Over many years of playing drums in various churches, I’ve come across many different drummers, varying from beginners to seasoned players. And yet I’m shocked at how many of them have totally missed the boat on what we’re trying to accomplish! So I’ve come up with 5 things that every drummer, from start to finish, should be aware of.
What role do drums play in worship?
I’ve always thought of music to be made up of many different parts; much like the human body. Lead guitars would be the hair (they make everything look/sound good), bass would be the legs (they’re able to move you to new places), keys would be the arms (they can add expression), vocals would be the face (personality), and drums would most definitely be the backbone (they hold everything together).
Once the drums are nailed down, then all the other instruments and feelings of the song can be added. This is why it is extremely important to have a solid foundation on which each song can build. Worship teams are not looking for an amazingly skilled drummer to be flashy and showboat-y, but rather someone who can be relied on to provide some firm ground so the Holy Spirit can move in your service without people being distracted by the ‘drummer-at-the-wrong-gig’.
Some of the greatest and most popular songs made have the most simple drum parts in them. Even the easiest beats can be so powerful when played properly and with dynamics (we’ll cover that later). For me, I find it easiest to worship when I’m not distracted by an awesome fill or sick rhythm. Everything has its time and place.
So whether you’re just starting out on drums, or you’ve been playing for a while, make sure to step back and focus on what we’re trying to accomplish as a worship team: to bring glory to God and to lead others in doing the same. Not to say God doesn’t love it when we play skillfully unto Him (Psalm 33:3), but there is a fine line between playing for Him and trying to steal the spotlight from Him. So go, and lay the foundation for worship!
How to follow your worship leader.
It is vitally important to the success of a worship team to have good communication. I’m talking about the kind of communication that happens without speaking. A good worship team will be able to flow an entire night by strictly using body language. My favorite times to play at our church is on our prayer nights. No real agenda. A few rough songs, but the rest is following wherever the Spirit leads
This brings me to my next point: you have to be alert enough while playing that you pick up on whatever the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to the team. So whether you’re wailing on the kit or shredding a guitar solo, keep your head up and always be sensitive to the Spirit.
I love it when our church brings in a ‘Guest Worship Leader’, because it gives me a chance to put myself to the test and try and figure out someone new just by watching them and learning how they operate. Are they leading from guitar, keys, any other instrument, or without an instrument? Are they outgoing or laid back? Do they move a lot when they play or sing? What do they look like when they build? What do they look like when they want to bring the song down or end a song? All these things are things we as drummers (or any other musician) need to be in tune to when we are following someone.
Know your gear. Learn it. And be a nerd about it!
I often run across drummers that have drums that are falling apart, need new heads, have cracked cymbals, haven’t been tuned since the Jurassic age, you name it. I understand people have budgets and lives, but taking care of your gear is vitally important to the success of your worship team. Guitars get tuned every single time they get played, and drums should be the same. Take care of your drums and your drums will take care of you.
Gear is my number 1 fave thing to talk about. I guess I’m a nerd like that. I’m asked constantly what gear I use to get my drums to sound a certain way. My answer is: I spend time on it. Yes, I have put a lot of money into my kits, but there are many ways to get a great sounding kit on a budget.
I’ve always been a huge fan of buying used and saving the difference (or putting the difference towards cymbals). You can find a stellar kit on Craigslist for a couple hundred dollars. It doesn’t even have to be name brand. I find the number one biggest thing that effects sound is which drum head you choose. Yes, some nice custom shells will help your sound, but quality heads will get you pretty close. As long as your drums are structurally sound and not warped, a good set of heads will make em sing. Remo heads have always been my go to heads for toms and snare.
Cymbals will most likely and should be the most expensive part of your kit. With cymbals lately I’ve been leaning toward BIG and THIN. Thin cymbals decay much faster and don’t leave any lingering tones. Again, buy used and put the difference toward…more cymbals, of course!
Be ready. Be diligent.
When learning a new song or playing a song you haven’t played in a while, nothing is more frustrating the when someone says, “HOW does this song go????”. Or when you all fumble through a song and then have to do a worship set immediately after. It makes it super hard for your worship leader to focus on an intimate time of worship when they have to be concerned about the band sounding terrible.
So when you get your email or text of your week’s set list, listen to the songs. Then listen to them again. If you can’t figure out how to play a part, see if someone has done a cover on Youtube. Nothing gives your worship leader more confidence then knowing their team has invested time in preparation.
Embrace the click
Yes I said it. Click. The mere thought of playing with a metronome makes some drummers weak in the knees. But I have learned to love it. And I’ll give you my reasons why.
1. Consistency. I have a ‘Notes” page in my phone with every song we play, with the BPM next to it. So every time we play the song, it’s the same tempo
2. Metronomes open so many doors. When you’re playing to a click, you can add a backtrack you’ve made to give your band a fuller sound. So many worship bands are releasing backtracks to their songs, so you can play them in your church. These tracks have an integrated click track! So it’s a must!
3. It’s brainless. I’m not saying drummers aren’t smart, I’m just saying when your worship leader gives you the ‘Count in the next song’ nod, you don’t have to think ‘Now how fast was it?’
4. It makes you a better drummer. Some people say it’s ‘cheating’ or see it as ‘using a crutch’, but this is a fact: the metronome never lies. When you come out of a fill too fast or slow, your buddy Click is there to let you know. I never knew I had issues keeping time until I started playing to a click. Then it becomes apparent.
When I first started using a metronome in church, it was a train wreck. Most of the time I ended up getting frustrated and turning it off. It was a learning experience for our whole worship team, but now it’s the norm, and it has taken our worship team to the next level.
Thanks for reading. Now go practice.