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What The Church Needs… More Nashville Session Drummers

Working with musicians who have the desire and passion but not necessarily the skillset.

When mixing live church praise and worship bands, or any other band for that matter, it’s the seasoned, tasteful and professional musicians that always make the sound tech’s job easy and rewarding.

Their musical talents can enhance the entire worship set and they can make the sound tech’s craft really look good to boot! A capable church musician who plays with feeling, self-awareness and controlled dynamics, not only enhances the worship experience for the entire church but also makes the sound tech’s job far less stressful, and even at times, a pleasurable experience for sure. 

On the other hand, a musician without control, feeling, or with limited self awareness can certainly diminish and even harm the overall worship band’s contribution to a church service.

These less experienced musicians may force the sound tech to have to “babysit” and fight to control the player’s “donation” to the cause.

Many times the techs need to over-compress/limit their signals, constantly “ride” their faders through the whole set, or just send them to the back of the mix. Moreover, when managing a busy or inexperienced player, the overall mix can suffer, i.e., taking away the sound tech’s ability to focus on other instruments or vocals impacting the overall sound.

Enter church drummers… God love ‘em. They have wonderful “A” personalities, and are typically high in energy, passion, drive and exuberance. However, that same energy and personality, when channeled through their instrument, can either add a spark and interject life into a song, or blow-up, derail or kill the flow of the music and Spirit in the music set.

Percussion instruments are powerful and the foundation of most songs; they can move a crowd and drive the energy of a service in a positive way or completely tangle up a moment. They’re like TNT – the power can be strategically utilized for good purposes or just used to make a huge mess.

When drumming styles include bombastic eruptions, over the top, complicated drum fills, every snare hit a rim shot, loud bass drum beats during soft passages, or misplaced fills and accents, there can be real tension and distraction “in the house.” Something has to give.

On Any Given Sunday
I remember a time when during the music worship portion of the church service I was attending, all was really going quite well. An energetic song, well inspired lyrics and a great arrangement were all clicking together. The congregation, along with me, seemed to be connecting with the song, the lyrical message, and the Spirit of worship in that moment.

However, all of a sudden, about half way through one of the verses, the drummer cut loose into a fill with what I can only describe as an 8- to 12-count “eruption.” He launched a very busy bass drum and tom spasm that sounded like the grand finale at a 4th of July fireworks show. While he certainly believed he was enhancing the moment, I (and possibly many others in that service), were instantly distracted away from the worship mindset. 

The flow of the worship was somewhat derailed, at least for a moment or two. If a professional session drummer contributed a fill like that during a recording session, he or she would probably receive a quick “pack your stuff up – don’t call us, we’ll call you” moment. I love the passion, energy and exuberance of church percussionists, but when their craft is not focused and controlled, the flow of the moment will soon be quenched.

In the same vein, at the end of many church services, there’s typically an altar call where people come forward to pray or reflect upon the sermon they just heard. Most times, the music starts off softly and gracefully for this part of the service. The music is designed to flow in like a misty fog slowly building as people are processing and reflecting.

I can remember a time when I was at the altar feeling moved by the service, deep in prayer or reflection, when all of a sudden, a strong bass drum hit—through a hot open channel into a dual 18-inch sub—went off like a cannon fired out of nowhere. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM… BOOM, BOOM, BOOM… The bubble was popped. Once I regained my composure, I thought, “Wow, where did that come from? Now, where was I? Oops…”  I lost the thought or prayer – and just went back to my seat.

Albeit innocent in intent, the drummer did not have the self awareness to play a part that flowed with the moment. Light brush work on a tom may have been a far better way to ease into the song. Again, if this happened in a pro recording studio, a session drummer would have probably been directed to the exit sign. However, in the church, we don’t direct anyone towards the exit sign; we must love, lead, mentor, and develop these important church musicians.

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