07 Mar Ten Tips to Be an Amazing Worship Guitar Player
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. –Psalm 33:3
1. Be a Worshipper
Playing at church is not a performance. You have the amazing honor and responsibility of leading your congregation in worship. This fact should drastically affect what you play, as well as how you play it. Do your part to help create an environment where people can worship Jesus. This includes your body language, movements, and attitude. SIDE NOTE: It’s much easier to do this well when you have done #6 and have prepared properly.
The most meaningful compliment I receive is when someone hears a recording and says, “I bet that’s Chris Davis playing guitar.” I have received this compliment several times and I always feel accomplished when I hear it. It means I play like me, and not someone else. Don’t try to be someone else. The world already has a Lincoln Brewster, we need your contribution. There are probably a handful of guitarists that have really influenced your playing. Take the pieces of what they do best, add your own flavor, and develop your own sound. Some of my influencers include Eric Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Lincoln Brewster, The Edge, Johnny Buckland, and John Mayer. My goal is not to sound just like them, but to incorporate some of my favorite aspects of their playing and/or tone into my sound.
3. Be Teachable
If you know it all, it is impossible learn anything new. Always be looking for opportunities to learn from others. Surround yourself with good musicians and invite feedback. I’ll say it again, INVITE FEEDBACK. Ask people you trust (and maybe even some you don’t) what you could do better. Don’t just ask guitarists. Ask other musicians (particularly bass and keyboard players) for their opinion of your playing and/or tone. You might be surprised what you hear. Don’t be defensive when they give feedback. Listen carefully, think through what they say, and work on the things you feel are important. I try to do this as often as I can.
Great guitar tone is much like this. Like any coffee connoisseur, you should know your instrument, as well as the many tools available to achieve great tone. Guitars, amps, pedals, wiring, and even different picks can drastically affect the tone of your guitar. Know your gear. Invest in quality equipment. Play around with different tones and sounds. Learn from others (but don’t just copy them, see #2). Great guitar tone can really help you become a better player. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true.
5. Be Precise
I once saw an interview with one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Johnson. He stated the he regularly practices a single phrase for up to several hours, listening closely to make sure every note sounds the way he wants it to. While I’m nowhere close to that meticulous when it comes to practicing, I think it shows that we can all grow in our practicing skills. The expression “practice makes perfect” is not true! I believe “practice makes permanent.” Practicing only makes you better if you practice the right things. If you practice the wrong things, lazily picking up tabs on the internet without paying attention to style and technique, you may end up doing more damage to your guitar playing than good.
Practice with precision. Practice with a metronome. Practice your scales. Learn all the notes on the neck. Pay attention to muted strings that should be heard and open strings that should be muted. Good guitar players practice, great guitar players practice with precision.
6. Be Prepared
This is similar to #5, but different. Do your homework before you go to worship rehearsal. Make sure you know your specific parts and tones when you show up. This is common rehearsal etiquette, but I am always surprised by the number of guitar players who think worship rehearsal is the appropriate time to learn the song. Don’t be that guy. Show up prepared. As you grow in your skill, the time needed to prepare will become less and less. However, this may take a major investment of time in the beginning.
7. Be Creative
Have fun with the music! Great guitarists have the ability to create guitar parts that sound new, stick in your head, and make the song better. This is a muscle that has to be strengthened over time and requires hard work to develop. Go off the page and make new guitar parts for existing songs (in your practice time, not in rehearsals). Experiment with different tones and effects. When I have time, I like to work this muscle by taking the multitracks to a popular worship song, load them into Logic, mute the guitar parts and record my own parts to the song. This is a great exercise if you have the equipment and ability to do so.
8. Be Well-Rounded
Learn to play different styles of music. You probably have a favorite style that you like to play, but learning new styles can help you grow immensely as a guitar player and a musician. One of the best things I did was to learn jazz. I am by no means an excellent jazz guitarist, but some of the key concepts in jazz such as chord voicing, chromatic melodies/lead lines, modes, and chord structures expanded my mind to think outside of the box in which I was trapped with my guitar playing. Understating these concepts really helps me when playing in more gospel style worship settings. For example, the time I recorded guitars for Grace Covenant Worship on songs like “Triumphant King” among others.
9. Be Quiet
Silence is golden. Sometimes the best guitar part you can play is no part at all. Many guitarists feel like they have to be playing all the time. This should not be so. In the Mid-Cities Worship song, “Closer,” the electric guitar part (aside from some random swells) does not even start until almost three minutes into the song!
Also, “be quiet” could apply to playing during rehearsal moments. Don’t noodle on your instrument while people are working out parts, talking, etc. This is bad rehearsal etiquette and is quite honestly just annoying.
10. Be a Humble Servant
Is a “humble guitarist” an oxy moron? Some might think so! We guitar players tend to be somewhat opinionated and sometimes prideful. However, that does not have to be the case. How do we avoid this pitfall? The key is to remember that we are servants of the Most High God. Psalm 18:27 says, “For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” Serve God. Serve your church. Serve your worship pastor. Serve the other musicians on the stage. A servant doesn’t vie for lead lines and solos. It is hard to be prideful when you have the attitude of a true servant.
Those are my 10 Tips! What tips would you add? What questions do you have? Feel free to comment below.