to just play eighth notes the entire
time. I know, I know... “Music is something that we hear,
not read about... it’s difficult to understand because its hard
to hear what the author is describing,” blah blah blah. I
know I said that already. Of course I don’t expect you to
hear everything you just read. But do you see how much
thought I put in to this seemingly “easy” song? I placed
a lot of effort into playing those eighth notes, and to be
honest it’s quite a challenge to execute this successfully. It
may look complicated on paper, but when you listen to it is
sounds natural and relaxed; which is both exactly what you
want and what that song needed. Instead of thinking, Man,
this is really boring. How can I make it better? my approach
was, Man, how can I support the song with the bass line that
it really needs and also move the song forward at the same
time? It’s a matter of maturity; it’s being able to seek out
what you need, not what you want.
So the next time you’re leading with your praise team try
asking the song what it needs from your instrument. What
can you do to play for the song? Sometimes stopping
altogether and just listening will answer the question for
you. Playing for the song doesn’t mean playing something
that’s boring or something that sounds bad. In fact, if you
are then you’re probably doing something wrong. Playing
CHAPTER FOUR - Always play for the song
for the song means playing what the song needs. And
understand that sometimes it might mean playing nothing
at all.
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
Comfort and confidence
There’s nothing more painful than seeing a nervous
person stand in front of a crowd of people and act, well,
nervous. Though I think of him as a comedic genius,
one of the toughest comedians for me to sit through is
Andy Kaufman for this very reason. He makes me so
uncomfortable! When I watch a public speaker, or a student
recital, or anyone do anything in front of a large group of
people I want only one thing: for them not to bomb it. I
want them to succeed because if they don’t goof up big
time then I don’t have to suffer through watching their
embarrassment. Trust me, your audience is on your side,
giving you the benefit of the doubt, and they want nothing
else but for you to succeed. Fortunately for us, we don’t
play for an audience of people (more on this later), but for
CHAPTER FIVE - Comfort and confidence
some reason it still matters to us what the congregation
thinks of our performance. This is of course completely
normal. Everyone wants to feel accepted and know that his
or her work is being appreciated. Just don’t let it get the
best of you.
Which brings us to the discussion of both comfort
and confidence; and I don’t just mean being comfortable
on a stage or being confident when talking to the
congregation. Yes, both of those are crucial, and if you
have any serious issues with either of those then maybe you
should be looking at another way to help out in your church
So make sure that you’re comfortable being on stage
and in the spotlight - okay, easy. Also make sure you
look confident - yep, got it. Oh yea, and make sure that
the music that you are playing sounds comfortable and
confident too.
Wait, what does that mean? How do you sound
comfortable or confident?
This one takes people off guard sometimes because they
think they know what it means, and they might even assume
they know what it means... When really they don’t. And by
the way, when I say you need to “sound comfortable” I’m
not asking you to play smooth jazz.
These two subjects go hand in hand; I can tell right away
when someone on stage is uncomfortable because their
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
playing shows a lack of confidence. They might be playing
all the right notes in the right order at the right time, but it
still feels wrong. Why is that? Even if you do everything
right by assuming the correct role in the band, playing as
and ensemble, and playing for the song with great taste,
you can still be doing something wrong. Here’s some tips
on how to avoid this dilemma.
Own Every Single Note You Play.
You need to play it like you mean it. Everything you say
and do; you need to own it. Husbands - if your wife turns
to you and says, “I love you,” and you don’t respond fast
enough with an intention that matches the emotions tied
to those words... Boy are you in trouble. You need to own
those words and mean them when you respond because if
you don’t, she can tell right away.
Crowds of people are like this, too. If they sense that
their leader is at all insecure in what he or she is doing
(and believe me, they can) they will start to lose interest,
hope, and will ultimately be distracted by your lack of
confidence. You need to play each note, sing each lyric,
and strum each chord like you were born to do it, like it’s the
only thing you know how to do.
Each time you play you need to perform with intentions
that display your command over the music, not your
CHAPTER FIVE - Comfort and confidence
discomfort and inadequacies. And not only that, but you
need to be comfortable doing this every time you play, for
every song in every worship set. Always.
This is where it gets interesting. Sure, this can be really
easy if you know the song and have rehearsed it a million
times (this is the optimal situation, and any time you have
the chance to do so, you should spend some time with the
song so that you can become this comfortable with it). But
what if it’s a song you’ve never played before? What if it’s
a song you know but now it’s not the arrangement you’re
familiar with, or in a completely different key? What if the
pastor turns to you unexpectedly at the end of his message
and says, “Why don’t you lead us in one more?” Now we’ll
see if you can keep your cool. And to be honest it’s not
easy to do. Nobody likes standing up in front of a sea of
bodies to do something that they haven’t done before.
And the worst part is: you will never get past this uneasy
feeling. For your entire music career you will be required
to do something that you don’t know how to do, haven’t
done before, and don’t know if you can do. Oh yea, and
everybody is watching too. Eek!
Expanding Your Comfort Zone
Luckily there is help. Like all things, practice makes
perfect, and there is no exception to that rule here. If you
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
practice stepping out of your comfort zone then you’ll get
better at it (well, you’ll get used to it at least; better is up
to you). I know what you’re thinking, Wait a minute, is he
saying I need to practice being uncomfortable in order to
become comfortable? Yep. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Get out there and put yourself in musical situations that
make you feel uncomfortable. The more frequently you
feel vulnerable, the more you’ll get used to it. Therefore, if
you stay out of your comfort zone long enough, in turn you
will be expanding your comfort zone beyond its previous
boundaries. See? It’s simple.
