This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (July/Aug 2005). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
I recently played guitar at a typical service. Most of the musicians hadn’t played together much before, there were a couple of new songs to work through, and the worship leader was positioned way out front where the rest of the band could only see the back of his head. It wasn’t the band’s finest hour. Does that sound at all familiar? When examining some of the other skills we need to lead, band communication is often something that is overlooked but solved with a few easy measures so here are some ideas to help you communicate and play together more effectively.
Keep the Onstage Sound as Acoustic as Possible
Try to hear each other with the minimum of onstage sound re-enforcement. Place guitar and bass amps a good ten feet away from you, point them towards your face also towards the instruments that need to hear you (e.g. towards the drums and away from vocalists). Drum screens can cause a real communication barrier but that necessity often comes from drummers playing too loudly for the environment. It is possible to make drums sound full at low volume.
Conduct with Your Eyes
You can communicate a huge amount about starts, stops and musical junctions just with eye and body movement. Think about how a song moves dynamically up and down and how you could interpret that with movement. Perhaps stand up on your toes or hunch down to indicate dynamic changes; a look or nod can clearly tell someone to start or stop playing. Whatever you do, exaggerate those movements and be expressive.
If You Can’t Sing It, Say It
Don’t be afraid to use vocal cuing, especially if you’re not a strong singer. I’ve worked with some really good worship leaders who really can’t sing. Now, if you sing flat or sharp it’s obviously not helpful if it’s off-putting to the congregation, but you can still direct the worship with vocal cuing (e.g. start off the song, perhaps use a singer to carry the melody and literally speak the first few words of the verse or bridge that you are moving to next).
Don’t think you can’t lead if you can’t sing—God doesn’t always use the most professional to create the most beautiful expressions. Just be honest and passionate.
Develop a culture where you get your musicians to look up at you two to three bars before a change or junction in a song. When they do, make sure that you are communicating where to go next in as many ways as possible—just so they clearly get the message.
Just Practice Junctions
Most music comes undone at junction points in the song rather than in the body of it. So if you have limited time, just practice those junctions over and over in a loop until it really sinks in for everyone. Even slow it down if you need to. Also encourage band members to come in and out at junction points rather than drifting in and out ad hock.
Keep It Fresh
Above all, I think a good worship leader should keep one eye on ways to keep things fresh. Not for the sake of new music or even for the fun of the band but just a single creative change can help remind worshipers what they are singing about. I’ve seen so many Christians switch to autopilot as they sing the same song in the same way again and again. So make small changes that help people realize that today we are worshiping. That could mean hanging on a tag line for a while to let key words or song themes sink in—repeating a verse unexpectedly where you would normally go to a chorus or bridge, playing a song unusually faster, slower, harder or softer. Needless to say, you don’t have to wildly change your style to Jazz Odyssey to help people rediscover the meaning in a song, just use something simple that makes them come off auto-pilot.
Andy Chamberlain is a Director of Musicademy and the presenter of the Musicademy Worship Guitar DVDs – students enjoy observing his varying hairstyles as the DVDs progress. Andy was trained at the Academy of Contemporary Music, has played at festivals such as Soul Survivor, New Wine, Spring Harvest and Spirit West Coast (US) and has worked with many worship leaders including Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, and many others.