Playing guitar on a worship team for Sunday services has come a long way in the last 20 years. Guys like Lincoln Brewster, Steve Fee, and Hillsong’s, Nigel Hendroff, have paved the way for the future of worship music! I remember reading articles years ago about how the worship movement would eventually fizzle out and go away; but, as I thought back then, and still believe today, the Worship genre is here to stay. It’s the heart of the Heavenly Father, and I believe that it is imperative as guitarists to continue to grow as players.
After years of playing music in a worship band and on the road, there are five crucial points that I have learned, and I hope they help you grow your capacity in playing music as well!
1. BE ANOINTED, NOT JUST TALENTED.
As a former Head Coach of multiple sports, on both the High School and Collegiate level, a saying that I would use frequently was “I’d rather have hustle and hard work over talent when talent doesn’t want to work hard.” I think of that saying frequently and believe it is relevant in many avenues of life. Regarding Worship music, let me spin it another way for you: Desire people saying you are an anointed guitar player instead of only saying you’re a talented one! The world has plenty of talented guitar players, but we need more anointed ones! Can I compel you to seek the Lord to anoint you in your playing? Seek this over a new guitar that will put your sound over the top or getting the newest pedal that just released. Seek God’s face and learn to Worship Him in Spirit and in truth! THIS, becomes the basis of a guitar player,” When it’s not about you playing lead guitar on a stage or platform, but that your heart is in the right place as you take the platform.”Don’t just be talented, but desire that God anoints you to play that guitar and finds pleasure in you doing it. Let it be that when people hear you play, see you play, or encounter you by the stage, they sense a genuine heart to worship the Heavenly Father. Let them say, “That person is anointed to do this!” It should be the ultimate compliment to you as a guitar player. If you’d rather hear comments about your tone, gear, or vibe, might I suggest checking your heart?
One last thought on this: ask yourself how much time you have spent in the presence of the King of Kings as you have prepared for the service or event you are about to play for. Worship is birthed out of wonder for something incredible. Wonder leads to adoration which also comes back to worship! If you are not spending quality time in the presence of Jesus, then you do not have a sense of wonder and adoration for the one we are worshipping.If you don’t have that adoration to unashamedly and wholeheartedly worship Jesus, it will be hard for you to lead others in doing that same thing. Make no mistake about it, just because you are not the “Worship Leader,” does not mean you are not a lead worshipper.
2. TUNE AND TONE!
I put this high on the list because it shocks me how many great guitar players don’t tune their guitars. Let’s think about this – in the world of worship right now, Bigsby’s, most commonly, but other vibrato systems are almost guaranteed to be seen on stage during a Sunday service. When you wrench on that Bigsby bar, you just pulled your strings out of tune. This means you need to tune again the first chance you get. For some reason, this doesn’t resonate as quickly as it should with some players. Don’t allow something like the simple task of making sure your guitar is in tune keep you from an opportunity to be involved more frequently on your Church’s Worship team. Even if you have locking tuners (which, may I politely suggest that if you use a vibrato system, check into locking tuners), still tune every chance you get during a set.
Tone, I firmly believe, starts in your fingers. The amp, guitar, and pedal configurations are all part of it, but the style with which a person plays sets them apart. Think of it like fingerprints. No two persons have matching sets and we are all born with them. The same thing goes with the way we all play the guitar. We have a style and sound that is distinctly ours, and with practice we can refine that skill and style. Without proper practice, the skill is wasted. Although it starts in our fingers, it is also very important to understand that there are other very important parts to tone.
3. INVEST IN QUALITY GEAR.
Quality gear begins with the guitar. Many players can get caught up in the mindset that the more guitars they have, the better off they are. I remember when we were signed and traveling around, I thought a guitar stand full of guitars would elevate my status as a player. Silly! That guitar stand full of $300 guitars didn’t help me nearly as much as one $1,000 guitar that fit my playing style and picking/strumming style would. Now please, don’t get me wrong, there are many solid low-cost Fenders that rival the American lines, but you must find them. In the end, you essentially will get what you pay for. Take the time to save your money and get a nice guitar that plays amazing and will respond well to the way you’re choosing to run your pedals/amp combination. If you are in a position where you just can’t afford a $1,000+ guitar, research how to make what you have better! The amp you choose to use is extremely vital. A good old-fashioned tube amp cranked up hot to the point of breakup, is the perfect platform for pedals. But what amp you choose to run and how you run the settings in that amp, are going to be key. Work hard to find the sweet spot of the amp. Where does the amp really sit nicely in a room and a mix? Keep in mind, amps will respond differently to different rooms and different guitars as well. If you have been using a semi-hollow, humbucker loaded guitar and you switch to a solid, strung-thru body guitar with single coil or soap bar style pickups, you will need to reconfigure your amp settings. Here at James River Church, we are incredibly blessed to have nice amps in an amp room off the stage. It is vital to arrive early enough to set the amp before we start sound check. A great way to do this is run straight into the amp from your guitar. No pedals, no dirt or fuzz, or wet effects – just the guitar and the clean setting of your amp – that’s your root tone. If it’s not solid, the rest of your tone has no support to stand on. Very similar to the fool who built his house on the sand. You want to build your tone on a solid foundation which starts by allowing enough time to properly set your root tone.
If your Church doesn’t have, what we call “house amps,” here is a good list of solid amps that will not break your piggy bank to purchase:
- Vox AC15
- Matchless SC Mini
- Fender Supersonic
These are all great amps to get you started, but I encourage you to research what you’re looking for and what fits your playing style. Think about what is going to fit in your Church setting. Just remember, the gear itself does not make you automatically a better player. You must combine knowledge, skill, and practice with your gear to continue to grow and improve as a player.
4. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because its self-explanatory, but I will say this. Don’t just “play,” and call it practice. It is important to have a plan when you sit down to play your guitar and get better where you are weak as a guitarist. Learn the hard parts of songs first so you have time to perfect them during the rest of the week, have other guitarists work with you, and watch YouTube videos. Follow your favorite guitarists on social media, read the blogs they post, and be influenced by Godly people who are doing what you do! However, always remember, you are you, and you are not them. This is what makes you special!