How to Talk to Your Drummer

A Guide for Worship Leaders

For many worship leaders communicating with your fellow musicians is a huge challenge. It can be very intimidating to give an opinion about an instrument you don’t play.

Since the drummer and the drumset play such a critical role in the overall sound of our bands, here are here are several ideas of how you can talk to your drummer.

1.  Learn the Names of Drums and Cymbals 

Throne – The stool the drummer sits on is called a “throne” – and no that’s not a joke! Most drum thrones are adjustable and you might suggest raising or lowering the throne if you have a new drummer or someone unfamiliar with your church kit.

Kick Drum (aka Bass Drum) – This is usually the biggest drum on the drumset. It is hit with a pedal that has a beater attached. This drum has the lowest frequency of the drumset. It is a very important part of the overall sound. The bass guitar should interplay with this drum.

“Let’s really lay into that kick drum on this song.”  

“Don’t play the kick at all during the first verse.” 

Snare – Equally as important as the kick, the snare drum is commonly what plays the backbeat (where you want to clap). Snare drums can be tuned high or low. Snare drums can be struck in the center and on the edge of the head for different tones. You can turn the snares (the metal strings that line the bottom snare head) on or off and they can be adjusted to rattle more or less. You can hit just the rim of this drum for a muted click sound that can be pleasing (this is technically called a “cross-stick” although some mistakenly call it a “rimshot” which is something else).

“Play the snare really loose on this section.”  

“Maybe try a cross stick rim thing on this part?”  

Hi-Hats – These two cymbals join together on a specialized stand that is hit with a stick or “chicked” by simply depressing the pedal with your foot. If your foot is pressed down hard these will have a quick, tight sound when struck,  the more you lift your foot the louder and more wild they become when struck. How “open” the hi-hats are when hit will DRASTICALLY alter the volume and perceived volume of the drumset.

“Can you close the hi-hats a bit more?” 

“What would it sound like if we just keep the hi-hat going during the chorus instead of ride?” 

Tom(s) – These drums are powerful for creating transitions between song parts. They are the most melodic elements of the drumset and can create pleasing (or irritating) rhythmic patterns.

“Let’s do a tom fill going into that outro.” 

“Lay off on the toms to open up space under that guitar solo.” 

Floor Tom(s) – This is the larger of the toms and can be used to create low-end power and energy. If you have subwoofers in your sound system then should be rocking when this drum is hit.

“Can you play eighth notes on the floor tom instead of the hi-hat?” 

Crash Cymbal(s) – These typically have shorter sustain and add an accent to song sections or transitions.

“I like that bigger crash on that intro.” 

Ride Cymbal – This is a complex cymbal that can have a “ping” sound or “washy” sound. The sound changes depending on where you hit it.

“Maybe a little more wash on this part and less ping?” 

Splash Cymbal – These cymbals are super small and provide a very high pitched and short sustaining accent.

“Can you take the splash cymbal home and never bring it back?” 

Chime Tree, Tambourine, and Shaker – Random percussion can add pleasing elements to the song selections. It’s common for a drummer to use a shaker for a verse section or for the whole song. You could use a tambourine laying on a floor tom for accents.

“You can only rake the chime tree only two times in this song… thank you.” 

“Let’s do a tambo hit on 2 and 4 instead of the snare for this section.” 

2. Learn and Speak the LANGUAGE OF RHYTHM for Drummers 

Kick, hi-hat, and ride cymbal rhythms are vital to the feel of the song sections. You might simply ask the drummer to “play busier” or “play simpler”, but if you know a more specific language, it would be helpful.

A Worship Leader’s Guide to Cleaning Toilets

From worship star to janitor in one day

“Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet,
what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.”
Bernard of Clairvaux

There is a deep transformation that happens when cleaning up the waste of those you are leading in worship. This is my story of going from worship star to janitor in one day.

My story of going from worship star to janitor in one day. Click To Tweet

A couple of years ago, when I was about to finish up my prestigious Master’s degree in Worship Studies, I got word that our church was making some cuts and had to let the cleaning company go and they put me in charge of all church janitor duties. 15,000 square feet of carpet to vacuum, tile to mop, walls to dust, 20 trash cans to empty, and yes, 11 toilets to clean. I thought for sure I would have written a hit worship song by now or maybe have an assistant after all these years, but nope… I’m a 40-year-old janitor/worship leader for a resource-strapped church. Sweet. Dream come true.

