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3 Ways to REALLY Improve Your Musicianship

This article originally appeared here.

The night was seamless. On the stage were four of Nashville’s most respected songwriters, and an acoustic house band made up of musicians in their 20s or 30s. They were doing an intimate concert for television. From the first note played it was clear—all musicians on the stage were fantastic in their own right. It was also clear that not one audible mistake was going to occur over the course of 15-20 songs. Here’s the kicker—the house band just received the charts and songs at midnight the night before. How did they do it? For one thing, they had to nail the music. There were no second chances. Mistakes were not an option.

Sure, they brought some gifting and skills to the table that put them on that stage in the first place. Professionals? Yes. Gifted from birth? To some degree. Musical perfectionists? To a person. Yet the music was magical, musical, fluid and playful.

Training Ourselves to Make No Mistakes

Musicians who make no mistakes are trained to make no mistakes. More specifically, in my experience, they are self-trained to not make public musical mistakes.

The brilliance of musicianship I saw on that stage was, in some cases, from years of self-teaching and mimicking other musicians (now we have YouTube). For others, that brilliance walked into Berkeley and came out more refined.

But after watching pro musicians do their thing for decades, I believe they have some hidden belief that doesn’t allow for mistakes to be made—at least not publicly. For a solid musician, a mistake is what happens when you’re alone. In public, you just don’t make them. You train yourself not to.

Professional musicians won’t get work if they are sloppy and have a low bar for their performance. They put in their Gladwellian 10,000 hours, and when they show up, they are ready to play to the standard needed.

What sets these musicians apart from me, you or many who play in our local worship teams? After 25 years of making music, I think a few factors are at play: valuing musical perfection, natural gifting, consistent personal practice, repetition of trouble spots and more.

But the first factor above is what I’d like to hit for we who serve as worship musicians in our local churches.

They value musical perfection.

A Parentheses: The Baloney of “Performance in Worship Is Bad”

Before we look at our three ways, let me say this. I hear the rumblings everywhere. “But worship music is different. We’re there to enjoy it, to get lost in God, to really go for it. Too much focus on excellence or performance is a bad thing—we’ll miss the real point of worship.”

My short answer, spoken in love: Baloney.

You can be a solid musician, internally require tightness in your playing and enter deeply into worship. In fact, others will enter more readily into worship the more solid your musicianship is. In fact, other musicians will raise their personal bar when playing with you the more you demand of yourself musically. The tide can rise, both in heart and skill, if we tend to the details.

Good music facilitates worship. Bad music distracts and hinders worship. Full stop.

Three Ways to Move From Sloppy to Solid in Your Musicianship

Here are three quick ideas to help you move from sloppy (or low level) playing to solid playing—and to keep your habits of good musicianship growing over time.

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Dan Wilt, M.Min. is an artist, author, musician, educator, songwriter, communicator, and spiritual life writer. With 20+ years in the Vineyard family of churches, he serves in various ways to further a “New Creation” centered vision of the Christian life through media.