A worship leader pal of mine was recently telling me about a worship leading "gig" that was stressing him out a little. Instead of leading with a full band, he was scheduled to lead with just an acoustic guitar and a 2nd vocalist. And even though most of us started like that, playing with a full band can make you forget what a unique worship leading challenge that can be!
After he and I talked, I figured I'd jot down some of the stuff we came up with.
IT GOES FAST
One of the biggest surprises about leading worship is how quick it goes. Without a band for intros and instrumental breaks, your songs are going to feel QUICK. Here are some things you can do to make the set feel a little more substantial and not so rushed:
- Add more songs. You could also stretch the songs, but extending songs with just acoustic guitar can create a little of that 7-11, campfire worship vibe. Use these extra song spots to add in some hymns. Do this primiarly because hymns are good but it will also build more singability into your set.
- Talk more, say less. More songs in the list means you'll be tempted to talk in between songs more, but I'd recommending using some of those breaks for scripture readings or congregational response. Let's be honest...we need to hear scripture more than we need to hear you sermonizing.
HAVE SOME TOOLS
If your worship set is going to have some dynamics and keep people interested, you need to have some musical tools you can use for the set.
- Palm mute. Palm muting verse sections on the guitar allows your big strummy parts to have more energy, or "lift." It will simulate the dynamic change a band normally has when the drums drop in.
- Use all the strings. Isolate your strumming to just the low strings to build energy. Strum only the high strings during the more quieter moments. I recommend knowing lots of good drone chord shapes for this - that way you're not doing a lot of full chord changes when you isolate sections that the right hand is playing.
DON'T PULL BACK
One of the most fun parts about leading acoustically is how clearly you can hear everyone singing. When that happens, every worship leader wants to do the same move - stop playing and step back from the microphone. But, please hear me: DON'T DO THAT.
People want to sing with you. In a small group context, losing the ability to hear the guitar and the leader makes people unfamiliar with where the song is going. If you want to do a cool worship leader acapella-move, dropping the guitar playing is fine, but don't leave the microphone. Keep singing. At that point, your voice is the only thing keeping the congregation together. Don't abandon them just because you saw some big famous worship leader do it. Acoustic worship is different.
What else? What sort of things do you worship leaders do when you're leading "unplugged"?