Church worship teams are great for allowing you to both serve your community and regularly play drums in front of people.
While drums were seen as taboo a few decades ago, a good drummer has become essential in most church worship settings.
Playing drums in church is quite different from playing drums at an event, though. There are a few different aspects to think about. And, in my experience, there are many things you can do to detract from the purpose of the music.
So, here are some of my top tips for drumming in church.
- Tips for Drumming in Church
- Become a Good Drummer
- Learn Songs Very Well
- Focus on Learning Common Worship Drum Parts
- Have Good Dynamic Control
- Serve the Music
- Be Adaptable
- Be Easy to Work With
- Understand the Differences Between CCM and Gospel Music
- Use Appropriate Cymbals
- Be Prepared to Play with a Click Track and Backing Tracks
- Understand the Lyrics
Tips for Drumming in Church
Become a Good Drummer
The first thing you should make sure of before joining a worship band is that you’re at a decent level of playing.
When you play drums in church, you’re essentially playing a mini gig in front of a crowd every week. If you don’t have the skills to keep up with a band, your mistakes will stick out, and the band may even stop midway through a song if your drumming is completely off.
Thankfully, learning to play drums in church is a bit easier than learning to play something like jazz. It shouldn’t take too long to learn, but just make sure you’re proficient before joining the team!
Learn Songs Very Well
My next tip is to learn songs well. You don’t need to be able to play every drum part note-for-note. You should just know exactly when and where verses and choruses are and what they sound like.
The better you know all the songs, the more you can focus on your drumming and how to play the best parts possible with the rest of the band.
If you don’t know the songs, you’re more likely to get lost when the band is playing. Worship leaders also love to jump to random song sections within a service, so being confident with the song knowledge will help you follow their lead.
Focus on Learning Common Worship Drum Parts
One of the great things about Christian Contemporary Music is that the drummers for all the big bands tend to play similar drum parts.
Once you learn a few classic church worship drum parts, you should be able to play hundreds of songs with those.
A lot of church drumming includes playing four on the floor, and you get plenty of dynamic builds around the toms.
You can easily build onto those drum parts to play more creative patterns once you know how to play them very well.
Have Good Dynamic Control
Sensitivity is one of the biggest aspects of being a church musician. As a member of the church worship team, your goal is to create an environment for the congregation to press into wherever the song is going.
That sometimes means that you need to play really softly on the drums to create a contemplative atmosphere.
It also means that you need to play big and loud notes when a song hits its climactic peak. Worship songs usually drop to really low volumes after those peaks, so you also need to have great control when switching between the two dynamic extremes.
Serve the Music
As a musician, you should always look to serve the music with what you play. Your drum parts should enhance the songs and never detract from them.
However, this is a lot more important to think about when drumming in church.
In a typical rock gig, it’s okay to play drum parts that draw attention to you. It’s a show, and you want to give the crowd a great experience.
When playing in church, you should never draw attention to yourself, as it will distract the congregation from pressing in with the worship.
I mentioned earlier how worship leaders love to jump to different song parts. It goes a lot deeper than that, though.
Music can often be quite fluid when playing in a worship band. The worship leader might signal the band to play the same bridge ten times. They may also start improvising with lyrics, and the band will have to follow his lead.
To be a good worship drummer, you need to be able to be adaptable and make good musical decisions in those moments of spontaneity.
Be Easy to Work With
You get various kinds of worship team environments. Some are full of paid musicians that need to stay professional, while others only have volunteers that barely play music anywhere else.
No matter what church setting you’re in, you should always be easy to work with. This comes with being adaptable, but you should also be a fun person to be around.
Playing in a worship team often leads to strong friendships, and being easy to work with at rehearsals is a good way to start that process.
Understand the Differences Between CCM and Gospel Music
When thinking about church music, there are two main styles of music that you’ll hear. They’re called Christian Contemporary Music and Gospel.
CCM is played by bands like Elevation Worship, Hillsong, and Planetshakers. Most CCM music is quite musically simple, with the songs only involving a few chords and the drum parts being easy to play.
Gospel is played by artists like Israel Houghton and Kirk Franklin, and the music is a lot more complicated. If your church plays Gospel music, you need to have much better drumming skills than you’d need to CCM music!
Use Appropriate Cymbals
This tip ties in with using appropriate dynamics, as the types of cymbals you use in a worship drum set can make a big difference in a church venue.
Brighter cymbals are a lot louder, and they tend to cut through mixes of instruments with plenty of aggression. When playing in a small house of worship, those cymbals will sound too overpowering.
The general rule for CCM worship bands is that the drummers use larger and darker cymbals. They have washy tones and low-pitched sounds so that they blend in with the music instead of cutting through it.
You can happily use bright cymbals for Gospel music, though, as that style is a lot louder and filled with more energy on stage.
Be Prepared to Play with a Click Track and Backing Tracks
A lot of modern church worship teams have very high-tech rigs where they run backing tracks when they play. The backing tracks provide sounds that can’t be played by the musicians, and they’re accompanied by click tracks to keep everyone in time.
This means that you need to be comfortable playing drums with a click track, which is something that I know many drummers struggle with.
This kind of setup will also have a music director that speaks into a mic that only the band members can hear. The MD will control everything, and they will be watching the worship leader the whole time to see what to do next.
Understand the Lyrics
My final tip is to learn the words of all the songs you play and understand what those lyrics mean. Having a better understanding will help you serve the song, as you’ll know what message is trying to be conveyed by the music.
A lot of the best drummers in the world started playing in church when they were young. When you play in front of a crowd weekly, your drumming skills naturally get better.
Remember to be adaptable, serve the music, and really enjoy being part of a worship team. It’s an incredible experience!