Worship Drumming Essentials

Carl in worship

Carl in worship

In my journey as a drummer it seems there are foundational concepts that ALWAYS have to be in place to do well as a musician and a worship leader.  (Yes, you are a worship leader if you play before a group to lead them into the presence of the Lord. It’s just not about the singers or person out front.)  These foundational concepts never seem to loose their significance.  I guess you could say these are the pillars of a worship drummer’s life. These are the four elements that will always need to be in place if we are going to hit the mark in our calling.

 

I.  Heart & Soul

II.  Timing & Groove

III. Team spirit

IV.  Playing to the room

I know there are many concepts, both technically and spiritually, that we use to play the drums in worship. But these four are really the corner tent pegs that hold it all together. I think everything else rest on these principles. All that I have ever shared and taught on the subject of drums in worship seem to be built on these four essentials. When any of them are out of place it seems the whole thing falls down!

First, “You gotta’ have heart… lots and lots and lots of heart.” These words from an old song still have the most profound meaning. As a musician, if you are not fully engaged in the emotions of the music you’re playing it will feel lifeless. I believe that playing with passion and purpose is felt by you, your fellow minstrels, and the people listening.

This concept is a little difficult to describe in technical terms. I can only testify to my own struggle with staying engaged emotionally with the music. I just know that music feels differently when I’m aware of what I am suppose to communicate, and that I am excited to tell the story. When my heart isn’t in it there is an energy that’s lacking. I think that is the “soul” part of music.

This is even more critical when it comes to worship. We must be worshipping when we play. It has to be more than getting the notes right.  Playing with excellence is great to a certain level, but there is a realm of spiritual power that will only happen when we are playing to honor and love the Lord. The times I have been disengaged emotionally during a performance it felt rather lame. (*The word performance is only being used to refer to a time of playing*) Again, to specifically describe what is lacking in those moments is tough. I truly believe that the music is lifeless in some way and everyone suffers because of it.  So, guard your heart! “THOU SHALT NOT PLAY THE DRUMS IN VAIN.”

Number two… Your sense of time and groove must be solid. This is the technical side of your playing. As much as your heart being in it is vital, so is your ability to do the job well. Keep working on your chops! Make sure you have every song worked out thoroughly. If you know there are spots in a tune that are challenging you, work on it some more. Using a metronome when you practice is most critical. Keeping the time solid and the groove feeling great is primo! Don’t be content with anything less than your absolute best. BUT, don’t get caught up in self-destructive thoughts either.  I.e. “I wish I could play like that drummer.” OR … “I’ll never be able to get this right!” It’s OK to be inspired by other players but… “THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBORS DRUMMING”

Team spirit is the next pillar for a great worship musician. By the way, remember that each element is vital. Just because I’m using a particular order does not mean I’m placing more significance on one area. Besides having your act together on the spiritual and technical side you have to help your teammates as well.  Ah…you thought this would be easy. NO WAY! Now, you have to build up your fellow worship warriors.

When you’re feeling strong look for those that are not having a good day and encourage them. Actually we need to do this whether we feel good or not. Rise above your emotions!! (Me too!)  It could be something very small in your own eyes. Just a kind word or maybe helping the team set up can change the atmosphere.  The ordinary things can have such a huge impact. Look for ways to build people up and you’ll find it becomes an emotional glue that holds you all together.

If you feel there is a spiritual void and no one is giving much attention to prayer and heart issues, you might be the one to draw the team into fellowship time. Don’t nag, but encourage the troops to gather in for a focused time before an event to meet with the Lord. Like great teams in sports always have a locker room gathering before a game, a worship team has got to pull together in the final moments before a service. Oh, by the way, ask the leader if it’s OK. Don’t just take over the role of leadership. Always strive to be the encourager! “THOU SHALT HONOR YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS.”

Last, but not least, be sure to play to the room you’re band must play in. Yes, this means to control your volume. Everything else could be in place, but if you overpower the room it will weaken all the other pillars. You could be a great drummer with incredible skill, have the passion to worship, and totally be the team player, but if you don’t adjust to the acoustic environment you’re in you’ve failed. Usually this means being too loud, but on rare occasions you might be playing too soft to get the band to sound good together. Sometimes you have to dig in a little bit to get the band to gel.

