Posted by: worshipguitarguy | July 28, 2006

Vision: Part 2

Part 1 talked about removing things that hinder people from experiencing the Holy Spirit.  The first thing I touched on was looking for things that distract us as guitarists during a time of worship, and the second was looking for ways we can avoid becoming distractions during worship.  Part 2 will continue with that thought, bringing practical tips on how to avoid being a distraction while playing.

In worship music, less is more. 
Playing worship guitar is a little backwards from the lead guitarist stereotype.  As a worship guitarist, I subscribe to the thought that my playing should fit into a song instead of being front and center.  Practically, I’ve learned several things about playing that helps me do this:

1.  Realize that an electric guitar often controls dynamics.
If you play in a three piece group (guitar, drums, bass) you may use your electric as a rhythm instrument.  But if you play with an acoustic player, keyboards, or another electric, your role should be more of a dynamics instrument.  What does that mean?  Well, dynamic levels refer to the intensity of a song, (usually with volume, but it could also be with rhythm.)  Good songs rarely stay constant.  Instead they build and release to create a sense of flow, and in much of modern worship music, the electric guitar creates that flow.  For example, overdriven chords strummed aggresively create a feeling of drive and power.  Gentle arpeggios or ringing open chords create a sense of focus and release.   Driving choruses and bridges are places to let your playing go, but when it’s time to back down, simplify your rhythms, play open chords, and accent the music, don’t drive it. 

2.  My goal as an electric guitarist is to reinforce the vocals, not compete with them.
Worship songs with powerful lyrical content always move me.  They can be as complex and eloquent as The Wonderful Cross, or as simple as Here I am to Worship.  But the strength there is the truth contained in the lyrics.  As a guitarist, I need to recognize that and use my playing to reinforce what’s happening vocally.  To accomplish this, I do a few things:

First, I realize that the verses of a song often contain the lyrical “meat” of it’s message.  During verses, I’ll often back my playing way down.  For instance, during a fast song I may play palm muted power chords, drop in simple three or four note fills in between lines in the vocal, or not play at all.  On slower songs, I may play clean arpeggios, subtle one or two note phrases, or hit ringing open note chords.  The key here is to not play something driving or forceful that will pull away from the vocals. 

During the choruses, things usually pick up a bit, so I’m free to open up with strumming rhythms, or basic riffs.  Just remember that songs are dynamic, and there’s usually a point where it should peak.  So if the song doesn’t peak until a final bridge, solo, or chorus, hold back your intensity a little on the first and second choruses.  That way you have a little “reserve” in the tank when reach the end.

3.  Effects:  Too much of a good thing is… well… 
Some guitarists swear by huge pedalboards.  Others believe that the only useful effect is the reverb dial on their amp.  I subscribe to the belief that effects are wonderful, but they’re a double edged sword.  First they can be a crutch to mask lack of technique.  That’s something I’ve really struggled with.  Second, they can be downright distracting…  You may have a new ring modulator, leslie speaker simulator, and phaser pedal, but that doesn’t mean you should use all three together. 

My playing is often described as textural.  This means that I try to determine the general mood/feeling/tempo of a song, and choose effects that reinforce the song’s feel.  But this principle holds true no matter how you play.  If a song is funky, use wah.  If it’s mysterious use reverb and analog delay.  If it feels retro, try a tremolo or chorus.  If it’s alternative or punk, try distortion or maybe fuzz.  Just ask yourself if what you’re doing fits the feel of the song. 

Also, if you’ve used that same chorus effect on the past six songs, it may be time to explore other options… 😉

4.  Too many chefs…
Here’s something I’ve run into with young bands.  They have an acoustic guitar, two electrics, keyboard, bass and drums… all three guitarists are strumming open G chords, the keyboard player is playing the same rhythm as the guitarists with both their left and right hands, and the bass player is right there with them.  Sitting out in the room, everything sounds like mud.  All I hear is one big sonic wall of stuff, but nothing is clear and distinct. 

As a guitarist, we don’t control what the rest of the band plays, but we can control what we do.  So if everyone else in the band is playing in the same octave range, go up! (or down)  Choirs are beautiful because you have soprano, alto, tenor, and bass singers all doing their thing.  You wouldn’t want a 50 member choir of high tenors all singing in unison.  Likewise, find chords and riffs that are away from the ones that everyone else is playing.  You’ll hear yourself better and make the band sound better too. 

(And as a sidenote, you don’t have to strum six strings all the time!  Some of the best worship guitarists frequently play only two or three string chords.)       



  1. Another great article. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Will you post a picture of your pedalboard/gutiar rig? Lastly, I’d love to hear a sample of your textural playing sometime if you’d be willing to post it or email some to me. thanks!

  2. […] The rest of the article is located at  Consider checking out the full article or pass it on to your electric guitar player – he or she may really appreciate it. […]

  3. Great post. I’ve found it’s often a challenge to help budding guitarists develop as players when all they want to do is play lead lines. You need to be able to say something other than “please don’t play” and often I find myself giving them lead lines / melody vamps to play. It’s amazing in my experience how hard it is to find a guitarist that knows when and what to play.

  4. Yeah thanks so much for this article. It will be helpful to me and to members in my band. Keep up the good work.

  5. I am first a lead guitarist by technical standards. god switched all that when i became worship leader/music director at my church here in california. As musicians who minister thru our music it is ever important that we shine the spotlight of fame upon god in whatever we do wherever we go. sometimes trying to be impressive becomes a distraction from the true focus. glorify the one who made your hands, the wood and the steel

  6. Nicely said! I am the Music Minister, but have taken up electric recently (last year), and if you have any helps with those “simple riffs” I would love to hear it. It is a switch to go from acoustic g. to electric, but I am learning and listening.

    Thanks again!

  7. Truth is Mark, I usually do alot of arpeggiated chords for those simple riffs. (I’m not like those 80’s hair guitarists who could pull off amazing riffs without thinking.) We may have to cover this later, but for now, try working with basic arpeggios using the D and A chord forms. 🙂

  8. Great article…great site. I am increasingly encouraged and blessed the more often I hit this site.
    It seems that it is most important to listen to the band as we play. Then decide how we can tastefully add color/texture/presence to the tune. it can be easy to be a distraction; the beauty is in the balance. Keep on Postin’–matt

  9. Great Post. I am a worship leader that leads with the electric guitar. Over the past 30 years (18 leading worship) I’ve found that the electric guitar is really a valuable asset when used correctly. During verses, 2 to 4 note phrases and small lead lines are enough and then the chorus and bridge allows for more freedom. I like to incorporate musical breaks to utilize the talents of the team in free worship. As an ’80s hairband guy, I do play some explosive riffs but only when appropriate and not to show off, it is His firstfruits. The problem is training younger guitarists when and where to use distortion and when to play out. Also, teaching younger guitarists to play within their abilities. In the end, I teach my team that we all hold a color and a paint brush and are painting a masterpiece for the King so we must blend together. The key is to never stop learning but capitalize on those with experience and you will see great results as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

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