Leading a Volunteer Worship Band (Part 1)

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Truth be told, most of us who are involved with worship ministry on a weekly basis are working with volunteers. These so-called “weekend warriors” typically embody Colossians 3:17 spirit, doing everything they do for God’s glory, but often they lack some of the basic skills needed to play successfully in a band setting. Their attitudes are great, but they often don’t sound “professional” enough for the standards we are all trying to attain in our public worship gatherings. Unless you are an experienced instrumentalist, the prospect of leading a worship band in a modern worship context can be an intimidating one. This article is intended to demystify the process of leading a band in a modern worship setting.

Clickity-Clack

One of the things most lacking in a band consisting primarily of volunteers is the absence of a solid time feel. Because most volunteer musicians are self-taught, many were never instructed in the proper use of a metronome. As a private music instructor, I spend every lesson with every student with the metronome playing throughout, and in my own practice sessions I have a metronome playing constantly. My goal is for the use of a metronome to become second nature for each of my students. The metronome is definitely the best tool to strengthen the time feel for any musician.

In the same way, our band plays all music in rehearsals and worship services with a metronome, or “click track” in the band vernacular. Every volunteer drummer that has started with us at Sent Church has struggled playing with the click track at first. Over time, though, they have all come to rely on, and have gained confidence in using the click.

“But isn’t my drummer’s time feel good enough,” you might ask? Possibly, but I would still encourage the practice for two reasons. First, as they learn to play with a click track, they will inherently play with more confidence. I’ve seen it over and over again. Second, you will never, ever again have to worry about starting a song at the wrong tempo! The latter gives the entire band (and the worship leader) more confidence. Let the click track be the worship leader’s best friend!

Think Division, Not Addition

Many years ago, I attended a worship conference with Paul Baloche. He made a statement that revolutionized how I coach my volunteer band. He said, “Instead of thinking like a guitarist, drummer, bass player or keyboardist, everyone in the band should think like an arranger.” It is natural for the worship leader to think like an arranger, but if you can get each band member to think of himself or herself as an arranger, many problems will naturally fix themselves.

To help teach this, Paul shared what I call the “division rule.” Instead of thinking of your respective instrumental part being added onto everyone else’s part in the arrangement, think of your part as being a percentage of the whole. In other words, if the song starts with only the piano, then the piano player is covering 100% of the entire arrangement at that point in time. They provide 100% of the rhythm, harmony, and possibly melody (if no vocalist is present). Once the acoustic guitar enters on the prechorus, both players are now only 50% of the whole. Something must adjust in the respective parts. Then, when the drums and bass enter on the chorus, everyone is now only 25% of the whole. Again, adjustments must be made. This metaphor can help your band members use their creative minds and ears to arrange a part to serve the song rather than detract from it. This is a powerful technique that will help your band to resist the urge to overplay.

Hopefully that gets you started on the path to working more effectively with your volunteer band. In Part 2, we will discuss the various roles in a typical worship band and how you can coach each player in your band to assume their roles more confidently.

 

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Branden is a worship leader, pastor, teacher, and aspiring jazz musician living in New York City. Branden and Jenn are planting a church in Manhattan. Prior to living in NYC, Branden served at Sent Church in Dallas, TX, as its Executive Pastor for 4 years and Worship Pastor for 13 years. Branden is an accomplished music producer, musician, and teacher. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Northern Iowa, an MBA from Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and a Master Certificate in Music Production from Berklee College of Music.

1 COMMENT

  1. I appreciate the idea of the “division rule”. I haven’t thought of that before, but I’ve learned before that wisdom that stems from Paul Baloche is typically good and worthy of remembering!

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