10 Characteristics of a Worship Drummer

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This is a guest post from Ethan Kinnunen (YouTube | Instagram)

I have been playing the drums in church since I was 13 years old, and am glad to say I have no plans to stop anytime soon! Here are 10 things that are important to me about being a Worship Drummer that I have learnt along the way.

10 Characteristics of a Worship Drummer

Ethan K. - Worship Drummer

1. We know our parts, and how to execute them.

As drummers, we are given the responsibility of steering the service dynamically. As a key foundation of any team, we should know the parts to the songs we play back to front. There isn’t anything wrong with tweaking parts for the venue or service style – however it is always best to know the foundation of the song and know what makes it work and alter as necessary, rather than assume we know everything. No one wants to be that guy (or gal) who just shows up and “wings it”.

2. We choose our gear wisely, and we work with others to create our voice.

Here’s where it gets a little technical ☺

Your personal sound has so many factors, and gear is a major part of your musical voice. Get to know the venues you will be playing in and spend some time figuring out what gear will work well for your Production team to get a great sound. Larger and darker cymbals played skilfully are a better option than smaller brighter cymbals, and less is more. If you can only afford to spend say $500, a nice set of 16” crashes to use as hi hats and a nice 22” dark ride will have a much nicer sound to the ear and be more versatile than a full set of A Customs, and a small setup will teach you to find the intricate voicings in your gear to get a variety of sounds from less gear.

For snare drums, head choice can really help you get the sound you are looking for. I gravitate between the Remo Powerstroke 77, Controlled Sound or Emperor X. The Vintage A and Vintage Emperor, and the Evans ST and HD dry heads are also great for church. As there are so many great dampening options available today, like Moon Gel, Snare Weight, or even just some trusty old cloth and gaffer tape, you can muffle as necessary or let it breathe. I like to run my snare resonant head extremely tight and have my batter head medium. I like a good amount of body and crack from my snares.

When it comes to electronics – do it well. If you need to invest in a good snare drum and cymbals, do that first. Electronics are a great added extra but are rarely used for an entire service. I use the Roland SPD-SX drum pad, sometimes running a separate electric kick and snare (or bar trigger) for claps and percussion through the trigger channels. I would typically use the Drum Pads in Stereo (Using the master out on the Roland SPD-SX), and then run triggers using the Sub Output on the Roland SPD-SX, panning the Bass Trigger to the Left Side and the Snare Trigger to the Right Side. This gives whoever is on the production team control over the independent triggers. It is important to note that this requires an extra 4 channels and DI boxes from your production team so it’s best to find out from them if they have the capacity to run your pads and triggers before purchasing anything. Other great options include the Yamaha DTX12 and the Alesis Samplepads.

3. We value relationship, and make an active effort to build and maintain it.

As part of a larger body, the church, we need to have good relationship with the people that we are serving alongside, and the people we are serving and beyond. I have found that the better my relationship is with a musician, music director, worship leader, Pastor, or MC, monitors and front of house engineers, technical directors or even knowing who is in the congregation that day, has made me more of an effective musician and leader myself. Know how your team thinks. Know where your worship leaders want to take the service, have your eyes open and be attentive to the congregation. Make eye contact with people. Engage with one another. As you build relationship you will get to know things about people that will help you to serve one another in even greater ways. Trust plays a major part in services – make sure everyone believes in you to have their back! It always makes it easier to serve with grace when you trust those around you and are trusted in return.

4. We are teachable at heart, and consistent in nature.

“If you love learning, you love the discipline that goes with it—
how shortsighted to refuse correction!” – Proverbs 12:1 (MSG)

The Bible instructs us to keep a pure and teachable heart. And as leaders, we need to be a shining example of this. Always be open to feedback from others, and search it out. If people don’t give you feedback, ask for it. If you don’t feel like you receive enough feedback to learn from, start recording yourself when you play a service. A great way to learn is to critique yourself once you are removed from the situation by watching or listening back to what you did. You’ll be able to hear so many aspects of your playing and how you blend with the team that you can’t notice live. Be consistent in your approach to serving and seeking feedback. Consistency goes a long way in the Kingdom of God.

5. We practice moving in the Holy Spirit and bringing Heaven to Earth in our ministry.

We are leading people into the presence of God – therefore, it is our job to go there first. You can’t take your congregation to new heights with God if you haven’t been anywhere near Him. Make a conscious effort to seek out the Holy Spirit in your everyday life, and ask Him to help you to play with conviction and power – and to fill you with fire when you play. When you practice, practice speaking with the Holy Spirit through your playing. Prophesy with your hands and your feet. Learn the language of heaven. Spend time in your Bible and in Prayer. Don’t rely on simply knowing technique or parts, you need to couple that knowledge with your personal revelation of who God is and what He wants to do through you when you minister using your gift.

