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How to Lead Worship Without an Instrument

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Jamie Brown’s blog, Worthily Magnify. You can access the original article by clicking here. 

I’ve been leading worship for quite a few years now and have never led with an instrument on any of those occasions, so it really doesn’t have to be a hindrance to you. It also doesn’t have to hinder you if you are playing with a different band each time, even though there are benefits to having a regular band and being able to develop a repertoire together.


I will run an arrangement for a song with the band in rehearsal which I would call the ‘default arrangement.’ This would probably be something like Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Chorus. But the band understands that I may wish to deviate from that in response to the congregation and, of course, to what God is doing among us. That is easily done with hand signals and also just by speaking out, “Let’s sing that verse again,” and so on.


It’s important that you have a sight line to all the members of the band so they can see your signals (and also so that they can hear you clearly in their monitors, so always check if they can hear you in your soundcheck). The signals I use are a V-shape with my fingers, pointing downward, for verse; a C-shape for chorus; my hand held downward in a fist to signal the end of the song; a little mini C-shape to signal a turnaround where you might repeat a line (e.g., “Nothing compares to the promise I have, nothing compares to the promise I have in you”). I have one odd signal for the bridge or Middle 8, which is that I discreetly point to my belly button (it’s my “middle”), but I’m really not sure how that one came about so feel free to make up your own!

The important thing to develop in rehearsal is the band looking to you for a signal at the key moments when decisions need to be made (e.g., are we repeating this chorus?). So you need to be clear and decisive with your signals (e.g., give them, say, a line before the section is going to end) and they need to look up and see them. This is a good thing to practice in rehearsal so you can all get used to it.

Call it out

If they’re not looking at you, but you want to change from the default arrangement, then you just need to call it out clearly so both the congregation and the band know where you are going. I will often give spoken instructions as well as signal the band as I think it can be helpful for the congregation.