Here’s an example. I hate sight-reading music, which is
reading music at sight (for the first time). In college I would
occasionally sit in with a jazz big band that met on campus
and read through tunes together. Read one tune, go to the
next. Read another tune, go to the next. Never repeating,
going back and fixing or discussing anything. Just read,
read, read. And I knew every time that I joined their sight
reading sessions I would fall flat on my face at some
point. And not just in front of anybody, but in front of all
the finest jazz musicians on campus. I hated doing that. It
was nerve-racking every single time I did it, but I did it,
Why? Because I knew that I was expanding my comfort
zone. And nowadays if I sit down to play a worship song
I’ve never played before, I just think back to those days of
CHAPTER FIVE - Comfort and confidence
intense sight reading in college; if I could make it through
that stuff, then this is gonna be a piece of cake!
But What If I Make A Mistake?
Good! I love mistakes. Really, I do. Here’s something
you need to understand about what mistakes really are:
mistakes are just things that you didn’t intend to do. That’s
it! Mistakes aren’t bad, they’re not good, they’re not
anything! Well, they’re not your intention. This is really
good to know because I sure do make a lot of them. There
have been plenty of times where I made a mistake and that
mistake actually ended up being something really cool. I
like mistakes so much because it takes me out of my brain
for a second and let’s me hear what I could sound like if I
didn’t think the way that I do.
I mean, I am Jayme Lewis and I can’t get away from
him, try as I might. No matter where I go, there I am;
I’m stuck with myself! My thoughts, my ambitions, my
point of view and the way I approach things... It’s all
uniquely me. But when I mess up, or make a mistake,
that’s somebody else. It’s not me, or at least it’s not my
conscious intention. So, the way that I look at mistakes is
this: whenever I make one I have a split second to choose
whether or not to listen to that mistake and follow where it
was going, or to leave it behind.
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
Now, there is actually a third choice I have to make, and I
try not to choose this one as often as I possible can (though
I must admit, sometimes it is inevitable). I can choose to let
that mistake sound bad; I can choose to let it be something
that I not only didn’t intend to do but didn’t want to do,
and perhaps even regret having done. Though this option
happens to be the most common perception of what a
mistake actually is, do whatever you can to prevent your
mistakes from becoming “bad.” Once you go there, there’s
no coming back from it.
For example, one time I was playing with a worship team
on a song where the bridge was going to build up into a
dead stop - but only for two beats. The singer begins the
first syllable of the chorus and then BOOM! the band drops
a bomb on the audience. Pretty straight forward and we
rehearsed it maybe four or five times. No problem.
But it didn’t go down that way at all. That may have
been the way that we rehearsed it but when it came time to
perform it during one Sunday service, the drummer missed
his cue and played right through the pause. Now, whether
or not he intended to do this, I don’t know, but I perceived
it as a mistake (something he didn’t intend to do). So for a
split second I foresaw one of three things happening:
1) Half of the band gets thrown off by this and turns
around with looks of horror on their faces because they are
completely lost.
CHAPTER FIVE - Comfort and confidence
2) The drummer stops and pauses one bar late while
everyone else comes in at the right time (also not good).
3) We all come in as planned and rock their faces off.
Sure enough, we chose door number three and it
sounded awesome! For one measure there were heavy
rockin’ drums and one vocalist screaming at the top of
his lungs, and it was incredible. We all laughed about it
later because it could have gone horribly wrong, but it
didn’t. Why? Because the drummer owned it. Not only
was he confident in his playing but he was confident in his
mistake; so confident that he held on to it all the way to the
end. Now that’s a comfort zone I want to be in!
Here’s another great thing about mistakes: they really
let you know what you’re struggling with. If I keep goofing
up at the same spot in the music, my mistake is trying to
reveal something to me: it is shedding light on an area of
weakness in my playing and gives me an opportunity to
do one of two things: fix it or leave it. Obviously you want
to choose the former as often as possible. Mistakes are
fine, but if you’re constantly making the same one you’re
no longer in that cool zone of spontaneity, but rather in a
zone of messing up over and over again. Mistakes are a
great tool for learning from yourself and becoming a better
musician, and you will always be your strongest critic and
teacher, trust me. But if you ignore your mistakes and just
blow right through them you will miss everything that they
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
are trying to show you, which will result in a substantial
deficit to your playing abilities.
Ultimately, I can tell right away if the player is
comfortable or not. It’s all in the facial expression. People
who look confused and scared are probably on-edge a bit,
and it shows in their playing as well. People who look like
they are having a blast sound like it. As musicians, we need
to appear fully in love with the sounds we are creating. If we
don’t love the music, how will the listener?
So learning to play comfortably and confidently isn’t as
easy as you may have thought it would be. Or maybe it
is. I know that for me, it was something I had to practice in
order to get over it. Back when I was 14 years old I had the
hardest time playing with my band in front of anything more
than 30 people (and we practiced all the time). Nowadays
I can stand in front of a 5,000 person crowd, without really
knowing the music all that well, and still feel confident in
what I’m playing without any doubts or second guesses.
I’ve refined my techniques of being comfortable on stage
and it took me years to get there. Hopefully your travels will
prove to be easier than mine.
CHAPTER SIX - Appropriate Stage Presence
Appropriate stage presence
This chapter is going to be short and to the point. Why?
Well, it’s one of the lesser important topics to cover, but still
worth mentioning on the subject matter of this book. It’s
about stage presence; it’s about looking like a rock
star. Really, you’ve got to look the part in order for anyone
to take you seriously. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that in order to
lead worship you have to head-bang and put on a rockin’
show for the audience, because if that’s the way you see it
then you really should go get a different gig. That’s not at all
what worship is about.
