5 tips for playing solo instruments in bands

A guest post from Philip White.

I’m writing this mainly for strings, but I hope its applicable to all ‘solo’ instruments- by that I mean an instrument that is not necessary for the core structure of the band but adds to the sound. Here are some things that I’ve found useful when playing accent instruments in worship bands in a whole range of contexts.

1. Why are we here?

This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself as a solo instrumentalist. Why do you play music to help other people worship God every (other) week? Is it because you love worshipping God on your instrument and want to bring glory to him, or is it because you get some recognition and respect from others for playing your instrument really well in worship?

From the outset, let’s be open. Thinking back over the years, at times, I think it’s been a bit of both. Most of us would kid ourselves to say we haven’t. I’ve found that asking myself this question — ‘why am I here’ — regularly has helped me to keep my motive straight.

2. Understand your sound

It’s important to know what you bring to the band. What is the ‘song’ that God has put on your heart? For me I really love playing a good jazz or folk vibe, and whilst that’s not appropriate for every situation, it can completely transform an atmosphere and the sound of the band. You have a lot of influence as an accent instrument to do this, so the more you understand it, the better you can use it!

3. Follow the leader

If you have ever played in an orchestra then you will have probably been told to always keep your eyes on the conductor. Same principle applies here. If you are watching the band leader, then you know where they are going. It saves you from bursting out with an upbeat solo just as they close the song. I’ve done it. Please save yourself the embarrassment and everyone else the distraction!

4. Get over yourself

There’s a saying “a good musician can play anything, but a great musician knows when not to play”. Never is this more true than when playing music to help other people worship! Know when not to play! I remember a friend telling me about a time when he was at an event and the band had three saxophonists who played all the time, through every song. All of them. Just think about that for a moment.

It’s important then to know when not to play as much as when to play! Sometimes a simple 4 note melody repeated during gaps can be far more effective musically than trying to cram in as many hemi-demi-semi-quavers as you can in a bar. That said, don’t let that hold you back when there is an appropriate moment to go for it. Just don’t let it become your default!

5. Get into community

I could talk about this all day, but I won’t- invest time in building community with your band. Meet up outside of practise time. Get to know each other. Appreciate the person for who they are first before their gift.

If you are only valued for your gift then you feel constantly under pressure to play well to be of worth to the band. If you are valued for who you are, and feel known, then all that pressure is lifted and you are free to make mistakes, to be challenged and mess up. But you are also free to thrive, to unlock the depth of potential that is in you and actually- God really loves it when we worship him in unity. Surely that is far more important to Him than sounding polished.

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