More tips to become a better worship drummer
In Issue 3, I shared my first article entitled Three Things You Need to Be a Better Worship Drummer. I shared fundamental tools to help you grow as a worship drummer. These tools were: an unshakeable groove, a team player attitude, and a worshipful headspace. If you haven’t read it yet, I would encourage you to go back and check it out.
Play to the Room
What does it mean to play to the room? As musicians, we use the term the “room” to describe the general specifics of both the venue and the people. To help you in making creative decisions, you can use the following three steps: Assess, Consider, and Execute, or ACE if you want to abbreviate it.
To start, you will assess key elements such as location (size of the room, inside/outside), ambience (Sunday morning service, coffeehouse, concert), congregation (size, familiarity with repertoire, comfort level), and instrumentation (the size of your group).
Consider how these elements add context to your playing. How can your style of playing be adjusted to fit within the room and better support the worship experience? After considering key elements and considering how those elements add context to your playing, decide how you want to play your part to fit within the room and execute.
As you execute, look at the size and set up of your drums. For a small room with a small congregation, you may only need a 3-piece kit with hi-hats, a crash and a ride. If you are playing a worship concert for 300 people, you may want to use a full 5-piece kit with extra crash and a splash cymbal. Examine the drumsticks you can use as these are an active element of your playing. Traditional wooden sticks are standard, however there are other types that you could use to add different textures. Multi-rod drumsticks, or hot rods, are a great option for a lighter touch. Other options include brushes, broomsticks, or mallets. Lastly, look at the simplicity or complexity of your grooves and fills. Are they serving the music, or are they distracting people from worship? Work together with your team and leader to figure out what works best for you and for the congregation.
Expand Your Dynamic Range
Have you ever been playing and engulfed in worship, enjoying the fellowship of your peers, and then you’re asked to play quieter? Or asked to switch to hot rods? It’s not always a great feeling. If you let it get to you, it can make you feel insecure about your dynamics. You may start to worry that your playing is a distraction more than a supportive tool. I’ve been there and it does get better! Let me tell you how.
For starters, you need to practice diligently because volume control is a learned skill. Start with what you are familiar with. Practice your rudiments at a soft, medium, and loud volume. Once you are comfortable with that, apply it to the drum set. Work on laying down and maintaining a consistent groove at a quiet volume. Feel the burn in your muscles as you fight the urge to hit the drums at full velocity. It may feel unnatural in the beginning, but the more you practice this, the more comfortable you will become. This should enable you to put together an arsenal of low volume grooves that you can comfortably play for the length of a song. When it comes to different options for low volume grooves, develop a solid cross stick sound. My recommendation is to hold the tip of the stick in your palm, about one inch from the rim of the drum, with the butt end of the stick on the rim between two tension rods. This is going to give you a precise and full sound every time. Take these grooves to rehearsal. Work on the quiet parts of songs with your team as these usually require the most work.
For drummers who tend to naturally play with a lighter touch, practice along with your favourite songs at home. Playing music that you are comfortable with will help boost your confidence. The music may call for you to play louder, and there is nothing wrong with that, if you can control the volume. My advice to you is this: When you are playing at a louder volume, keep it simple. Once you have a good handle on your dynamics, both loud and soft, use that to add shape and emotion to the music.
Embody The Lyrics
When learning new music, what elements of the song are you focusing on? Listening to the drum part will give you a lot of musical information that you need such as tempo, time signature, groove, form, and shape. However, the lyrics are equally important. Take time to listen to the lyrics of a song you are going to play. Learn the lyrics. It’s crucial as worship musicians. While secular musicians are performing for an audience of hundreds, we play for an audience of one. This is what differentiates us as faith-based musicians. For myself, I have found that what helps me is to sing along as I am playing. I talked about this a little bit in my first article with respect to being in a worshipful headspace. This practice is going to connect your playing to the act of worship. I truly believe this is an important element to worship drumming. It directly relates to my next point which is that stage presence matters, even in worship. If your church records a livestream, go back and watch it. Specifically, watch yourself and the rest of the team as you play through a song or a worship set. What does your body language convey? Look at yourself through the lens of the congregation. Does your body language and attitude invite them into a space of worship? Or does it put up a barrier between you on the stage and the congregation down below? Consider how you can show the congregation what worship means to you. First, you need to be able to define worship in your own words, and you need to know what worship means to you. From there, let your body language reflect those thoughts as you lead the congregation into worship.
While there are many elements to being a worship drummer, the six that I have covered here are going to give you the tools you need to provide an impactful worship experience for the congregation, your worship team, and yourself.