Being the drummer of any band has a great responsibility, and even more, when it comes to worship music since this particular instrument can be key in creating the right environment and the structure upon which the whole band plays. In modern worship, this role has grown even more, so let’s look at how we can be or become a great worship drummer.
Role of the drummer
First of all, as most of us know, the main role of the drummer is to keep time. By keeping time I mean setting the pulse of the music and defining the beat. The drummer is also in charge of signaling the structure changes in the songs (usually by doing a fill), although a worship drummer may be following the signals of whoever is leading the song. However, as musicians, and especially as drummers, we need to be sensitive to where the Holy Spirit wants to go since in a context of spontaneous worship we may need to take some initiative. (We will cover this later in the article).
The role of the rhythm section is to sustain the song — the drums are the “backbone” of the song. If the rhythm is not well played, the song will sound very bad. Most people can hear when a drummer is not keeping time. This gives us an understanding of how important this role is and that it’s also quite delicate. A well-played rhythm gives the song the right intention, mood, and character.
Drums are an excellent war instrument. As worship drummers, we not only carry the band “into spiritual war”, but also anyone else (the audience) who is worshiping. Drums are often used to lead times of spiritual battle since they have the ability to lead an army, providing the pulse and the intensity of the music. If we think about the act of playing drums or a percussion instrument, it’s done by hitting a surface, much like you would strike with a sword, or like the sound of a bullet hitting its target.
Maybe I’m getting carried away with my imagination, but I really believe there is a spiritual connection between our act of hitting and the outcome in the spiritual realm. However, this does not mean we should mindlessly bash our drums.
Be sensitive to where the Holy Spirit wants to go
As with any member of the worship band, the drummer should not only pay attention to where the worship leader is going, but also to where the Holy Spirit is leading everyone. Whether we are following the song structure or the signals of the leader, we must be led by the Spirit.
Being in tune with Him prepares us for any song transitions or spontaneous moments of worship. When we are tied to the Holy Spirit the song is much more powerful. If a part of a song requires special emphasis, maybe the chorus or the bridge, we need to be fully present with our spirits and our minds. We must know in advance which emotion the Spirit wants to communicate.
Imagine a driver who needs to exit the road he is driving on. To slow down and prepare to turn, he must know in advance the direction to take. In a band, if there is a need to shift, we need to know it before we get to the critical point. As worship drummers, we build up or lower the dynamics according to the direction the Spirit takes.
For this reason, it’s key for band members to look at each other and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Serve the band and the music
Serving the band means doing your best to support the other members. Don’t overplay. Give space to the vocals and the other instruments, and, if necessary, stop playing. Don’t exaggerate with unnecessary fills or the classical things that only other drummers pay attention to. Be careful to play the right dynamics. As I mentioned before, the drums are the backbone, the framework of the music. We provide the structure for the other musicians, allowing and supporting them in their “construction.” We play to serve!
Serving the music means interpreting the song. It’s so easy to “play a pattern” or even to play for yourself. First of all, we need to understand the character of the song. Is it joyful? Is it sad? Are we playing on the pulse? Do we need to give a relaxed feel, or do we need to play tight and create tension? These things may come naturally, but if we are aware of them, we have much more control over our playing. The rhythm has to reflect the character of the song. Do we know what the lyrics are saying? How can we worship in spirit and in truth if we don’t know the lyrics or the meaning of the song?!
Be prepared technically, and musically
Drums are a very technical instrument. To express ourselves freely, we need a good vocabulary. The rudiments and stickings are the basis of the drum language. Since we communicate with our instrument, having a vocabulary enables us to deliver a message clearly and have a wider range of dynamics. Technique is a tool. A preacher’s ability to express himself well is not what gives power to his sermon, but his message will be clearer.
Having a wide musical knowledge and being familiar with multiple styles of music helps us adapt songs to create a feeling (especially in the context of free and spontaneous worship). With a wide knowledge and musical culture, we can pull out the “right tools” when necessary.
I’m not saying that you need a degree in music to play — absolutely not! The most important thing is having a big heart for God, for being in His presence, and desiring to serve others with our gift. However, if we really love being a worship drummer and we love serving with our music, why not go deeper into these aspects? At the end of the day, the more we know, the easier it will be to deliver the message we want to give.
Tips for the worship drummer
- Don’t give everything from the beginning: as a worship drummer, we may need to build up a part of a song (for example, the bridge). Often the song must grow, and if we start too strong or too busy, we won’t be able to support the music because we are already at our limit. Instead, if we contain ourselves at the beginning, then when the moment arrives for the song to build up we will still have something to give, especially if our technique is not advanced.
- Create tension and resolve it: all music is tension and resolution. We create tension simply by moving from playing on the beat. Displacing some notes gives a sense of tension. Playing straight on the beat gives a sense of steadiness and resolves the tension.
- Follow the song’s harmony: listening to the harmony and following the chord progressions allows us to see where the song is going.
- Always look at the other musicians: this is valid for all the musicians, but especially for the drummer since we often signal a change in structure with a fill.
- Don’t play, worship: this point might seem very obvious, but we need to remind ourselves that it’s not a performance or a show. We are here to experience and lead others to experience the presence of God. This is what makes the difference between a drummer and a worship drummer. In the presence of God, everything comes naturally
Final thoughts on worship drumming
I would say that the main characteristic of a good worship drummer or any other musician is their passion for God. I would rather have a worship team with an average drummer who is crazy for God, plays with passion, and has integrity in his life, rather than having an amazing drummer who is detached from God and without passion.
I would rather look at the life of the person rather than at their skills. Also, if someone is really passionate about what they’re doing, then they usually want to go deeper into it. They are teachable, and they want to grow in “ALL THE ASPECTS” that form a good worship drummer.
Last, but not least: enjoy playing with God! The nicest thing about being a worship drummer is playing in the presence of God and partnering with Him. This should be the primary motivation of our hearts.
I hope this article has blessed you. Keep on rocking 😉
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