When I say you have to look likes rock star I mean
you need to look like you’re having a blast on stage. You
need to look like you’d rather be nowhere else than in that
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moment. Your stage presence is not for being showy or for
convincing everyone in the audience that you are something
amazing and worth watching. It’s for convincing your
congregation that they should be equally as excited as you
are because they are as much a part of the show as you
(we’ll be discussing this concept soon). When you lead a
congregation into the presence of the Lord you need to look
like you mean it; you can’t be faking it. If you look like you
want to be somewhere else, the congregation will feel the
same way.
People need to see your emotion and the excitement
in your face, your body, and how you move with the
music. Boring performers play for boring audiences, and
you know you don’t want your congregation to miss out on
a fantastic worship session. Your church looks up to you
and will follow your lead, but you need to be leading first
and not from a distance.
So how do we effectively do this? Do we need to jump
up and down, sling our guitar around our shoulders and do
back flips off the kick drum? Sure, that’s cool, I guess. But
let’s start a little smaller than that.
Don’t be a shoe-gazer! There’s nothing more
uninteresting than seeing someone stand rigid on a stage,
motionless, and refusing to move. It’s boring to watch,
easy to distract, and will most certainly make somebody
think that they should go somewhere else. It’s as easy as
CHAPTER SIX - Appropriate Stage Presence
swaying back and forth a little bit, maybe bobbing your
head with the drum beat. Maybe get your shoulders into
it a little bit; tap your foot if you need to, and if you want
to you can extend that motion up the leg and lift from the
knee. You don’t have to be a good dancer (I’m certainly not)
and you don’t have to do anything drastic. Smile and look
around; engage your audience. Make sure they can see
that you are excited to be there and that you are worshiping
too. You should always sing along even if you don’t have
a microphone, and use your body to express your worship
(not just your instrument). That should be enough to get you
Are you playing for the high school youth group? Jump
around a bit. Junior high? Get a circle pit going and
thrash around with them. Are you a background
singer? Start clapping at the beginning of the song and
keep the audience clapping for as long as they can. You
don’t have to be too energetic but you have to look
authentic. Remember that your congregation is pretty
dependent on you. They’re following your lead here; they
probably won’t do anything that you won’t do and they
won’t feel anything if you don’t look like you are. Don’t be
afraid to open up to them!
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
So you’ve decided you want to start practicing
again, eh? Tired of feeling like the weakest player in the
band? Are you finally going to pick that one music book
off the shelf and skim through it? Good. I’m glad this book
has helped inspire you to take the next step in your musical
journey. If not then just skip over this next chapter, because
we are now going to deal with some very practical and
applicable practice routines. But “practice” doesn’t sound
like a fun word does it? No, not really. That’s why most
people don’t do it. It’s kind of like hitting the gym or dieting
for musicians. It’s something that we know we should be
doing every day, but we just don’t have the time to, or we
don’t know what we should do, or we flat out don’t want to
do. Let’s think about this very carefully, because how much
we practice music is directly linked to how well we perform
and how comfortable we are on our instruments. I’m going
to start this chapter by debunking all of your excuses for
not being able to practice music, because I know you have
them. I’ve taught thousands of students in my life and I’ve
heard them all so don’t even try to pull one over on me.
I Just Don’t Have The Time To Practice
Life is busy, I get it. And believe me, my life is just as
crazy and hectic as yours (if not worse). School, bills,
relationships, mortgages... You know, life comes at you
pretty quick and if you’re not careful you won’t make it
out alive. So you really think you don’t have any time to
practice? Well here’s what I tell my students when I get this
one: make practicing the first thing you do when you wake
up. I’m serious. Put your guitar or drum sticks right next
to your bed so that it’s the very first thing you see in the
When I was a kid my mother made my brother and I
practice piano for 30 minutes each day before we went
to school, and I must say that it worked out very well
for me later on. If your day is anything like mine it gets
progressively busier as the sun goes up. When I get home
after a long night of gigging (and performing does not count
as practice; we’ll cover this in just a moment) or teaching,
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
there’s only one thing that I want to do: sit down, maybe
kick my feet up on the stack of bills littering on the coffee
table, take a deep breath and fall asleep in front of the
TV. Notice that the words “practice vigorously” were not
among the choices to describe my leisure time. There’s a
reason for that. I’m tired! It’s been a long day and I don’t
want to do anything else now except relax before I have to
get up tomorrow and do it all over again.
So why don’t you just do yourself a favor and
practice right when you wake up. It doesn’t have to be
long. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t have five minutes
to practice. Of course you have five minutes. That’s only
300 seconds. Here’s the thing: even if you just pick up
your instrument and play one note or one chord, you’re still
better off than not practicing at all (not by much but hey, it’s
a start).
Humans are creatures of habit and when we don’t do
things on a regular basis we begin to forget them. I was a
4.0 student in college. I worked really hard and got straight
A’s in everything, not just my music classes. I was never
good at math or science as a kid, but in college I was pulling
down A’s in difficult classes like college algebra, physics,
astronomy, and anthropology. But please don’t ask me
anything related to these subjects today, because guess
what? I FORGOT IT ALL!!! I haven’t touched a math book
since I was 17 and I have no idea how to tackle any of that
stuff today, yet at one point in my life I was very good at
it. This is simply because I don’t practice them anymore. I
wasn’t interested in any of those subjects enough to
continue studying them after graduating college. And that’s
okay, too. I’m not dumb for forgetting them, that’s just how
it goes. And if music isn’t your thing then feel free to slowly
forget how to do it, you’re not upsetting anyone by doing
so. Well, maybe just yourself.
Also understand that if you can set aside five minutes to
practice every day, you will probably find five more. If you
really enjoy playing music you’ll get sucked in and you won’t
want to stop. It’s easy to find time to practice but the hard
part is making time to practice and following through. But
we naturally make time for the things that are important to
us - if you value improving your musicianship then you must
make time for it. A little bit goes a long way and you’ll be
glad you added it to your daily routine. Trust me.
