Choosing The Right Instruments For Your Style
A Lesson in Outside of the Box Creative Thinking
As you begin to read, there is no doubt in my mind that many of you are just happy to have what you have and cannot imagine what it would be like to choose the instrumentation for your church or for even a particular service. The glaring reality is that when it comes to choosing instrumentation, the majority of the time, it chooses us. Although we can hang our head at this point and feel relegated to the status quo, I think there is a major lesson in creativity here.
There is much that we can do to enhance the moods of worship, without overplaying and entering into a performance mindset. For the rest of this article let’s say, that we have at our disposal a basic rhythm section that consists of piano, bass, drums, and two guitars, one lead and one rhythm. We also have three or four vocalists.
The first thing that comes into play is “Musical Dynamics”. Every instrument does not need to be playing all of the time. Learning this alone will help to create appropriate moods in our worship services. Perhaps we open with one or two upbeat songs, generally used to tell all of those socializing in the foyer that church has started and to wake up those who have drifted away since they walked in the door. In this case a sense of celebration is in order. I would choose to have everyone playing to create a LARGER sound. Now, let’s build on that. Perhaps, it’s an Easter morning and you want to add some trumpets or a brass section to the mix. This will create an even larger dynamic than your congregation may be used to, and it will naturally create a mood of celebration.
Let’s get real practical here. What if you have some brass players in your congregation, but you cannot write horn parts. Or maybe you’re even lacking the horn section itself. How about setting up a meeting with your local High School’s Band Teacher and seeing if you can get some help? I have found that most music teachers are thrilled that you thought of them and are willing to help. I cannot think of a better situation than working with a band teacher and some of his/her students to glorify the Lord.
If I’m not mistaken, we are to go into the world and preach the gospel. What a great way to begin this process, by using your own musical gifts to build relationships with other local musicians. OK, a little off topic here, but it’s win-win all the way around. You get the instrumentation that you need, the band kids get musical experience in a different setting, and they are exposed to the gospel of Christ at the same time. Pretty cool!
Dynamics can be used to direct people into more intimate worship as well. On many occasions I will have the band finish a song and then flow right into another song with just one instrument. Using finger picking on the acoustic guitar can, in itself, relax people, allowing them to focus in a prayer-like atmosphere. Again, we are choosing the right instruments to play in the right setting. I’d also like to point out here that technical and multi-media can make a large impact as a part of the worship team. Slightly dimming the lights or using projected pictures, instead of words, can set a tone that will enhance the worship experience for your congregation.
The second thing that comes to mind when I’m thinking about what instruments to use, is answering the question, “How can I be creative with what I already have?” It’s really easy to look at your worship team and feel as though you are stuck with one style because you only have certain instruments. In this regard I am reminded of the time when Jesus and the apostle Peter met for the very first time. It’s recorded in the first Chapter of John’s gospel. It reads; “Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah”. Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”). Now I don’t know about you, but isn’t it a little rude to meet someone for the first time and change their name?
Re-reading the passage a couple of times makes it clear that Jesus is looking beyond what he sees on the outside and senses the potential that lies within this man. He looks at Simon and says “YOU WILL BE CALLED……” How often have we looked at our musicians this way? Here’s where we move outside the box…. You are a FLUTE, but you will be called LEAD GUITAR! You are a HARMONICA, but you will be called SAPRANO SAX!
Here’s my point. We can choose different instrumental arrangements if we are willing to move outside of what the normal mode of thinking is. Leading worship at one church, I was asked to plan a contemporary, almost hard rock, worship experience. When I arrived I was met by a band that included no electric guitar or bass player, but a pianist, drummer and a flute player. I quickly re-evaluated the situation.
Fortunately, even though I lead on acoustic guitar, I travel with a wide array of effects. I adjusted my gear to a “fat-strat” sound with a tad bit of distortion and I was set. We put the pianist on the electric keyboard and, with a little adjusting, got the keyboard split so that her left hand, which was playing the bass line, actually sounded like a bass guitar. A piano over strings sound was used for the keyboard player’s right hand and we were almost there. At this point the flute player and I had a discussion. She was used to playing the melody line that was written in the music, however after about 10 minutes of discussion I had her playing short lead lines in the pockets (between the vocal lines) just as if she were a lead guitar, only without the feedback! It wasn’t perfect, but it was unique and actually sounded great.
One thing that I do have to mention here is that music itself, without words, is an important tool in communication. Many times I will underscore the pastor’s prayer or even the end of his sermon with either a quiet acoustic guitar or a light keyboard part. The most important thing that you have to do here is to communicate well with your pastor. Musicians need to learn how to be sensitive and know how to “read” their pastor. Knowing what to play and when to play it can make a huge impact on a moment in worship. It’s a two-way street.
Pastors need to learn to communicate well with their worship leaders, as well. I can remember a couple of occasions where I didn’t know what my pastor was going to say, so I defaulted to my normal underscore. What I was doing, was creating a more reflective tone. Well, he went right into telling jokes at the beginning of his message and what I was doing just didn’t fit. The emotional jump from reflection to humor was too great for our congregation. From then on, I made sure I knew the mood of his introduction and his conclusion. This went a long way in building unity, as well as, the right mood for the right moment in worship.
Whether you have a rhythm section, just a few instruments, or an entire orchestra; there are always things that you can do to switch up your normal mode of operation. I have always tried to build relationships with other worship and music directors in my area so that we could not just compare notes and build each other up, but even share musicians, on occasion. I know that it’s a great encouragement for my guitar players when they get to go and minister with another church that doesn’t have any guitarists on their team. Once we are willing to use the creative gifts that God has given us it’s actually pretty easy to find the resources for different instrumental setups. We just have to be a little creative and think outside the box.