Top 10 Do's & Don'ts: A Guide for Insensitive Musicians

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It's time to check your ego at the door.

Bassists, guitarists, drummers, violinists, cellists, pianists, keyboard players, saxophonists: all of you – it’s time to sit up and pay attention.

Yes, although you think you have the monopoly on wisdom in your band/ensemble here’s a harsh reality that you need to understand. You don’t.

All musicians, regardless of their Christianity and their right-mindedness and generous hearts, have a little bit of pride lurking down deep in the soul. Why? Well, it’s because they all have one thing in common: they’re human.

So leave your prejudices at the door thank you very much, and enjoy just a few pearls of wisdom to help your on your way. Singers, you can go. We’ll deal with you later. 

1. Do… pay attention and look up.
You’re ploughing away – grinding out your riffs, licks, rhythms and something occurs to you: this song seems to be going on all awful long time.


You look up and suddenly you’re aware that the whole band is looking squarely at you. The worship leader is grimacing because, in short, he or she wants you to stop.

Like now.

Band dynamics rely on communication and there is a tendency with musicians to concentrate solely on what they are doing. With this head-down approach you’ll miss cues instructing you to play tenderly, forcefully, quietly… and so on. If you miss your cues you’ll look like an idiot, and it’s important, for your very being, that those idiot quotients are kept to a minimum.

2. Don’t… just turn up and play.
Churches rely on people to muck in. Sure everyone plays their own individual parts based on their talents but sometimes a little extra care and legwork by can grease the wheels for everyone. If you’ve got a bit of time help the drummer carry his stuff or maybe shift a few amps around. If the soundman is rushed off his feet, give him a hand lugging some speakers or put up a few microphone stands. There might be a few chairs to put out or an overhead projector to assemble. At the end of the service have a look around and offer to clear away some stuff. Clearly, you have your job but your musical skill isn’t the only element to your worship. God likes this approach: it’s selfless and kind. 

3. Do… take the practise seriously.
No you don’t want to look like the Grim Reaper during the rehearsal but you don’t want to start behaving like Patch Adams either. There are phases during the practice – particularly when the worship leader is concentrating on one musician’s part – where it’s tempting to start messing about. Usually some smart arse starts playing a Livin’ on a Prayer and like sheep we all join in to underscore this moment of mirth. Don’t do this. It’s dull and boring and crass. Be patient, feel free to have a chat but keep the banter to a minimum. A worship leader doesn’t need to keep you in line like a schoolteacher.
4. Don’t… forget your kit.
Drummers, in particular, have a lot to remember but forgetting to bring sticks does crop up from time to time because it’s just so obvious. One Musicademy drummer confessed to turning up without sticks – a sizeable oversight – and could not find any kind of suitable replacement. A frenzied, yet thorough search in the church’s kitchen yielded two hand mops and this miscreant was forced to play the entire set with said cleaning instruments.

If you wish to make your life easier do a mental checklist when you are packing your stuff. Tuners, sustain pedals, capos, plectrums, reeds, metronomes, drum stools regularly feature in the ‘remember when I forgot my’ anecdote but if you are a saxophonist and you forget to pack your instrument then it’s time to tattoo a picture of it on your forehead and write ‘look in the mirror’ on the back of your hand.

5. Do… listen to the other parts. 
Lead guitarists that don’t listen to acoustic guitarists, acoustic guitarists that don’t listen lead guitarists, drummers who don’t listen to bass players, bass players who don’t listen to drummers.

The list of ‘sinners’ that don’t use the curly things on the side of their heads is seemingly endless. Listening to music, listening to what other people are playing is true musicianship and it’s worshipful too. You can pick up on phrases and lines that the drummer is using, or even the other way around – it all adds to a feeling that you are part of a tight, respectful team and that there are no egos in the way to derail what you are trying to do, which is to lead people to a place of worship. Being in a band is about teamwork and if you are not aware of what the others are doing and how they are doing it, it’ll be fragmented and it’ll sound fragmented.

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  • YouAreExcused

    When someone “shares” to facebook, does the post cite the original source? I mean, does the original author’s name also appear so they can get credit instead of giving the impression that the “sharer” wrote it?

  • BaldHeadedSoundGuy

    With regard to #3, if you MUST “doodle” on lead guitar, drums, keys, etc. while the WL is addressing something else be aware that I will MUTE YOU in the house and on monitor immediately and you will have to APOLOGIZE to me, the WL, and the other musicians for your rudeness and ASK to be un-muted so the rehearsal can continue.
    Also remember, if you feel the need to criticize my work please do it to my face NOT behind my back. Trust me . . . I can make it a lot worse! Just sayin.’

  • phil

    Well,not bad…

  • Tracywam

    Funny but true..surprised at the language in the tips “idiot” & “smart arse” don’t seem to fit.

  • Gordon Thompson

    I would add:

    “Build and Balance from the Bottom up.” (From the bass and drums to keys, to guitar to singers). You need to build your sound and listen all the way to the lowest sound, as the higher frequencies do not require as much sound to be heard.

    “Use Music Folders.” If you are not able to memorize your music use a music folder with inserts. That way, WHEN you knock over your music or the AC blows it off of your stand you can pick it up and have it readied within a couple of seconds rather than fumbling around.

    “Come Prepared.” ATTENTION MUSIC LEADERS. You need to give your team time to learn the music prior to rehearsal; minimally 2 weeks. This gives them time to learn the song and develop muscle memory. If you are unclear why, musicians cannot take their instrument everywhere they go; only singers can. And chances are your musicians have work, school, and family commitments outside of the church. Give them the time they need.

    “Reset the Sound.” Guess what. There are a number of factors (temperature, humidity, someone playing with the board that shouldn’t) that can affect the balance coming through the soundboard and monitors. You will have to reset levels on occasion. When you do, turn it all down and build from the bottom up.

  • Smoman

    Somewhat crass. Makes some good points. Wouldn’t use this writer again.

  • SoundMusician

    As a sound man and a musician, I wholeheartedly agree with number ten. Some people don’t understand how hard it can be to get a good mix when someone has control of their own amp on stage. Personal amps are the bane of a sound person’s existence.