I Don’t Know What I Should Be Practicing
Just like going to the gym you need to have a game
plan. If I just walk into the weight room and grab random
things and begin lifting them over my head I won’t get the
results I’m looking for. I’d get some results, just not the
ones I want. I need a schedule. I need a structured workout
routine that will get me in shape properly and effectively.
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
In a proper workout routine you need to work out
multiple muscle groups. If I only do biceps curls over and
over again I will get huge, bulging biceps, yes, but what
about my triceps? Or my back, neck, abs, or legs? You
see what I’m getting at here? You need a balanced
practice plan so that you get better at all the individual
components of your music at the same time. I happen to
have compiled my own practice routine for you, split up into
six specific categories. Though this is my personal practice
routine feel free to alter it to fit your own instrument and
needs. However, keep your practice session split into these
six groups and be sure that you work on them every day or
as often as possible.
1) Exercises
Exercises are basic muscle memory techniques that are
excellent for developing your motor skills and stretching the
muscles you’ll be using to play. Always start your practice
routine with some sort of exercise. It could be as simple as
singing through a few scales, playing some rudiments, or
picking single notes on your guitar at a moderate speed for
an extended period of time. It’ll also improve your speed
and endurance. Warm up first, you’ll thank me later.
2) Techniques
It’s important to practice the basic techniques of your
instrument. Techniques are the tools we use to physically
play our instrument, but not the music itself. No concepts
here, just straight up technique. Don’t spend too much time
here because being a technical player doesn’t make you a
great musician; it makes you a great technician. Try running
scales, arpeggios, intricate beat subdividing, or shifting your
hands through various positions on your instrument with
ease and fluidity.
3) Improvising
Be sure that you just sit down and jam for a few minutes,
working on quick ideas and developing them as best you
can. It’ll help you to think quick on your feet and is also a
great confidence builder too. Go buy a drum machine if you
need to or download some backing tracks to your favorite
songs to play to. There’s lots of great resources out there
for this.
4) Sight Reading
This is the one that most musicians neglect, and it’s
so sad too. Most people think it’s too hard, when actually
reading music is one of the easiest things to do. Think of it
like the way you learned to read English; you didn’t get good
at it overnight. You spent years working on it throughout
grade school, but you were really proficient at it by the time
you were in the first or second grade. And if you think about
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
it reading music is way too practical to pass up. Imagine
trying to get by in this country without being able to read or
write English. Who would take you seriously? Anyone who
calls himself a musician should know how to read music
to some extent. Start by reading just one page of music
a day, or half a page, or just one line. I don’t care, just
start somewhere. And start small too; you weren’t reading
college textbooks in first grade, were you? Probably not.
I bet it was something with a few words on each page
followed by a picture (and if you were lucky it was a pop-up
book). Don’t expect to be able to sit down to a Beethoven
symphony within a few days; give it time and start with
easy music to read. Also be sure to sight read music that is
below what you can currently play.
5) Transcribing
This is sort of the opposite of reading music: to
transcribe music means to listen to it and notate it out by
ear. Try to transcribe something new every day, whether it’s
a lullaby or a melody from your favorite song or a particular
set of chord changes. Just sit down, listen to it and do
your best. You may be pretty bad at it at first, but keep
working on it. You’ll get better and more accurate, and
eventually you’ll be able to play a song after listening to it
only once. And don’t stop there; don’t just learn how to play
it on your instrument, put it on staff paper as well. This will
help reinforce your reading abilities. Remember that reading
and writing are directly related to one another.
6) Repertoire
Here’s the one that people practice the most, if they
practice at all. This is the piece of music you are working
on; the song you’ve been trying to learn for the past few
weeks. It’s always great to have a piece that you’re coming
back to on a daily basis and studying.
So there you have it, my personal practice routine.
Adapt it to your instrument or voice and apply it to your daily
life. Of course, if you’re being stingy and you still think you
only have five minutes to practice each day then you may
not be able to work on all six areas. But hey, you gotta start
somewhere, right? Just do the best that you can.
I Don’t Have My Instrument With Me
I hear this one a lot, and it’s a pretty tough one. A very
solid argument – almost foolproof! How can I practice if I
don’t have my instrument with me? Ah – I see. You went
on vacation, yes? Maybe you’ve been at the office all day
and left your guitar at home? I bet you thought you had me
there for a second, huh? Well here’s something you didn’t
think about: notice I have not said anything about only being
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
able to practice when you have your instrument. Go ahead
and flip back a few pages and try to prove me wrong, I’ll
wait here.
I think you’ll notice or remember I specifically said you
need to practice music, not instruments. It you want to
become a great instrumentalist, well go ahead and practice
instruments. See how far that gets you. When’s the last
time you heard someone say, “Check out this new CD I just
got, it’s got some awesome instruments!”? I’m assuming
never. People don’t buy and listen to instruments. They like
music, so give them just that. I know it seems kind of silly,
but trust me; if you think about it from this angle you’ll start
to see things differently.
So, just because you don’t have an instrument on hand
doesn’t mean you can’t practice music to some extent. Try
singing back something that you heard on the radio: it
could be the vocal melody or the bass line. Maybe you
could download a cool metronome application on your cell
phone and practice subdividing beats while you drive to
work. Practice spelling chords and scales while you’re in
the waiting room. There is actually a fantastic web resource
called Ignite Musical Training that has plenty of aural
exercises catered specifically to this idea. You can go to to check them out.
So you see? There’s lots of musical practice you can get
without physically touching an instrument.
I Get Really Bored When I Practice
Well, there must be something really wrong with you
then, because that’s just unheard of; no musician gets bored
during practice. NOT!
