I recently had the pleasure of playing drums for a guest worship leader at our church. Luckily, I’ve backed Jonathan Manafo a few times in years past but nonetheless, it had been a while.
With the exception of some familiar worship songs, I had to learn some new songs off his new CD that we was planning to introduce to our church.
I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips on adapting and adjusting your playing when backing a worship leader for the first time.
5 Things To Consider When Playing Drums For A Guest Worship Leader
1. Learn All The Music
As with every worship set, it’s important to know the music. Being familiar with it is simply not good enough. On top of the usual repertoire of songs we have, we were playing some original tunes so I made sure to listen to the music ahead of time and learn it “as recorded”.
Since some of the songs were originals that Jonathan wrote, it was important for me to learn the drum parts exactly as recorded. In case that is not clear enough for you, it means that you don’t throw your own interpretation of the song out there – even if you think it’s way better. This important step of learning the song “as recorded” gives confidence to the visiting worship leader and assures him that you have studied his music and he can rely on you to play it like he needs it to be played.
2. Ask Questions
After listening to the music and learning the songs, you might still have questions, so ask them. Do your best to ask them as early as possible before you even start your rehearsal. This will save time in the long run and you’ll feel more comfortable when you actually run through them altogether.
3. Listen For Vocal Cues
In the modern day church – which most of us find ourselves a part of – it is quite common for a worship leader to lead from an instrument, be it on acoustic or keys. Within that scenario, it will be very difficult for a guest worship leader to give any type of hand signal (assuming ya’ll still use them 😉 ) when heading to the chorus or jumping to a key change.
What becomes crucial in this case is to listen for vocal cues and vocal intensity.
- Vocal Cues – (my definition) are usually lyrics to the next line or section of a song. They can be sung or spoken as one leads.
- Vocal Intensity – If you come to the end of the chorus and the worship leader’s vocal intensity is high, chances are, the song is not heading towards verse 2 but maybe a repeat of the chorus, a screaming guitar solo or to the bridge.
4. Look At Their Body Language
This is similar to listening for vocal cues. Let’s use the popular song, Mighty to Save. As the song is picking up and you are reaching the rocking bridge “Shine Your light and let the people see…” more than likely, a worship leader’s body language will show more intensity than during the smooth electric guitar intro.
Watch for body language and movement and you will have a good idea where the song is heading.
5. Simplify Your Playing
You might be ready to show off your talents and hope that this guest worship leader you have will ask you to go on the road with him, but I can guarantee you something: He won’t ask a “busy” drummer to join him – no pun intended :).
Your goal is to keep things together and be a solid backbone for the band and for the worship leader. On top of that, if you have trouble playing to a click or metronome, adding that new fancy lick you learned from Usher’s drummer on Saturday night won’t do you any good in the time-keeping department. You are more likely to frustrate the worship leader and the rest of the band if you do.
When was the last time you played for a guest worship leader? How can these 5 things apply to our weekly Sunday service?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!