Dear Pastor: Here’s Why Worship Leaders Struggle to Play Fast Songs

Worship Leaders Struggle to Play Fast Songs

 

Dear Pastor,

I get it. You want an engaging and energetic service. You don’t want to ignore the pain and depression of this world, but you don’t want to contribute to it. Musical worship takes up a significant portion of our services and sets the pace. When the Church gathers, those that are leading and the worship band should be hopeful and expectant. For the record, the Bible backs up your desire, continually telling us to worship with fervent hearts:

Psalm 100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Somewhere along the way, many musicians in the church thought that if we desired to be “real” or “relevant”, we should only show fear, shame, or melancholy on our face! See Dan Wilt’s post on Smile. Because of this, our songs started to match our emotion – all in the name of authenticity. We watch perfectly edited mega-church videos full of exuberant congregants clapping and singing; yet, we hang our head knowing that it’s what you want, but we can’t deliver.

Here is the thing. Lean in. This. Is. Important. The church is the ONLY place on planet earth that rock-n-roll is played before noon on a Sunday! It has unique challenges for worship leaders. We need your help and understanding.

I’ve been sitting across from you for 20 years on Monday evaluation meetings, and I know what you are going to say. The music was great, but can we up the tempo a bit? You might be thinking:

Why can’t church music be fun?

Is Jesus the light of the world?

Has he redeemed us from a life of death?

If so, will someone please tell the singers and the band because they look and sound like they are playing at a funeral!

I understand and I get it.

Here are some reasons why worship leaders struggle to play fast songs:

1. Drummers = Slow is Easy and Fast is Hard

Just about any drummer can play at a slow or medium tempo. With most instruments, slow is easy and fast is hard. Sometimes fast is literally impossible. A drummer that can play fast might also play very loudly, which might be the greater sin! If our drummer is young or inexperienced, the best bet is to keep it medium tempo. Many times, even our best drummers can’t pull off the peppy radio hits. Lack of a skilled drummer is one factor why we struggle to play fast songs. 

2. Up-Tempo Songs that “Work” are Difficult to Find

Every third post on a worship blog is someone pleading “give me your top 5 fast songs now!” Scarcity of great up-tempo songs is a common problem. We are are racking our brain on Friday afternoon for the foot tapper that will get everyone from the coffeeshop into the sanctuary. Many times they are cheesy, void of theological depth or just don’t fit our culture. The shelf life of an upbeat song is short. It’s difficult to lead something that seems so foreign to us. Up-tempo worship songs that the band can play, the singer can own and fit the culture of the church are few and far between.

3. Bad Sound is “Badder” During Up-Tempo Songs

Faster is usually louder. Loud can be offensive at 10AM when the room is empty. There are more drum hits per minute and fatigue sets in quicker in smaller rooms.

Proverbs 27:14 gives some insight here:

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.

Singers can’t hear themselves and musicians rush. The train can go off the tracks quickly. If our gear is “budgetville” (including the stuff purchased 12+ years ago), all those bad sounds start to pile up. For us, it’s safer to just coast in medium and slow land.

Solutions for Pastors and Worship Leaders

Solutions for Pastors

  • When planning services, let “energy” be your language, not “tempo.”
  • A celebratory culture is just as much the Pastor’s responsibility as the worship leader’s. If you don’t embody these values then don’t expect them to flow from your worship leader and team.
  • If you want more positive uplifting environment, EVERY team in your church should embody that value, not just the worship team!
  • Ask any worship leader and they will tell you how wonderful it is to have a skilled drummer. Champion great drummers in your church. Buy a great sounding drum set. Focus your resource on a great snare drum and big, dark cymbals. FYI – $350 buys ONE great cymbal, not a whole drum set.
  • Attend a church or concert together and discuss the emotional arc of the event. How did elements OTHER than music play a role in engagement?

Solutions for Worship Leaders

  • Schedule one on one time with your drummers and jam on up-tempo songs with a metronome. I’ve spent literally thousands of hours doing this and it works.
  • It’s awkward playing fast songs when the room is slowly filling up. Do it anyway. Lead and model.
  • You can make medium songs sound “faster” by just pushing the tempo and/or starting with the chorus.
  • Longer rehearsals. Play through the songs more. Speed comes with confidence, and confidence with repetition.
  • When researching songs, it’s helpful to play along and give them a chance to take root in your heart. They should feel great even without all the musical production and sonic candy.
  • Write some new up-tempo songs of praise that resonate with you.
  • You can ALWAYS bring a song of joy, thanks, and praise to God. It’s not disingenuous to celebrate when you are not “feeling it.” As leaders we guide the people in celebration and lament.

 

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 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

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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21 thoughts on “Dear Pastor: Here’s Why Worship Leaders Struggle to Play Fast Songs

  1. Some good points; our service starts out with an upbeat set (3 songs) but once that is over, it feels weird to try to put in an upbeat song anywhere except the “outro” song as people are leaving. The remaining songs we do in the service are right before the scripture/sermon, right after the sermon and before prayer time, during the offering and during communion. None of those times is particularly appropriate for a fast song, although if we have a fast song we’re going to start doing with the congregation, we’ll do it during the offering anyway. We also have our “announcements” after communion and before the benediction, so an upbeat outro song doesn’t sound so jolting.

