Anyone attending a contemporary religious service will notice the prevalence of music to support the service. Sometimes the congregation will pray during the music, if it’s a slow melodic tune, or sing along with more upbeat, fast-paced music. Often the church will have two separate worship times to allow members the freedom to come to whichever service suits them best.
Once members of the congregation learn that you have a musical talent, however, they will quickly begin to ask you when you’re going to showcase it! Then you can fill in for the permanent drummer occasionally or even be added as a fixture to the worship band. Many young musicians will get their first experience playing in front of an “audience” in a house of worship. There are a few things to keep in mind, however, when learning to play drums for church that you might not need to worry about in other venues.
The timing of music in a parochial setting can vary greatly depending on what is going on for that particular sermon/lesson. Almost all churches, temples, synagogues, etc. have a bulletin or program that will give the order of worship times, prayers, and the lesson, or sermon. Sometimes, though, the pastor will need “filler” music depending on the type of service that is being conducted. Not every service will end exactly on time so you’ll need to be prepared to stay if you’re needed. Be flexible and have an idea ahead of time how you will handle the situation if you need to leave early.
Some churches have a time of invitation, inviting members to make their way to the altar for prayer and reflection. If this moment extends onward for a period of time, you’ll need to be ready. Pay special attention to the music leader/pianist for repeats, codas, or whatever else they might throw your way. Always be prepared!
Due to the acoustics of your place of worship, you may need to drastically reduce the dynamics of the music. You will naturally use brushes, mallets, and other muting techniques than you would use while playing for, say, the crowd at a dive bar. Also, the drummer and the band as a whole are secondary to the pastor or speaker, so if they’re talking with the music in the “background” you’ll need to make sure you don’t stick out over him or her.
While you may be used to wailing on the kick drum on your usual drum kit, a house of worship is not always the place for it. Sure, there are times when playing for the youth group or during a special event when the mood calls for something a little more up tempo, but generally you’ll be using fewer of the heavy sounds.
Also, a church setting is one where you might be called on to play different percussion instruments than those you are used to. Once, I was called on to play the Shofar, or ram’s horn, signifying the triumphant return of Christ. Other special occasions, like Christmas or Easter, might have you supporting the church choir with bells, tambourines, maracas… and any other instrumentation the music leader dreams up! If you’re not sure about the techniques behind some of these instruments, you might want to brush up a bit using method books for that instrument or information from the internet.
You will want to focus on your appearance and demeanor more during a religious service than many other venues. Consider the typical dress of the congregation before deciding what to wear. The occasion might call for a three-piece suit, business casual, or jeans-wear, depending on what type of service you are playing for. Special events, like praise services, weddings, lock-ins, etc. will have different musical requirements as well as different decorum. Conduct yourself with utmost professionalism while you are up on the stage and show respect for the people and religion for which you are playing. You might not agree with what’s being said or done, but don’t let it show! Remember, you are on stage and even though you might not be the center of the show at the time, you are very much still in the spotlight. Some praise bands move out to the congregation when the music service is over.
You should be familiar with the procedures of the church that are music and non-music related; make every effort to attend rehearsals before service, often scheduled during the week before the service. This way, you’ll be ready with all the information necessary as you’re learning to play the drums for church.
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