The Musician’s Guide to Playing Spontaneous Worship

The Musician’s Guide to Playing Spontaneous Worship

Worship ministry is mostly about getting out of our own way. If we can minimize distraction, be more authentic, build trust and love Jesus, we’ll create an environment where people participate rather than spectate. 

A skill set so desperately needed is leading spontaneous moments.

But let’s set the record straight. By spontaneous I don’t mean unplanned, unprepared, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants worship. For spontaneity to work well, you need a plan for it.

I remember the first time I tried to sing a spontaneous song in a service. I’m fairly certain that angels fled at the sound. Even Jesus turned to Gabriel and was like, “What was that?!?” I spent a grand total of zero minutes preparing for that moment. And it was obvious.

Effective spontaneous leadership isn’t actually spontaneous at all. It’s the result of hard work, practice and planning.

But let’s not worship spontaneity. If you have a problem with the hard work and discipline of arranged songs, something is wrong. There’s a time and place in corporate worship for the three- to four-minute song. Not every song needs to be long, repetitive and drawn out.

Matter of fact, it can be very self-indulgent to do so.

Story Based Worship Planning

Rather, think of your worship set as a story.

A good story has brief scenes and extended scenes, quick camera shots and longer, static ones. It could be said that an effective worship set utilizes multiple approaches. There’s a time to shout & dance for three minutes. And there’s a time to linger for 13. Or, depending on the moment, vice versa.

Effectiveness begins when a musician is ready for both. You know the setlist in advance. You’ve rehearsed your specific parts. You’ve dialed in your tone. You could play the set with your eyes closed. This helps you as a musician rise above the songs and actually worship, sing, prophesy and see throughout the set. You don’t have to be as concerned with the shape of a Dm chord because you’re focused on moving the heart of God.

Learning to be a disciplined musician prepares you for the unplanned. It makes a plan deviation more familiar, comfortable and effective.

Spontaneous worship is important because corporate worship is an encounter with a living God. The Holy Spirit is alive. Yes, He breathes upon our songs, plans, arrangements, staff meetings and details. But we also need to create an environment where our worship sets don’t just operate on auto-pilot.

We’re not just singing about a distant God in Heaven. We’re encountering the Presence of an imminent, glorious, ever-present Savior.

Our eyes are fixed. Our ears are open. Our hearts are ready. For Heaven on earth.

5 Ways Musicians Can Improve Their Spontaneous Worship Skills

Let’s break it down more in practical and spiritual ways. Here are five ways you can improve spontaneous worship moments:

1. Be Aware – There’s nothing worse than a worship musician unaware of what’s going on. Yet it happens more often than not. Musicians doodle, are disengaged and only care about the instrument in front of them. It’s time to be aware of the moment. Know when to play soft, when to be intense. If a pastor is praying, support the vibe with your playing. Serve the moment.

2. Know Your Moment – A lot of worship teams sound like all the musicians are trying to “one up” each other. Rather than sounding like a band, it sounds like a bunch of soloists playing at the same time. Know when to support and when to lead. There may be a time for a guitar solo or more intense tribal drumming. But not all the time. It loses its effectiveness. Know when it’s your time to step out and when you should support. When in doubt, support.

3. Become a Student of Chord Voicings – Just because you know how to impress girls with barre chords doesn’t mean they work. Trust me, there’s more. Develop the skill of knowing multiple voicings for each chord, up and down your instrument. I’m not just talking to guitar players. Everyone can do this. This takes specific practice and dedication. But it offers more color to your sound palate for long, extended moments of worship.

4. Befriend the Holy Spirit – I know, this sounds a little spooky. I’m not saying your instrument needs to speak in tongues. But how can you expect to facilitate Spirit-led worship if you don’t know how the Spirit moves? Do you know His voice? Do you have experience obeying Him? This is important not just for out front vocalists. Imagine if every musician wielded their instrument this way. Imagine if every sound on stage was a response to the never-ending song of the Spirit. What would change?

5. Expand Your Sound – It’s one thing to know how to play your instrument. It’s another to become a student of textures. What can your instrument do? Don’t just know how to play the piano. Expand yourself into the world of software and how to create different textures. Guitars & bass, try some new pedals. Vocalists, vary your vocal tone. Become a musician of many styles. Never stop learning, never stop developing.

Let’s talk about this. How have you improved leading spontaneous worship?

How have you prepared your team for it?

This article originally appeared here.

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David Santistevan
David is a Worship Pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, PA.

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