I just experienced this recently with Paul Baloche on our 2 week tour across Canada. One night we played a huge auditorium and I could play as hard as I want. The very next night it would be a smaller  venue with terrible acoustics and I’d have to play the whole evening with “hot rods” and lighter sticks. I always work with the engineer and the whole team to be sure we sound as good as we can for whatever room we play. “THOU SHALT NOT KILL THE WORSHIP ATMOSPHERE.”

So you say, “Hey, Carl that’s only four; I thought there were Ten Commandments.” …Hey!  Yo… give me a break! I’m not Moses, here!!  Sheeesh! Anyway, enough of my cheesy humor. The point I’m trying to make is that these four pillars are really the primary things that come to mind when I’m playing. Every job seems to lean upon these concepts. All the other elements of being a great worship drummer rest on these four.  At every conference or clinic these are the most discussed topics amongst players, worship leaders, and pastors. REALLY!! I’m being dramatic on purpose. You have to get this!!! Make these the cornerstones of your calling and you’ll truly be the drummer the Lord has called you to be.

Standing on the Rock,

Carl

 

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About Carl

Carl has been a professional drummer & percussionist for over 30 years. He has played on over 80 Integrity Music projects; Maranatha Praise Band recordings 7 thru 10, & numerous other Christian, Pop, Country, Jazz, & Commercial projects.

Comments

  1. Gary Klock says:

    My heart is soaring right now! God is AMAZING! It’s like Carl took all of the thoughts rolling around in my head, along with the feelings in my heart, organized them and beautifully wrote them out! (Much better than I ever could.) In fact, I posted this article on our Worship Team’s Private FB page and one of the team members asked me if I was SURE I didn’t write it. I’m AMAZED that God would inspire me similarly to one of the best worship drummers of all times. I have NEVER related to anyone famous in my life, until I started reading Carl’s articles. It is so humbling to know from a drummer’s perspective that I share a heart and passion for worship with someone as great as Carl!

  2. Rodney Wirth says:

    Carl,

    Regarding your “fab four”, brevity is brilliance! That is invaluable as I play a small venue and see those in operation nearly every time I play. I have never had anyone put it so succinctly. Thanks much! Shalom.

    Rodney Wirth

    • Hey Rodney, thanks so much for the thumbs up. Nice to know these things are hitting the mark. Always trying to be helpful. Blessings, Carl

  3. James Castaneros says:

    I Praise and thank God for you Carl! You’re such a great encouragement to me. Thank you for sharing this message. I have been deeply refreshed and reminded that we as drummers are also worship leaders and not just musicians. May the Lord bless you more Carl.

    This is James from Cebu City, Philippines.

  4. Carl thank-you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom on what worship drumming is all about. This is so very true and when we play for the Lord there is a lot more we need to consider than if we were playing secular music.

    I have a student who is learning to play for his youth group. I am going to share this article and the one on “Bring Joy to the Music.” Also we are using the “Drum Grooves for Worship” DVD and we are enjoying it immensely. Keep up the great work my brother.

    God Bless you,

    John

  5. Cecilia says:

    Great article on pillars…
    It was a privilege to worship and workshop with you and the band in North Jersey Friday and Saturday. Looking forward to South Jersey tomorrow night =)
    God is good!

  6. Thanks Carl….great advice….
    Fellow worshipper……drum on…drum on

    Thanks Carl great advice.fellow worship team drummer

  7. Carl Bauer says:

    Hey Carl,
    I’ve been a bass player for quite a few years now but always looking to learn from others. What are the top 3 things that come to mind when you think of the relationship/roles of the drummer and bass player?

    Groovin’ Worshipfully,
    Carl

    • Hi Carl, I agree it’s always good to be in a learning mode. Every time we play, practice, or even listen we can grow from the experience. So music, like life, is always a learning experience. // As far as the bass player/ drummer relationship goes, the top 3 things would be this: 1. Agreeing & playing together at the same tempo (the quarter note pulse) 2. Agreeing on subdivision of time (the feel of a song based upon 8th notes, 16th notes, triplets, etc.) 3. Listening carefully to each other to navigate the different emotions of each section of a song. // The seems to apply to every musical situation I’ve been part of… any style. *Oh, being good friends is nice; but even if you don’t know each other very well, respecting the other player is always crucial. Blessings on your musical & spiritual journey, Carl

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