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Fractal Fanatic
I play mainly in church for worship services or musical events in a church setting. I do not play every week, but I play a few times per month. I play multiple instruments, so I may not always be on guitar. Playing at my home church, attendance is usually several thousand people. I have been on our worship team for almost a decade.

We do not have a rehearsal during the week. I get a song setlist emailed to me on Thursday afternoon or evening for Sunday services (2 services). We do a quick run-through at 7:30am Sunday morning to prepare for the first service which starts at 9:00am. We do get charts, but the music is very spontaneous.

The upside of this approach has greatly improved my improv skills, as many songs include a guitar solo, and the solos are as expected very spontaneous. The downside, is that when I was touring, we did the same show, so I was on much more familiar footing.

My question for those of you who play worship music in church is this. how does your church handle the music program?


We use planing center. We usually have 4 out of 5 songs uploaded at least a week ahead of time. The last song is a response song and we usually have that by Wednesday. That includes charts and recordings of the song in the original key as well as the key we will be playing in. Sometimes we even get isolated tracks so we can more accurately learn parts. We don't rehearse until 2 hours before service but everybody is expected to have mastered there parts.
There is almost zero improvisation in our service other than swelling and ambient stuff during prayer or reflection.


Power User
We use Planning Center also, with 3-5 songs per week. We usually have a couple weeks to prepare for the Tuesday night rehearsal. Preparedness depends on the person and the leader. Some leaders like to keep the songs exactly like the sample song, while others like to get creative. So, some rehearsals are smooth, and some are very chaotic. Everyone seems to have an opinion about how a song should be arranged, which can be good or bad depending, but always is time consuming.

Some people come knowing their parts and some listen to the songs for the first time on the way to rehearsal. Skills range from beginner to quite good. The worst for me is a beginner drummer that can't keep steady time. We usually leave rehearsal knowing what we need to learn before Sunday. Then we meet for another quick rehearsal before the first service. Usually those go well, but sometimes the first service is a white knuckle ride.

I personally like to learn the songs well enough to not need charts. I find I'm more relaxed and play better that way. And it looks better. I only play once a month though.

Very rarely will we just "jam" something, and when we do it's for the opener before the service starts. Consequently my jamming skills have languished.


Fractal Fanatic
Thanks for the reply jakel. Loud and clear on the drummer comment. A drummer with bad timing is like a math-impaired accountant. We use an iPad click track to start the songs, and it runs until we get off it and it becomes a distraction. We have no beginners on our team, but there is a "youth" worship team where the young people can learn to function in advance of joining the adult team.


We organise the whole team into five bands. Same people, same leader. Each band plays a week of the month, AM and PM service, and there's a fifth band for when there ends up being a fifth Sunday in the month. The advantage of this is there's a lot of continuity. Our band have been through loads of bassists, for some reason, but everyone else has been together for getting on 12-13 years. We've moved from being the young punks to the ol' fellas that the younger bands respect but don't want to be like! This has meant we know each other so well (they're my best friends) and have grown so accustomed to each other that we can read each other really well.

The 'band' system is interesting, some bands stick close to the arrangements on a album or youtube vid, some, like ours, have developed our own style. We tend to either choose songs that we've come across, or heard other bands do, so we've got some familiarity with it. We might have a quick listen to it, to get the general vibe, but will sometimes deliberately try to avoid listening to it too much, so it comes out fresh. Even if all four bands are doing the 'big' song of the moment, I like how there's differences between them.

Having sat in with other bands, when I'm covering for someone, I think we've got somewhat of an unusual practice method. If there's a problem, anyone can stop the run though by raising their hand. Other than that, when we're learning a new song, we just jam through it, without interruption, like a super long ten minute version, feeling out our parts. It starts by sounding terrible, but we trust ourselves enough to let it sound terrible to start with, and gradually, the arrangement comes together. Then we'll discuss, and do it again, and maybe this time, do a more concrete structure of verse, chorus, verse etc. I suppose jamming is easier when you've been together with the same guys for a while.

In the last couple of years, we've got into playing to a click, and now, on a limited number of songs, playing with some loops/backing tracks, for the song 1s, song 2s that aren't going to be particularly spontaneous anyway. I go away from the rehearsal, after recoding it, and create the tracks myself. Again, I know they often can be bought, but we like to put out own flavour on it. I run clicks for virtually all songs, and the ones that use backing tracks, all running off MainStage, which I control with a separate midi foot controller.

Sorry, losing the thread.. We try to get two rehearsals in a month, but increasingly with job pressures, and family commitments, it's getting harder. We try to use one practice to learn a new song(s), and the second practice to run through a provisional set for the coming Sunday. Yes, we're blessed in having a room do rehearse.

We tend to have a rough idea of what we're doing, but the leader runs a simple set of foot signals, so structures may change on the fly. We also like to keep it a bit loose, and try to respond to what seems to be going on. Weird stuff has definitely happened in the past!

Having said that, I also play once a month (AM only) in our youth service, and as there is no rehearsal and songs that I'm not so familiar with, I do a lot more prep the night before. I list is texted out by the leader, and I'll learn the riffs, chords by listening to youtube videos mostly. Then I'll go in, see who turns up, and just try to do the best I can.

Not sure if any of that is useful, just splurged out everything I could think of!


Fractal Fanatic
Great reply Theurge. Our leader tries to keep continuity in the teams (we also have several), at least as much as possible. I am a floater as I play several instruments so our leader sticks me in to fill in for people that are unable to fill their regular slots. Most of our team leaders use hand signals or cues to steer the band (like Umphry's McGee). If our congregation is not responding to a song, then we'll cut it short. If they are responding to the song then we may carry it out for a while.
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