6. We know how to read our services, and are actively engaged in carrying them.

At my local church, our services start before the first note is played or sung, in the carpark. When people come in, we want them to feel welcomed home and loved. By the time the actual service starts, people have parked their cars, walked through the foyers, checked their children into the Kids program, gone to the bathroom, found a seat, and hopefully talked to a few people along the way. We start our services with around 20 minutes of worship and then go into an MC spot with prayer, announcements, and maybe some extra worship. Then after the message we will usually have a song for ministry time, a call to salvation, closing prayer, and a closing praise song. Throughout these moments, anything could change at a second’s notice – because anything could happen and it probably will! It’s your job to learn how to read moments in your church and know how to respond accordingly, to help steer the team in the right direction. In a spiritual sense as well, during the set, you need to learn to read your congregation and know when you need to pull back, and when you need to push forward in your playing. This is something that comes from the previous three points. As you develop your relationships, heart, and prophetic edge, you’ll be able to carry and create more beautiful moments of worship with your playing.

Ethan K. - Worship Drummer - head shot

7. We are committed to innovating and moving forward in our capacity as leaders and ministers.

We are called to be moving forward in our walks with God and in our ministry of the Gospel. It is important that we never grow complacent in what God has called us to do, and if He has put it in your heart to minister to people through music, it is your job to steward that gift as well as you possibly can (see the parable of the talents – you are accountable for what you are given). For some, innovation could mean learning a new groove or fill, for others, innovation could mean spending a week in the studio writing parts for an album. Try new setups and gear, listen to all kinds of music, and actively make an effort to improve yourself and the others around you. Remember, innovation doesn’t have to be a radical change, it can be as simple as learning one new thing each day.

8. We are always approachable and genuinely place value on those who take the time to reach out to us.

“walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.” – Ephesians 5:2 (AMP)

As you practice these things and begin to improve your gift, people around you will notice your diligence and commitment to your craft. But it is always important to remember that with great influence comes great responsibility. I have always made it a priority to have time for people who ask me for help or advice, and to be a player who is approachable on and off the platform. I have made some of my best friends simply by being an open book when they came up to ask me for advice after service or reached out to me online. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to build up those around you and help them to succeed. There is no room for gift-hoarders in the Kingdom of God. Recently, our Pastor Brian spoke about “giving our oil away” in one of our staff meetings. As someone who is anointed by God to minister, give your oil away. Pray for those who want to do what you do – lay hands on them and ask God to give them fire from heaven. Reach out to those who may not think they have much potential and help raise them up. Always have time to go for coffee or a meal with a young musician. Never allow yourself to become too busy to have time for others who could genuinely use your friendship, encouragement, and support.

9. We are humble and pure in heart.

“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous [those with moral courage and spiritual integrity]
And His ears are open to their cry.” – Psalm 34:15 (AMP)

It’s always a humble reminder that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world or to tell us how great He was and force us to worship Him. He lived a simple life, proclaimed the truth and promises of God, and allowed Himself to be humbled even though He had every right to exalt Himself as King. As servants of God, let’s never get caught up in the rostered positions we have, the platforms we minister on, the people we know or serve with, our presence on social media, the gear we use, or even the Church we are from. Whilst all of those are great things, and it’s an honour and privilege to be entrusted with influence – let’s keep the main thing the main thing. If we aren’t doing everything for Jesus, knowing it’s not in our own strength, there’s no point at all. Make it a point to commit your gift to God daily, and ask Him to give you humility from heaven and allow you to keep a pure and untainted heart.

Ethan K. - Worship Drummer 3

10. We carry the vision and heart of Jesus.

This is the most important point of all. As ministers, we are called to represent Jesus well. It’s our job to honour our Pastors, Leaders, and Congregations as we work together to lead and impact lives, and ultimately see souls won to Jesus and see people have encounters with Jesus. Never lose sight of the vision of your house, what you are graced to do, and the mandate on your leaders’ lives. Honour your leadership in word and in prayer, and ask that God will help you find your place in the vision. It’s a whole lot easier to serve week after week, year after year, without getting burnt out, if you believe in what you are doing Heart and Soul. Never stop asking God to fill you afresh, even when times get hard or you start wandering away from Him. It’s amazing how much grace and peace God has to give those who humble themselves before Him.

11. We raise those around us with sound teaching. [BONUS]

“You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers.” – 1 Timothy 4:6-10 (MSG)

I added this one in for good measure. I pray that this point resonates through this blog. What you do is not who you are, it’s all about leading others to Jesus. Take what you’ve learnt and share it with others! Don’t be afraid to be the person that others can look to. Don’t get caught up in religion. Keep Jesus the main thing, be passionate and love what you do, and always give your best to learn and grow and mature in your walk with God as you strive to become a better worshiper and player. Excellence honours God.


I pray that this blog blessed you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or simply want to talk about drumming in church. I’d love to hear from you.

Eth

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