Conquer The Fear Of Leading Worship With Just An Acoustic

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GuitaristDespite what music videos and worship DVDs may suggest, there will not always be a full band behind the worship leader. This can be a scary thought. It puts us out there, alone with nothing to hide behind.

Whether it is a living room setting or a small retreat, worship with an acoustic guitar is inevitable. As a guitar player who is known for playing worship music, there is a good chance you will be asked to lead it.

Don’t shy away from it. Embrace it. There is something special and precious about leading worship with one instrument and a group of passionate and unprofessional believers. When you get the opportunity, take it. Here are some helpful tips to make you more at ease about leading worship with just an acoustic guitar.

1. Dynamics Are Everything. The acoustic guitar is an incredibly dynamic instrument. Without drums or other instruments helping you out, you need to use every ounce of the dynamic capabilities of your acoustic guitar. The key to making dynamics work in worship is not so much by making the louder parts louder, but by making the quieter parts quieter. When you make the quiet parts quieter, the loud parts will have more emotional impact for you and the people worshiping.

(a) Strum with the wrist, not the forearm. This will improve the contrast of quiet and loud.

(b) Remember your voice. People connect with voices even more than they connect with guitar. I know, it’s weird. People will respond to the dynamics of your voice just as much if not more so than to the dynamics of your guitar. Don’t over do it, but don’t ignore it either.

2. Change your strings.

3. Carefully design transitions. Transitions are some of the most crucial moments in worship. To keep momentum, transitions must be smooth and seamless. Use keys that are related to each other. I like to travel down the road of keys by playing a song in the fifth of the key I’m going to be playing in. So if I’m in B I’ll go to E (B is the 5th of E), A going to D, G going to C and so on.

Don’t be afraid to stay in the same key during the whole set. You may get tired of playing the same chords but there is a good chance that the majority of people you are leading worship for may not even know what a key is. They do, however, know what a good transition feels like. Don’t be afraid to stay in the same key for the sake of transitions.

4. Analog Delay. I have recently been experimenting with the MXR Carbon Copy on an acoustic. It a simple analog delay that you can buy just about anywhere. I got mine at Best Buy. This warm delay is as a pad-like layer underneath your acoustic. If you’re playing through a PA, it will give your tone an added depth, yet it is subtle enough that many people will hardly notice it.

5. Mind your pick. The material of your pick plays a huge role in the sound of your acoustic. Pick carefully (no pun intended). Experiment with different textures and materials and how they react with your strings. Then once you have found a magic pick, be picky about your pick (that pun was completely intended).

Keep sharp,


8 Responses to "Conquer The Fear Of Leading Worship With Just An Acoustic"
  1. Quentin says:

    A great album example of this is Phil Wickham’s free live album “Singalong” – Its just him and acoustic and it is very effective, one of my fav worship albums.

  2. Ben says:

    I’m kind of coming from the opposite side; I’ve been leading worship exclusively with just an acoustic for the last year and I’m now getting a chance to add in a band. Everything you said is true, and I really liked the part about a touch of analog delay, but use it sparingly: delay muddies dynamics, but if it is subtle it can be nice.

    And extra emphasis on the vocals. Our music is entirely about the message, and when it’s just you and an acoustic guitar, you really notice how the guitar takes a supporting role, working only as something to make sure everyone stays in key and on rhythm. The best acoustic guitar parts never get noticed.

  3. Jed says:

    Q-I feel like I should listen to Phil Wickham more often, but I just don’t. I’m sure I’m missing out. From what you have told me before about him, it sounds like he is master at this sort of thing.

    Ben-Great to have you chime in. Given you experience with leading worship with an acoustic, your probably more qualified to write this post than I am. Love what you said about the guitar taking a supporting role. Even a full out band should be doing the same thing.

  4. Quentin says:

    Good stuff. I really like phil’s live acoustic stuff, its pretty simple yet very rich.

  5. rhoy says:

    one of the most over-looked part of playing rhythmic acoustic guitar is the plectrum to use. i tend to use medium-gauge to keep the attack but not too much. i’ve seen/heard people use very thin pick with acoustic (or even electric for that matter), i just don’t dig the tone coming from it

    my favorite acoustic guitarist (unfortunately in secular world) is James Taylor … and he hardly use any pick, besides his fingers! so there goes my theory :)

  6. Jed says:

    Most of the acoustic guitarists I look up too and respect use either medium or heavy pics. I have done the gauge 13 stings and I was playing them for over a year but I played one too many hour/two-hour long prayer meetings and decided my fingers just couldn’t take it anymore.

  7. Jason says:

    A couple other things to watch for is, make sure you have your action set low. I recommend getting used to this. Nothing is worse that playing with fatigued fingers. Also, look into getting proper gain structure set on the PA you are plugged into, I have a huge pet peeve with hearing an acoustic that is completely over driving the PA. You will never get the good full tone you need, for just playing by yourself on a solo acoustic set.

    Nice post and comments guys!

  8. Jed says:

    Great point. Electric guitar amps sound good overdriven. PA’s…not so much.

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