5 Big Ideas for Every Small Group Worship Leader

As a small group worship leader, your role is no less important than the main stage worship leader. You are creating space for God and you are helping to form people as they worship. After 25 years of leading worship, many of my favorite memories are leading songs to groups of 3-10 people in a living room.

There is so much to say about this critical role in the Church, but here are some unique points I stress to every new small group worship leader I train. Five practical ideas for every small group worship leader:

1. Set a Mood  

Worship leadership has more than just songs and singing to consider. Think about the physical space. Working with your host and group leader, get the couches, chairs, and lighting best for the group (this might be different than the normal layout). Try to face as much seating as possible pointed away from the entry point(s) and face chairs towards one another. Dim, or turn off the overhead lights, turn on some lamps and light some candles.

BIG IDEA: A small group worship leader helps create a physically inviting and worshipful environment. 

2. Stand Opposite the Main Entry Point of the Room 

In order to minimize distraction for the group, consider standing facing the main entry point to the room.  People facing you will not be as distracted when people arrive or step out. Since it’s a small group just one person making a move will cause focus to turn to them. Do the best you can to help folks avoid distraction.

BIG IDEA: A small group worship leader strategically places themselves in the room to help remove distractions. 

3. Sing With Clarity and Boldness 

Leading songs without amplification has unique challenges. There can be crying babies, coffee grinding, and kitchen chatting competing with the focus. Try to articulate and be clear with every word and phrase.

Be clear and direct at the beginning of each phrase; sometimes I put a little rush on the first syllable. This is a subtle but important factor to small group singing that can help people engage the lyric more fully because everybody will better anticipate the first word of the next line. Use your body and facial countenance to lead into each section. Consider cueing the ensuing lines, especially in the beginning of the songs.

BIG IDEA: Sing lyrics with conviction and confidence, often times in front of the beat. 

4. Plan Songs With Simplicity and Repetition in Mind 

Some worship songs are more lyrically dense than others. Assuming you are not projecting or handing out lyrics*, consider choosing songs that have less overall words. Here are some approaches:

  • Use songs that have melodic and lyrical anchors “Great are You Lord, Great are you Lord”
  • Start with the chorus and repeat it.
  • Repeat verse sections. Repeat chorus sections.
  • Consider dropping whole sections of the song if they are too wordy or complicated.
  • Leave intentional space in the songs. Breathe.

*I would discourage the temptation to set up screens, powerpoint on TVs or handing out song sheets for small groups. What did the church do for centuries before printed sheets and electricity? Can you connect with those historic roots and turn off visual media?

BIG IDEA: Choose and arrange songs for your small group that are simple and memorable. 

5. Sing Really Soft and Really Loud

One of my favorite parts about small group worship is the invitation explore volume dynamics in worship. You can simply strum a chord once and start to sing without constantly strumming. You can and should lead “fast” songs, don’t be afraid to be loud together! Within songs, you can make verses whisper while choruses explode. As long as you are INTENTIONAL and CLEAR, people will follow.

BIG IDEA: In a small group, allow your musical worship to be both loud and soft; use your instrument and voices explore every dynamic possibility. 

 

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

cropped-banner-2

What the Vineyard Can Learn from Liturgical Streams

Reclaiming historic worship elements for modern services

When I walked into a Vineyard church in 1994 my mind was blown. On a Friday night, the room was full of expectant people singing TO God. Coming from Presbyterian roots, the only time we gave this expression of exuberant praise was at summer camp! For the first time in my life, I learned of the power of the Holy Spirit through an extended, uninterrupted time of singing.

Fast-forward a couple decades and the “5 songs + sermon” model has become the standard “liturgy” of the modern church. Outside of our empowered ministry prayer times, you would be hard-pressed to see what makes a Vineyard Church distinct from many evangelical church models today.

I believe that as a movement, a time has come for us to pause and reconsider the way forward in worship, both musically and sacramentally. What did we fail to carry forward as a new movement (started in the late 1970’s) that can be reintroduced with care? Here are a few practical ways worship planners in the Vineyard can consider and implement elements of liturgical form in our services:

 

1. Eucharist (celebrated weekly)

Avoiding mindless, heartless repetition is a common reason many Vineyard pastors say they don’t want to lead their congregation to the table on a weekly basis, favoring to do it once a month or less. It begs the question why we sing, preach and offer prayers repetitively? Are these features any less special because we repeat them over and over? Are we increasing demand by planning scarcity?