    One suggestion for worship leaders: think of songs in terms of how fast the congregation is singing, not in terms of how fast the band is playing. If the band is double-timing the accompaniment to a song, it usually means that the words are going by pretty slowly and it will FEEL like a slow song. Try taking an upbeat song and half-timing the instrumentation (or, like, .65-ing it), for the congregation it can actually feel more energetic that way, but it won’t seem so inappropriate. Especially true if you’re trying to hot-rod a hymn, playing a fast strum on the guitar doesn’t turn it into an upbeat song for people who are singing along. This may also work on those songs where the drummer can’t keep up.

  2. Thank you so much for this piece! You absolutely summed up our constant struggle! It was great to hear that we’re not the only ones struggling with this issue! LOL!

  3. Good stuff Mike, thank you for posting it.

    As an aside, I think every song has a tempo where it belongs, if you try to slow it down too much it does not work and sometimes becomes harder to play, the opposite is true, when you try to speed up a slow song.

  4. Thank you Mike, I appreciate the article. I am the worship leader and use a Yamaha keyboard with built in rhythms and multiple instrumentation. I wish I had a drummer, a real, live good drummer. I was interested in what you had to say about using a snare and a cymbal. Could you please elaborate a bit for me? I’d be grateful for any additional feedback that you might share.

    • thanks Roz. I am saying that the cymbal(s), hi-hat and the snare drum take up a significant part of the sound and careful attention needs to be taken when purchasing these items. There are very affordable options that sound really bad. It’s hard to cut costs on drum gear and it still sound great.

  5. Thank you Mike. I wholeheartedly agree with all your points. Drummers are the foundation and a solid drummer is worth his/her weight in gold. And it is the responsibility of the worship leader to bring the energy and joy even on days we are not “feeling” it. We must lead my example.
    I also appreciate all you had to say about the fact that it is not solely the responsibility of the worship team to bring the energy and positivity, i.e. JOY, into the service. It must come from the whole staff and all involved in the service.
    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I may prayerfully share them with my Pastor.
    Bless You and Keep up the Good Work.

  6. Great piece; very thoughtful. Your point about trying to start a service upbeat when people are still straggling in or talking is right on the nose. It seems that fewer and fewer services have “hard” starts to them, and if they do, they feel abrupt.

    Something else we can tell our pastors is that we really need them in the room and focused when the music starts. We have one staff member who is usually visiting around the room during the first couple of songs, so when people see him doing that, they see no reason to be engaged either.

    Thank you!

  7. I liked your article, but I think you missed a crucial reason why up-tempo worship songs are scarce. I wrote about this in my blog last year: https://ovationeddie.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/top-3-reasons-churches-dont-clap-like-they-used-to/
    In a nutshell, point 3 in my article covers my contention that Modern Worship Music is intentionally not written in 4/4, or if they are, the beats per minute (bpm) are intentionally written for a slower tempo. The “clapper” test bears this out…of the newer songs on CCLI’s top 25, only ONE song is in a time signature and BPM that can be comfortably clapped to by a congregation.
    Curious what y’all think….
    Ed

    • Thanks Ed. That’s a great point about the CCLI thing. Your blog post is solid and I agree with your point. I am sure I missed tons of reasons “why”, but my article is an effort to say something not everything.

      I am finding more and more that people live by that CCLI list. I do not since so many songs there do not represent what I (or the churches i serve) want to say in worship. If you only choose from that list, then yes you will be stuck with what CCM is dishing out. I remedy this by pulling from songs OUTSIDE of the top 25 and WRITING MY OWN up-tempo songs. I do mention the idea of creating NEW songs in the article.

      Thanks for the comment!

  8. Thank you Mike for your article. I thought I would respond to your post regarding the Drummers = Slow is Easy and Fast is Hard section. I am a pastor and a drummer. I have played professional for over 25 years. My suggestion is to buy your drummer a number of different styles of blast sticks. (wooden or plastic dowels wrapped together) This allows less experienced drummers to play harder and keep it quieter. My go to sticks are Headhunter Crossovers. I beats putting them behind a plexi-glass wall as well and allows the stage sound to be more natural. God bless.

  9. Dear Pastor,
    Comin g from someone who’s been in ministry and the church BUT a non-worship leader..I just wish we had more of Christ in our worship services and LESS “performance ” oriented worship services! When Christ enters into our hearts and minds..things get intense!

    Thanks for listening.

  10. This was a really interesting article for me. I think the advice given is great whether you are experiencing this particular issue or not. I have played for a large number of worship teams over the years and worship bands and I have never experienced this… I believe one reason may be that these worship groups I’ve served with mixed secular (thematically applicable) songs in with the purposely CCM songs for their services and concerts. But it really made me stop and think about an issue that may present itself in the future and how to prevent and or remedy it if it does.