When you stop to think about the concept of the modern church worship band, it’s crazy. For hundreds of years, the church “worship band” consisted of a cantor, a choir, and maybe an organ. Then a few decades ago came the rise of the modern worship band. Now every Sunday, your church is expected to have a full rock band consisting of volunteers who are competent at their instruments and can pull off a five song set after just an hour or two of rehearsal.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the modern worship band. But the idea of pulling off this feat on a weekly basis is a bit insane, especially for smaller churches with little resources and few musicians. It’s up to you and your church leadership how large your worship ministry is going to be. Maybe it’s just yourself and a couple of others playing an acoustic setup. Maybe you want to have a huge band like Hillsong and have killer backing tracks that rival an EDM concert. Either way, I have a firm conviction that worship leaders have the responsibility for fostering and developing musicianship in the church. If you have existing band members who need to work on specific areas of musicianship, or you are building a new team from scratch, you should intentionally develop your team’s musical capability. Here are three ways to do it.
Spend one-on-one time working through songs with individual band members
Hands down, this is the most efficient way to develop the musicianship of your band members. It also requires the most time and effort on the part of the worship leader. You need to coordinate a time on your calendar to meet and prepare an agenda for what you are going to work on with them. It is sort of like offering them private lessons, but you are hyper focused on worship songs that your band will be playing on Sundays.
One time I had a drummer who could keep a steady beat and play technical fills, but he had a difficult time with the dynamics and style of modern worship music. It was a significant issue whenever I introduced the band new songs. He needed specific direction on the feel of the beat and the dynamics within the song. I always encourage my musicians to practice on their own at home, but in this case, I realized it would be better for me to spend one-on-one time with this drummer to more thoroughly explain the sound I wanted. I rather not do this during rehearsal and waste the rest of the band’s time.
We met for about an hour. I setup my computer with a click and backing tracks, we wore our in-ear monitors and played through the new song. At first, I would keep the original MP3 of the songs in the backing tracks. Then I would mute that track and just play with the click and other instruments. If there were a spot we needed to work on, we would repeat it a few times and even solo the drum track to hear what the studio drummer played. We were able to get down into the nitty gritty of the drum parts for this one song. Eventually, this drummer grew in his ability to play worship drums in the proper style I wanted. By learning the stylistic details of one worship song, he was able to apply the same concepts to other songs.
Spending one-on-one practice time with your musicians can give them the insight and attention they need to bring their musicianship to the next level. Over time they will grow in their confidence and ability so that you can meet less frequently or not at all.
Encourage or require your band to take private lessons
Sometimes you will have worship volunteers who have loads of musical potential, but they need the right music teacher to help them tap into it. Encourage them to take private lessons. Lessons will most likely cost them money, but I think being financially invested will motivate them and keep them accountable to develop their skills. If they are a vocalist, help them find a voice teacher to help them refine their tone, pitch, range, and ability to pick up harmonies on the fly. If they are a guitarist, help them find a teacher who will teach them scales, chords, and improvisation.
There are a few online platforms that can help you find music teachers in your area. Check out thumbtack.com or takelessons.com. They can even take private lessons online. Google “online music lessons” and you find dozens of options.
Resource your worship band with online worship band training
The third best way to grow your team's musicianship is to resource them with online worship tutorial videos. WorshipOnline.com, WorshipArtistry.com, and WorshipTutorials.com are the three largest resources in this area. Most of their content requires a subscription, but you get what you pay for. I am most impressed with Worship Online’s platform because they have the best videos for showing you exactly what and how to play different instruments. They even have videos that break down the vocal parts.
There has never been a time in the history of Church music when it is so easy to train and develop musicians in the church. Theoretically, you could find someone with zero music experience, set them up with private lessons, give them access to online tutorials, meet with them on a regular basis to sing or play through songs, and within a year or two they could be ready to play in the weekend services. Some folks will catch on quicker than others, and while you train them, it is going to be a somewhat grueling process. But if you stick with it and have the patience to develop them, they could end up being one of you best band members, and maybe someday a worship leader. I believe the church should be a wellspring of musicianship because we have the greatest reason to sing and play our instruments. But that won’t happen unless if worship leaders like you take the time to develop the musicianship of those on your team or those yet to join your team.