Despite 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).