Do you want to know the secret to being a good musician? The key to unlocking next-level musicianship in your playing? If you do, keep reading. If you don’t, click here to watch three tiger cubs wrestling.
Still here? Wow. You’re missing out on a lot of exotic cuteness. You must want to improve your musicianship. Good. This post is for you. You’re going to want to keep reading this.
The main secret is stupidly obvious, but really hard to practice. It’s hard because our psychology isn’t wired this way. More on that later.
First, we need to get to what this headline promised: four musicianship reminders for you and everyone in your worship team. As you’re reading these four reminders, see if you can guess what the secret/key is that I’ve been teasing. We’ll make a fun game out of it.
1. THE NOTES YOU DON’T PLAY
The notes you don’t play are just as important as the notes you do play. I say and write this a lot so we both remember it.
Knowing when not to play is a key part of musicianship. The absence of our instrument can be just as important its presence. Just because we can play, doesn’t mean we should. Don’t try to force your instrument into a musical moment. It will sound forced to everyone hearing it.
Choosing not to play can be perfect for that moment. But choosing not to play also makes the next moment better. Our silence makes our sounds more powerful. By choosing not to play in one moment, we set up the moment we do play.
2. LISTEN TO THE BAND
When you listen to a song, are you listening for the instrument you play? I do that too. We should both do that less. It’s like putting together a puzzle when you only know where certain colors should be.
When you’re listening to the song, don’t just listen to what your instrument is doing, listen to what the other instruments are doing. When you are in the middle of the rehearsal, don’t just listen to your own instrument, listen to the band as a whole.
Take in all the musical elements that are happening in that song. The kind of beat the drummer is playing. The strumming of the acoustic. The effects on the electric guitar. Take it all in. Or in keeping with my metaphor, know how the whole puzzle should look.
3. PLAY WHAT SOUNDS GOOD, NOT WHAT FEELS GOOD
I’m a guitar player. I have certain shapes, voicings, and scales I like to play because my fingers are comfortable with them. I can start to play a trick on myself. I’ll convince myself that it sounds good not because my ears tell me it sounds good, but because it’s locked in my muscle memory.
We can all play this trick on ourselves. Drummers can stay with a certain batch of fills. Keyboard players can use a limited amount of inversions. Bass players can stick to the same licks. We can all play based on our muscle memory, not what actually sounds good.
Let your ears determine the music you make, not your muscle memory. Listen and hear the part that should be there, then play it.
4. PUT YOURSELF IN THE MIND OF A NON-MUSICIAN
I mentioned I’m a guitar player. I really like the guitarist Eric Johnson. He plays music that is largely guitar instrumentals. He’s amazing.
A couple years ago, I saw Eric Johnson live with a good friend of mine. My friend is also a guitar player.
As I looked around the venue, I noticed something. Everyone at that show played guitar. We liked this music because we played the guitar. In fact, I have yet to meet someone who likes Eric Johnson and doesn’t also play some type of instrument. I’m sure they exist. I just haven’t met them.
In your mind, picture your church. How many of them play your instrument? If the answer is 60% or above, you may want to talk to your worship leader about featuring your instrument more in worship.
Most likely it’s less. A lot less.
Most of your church doesn’t play an instrument, but they probably sing. They probably don’t connect with guitar solos and drum fills. They probably connect with the instrument they can play: the voice.
Be aware of looking at the songs through the lens of your instrument. Unlike Eric Johnson, you aren’t playing for a room of people who play your instrument. You’re playing for the church. Look at the songs through the lens of your average church attendee. What a musician likes isn’t necessarily what a non-musician likes.
THE SECRET TO MUSICIANSHIP
You’re gonna hate me for this one. It’s pretty obvious and you’ll find this theme in the preceding points. Are you ready?
The secret to musicianship is simple: don’t be self-absorbed. Look back at the four points I made. It all comes back to that simple statement: don’t be self-absorbed.
That’s easy to write, but not easy to do. It’s not really our default setting. The truth is, the best musicians serve the song and the context, not themselves or their egos. To grow in musicianship is to take things less personally. It’s to think of yourself less. It’s to center on the song, not your own agenda. It’s hard and I’m growing in this, too. Let’s grow in this together.