1. Always Remember Who You Play For
Our purpose as a drummer who worships is to play for God and lead others to Christ through worship. It is not about what songs or style you like to play. It is not always about HOW you want to play the song. It’s not about your creativity or chops. Your drumming in church should be viewed as an act of worship and service to others and to Jesus himself. Every time we get behind the kit we would do well to pray and examine our hearts and make sure we have Jesus in the proper focus before everything else.
Our preparation and effort we put into our playing is worship to God. So anytime you might not feel like putting in the effort or time to practice and give it 100% remember this. Beyond that, think of all the blessings God has bestowed upon you; most of all is His sacrifice. He also gave you the gift of playing and learning drums so we should be willing to bless the Lord with what he gave us. Faith doesn’t have to be about feelings either. If you don't “feel” these things do them anyway. God will bless you for it and he will renew your mind.
2 . The fact that “God looks at the heart” or that people say “it’s not a performance” doesn’t give you the excuse to be a mediocre musician
According the scripture,the Bible tells us that God looks at the heart in 1 Samuel 16:7: “...man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (ESV) I have heard many worship musicians use this verse to make an excuse for why our worship doesn’t always sound or that it doesn't have to be good. However, the Bible also puts much emphasis on musicians who were skilled. Here are some examples:
6 They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. 7 The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful, was 288. 8 And they cast lots for their duties, small and great, teacher and pupil alike..- 1 Chronicles 25:6-8 ESV
33 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. - Psalm 33:3 ESV
18 One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” - 1 Samuel 16:18 ESV
22 Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, should direct the music, for he understood it. -1 Chronicles 15:22 ESV
We see in these verses, and many more throughout scripture, that there is an emphasis on not just musicians, but skilled musicians. I see this is as a call and duty to put in the time and practice our craft and become skillful.
A common saying among worship musicians is to not look our worship as a performance. However, I believe we should look at it as a performance not for men, but for Jesus. Imagine yourself in the throne room of Christ and He is seated looking down at you with love in his eyes and He has asked for you to play drums for him. Would you not be compelled to offer up a sound that is your absolute best? I would hope so!
We also see in 1 Chronicles the word “training” and “instruction” being used. Because of these verses, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, I would argue that God’s word is encouraging us to seek training and instruction. I think there is a common misconception among musicians, drummers especially, that being self taught is somehow a badge of honor that can be worn. However, I believe being trained, with the proper teacher, will only improve your drumming at a faster rate and thus more proficiently answering the call to excellence and skillful playing that God’s word has put upon us. You should always be striving to become better, but always be striving to become better. Beyond that, it’s going to help you avoid picking up a lot of bad habits that are going to be difficult to break later on.
If we truly believe we are children of God and that we worship the one true God who created all things shouldn’t our musicianship outshine those that play strictly for the approval of man?
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; Ecclesiastes 9:10
3. Timing above all
Let’s get drumming practical here: When you are playing with a group NOTHING matters more than timing.
Repeat after me: If I can play fast rolls and complex fills, but have not solid timing I am nothing. If I have a monster 20 piece drum set with top of the line cymbals, but have not solid timing, I am nothing. If I practice my drums for hours everyday, but have not solid timing I am nothing. If I think I sound amazing when I am by myself in my basement, but have not solid timing I am nothing.
I think my point has been made. If you don’t have solid time no worship band is going to be able to play with you. As a drummer, you have the ability to keep the service moving, by the same token you have the ability to derail the entire worship experience. With such great responsibility, I would highly suggest buying or digging out that metronome and use it every time you practice.
4.Rehearsal and Practice Aren’t the Same Thing
Ok we need to clear the air here because many musicians get this confused: practice is working on something, usually alone, that you can’t play yet while rehearsal is where we play our practiced parts with the other musicians in the band to polish the song as a whole. This means we need to practice before rehearsal so that we can show up to rehearsal familiar with the songs, already knowing our part. If you show up to rehearsal unprepared, you are going to end up wasting everyone's time working on your part while everyone else is standing around. Don’t be that guy or girl!
This also falls under the call to excellence God’s word has charged us with.
5. Learn to Simplify
A huge part of being a drummer who worships is learning songs being performed by professional drummers. You might not be at that drummers level to play it exactly like them and that’s ok. With enough practice you will be able to, but if you don’t have the time to invest before rehearsal (see #4) then you’ll need to simplify the parts of the song. If you can’t play it in time and at the proper tempo don’t bother trying to pull it off on the day of the rehearsal or during the worship service. There are many ways to simplify songs and here are two ways to do this:
Remove a voicing on the drum set:
A voicing is anything that can be played on the drum set (drum, cymbal, percussion, rim, clicks, sample pad etc.) So maybe you’re trying to learn a song where the drummer in the recording might be playing a cool snare part while playing the bass drum and playing the hi hat pedal. There is no shame in removing the voicing that will make the least audible difference. Out of all three of those voicings in this example, the hi hat pedal is the least heard in worship music. If you remove the hi hat pedal and you still can’t play it at the right tempo and in time then you might have to simplify the rhythm.
Simplify the rhythm:
Worship drummers love to play syncopated tom beats or place kick drums on the off-beats. If you can’t play this and make it smooth, in time, and at tempo, then simplify the rhythm and play it straight. This is especially true when you may not yet have coordination to play a section of the song.
6. Dynamics Separate the Pros from the Amateurs
In the context of drumming, dynamics is the ability to play soft and loud. If you want to stand out as a drummer and compliment the worship music you really need to work on your dynamics. It’s not only about how hard you hit, but it’s also about what voicings you play and when.
One of the most common vehicles for expressive dynamics within worship music is the build. You absolutely have to work on mastering the art of the build if you want to be an effective worship drummer. This involves internalizing the counting, knowing when to start the build, when the pinnacle of the song is approaching, and when to finally release the tension and let loose. Missing your cue will result in the height of the song falling flat. Don’t be that drummer.
7. Don’t Forget to be Fed
Playing drums at church is a ministry and a sacrifice. You are giving of yourself, your time and your resources. If you aren’t being well fed by regular prayer, teaching and the hearing and reading of the Word of God you won’t have anything left to give when you get behind the drums. If we overlook this tip we can easily get burnt out or worse: lose sight of why we are playing drums for God in the first place. Make sure you spend personal time reading God’s word, praying regularly and asking Him to reveal anything He has for you. Don’t be that musician who only hangs out backstage during service. Be intentional to join your church community in the service and listen to the message being preached each week. Be intentional about growing in your faith and not just growing as a drummer.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Matthew 5:6 ESV
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Romans 10:17 ESV