A weekly invitation to feast on Christ is a beautiful picture of our Kingdom theology (God is here, now). In the meal, we are reminded that His active presence is with us; it is a vibrant and visceral picture that embodies all the senses while engaging everyone on the same level. Creatively and enthusiastically inviting our people to the meal more frequently might be the greatest discipleship plan we have.

  • Church planter, Luke Geraty recently submitted an excellent paper on Sacraments to the Society of Vineyard Scholars, check it out HERE.

Screaming on Saturday, Singing on Sunday?

During my college years, I had three musical gigs outside of school which all involved my vocal cords: church worship, a jazz trio, and my heavy metal band. People asked me all the time how I screamed and growled one night while angelically singing the next morning. I never really had the right answer, until now. Dr. Krzysztof Izdebski of San Francisco’s Pacific Voice and Speech Foundation, reveals his new findings in this video below.

Similar to heavy metal singing, leading worship vocally has some unique, admittingly differing peculiarities. 1. For many, it’s the only time they sing. 2. It’s typically happening before noon. For these reasons and others, it’s good to understand how the voice works and how we can maintain it for the long haul. Check out this video about heavy metal singing; the hope to get us thinking about (and visualizing) some science behind our voice.

Vocal training is one of the most requested classes when I coach worship teams. If you haven’t already, download the FREE $200 Vocal Lesson from the sidebar on my website.

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

cropped-banner-2

 

Worship Songwriting for My Church… and Your Church?

Our songs made available got me thinking

Transposable audio and chord charts for “How Glorious You Are” are now available on WorshipTeam.com! Worship directors, if you don’t use WorshipTeam.com consider using it to manage the craziness. It’s a better, more musical version of Planning Center.

It’s life-giving to lead your own church community in songs you create. It’s a gift and a wonderful feeling as an artist. I pastored the songwriters at VCC in Marietta GA for 18 years; we wrote 100’s of songs people actually liked and needed. We would press CD’s and make our songs available on the web with the hope that someone else would listen and enjoy what they heard.

If we are honest, in the worship songwriting world, the big “win” is learning that some OTHER church is singing your song… whoa! Not just listening… but teaching YOUR SONG to the drummer, putting the words you wrote in their power point, and encouraging others to sing along. It’s nice to know that we don’t just have to wait for the suits at the big Chrisitan record labels to spoonfeed us the next sugar sweet hit. This church songwriting thing is pretty life-giving and exciting. Hopefully, those songs are forming people rightly, making souls that think and act more like Christ. 


That previous sentence is the “right” answer and it took me a long time to get there. In my youth, my secret desire was to acquire a big house or more guitars with the success of my songs. At the core, what I really wanted was respect, honor, and influence. Some smart person told me I could get that stuff from other, more realizable sources! Now I’m just happy someone, anyone is listening – and maybe singing along 🙂 

Check out WorshipTeam.com for a FREE TRIALDownload, listen and sing to “How Glorious You Are” on iTunes and Spotify 

 

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.

cropped-banner-2

10 Hidden Songs for Advent

Worship in the Waiting

10-hidden-advent-songs-for-worship-planners-2

I never fully understood Advent until my wife and I experienced seven years of infertility. During those years each Christmas was more difficult than the last. Underneath the bliss of parties and cheery songs hid a deep sorrow that was only welcome in the church.

Here is a quote from my friend Ryan Flanigan about the season:

…we put ourselves in the countercultural posture of silence and waiting. We refrain from the instantaneous gratification of getting whatever we want when we want. And we allow ourselves to feel our need for a savior.

For worship leaders and planners there is a beautiful tension we can highlight in the songs, visuals and prayers we oversee. As much as I appreciate the rich legacy of our Christmas Hymns, I love to search for (and create) new expressions that highlight the happy-sad season of Advent. Here are 10 hidden gems that people can and will sing during the Advent season.

Come Lord Jesus (A Song for Advent)
Diane Thiel-Sharp – Vineyard Worship USA 

The Sun Will Rise
The Brilliance

Planning Silence in Worship {VIDEO}

Planning Silence

As we gather to worship consider adding a time of intentionally led silence. This practice is both historical and Biblical; silence could be one of the most “cutting edge” tools for modern worship in our sonically saturated culture. Check out the quick video below.

“Solitude and silence are not self-indulgent exercises for times when an overcrowded soul needs a little time to itself. Rather, they are concrete ways of opening to the presence of God beyond human effort and beyond the human constructs that cannot fully contain the Divine” –Ruth Haley Barton

My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.

Mike O'Brien - Worship Team Training and Development