This is a niche piece for all of you worship leaders who lead from the acoustic guitar. Or just worship acoustic guitar players.
Then again, I suppose that it could apply to any instrumentalist in a worship band. Or any band at all.
You know something? Just never mind that initial disclaimer. This is for anyone who decides to take the time to read it.
I want to address the issue of playing in “cruise control.”
What do I mean by cruise control?
Anybody who has been driving for more than a week can tell you that it involves taking your foot off of the gas pedal and just picking a speed to cruise at for a while.
It’s amazing, and, since most of my commute involves a major US highway, I use it often.
However, it’s not an ideal way to play your guitar for worship.
I recently realized that I have been in cruise control while leading worship A LOT.
I tend to stick to the same chords and chord shapes.
I use only a few basic strumming patterns.
I capo often.
While none of these tendencies are inherently wrong, constantly falling into them has led me to become bored with playing guitar in general.
I don’t like being bored.
But I love playing guitar.
So I’ve come up with a few ways to avoid falling into cruise control in my own playing and leading. Maybe some of them can help you.
1. Play in other keys.
If I’m not careful, I will always play in either G or E. They’re comfortable. They work. I can focus on leading and my vocals.
However, after a while, they become stale and rote, and every song winds up sounding the same, especially when I don’t have many other live instruments on stage.
2. Change up that capo.
This tip kind of goes hand in hand with the first one. If a song you’re leading is in Bb, resist the urge to capo 3 and use G shapes. Capo 1 instead and delve into the world of A shapes.
The sound and feel you will get will be very different from those boring old G shapes.
3. Tune down.
Yes, you read that right. Tune down your guitar.
This is something I started playing around with after I began trying drop-D tuning. I didn’t have a tuner with me, so when I went to tune back to standard, I wound up being a half-step low. Eb standard, as it were.
This is an amazing experiment to try.
Plus, you get to play songs in D# with open E shapes.
Several seasoned worship leaders and songwriters do this. To name a few, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Phil Wickham both do it. I also have several worship leader friends who employ this method.
I personally think that it gives your instrument a very different tone, which can be a great rut-buster to pull out of that boredom.
4. Listen to your playing.
When you’re leading, or just playing in the band, actually spend time listening to your playing style. Find what habits you tend to fall back into.
What strum patterns are your defaults? Does this song call for something a little different?
Are those tried and true chord shapes really the best sound for the current feel of this song?
I’ve found that just changing up the way I play a basic G chord can make all the difference in how my guitar makes the song feel.
Yeah, I said it. Practice.
I know. We’re all busy. Some of us have to work other jobs. Or maybe you’re a full-time worship pastor and there are just so many other things that need your time.
But you need to practice. Practice the songs you’ve scheduled. Even if you know them backward and can play them in your sleep.
This is a great way to find out how you can change up your style and habits.
It’s also the way you will push yourself to try new things.
Maybe play around with other tunings. Drop-D, DADGAD, open-G, open-A. Use a cut capo. Play with power chords in the Intro of “Glorious Day.”
I’ve found myself using all of these techniques in the past months to pull myself out of the rut of monotonous guitar playing in worship. It has completely changed my attitude and my style, and it has made playing guitar for worship fun again. Using other keys, chords, chord shapes, capo positions, tunings, and actually practicing has revolutionized my playing. And I can’t wait to see where it leads.