Hey, it happens. Sometimes we just don’t want to
practice. I do it sometimes too, but I push through it by
entertaining myself somehow. When I run on the treadmill
I keep the TV on so I don’t get bored to death just running
in place for an hour. Why not apply this method to your
practice routine the next time you do your warm up
exercises on your instrument? Or kick on a movie while you
silently work on your technique? That’s an easy way to kill a
two hour practice session, for sure.
Ultimately you need to make sure that you are practicing,
if not every day then at least a few times a week. Make
sure you visit your music more often than just the rehearsal
you attend before church on Sunday morning. And by
the way, rehearsals and performances do not count as
practice. When you practice you need to make sure that
you are pushing yourself, that you are struggling and that
you are trying something new every time (please don’t do
this on stage, it will not bode well for you). If I go to the gym
and lift one pound, it almost doesn’t matter how many times
I do it… I’m not really getting anything out of it. I need to
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
get my heart rate up, break a sweat, burn some calories and
lift to fail so that my muscles get a real workout and grow
back stronger.
If you are just playing things that you’re already good
at, you’re getting really good at what you’re already really
good at... Like lifting one pound over and over. Move on
and allow yourself to grow, otherwise you will stay the same
forever. Those pounds won’t drop themselves, ya’ know.
CHAPTER EIGHT - Applying music theory
Applying music theory
I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. Wait a
minute, I thought he said that this book wasn’t going to
cover any of that stuff… Well, you’re right. I’m really not
going to explain any music theory because, again, there are
already countless resources out there that do this so well. I
have no need to elaborate on the great musical discoveries
of the past or present; all I’m going to do in this chapter
is show you what you may want to know (if you don’t yet)
about music theory and how you can enhance your playing
by using it.
For your own sake, please don’t skip this chapter
if you’re thinking you don’t need to learn any music
theory. I’ve seen too many people cut themselves short
because they figured, Well I’m just a [fill in the blank] and I
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
don’t really need to know any music theory ‘cuz [fill in the
blank]. That’s like a general contractor saying, Well I don’t
really need to worry about building things to code because
my way is just as good. Or imagine hearing a physician
saying, I didn’t feel like going to Med School because it was
too much work and I didn’t think it would help at all. If you
ever hear someone utter those words, RUN!
And to be honest, I often do the same thing when I hear
a musician give me an excuse about why he or she never
bothered to learn music theory. If you take your music
seriously you’re going to want to know something about it,
aren’t you? So just stick with me for the next few pages
and hear me out, there may be a thing or two that catches
your interest.
Know Your Notes
This one seems almost self-explanatory, but seriously,
I can’t even count how many musicians I know who don’t
know all the notes on their instrument. Now, granted, not
everyone is fortunate enough to play an instrument where
all the notes are easy to identify. For instance, it’s much
easier for a keyboard player to know all the notes than
it is for a guitar player or five-string bass player. This is
because there are only twelve white and black keys on the
piano that repeat in the exact same sequence for seven or
CHAPTER EIGHT - Applying music theory
so octaves. That’s it. Twelve notes. A guitar player on the
other hand has six strings (well, actually five because the
sixth string is a doubled string) with anywhere from 20-24
frets or notes on each string. Do some basic math and
you’ll see that the average guitar player has anywhere from
100 to 120 notes to memorize on his guitar. Geez, that’s a
lot more than twelve. Sure, it’s not fair that a guitarist has
to memorize ten times the amount of notes as a keyboard
player, but I never said that it would be fair. That’s your fault
for choosing the guitar, buddy!
Okay, so you have 120 notes to learn. It’ll probably
take you a few years to get good enough to learn all those,
right? Wrong. That statement couldn’t be further from the
truth. In fact, memorizing the fingerboard is probably one
of the easiest things you could ever do besides learning to
read. It requires absolutely NO musical experience, talent,
or understanding. We’re talking about memorizing letters
here. That’s it! How long did it take you to memorize your
first 120 words? Weeks? Months? It didn’t take you very
long, and neither should memorizing your fingerboard.
Try this: if you spend five minute a day studying only five
frets on just one string you will have the entire guitar neck
memorized within 20-25 days. It’s as simple as that. Less
than a month and you’d never have to worry again about
what note you’re jumping to. Don’t go another year without
knowing your guitar neck inside and out, it’s just shear
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
And drummers don’t even have any notes! Well, at
least pitched notes like C, D, or E. But drummers are not
at all excluded from this rule. Know the notes. Sit down
to a keyboard and learn where they are and what they
sound like. I’ve always felt sorry for people who consider
themselves just drummers. I hate it when I turn to the band
and ask, “Hey, what key is this song in?” and receive this
response: “Don’t ask me I’m just the drummer.”
If we could describe music in only three words we
would more than likely come up with melody, harmony, and
rhythm. A drummer is only capable of doing one of these
things with his instrument: rhythm. But please don’t stop
there. There is so much more for you to learn, enjoy, and
benefit from than just playing rhythms. Besides, how do
you want to introduce yourself to people, as a rhythm player
or as a musician?
Know Your Keys
Knowing the key of the song means knowing all of the
possible note and chord combinations that will be used
throughout the song (except for chromatic alterations, of
course). It’s not even funny how vital it is to understand the
concept of keys. For example, if I know that a song is in the
key of G Major I now know that the majority of the chords to
CHAPTER EIGHT - Applying music theory
be used are going to be the following: G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em,
and F#o. That’s really helpful when my memory slips during
the worship service and I forget what chord is coming up
next, because knowing your possibilities helps you to rule
out the impossibilities. For instance, let’s say the song I
am playing is in the key of F Major and I forget whether the
next chord is D or Dm. Well, my knowledge of keys will tell
me that there is no F# in the key of F Major so it cannot be
a D chord and must be Dm. Good thing I used the process
of elimination to deduce what the next chord was instead
of guessing. When you guess sometimes you can get it
right. But if you’re wrong… Well, you know the outcome.
