Church Drumming, Dos and Don’ts
Most of us will play at a church at some point. Regardless of your beliefs, you will either find yourself serving on a worship team regularly, filling in for a friend at their home church, or hired as a guest musician. Personally, I grew up playing in church. It was one of the first opportunities I had to play with a group of musicians and learn how to serve the music. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of being hired at 15 different contemporary Christian churches in the greater Sacramento area. These churches have had differing musical styles and needs, but if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that worship drumming always comes down to the same core concept:
In a worship setting, the congregation is NOT there to see you play drums. They are there to have a personal religious experience, not be distracted by flashy playing on any instrument. To facilitate the needs of the congregation, I’ve found it’s best to always start with learning the songs as they were recorded, unless instructed otherwise. The drum parts in the recordings were written with intention to serve the song.
Charting Out the Songs
- I usually chart out most songs that I am unfamiliar with if I am filling in on short notice.
- Listening to the song once through and then listening a second time with a pencil and paper is always helpful for me.
- I always make sure to have the song’s BPM, time signature, and who is starting the song written at the top of the page.
These are general guidelines to short hand charting and work well for me, but you may have a different method that works best for you. I always tell my students that it doesn’t matter if anyone else can read your charts, just that it helps you remember the structure of the song and important changes. Most importantly, know the songs inside and out. Of course you can add in your own vocabulary and personality, but sticking to the meat and potatoes of the part is crucial to worship music. For example, in my experience, the bass drum pattern should stay somewhat consistent throughout songs. Inconsistency in the bass drum will not only distract the audience during worship, but it also risks throwing off members of the worship team.
Be Flexible and Open Minded
Sometimes a worship leader will ask you to change the structure or groove of a song on the fly, so you have to keep an open mind and be flexible. Like most non-drummer musicians, many worship leaders do not “speak drum”. Some might not even know what all the drums are called or understand the anatomy of a kit. You have to be patient. When a worship leader asks you to change a drum part, their communication might be less than ideal, and it’s easy to misinterpret them. It’s important to not take any suggestions or advice from the worship leader or other musicians personally. They are solely trying to make the song more accessible.
Be Punctual and Prepared
Of course, like any other gig, it is extremely important to be punctual. If the rehearsal starts at 7:30, be there at 7:20 to ensure that you have enough time for set up and tuning. From my experience, house kits are always a curveball, so prepare for the worst. There have been countless times when I have shown up to a rehearsal with a kit that is very out of tune and/or neglected. I always bring some sort of dampening tool (Vater Buzz Kills, gaff tape, etc.), cymbals, snare, bass drum pedal and throne. I often don’t need to use all of this equipment, but when the kit is in poor condition, it’s worth bringing in the load. Bringing some of your own gear also makes it an easier transition to playing on an unfamiliar kit.
Worship drumming comes with its own unique challenges and benefits that can be an invaluable experience for any drummer. For me, it shaped my playing at a young age, teaching me quickly how to play for the song. I would recommend serving at least once on a worship team to any drummer looking to grow as a player and help out a church.