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Filling In The Gaps – Becoming a Mature Worship Musician

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One of the most difficult things to do sometimes as a worship musician is to learn that your instrument is not the most dominant force in the band.  It is a scenario that plays out everywhere on Sundays across the globe:  a worship leader who leads playing piano knows exactly where all 88 keys are and plans to use them all at least once;  a guitarist who has one volume…loud; a drummer who loves his fill-ins….no, I mean REALLY loves them…and plays them often during verses and all throughout the chorus – usually in about ten different tempos.

Don’t laugh – you may be one of them and you just don’t know it.  If I were to be asked what I look for in a worship musician – it is maturity…plain and simple.  That maturity doesn’t come with age – it comes simply by knowing how to fill in the gaps with his or her instrument and understands that they are but a piece of a large puzzle.

How do you reach this maturity?  One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to learn one simple concept:

“Our worship team has to give 100% – but not every band member can be that 100%.”

This is better known as the 100% Rule.  Think about it in this manner – take, for instance, “The Heart of Worship”.  Let’s assume we have a four piece band – acoustic, electric, bass, and drums.  What if each band member played their instrument at it’s max potential?  What if the lead guitarist shredded a solo in every measure or just power-chorded the whole lot?  What if we added a bass guitarist who deviates from the root notes and opted to explore every string of his bass at every fret?  Add to that an acoustic player who strums the same rhythm throughout the song…loud and proud.  To top it all off, we have a drummer who thinks the song he is playing is “Wipe Out”.  The song would sound strange, wouldn’t it?

If each member of the band realizes that he or she is merely a portion of that 100%, then we get a completely different sound and fill.  Nothing sounds out of place.  Everything melts together and each part fills a different space.

Sometimes, making that 100% means pairing a bass player with a drummer that already have a great communication down.  To me, as a worship leader, these are the two most important parts of the 100%.  If the bass and drummer can’t find a grove together and play “in the pocket” – you can forget about anything else falling in perfectly.

Sometimes that 100% means saying something like this to your piano player before you rehearse.  “Here’s something I want you to try for this song : During this song, I want you to leave your left hand completely off the keyboard.  The bass can take care of the root – I want you to find those perfect moments to fill in a space in the music some soft arpeggios.”

Sometimes it means telling a lead guitarist to not play at all for a portion of the song and find appropriate spaces for some casual diamonds.  If you have two guitarists it may mean ensuring that, if one is playing in the 1st position, that another is playing a different shape higher on the neck.

We are all pieces of a greater puzzle.  Searching for creative ways to fill a different portion of space and, sometimes, knowing when to just be silent – are some of the best characteristics that a mature worship musician can possess.  What piece of the space will you fill this Sunday?

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5 thoughts on “Filling In The Gaps – Becoming a Mature Worship Musician”

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  2. Jeff Gibson says:

    Had this taught to me back in 1997 at a Maranatha music conference I went down to in Atlanta. Their band played through multiple songs to show how songs can sound when all the musicians are playing at 100% and when they had a combined effort of 100%.

    HUGE difference. It's amazing what can happen when you allow a song to breath and possibly have one or two instruments maximum adding small detailed items to a song. The other important thing to remember is dynamics, dynamics, dynamics.

    The best part of this article has to be the portion about keeping a drummer and bass player together that can play well together in the pocket. We have some incredible drummers and bass players at our church that have played together for a decade or longer. It is VERY apparent when one of those combinations are working together on a Sunday morning.

    GREAT ARTICLE!!

  3. Jason Whitehorn says:

    Jeff,

    I couldn't agree more. I'll be the first to admit – when I have Phil playing for me…I feel safe. I know where he is – what he is doing…and he can read where I am going so well. Guys like you and Phil and DOn and so many others at LifePoint are the picture perfect image of the maturity I am speaking of. I wish all of my readers would have the pleasure of serving with you guys!

    Thanks for your comment!

    Jason

  4. Brandon Tomlin says:

    One of the benefits of playing with a group of musicians on a pretty regular basis is being able to find "the pocket" every week. But what that also is able to teach is how to be aware of your role in the band and how to apply that to every band you find yourself in. I see it now more than ever since I've come from being the 16 year old electric guitarist that wanted everything cranked to 11 and wanted a solo every second of every song to being the 23 year old bass player who settles into "the pocket" and feeds off of where the other musicians are playing.

    This article is a great reminder of what makes a great unit and is a good push to further what part we play with our instruments and our awareness of what we are striving for with sound and leading others to the throne!

  5. Tanner Dalton says:

    Great insight guys. I couldn't agree more with all the comments. I would only add one word… taste. I think that was what Jason alluded to when he mentioned "filling in the gaps." Going off of what Jeff said, if a musician is dynamically filling in the gaps, he or she is practicing good tasteful music. Great discussion.

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