Know Your Scales
This one is super-straightforward. Scales are just
sequences of notes that ascend and descend. There’s
hundreds of them out there and thousands when you
include their modes (we won’t discuss those here but it’s
good to know what they are). Here’s a few important ones:
1) The Major Scale
2) The Minor Scale
3) The Pentatonic Scale
I know it seems a little bit daunting, especially that
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
sinister-looking word Pentatonic, but trust me when I say
that you need them. If the song you are playing is in a
major key, guess what scale you should use? Yep. The
Major Scale. And if your song is in a minor key? Correct
again. The Minor Scale. But how about that Pentatonic
one? Well, pentatonic scales are great because they use
only five notes to the octave instead of the standard scales
that use seven notes to the octave. This means you not
only have less notes to play, but more notes of the scale
that will appear inside the chord. Pentatonic scales sound
great for riffs and rock styles of music but are also very
common in gospel and jazz styles as well.
Now here’s the thing: you may think you already
know your scales pretty well. But do you? Really, do
you? Seriously, are you sitting in your chair right now and
thinking to yourself, Well I don’t really need to work on
those ones because I already know my Major, Minor, and
Pentatonic scales. Well if you are, do me a favor and spell a
D Major scale right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
If it took you longer than four seconds to say D, E, F#, G,
A, B, and C# then I’m pretty sure you don’t know your scales
as well as you think you do. How about F Minor? Ready,
set, go!
F, G, Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb. How’d you do that time? I’ll give
you five seconds on that one since there are two more
syllables to pronounce than the last one. Be honest with
CHAPTER EIGHT - Applying music theory
yourself; if you didn’t have any trouble reiterating these
scales then you passed the test. You really do know those
three scales very well. If not, now you know what you need
to work on.
Know Your Chords And Arpeggios
Since harmony is one of the three pillars of music it’s kind
of an important one to understand inside and out. Chords
and arpeggios are basically the same thing except that
chords are struck all at once and arpeggios are split up in a
sequence, much like how a scale is executed. Here’s a list
of all the basic chord types that you need to know and their
1) Major Triads
2) Minor Triads
3) Major 7 Chords
4) Minor 7 Chords
5) Dominant 7 Chords
Understand that there are hundreds of other chord
possibilities out there but these are the ones that you will
see most often. Obviously, you need to know how to play
your chords, that’s a no-brainer. But I’m telling you that
you need to know your chords, much like you would know a
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
person. If I were to ask you to tell me the name of someone
very important to you, I bet you could come up with a name
almost immediately. Now tell me about that person. Where
is he or she from? Favorite sport? Birthday? Phone
number and address, or at least the city that they live in? If
you couldn’t answer any of those questions about that
person I would highly doubt that he or she is actually very
important to you at all.
If chords are as important to us as we say they are then
we need to know them, not just what the name of it is and
what the shape of it looks like. You need to know that an A
chord is spelled A, C#, E, and that in it’s first inversion it is
spelled C#, E, A, and in it’s second inversion it is E, A, C#.
And in case you don’t know, an inversion of the chord is
the same chord but spelled differently. Same chord, similar
sound, different spelling (and by spelling I am referring to
the order in which those notes will be played from lowest
to highest). Know your chords, even if you don’t play an
instrument that can play chords. If you don’t know them
then you’ll never realize all of the possibilities of your music.
Know Your Rhythms
Now the drummers are thinking, Phew, finally something
I can use! Remember drummers that although rhythm is
your main contribution to a song musically you are still
CHAPTER EIGHT - Applying music theory
responsible for knowing and understanding the other
concepts mentioned above.
Rhythm is quite often overlooked by instruments other
than drums; sometimes I will be producing an artist with
a song that just sounds awful. I mean, seriously, just
terrible stuff. But all I need to do is take the notes and
chords that are already there and tweak the rhythms a
little bit, and presto! Suddenly it is sounding better (still
not good, but there’s only so much you can do). Who
would’a thought? Please understand that this magic trick
won’t always work but it’s a pretty good one. You should
understand the following concepts about rhythms:
1) Rhythmic Values (whole notes, half notes, etc.)
2) Meter and Time Signatures
3) Beat placement and subdivision
4) Syncopation of multiple rhythms
Know your rhythmic values, not just their names but also
what they sound like and how to use them. Understand the
proportional and mathematical concepts behind how they
work; there’s plenty out there to keep you busy so have at it.
Knowing and understanding music theory will give
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
you better communication skills with the rest of the
ensemble. This goes for scales and chords and all that
other stuff you just read about. Sometimes I need to
convey a musical idea to my drummer, to my guitarist, or
to my singer, and I need a way of talking to them so that
they understand what it is that I’m asking them to do on
their instruments. I need to be able to tell them with my
words what I’m hearing, what I need help with, or what we
are doing wrong. We can intellectualize music in this way
and it’s way better than looking at your acoustic player
saying, Can you make it go ‘dah dah dee doo doo?’ while
strumming an air guitar and looking like a fool.
Am I saying that you need to go get a degree in music,
or spend the rest of your life studying music nonstop in
order to be a successful worship musician? No, absolutely
not. You don’t need to be a musical mastermind. And all
of the things I covered thus far are actually quite elementary
and basic (usually all covered within your first semester at
a music school). I’m not telling you to become a musical
brainiac, all I’m saying is that you need to know these
things. Even if you’re a drummer, you need to know keys of
songs. If you’re a singer you need to know what a quarter
note and subdividing is. The more we all know the more we
can effectively communicate with each other.
