The (musical) difference between your youth band and Hillsong

I cut my musical teeth leading worship for my youth group. One day my youth pastor came to me and said, “We need someone to lead worship. Can you learn to play some songs?” I did my best, and so began my love for leading others in worship to God.

Over the years, two of the churches I’ve been a part of have most profoundly affected the way I think about worship music – North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, GA) and Christ Baptist Church (Raleigh, NC). In most ways, these two churches could not be more different; yet there is one striking similarity between them.

Have you ever heard a song by NPCC’s InsideOut or Hillsong United on the radio as you’re driving to church and then heard the same song played by your youth band after arriving? What’s the difference?

Now, I’m not picking on the skill level of the players and singers. I’m also not talking about the quality of the instruments or the abilities of the sound guy (though all of these matter). The significant difference is that local church bands often turn every instrument into a rhythm instrument, whereas Hillsong treats every instrument as  small a piece of a larger whole. 

I used to laugh: “Hillsong has 5 guitarists, 2 drummers, and 3 keyboardists!” Then one day it clicked. My home church has 4 violinists, 2 percussionists, 2 flutists, 3 trumpet players, and more. With both Hillsong and my home church, each instrument has a relatively minor role to play, but they all join together to create a dynamic and (catch this!) interesting whole. A synth may act as a canvas on which one of the guitars plays a memorable hook, or the trumpets may sit back until the moment of a great crescendo, where they then add “The umph!”

The point is that great musical groups don’t have five or six instruments simply pounding out the beat with some chords. So, if you want your band to grow to create more interest, start encouraging your players to not simply learn the chord progression but to learn the part their instrument actually plays – just like an orchestra would.

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Follower of Jesus. Husband to Heather. Father to Ethan and Chloe. Youth Minister at Christ Baptist Church. Student at Southeastern Seminary. Lover of good music and books.

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