Should You Mix Orchestral Instruments and Modern Worship?

I recently received this email:

Do you think brass and woodwinds can effectively be used in a modern worship setting? I sometimes feel there is a big disconnect in what the style should sound like because of the brass.

Because of the complexities of today’s contemporary worship, the answer isn’t an easy “yes” or “no” but rather, “it depends.”

No, brass and woodwinds are not heard in modern worship, or modern pop music for that matter (strings are another story — a good pop string arrangement can fit almost any modern worship song). I can remember 10 years ago when the local Willow Creek clone was paying a full brass section every week (can you imagine managing the charts for that!). I was joking with a friend that he should expect brass in worship again since you hear it in Justin Timberlake’s current hit (if the brass trend picks up, it’ll probably take a year to trickle down to the Church).

If your church wants a pure pop sound true to the style of the original recording, and you’re production driven, don’t use brass or woodwinds. A jazzy brass lick doesn’t really fit into a Hillsong United guitar driven worship tune, does it?

Some churches are more interested in seeing people of various instrumental talents participate than they are with the resulting sound. However, understand that the typical modern ear of the average person in your congregation will, unfortunately for orchestra players, be more tuned to electric guitars and drums.

There’s a church in town that has quite a nice, folksy praise set with fairly contemporary songs utilizing just piano, acoustic guitar, flute, cello, violin and a few other instruments here and there. I like most styles of music and enjoyed the service. I asked a friend of mine if he had ever considered attending this church. He, being that typical congregation demographic, replied “I liked the preaching, but the worship just didn’t do it for me. They had flutes and stuff.” This surprised me — my friend was brought up conservatively and even he wanted to hear some guitar riffs.

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Don Chapman
Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.