I do know that this path has worked out very well for me
and has turned me into the musician that I am today; not
CHAPTER EIGHT - Applying music theory
just the musician that I am, but the musician in high-demand
that I have become. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
An audience of One
I do realize that throughout the course of this book
almost everything you have read has been directly related
to what we do musically in a worship setting. Very little has
actually been said about what is happening spiritually within
us while we worship. And for good reason too, because
this book is not intended to be a theological study on the
biblical concepts of worship. There are plenty of great
books out there that are dedicated specifically to this topic
and I’m sure that you will find them much more informative
and genuine coming from a bible scholar than from me. But
I’d like to take a moment and share with you some of my
own experiences involving the spiritual roles of a worship
musician and what I think it means to lead God’s people
before His throne.
CHAPTER NINE - An audience of One
The Congregation Is Not Your Audience
Playing worship music means placing an interesting twist
on a few things that musicians usually experience: what is
considered performance, who the performer is, and who
the audience is. When I stand on a stage before a crowd
of people and play through a set of worship music, my
thoughts, intentions, and my emotions are in a completely
different place than they are when I perform music at a
gig. At a gig I’m putting on a show. I’m thinking about
how I can make our ensemble sound best for our own glory
and recognition (not to sound vain but let’s be honest). I’m
trying to look and sound as professional as I can so that the
audience in front of me will see me that way, take interest
in what I am doing, enjoy what I am offering to them, and
hopefully support me financially. On top of all that, I am
trying to enjoy myself because I get to do what I love doing
for a living.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that at
all. I need to pay my bills, put food on the table, provide
for my family, and I’m very fortunate that I can accomplish
those basic necessities by playing music. But that is
completely backwards from what God wants from me when
I lead his people in worship.
At a worship service I’m not putting on a show for
anybody. Well, actually I am, it’s just not for you; it’s for
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Him. And believe it or not, so are you. Our roles have
switched up a little bit. It’s no longer me (the performer)
playing music for you (the audience). Together we are the
performers, our worship is the performance, and our God is
the audience. Hence, my mind-set for worship is to play for
an audience of One. I might be the loud one on stage with
a microphone, but He hears your voice just as loud as mine
and He knows my heart just as well as yours.
When I am leading worship I am no longer thinking about
how I can make our ensemble sound best for our own glory
and recognition; now I am focused intently on bringing
glory to Him in the best way I know how. Psalm 100 says,
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord
with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” I’m
not very good at anything. Seriously, I can’t fix a car, I’m
not handy with a hammer (or any other work tool for that
matter), I can’t cook, and I’m certainly not the person you
want to come to for life and relationship advice, believe
me. But joyful songs – I’ve got that one down, and I’ll do
it gladly. This isn’t merely a suggestion but is very much
a commandment to come before God and worship Him in
song. Count me in.
I’m also no longer trying to pass off any perception of
myself to the congregation, for I have nothing to gain from
it. Technically speaking I have just as much to gain for
myself in leading worship as I do when I’m gigging, but
CHAPTER NINE - An audience of One
what’s the point? Everything that I do is supposed to be
pointing upward, not inward. Psalm 98 says we are to “Sing
to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for
him.” That’s pretty worthy of recognition and glory. What
have I ever done to deserve any praise? What marvelous
things am I known for? I may know a lot about music,
can play fast, and wrote a book about it once, but I don’t
have a holy arm that has ever done anything miraculous
like “working salvation” for anyone. One of the best things
you can do in order to properly play for an audience of One
is to get over yourself. The sooner you do that, the more
connected you will be to Him during your worship. And the
stronger your connection is to God during your worship, the
stronger your congregation will draw near as well.
He Wants Our Best
He really does. I don’t know of anywhere in the bible
where it says that God wants our mediocrity or our
laziness. He wants us to do the very best that we can
do. In the fourth chapter of Genesis we are introduced
to two brothers named Cain and Abel. Starting at verse
three we learn that Cain, basically being a farmer of sorts,
“brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the
Lord. But Abel [who kept flocks, by the way] brought fat
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord
looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and
his offering he did not look with favor.” Here is a prime
example very early on in the bible where we see God’s
favor for our very best offering to Him, not just “some of
the fruits” that we can afford giving away. God wants your
best in your worship of Him, He wants you to give it all you
can. He doesn’t want the spare time that you don’t mind
losing, and he certainly doesn’t want your second-best or
your excuses. Our God wants your hard work and He wants
to come first.
You Need To Play Tastefully
Hold on, didn’t we do this one already? It’s like déjà vu;
I’m pretty sure we covered this topic in an early chapter,
didn’t we? Yes, we did. But that was talking about tasteful
playing as it applies to music. I’d like to talk now about
tasteful playing as it pertains to worship. The concept is the
same here, except that we need to be focused on one more
thing: distraction. The last thing you want to do is distract
someone who is trying to draw nearer into the presence of
God. Everything that you play has to make sense musically
but also you cannot cause someone to stop focusing on
God and start focusing on you. Remember that the goal
here is not to glorify or bring praise to ourselves, but is in
CHAPTER NINE - An audience of One
fact quite the opposite: He is our audience and the glory is
His alone.
Now this pendulum swings both ways: we need to
play tastefully on our instruments because we don’t want
to distract anyone with something that may be too flashy
or showy, but at the same time we don’t want to distract
anyone with mistakes and goofs either. We need to stay
appropriate and focused the entire time, stepping out when
we have to and stepping back when we need to. Chew on
that last sentence for a moment because it’s monumental in
establishing your attitude during worship.
Being a worship leader or participating in the worship
team means being a part of the worship ministry. You are
one of the loudest voices of the church body itself and
you’re probably one of the first things that anyone sees
when they walk into the building. All eyes are on you, and
you need to indicate to your congregation (either with your
words or your actions) that their attention needs to be
on Him, not you. Keep in mind that you’re not just some
musician standing on a stage playing for just anyone. You
are leading your brothers and sisters before the Creator of
the Universe.
