Playing live worship guitar; a couple of tips

I was asked to set up the guitar courses by HTB because there never seem to be enough people to play live worship guitar for get-togethers of all kinds, prayer meetings, home groups, any church events. Consequently the Ten Week Worship Leader Guitar Courses have always been orientated to getting people out there and playing for real. Of course some may only wish to learn a few chords and play the guitar for their own relaxation and personal worship time, which is fine. Some may like to play for friends or even develop so that they can play in the church context. I’ve had people on the guitar course who have gone on to lead at HTB and other big London churches. Of course the name, Ten Week Worship Leader, came from the idea that the courses were orientated to playing live worship. Within the first ten weeks of the beginners course you learn the rudimentary guitar skills, and a repertoire of worship songs, to get going.

I got so nervous I dropped my plectrum!

There is something different about playing live in front of people. At home you don’t have anyone listening, you can take your time; make mistakes; stop, and start again; speed up, and slow down for the tricky bits. When you play live there are nerves and adrenalin. When you first start playing live it’s terrifying, but also thrilling, exciting, intoxicating… One student, who was a very fine and sensitive musician, was leading with a home group. Each week he would come to the lesson and say things like “it was terrible this week – I got so nervous I dropped my plectrum!” Yet he kept on going.

The record was a complete beginner guitarist, on week five of the course, started to play a few worship songs with his home group. To be honest he wasn’t quite ready yet – but I admired his grit and determination – and he quickly improved his skills by playing live.

Playing live worship guitar you only get one shot to get something right (the odd mistake is okay, we all make them, but you learn to just keep playing). You have to put in the practise time beforehand to ensure that you can play the songs well enough. Check that the key is right and that you have the tempo and rhythm correct. You learn something different from playing live worship.

I just came across a couple of pieces of advice about playing live from two excellent and well-respected guitar players. Warren Haynes has played with The Allman Brothers Band. He said “Make sure you can hear yourself on stage, but, more importantly, make sure you can hear everyone else, and that you’re playing with everyone else. Don’t feel you have to play everything you know in the first ten minutes. Don’t be in a hurry. The stage is not on fire. Relaxing is the biggest challenge, and the hardest thing to do.” Guitar Player Magazine, July 2015, p. 48.

Music is mainly communication

The Bluegrass acoustic guitar player Tony Rice said, “For me, the biggest key to musicianship is performing – in one way or another sharing the art form with other people. You can say that you are a musician, and sit in your room and play for yourself your whole life, and play very well. But music is mainly communication.” Guitar Player Magazine, July 2015. P. 62

The next round of worship guitar courses starts up in September.