Priorities of a Praise Band

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Let’s say you’re starting a praise & worship band.  Maybe your church says, “Hey music guy…we want to start a contemporary worship service and we need a band.  Why don’t you start one?”  What’s your priority for recruiting musicians?  What’s the most important instruments to have?

I’ve also run into this situation where you’re playing a retreat and all of your band members can’t make it.  Fortunately, you’ve got a musician who can fill in on a variety of instruments if need be, but which one do you choose?

This situation happens all the time in music ministry, especially when your band members are volunteers.  Here’s my take on what you need from bare bones up to a full band.  It goes without saying that sometimes you run with what God presents to you.  There aren’t rules to this just in my opinion best practices.

  • You’ve got to have a lead vocalist.  Ideally that person plays piano or guitar.  If that’s the case, you have all that you need right there.  I’ve led many masses or just small group prayer services with just myself and a guitar.  It works and can be intimate.  Someone has to lead.  Hopefully your lead singer is the leader of the band and they play an instrument that helps direct the group too.
  • If you could only add one more instrument I’d say to go toward the rhythm section.  Percussion most likely.  Guitar & piano with bass is a little empty without drums or some sort of percussion.  In my experience it’s drums that can take your worship to another level.  Drummers seem to be the hardest to find too, especially good ones.
  • Bass Guitar.  You need bass.  If all you have is piano and drums, that’s ok.  At least the piano can reach down and hit those lower frequencies.  A good bass player lays down a solid foundation.
  • At this point, you have a lead vocalist and rhythm instrument in either guitar or piano, and a rhythm section.  If you don’t already have more than you need, get some additional vocalists.  Vocalists seem to be pretty easy to find, but harder to keep good ones that aren’t prima donnas.

Since we’re here, let me offer my take on vocalists.  The whole standing up front with a hand held mic really bothers me.  I know that the Passion Worship Band does it.  It still bothers me.  I can’t fully explain it, but I’d prefer most of the vocalists not be out at the foot of the stage with hand held mics.  I think it draws too much attention to them.  I prefer them mixed in with the band more and have mic stands.  How can they watch the band leader for ques if they’re in front of him anyway?  Another thing about vocalists is that they need to be good enough to sing harmony.  If you are adding 1-2 singers to your group and everybody is going to sing melody, that’s just not going to sound as good.  2-3 part harmony can be downright angelic.  My other problem I’ve noticed with singers is that they often don’t know when to back off or get out of the way.  It’s a maturity in a musician to know when they actually are contributing more by being patient and not coming in yet than by trying to compete for who can sing the melody louder in the mic.  I don’t mean to harp on singers, but I’ve just seen most of the personality issues that can take a band from prayer to distraction or ego-maniacs, in the vocal area.  On top of being good at harmony, I’d not recommend having a vocalist on their own mic unless they could potentially be able to lead a song.  There’s nothing wrong with having a few singers share a mic as more of a choir if they aren’t as strong.  There’s nothing more disturbing than having 2-3 singers all singing melody into their own mics.  Less is more when it comes to vocals.  Recruit your instruments.  The singers seem to abundantly crawl out of the woodwork!

  • But I digress…  If you don’t have an electric guitar player yet, now’s the time to get one.  They don’t need to be flashy, but they probably need to be able to play some lead riffs and create some effectual sounds.  Two guitars playing the same thing can get heavy or messy sounding.  It’s even worse if you have two acoustic guitars playing the same thing.  Around the campfire might be nice, but not in this situation.  I’m not really comfortable playing electric guitar without bass and drums.  It feels artificial.  This band member needs to know how to be very patient and back off.  When electric guitar roars in with drums 2/3 of the way into a song it can dramatically take your worship to the next level, but if they’re not patient and too distorted it gets old quick.
  • And now if your lead vocalist is on the piano, get an acoustic guitarist or vice versa.
  • Finally to end my praise band wishlist, if I was forming a band and I was playing guitar and leading vocals…I had bass, drums, 2-3 more vocalists that could share lead and sing harmony, an electric guitar, and a piano, well now I want another percussionist to do all the fun stuff like chimes and congas or cymbal splashes and cajon.  While I’m at it…throw in a full blown praise choir!

Good examples of amazing praise bands would be the Passion Worship Band, or Hillsong United.  These are groups that share the lead, have amazing talent on their instruments and beautifully lead worship rather than perform.  I love Michael W. Smith’s orange Worship album.  Now that’s a praise choir…take a listen.

Ok, I had to include one more and even though I’m not a fan of keyboards, it just doesn’t get much better than this…