Our worship is very unique, it’s special, and it’s
personal. It is a time where we can feel a direct connection
with our God and Savior and I wouldn’t trade those times for
anything in the world. I am honored that I get to be a part of
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
it and I don’t take it for granted. Try to keep these spiritual
viewpoints in mind the next time that you step on stage for a
worship service and try your best to remember who it is that
you’re playing for.
CHAPTER TEN - Concluding thoughts
Concluding thoughts
So here we are, at the end of our study of the modern
worship musician. To be honest I have thoroughly enjoyed
placing these thoughts down on paper and I truly hope
that you have been blessed by them. I am marveled at
how quickly it has gone by, too. Believe it or not, it didn’t
take nearly as long to scribble these words down as I had
imagined it would, but maybe that’s due to my inept writing
skills (you know, I did enter college as an English major but
quickly switched to music after my first semester). This
has been a great experience for me and it has helped me to
realize quite a few things about my own understanding of
music and where I stand as a worship leader. My prayer is
that it has done the same for you.
These past 100 pages have been meaningful to me
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
and it is almost time to stop. However, it doesn’t have to
end here. If you feel at all motivated to continue down the
paths I have shown you in these chapters then I challenge
you to continue moving forward. If you read anything that
spiked an interest, inspired you to learn more, or caused
you to have one of those Ah-ha! moments then please don’t
stop here. If you’re looking for more resources to elaborate
further on any of the things I have discussed in these pages
just send me an email and I will help point you in the right
direction as best I can. I assure you that I read every email
and will get back to you as soon as I can. You can go to to find out how to
contact me.
Where you go from here is completely up to you. Like
I’ve said before, you might agree with what I’m saying and
you might disagree too.
I’m okay with that.
Really, I am. These are the things that I’ve done to bring
me where I am today, step by step, and I stand by them. I
can only relay to you my own experiences and perceptions
of the information I’ve gained through my years of study and
I understand that it may differ from your own experiences
or views. Just do yourself a favor and keep your ears open
and your mind free at all times. Keep in mind that music
is not one sided, right, or wrong (that’s why they called
it musical theory, you know); it is a language that can be
CHAPTER TEN - Concluding thoughts
interpreted in as many ways as you like. If you understand
this then you will continue to grow into the musician you’ve
always wanted to be.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably
searching for some validity or merit to my words. You may
be wondering, Where did all of this information come from?
Is it reliable? Can I trust what he’s saying to be true?
I don’t blame you. I take everything with a grain of salt,
especially if it’s something I know a thing or two about. I
can tell you honestly that most of the ideas contained within
these pages were discovered the hard way, after years of
trial and error on my behalf, and my wishes are that you will
benefit personally from my experiences. I guess there isn’t
much I can say to convince you that I’m right, so instead
I pose this to you: challenge me. If you don’t believe any
particular thing that I’ve written so far, try to prove me
wrong. What’s the worst that could happen? You might be
surprised, just as I was.
At the same time, I must give credit where credit is
due. Many of the thoughts, expressions, and experiences
described in this book were not my own, initially. I like to
think of myself as a sponge, able to soak up whatever I’m
submerged into. I’ve had many musical mentors, friends,
and enemies who have taught me many of the things
described in this book, both directly and indirectly. I’ve
taken many lessons from private instructors and I’ve learned
Advice For The Modern Worship Musician
many hard lessons from people who took advantage of me.
I would like to acknowledge them all (you know who you
are) for teaching me everything I know about life, music,
and worship. Without you, none of this would have been
While writing this final chapter I am reminded of myself at
the age of 16 when I had a true moment of revelation: THIS
I never wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman, and I
gave up dreaming of becoming a doctor when my father
told me that physicians required up to twelve years of
education before they could begin a practice. But back
when I was still cool enough to drive around my mother’s
mini-van, I met a man who revolutionized the way that I
thought of music and challenged me to pursue what I never
thought was attainable.
I recall setting specific goals for myself, basically a
checklist, of all the things that I wanted to accomplish in my
lifetime of being a musician, sort of like a Musical BucketList. The funny thing is that after looking back at that list,
I actually accomplished everything that I had set out to do
within my first two years of studying music in college. I
began a new list at that point, and within a few years, guess
what? I finished that one too.
I’m not trying to brag here, not in the least. I’m trying to
show you that the place you want to be is much closer than
CHAPTER TEN - Concluding thoughts
you think, if you’re willing to work for it. And to an extent,
the sky is much more limitless than you perceive it to be.
Many people struggle with planning and dreaming,
but it’s the most important part of growing! Success is
measured in many ways, but achieving greatness requires
intention; it’s not easily stumbled upon. Knowing where you
want to go is the hard part, but getting there is easy. It may
take a while, but you can get there. Trust me, I’ve done it a
few times already.
Remember that the more you learn about anything, the
more you will realize what you don’t know; which is the
exact reason why I love playing music so much. There will
always be something you can learn, something you can
do better, some way for you to develop and progress both
musically and spiritually. There is no limit, no highest level,
nothing to hold you back or keep you in the dark; only the
limitations you place on yourself. Music is a lot like life, in
that we are continually growing each day and constantly
evolving; just make sure that you’re always moving forward
and not backwards because there is no standing still.
Moving forward helps you to become who you were meant
to be, but moving backwards will only slow you down.
Don’t slow down, don’t be discouraged, and whatever
you do, don’t stay where you are. Are you ready to take it to
the next level?
Thank you for reading and may God bless you.
Hopefully, reading this book has inspired you to step it up
a notch. But what if you’re not sure where to go, or how to
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