Leading the church when you’re short of a full band
I think more times than not – I’ve been in praise in worship bands that are missing at least one key instrument on Sunday morning. And if you’re a worship musician, you’re like “c’mon.. really?” – And if you’re the worship leader, you’re simply doing the best with what you have to work with while secretly hoping Animal will walk through the sanctuary doors to play drums for you because your band seriously lacks charisma too.
In a situation like this, the most important thing to do is keep your focus on the Lord – for both your benefit and the congregation’s – you really should not portray anything but the unhindered worship of God.
Guitar and/or Piano, Bass, & Drums is typically your normal core ensemble; however, things can get tricky with contemporary worship when you’re missing one or more of these
Here’s some tips for various scenarios your worship band may be in
- Guitar and/or Piano, & Bass – If you’re missing a drummer, my biggest suggestion is to keep things rhythmically simple. This can be best conveyed through the bass playing straight quarter, half, and whole notes. The guitar/piano have a bit more freedom in rhythm, but because there isn’t any percussion, the bass has a new role in helping keep that pulse there.
- Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Bass – Definitely the most dreaded – the “rock band without a drummer.” As above, the bassist has the job of keeping that pulse there – quarters, halves, and whole notes are you palette. The acoustic guitar work doesn’t have to change that much – simplicity is gold. I might also suggest keeping your chord voicings to the standard open chords when possible – You’re using all six strings and keeping the texture full this way. The electric guitar should stay away from distortion as much as humanly possible. Depending on the harmonic rhythm (how often the chords are changing), you may be able to supply some higher atmospheric chords through the use of appropriate amounts of reverb, delay, and/or slow phaser. If you’re playing a hymn or anything that has very quick chord changes, do stay away from the reverbs & delays – Your best bet here is to play higher voicings of what the acoustic guitar is playing – otherwise, things will get real muddy real quick.
- Guitar, Piano, & Drums – While you have a bit more freedom rhythmically all around, the pianist may want to play lower on the piano than usual as to keep the sound full in the absence of a bassist. This is really not a bad ensemble situation to be in. Be sure to communicate well with each other – there’s a lot you can do dynamically here.
- Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Drums – I’d most likely suggest here that you keep the acoustic guitar to the full open chords – the acoustic is as much bass foundation as you’ll likely get here. The electric guitar should keep things relatively simple – higher voiced chords if clean; long swells & single notes with delay/reverb with a light creamy distortion work well too. For drums – if you’re playing a kit – simple is the theme of this post so let’s stick with that; however, if you have a djembe available, go with it & perhaps a shaker. These work incredibly well together and provide an organic & intimate feel to worship.
Of course, these are all simply suggestions & wisdom from my years of playing in praise & worship bands. The above are the most common scenarios I’ve run into – Be creative with whatever comes your way and make the best of it – It’s worship, after all.