So, you’ve been through the verses and choruses of your church’s favorite upbeat modern worship song and you’re motoring full-speed ahead into the bridge. The rhythm section lays down a solid chord progression and the vocals step back from their mics as the lead guitar player kicks in his lead pedal and begins to carve out a melodious solo destined to inspire even the angels to worship. His fingers ablur, the wailing shred that the soloist is laying down draws people to their knees and in awe, they cast their cares aside and connect with God Almighty as the bridge nears the end of it’s run and the vocals step back into place to begin the acapella chorus…
This happens every time we have a guitar solo at church, right? Wait, isn’t that the way it happens for everyone?
Well, if you’re like any other worship leader that leads in a contemporary, modern flavor worship gathering, you’ve experienced a wide range of responses to the guitar solo. From team members who are “too humble” to draw any attention to themselves by shredding to team members who fall all over themselves to do a little wailing for the Lord. Then you have folks in the congregation who think it isn’t worship worthy and then those that are moved to tears when a solo soars.
So, how does a lead guitar solo fit into the environment of worship that we’re trying to create each time we gather to sing and play for and to the Lord (and for the congregation)?
Well, first of all we need to accept that instrumental worship IS indeed a biblical form of praise that is acceptable to the Lord. We find our Biblical precedent for solos in Psalm 150 and Psalm 92. The word “praise” used in those instances is translated from the hebrew word “Zamar” which means “to touch the strings” – it literally means to play an instrument in praise to God. Sometimes we see this “flavor” of praise with words as well, but it literally means “to touch the strings.”
So, as long as the instrumentalist’s heart is surrendered to God and turned towards God in worship, any time he or she “touches the strings” it is an acceptable form of worship. In modern worship, our guitars (acoustic and electric) are like the harps and lyres of old.
Another idea to think about is the concept of SELAH. We find these all throughout the Psalms. The selah is a planned musical interlude specifically for the purpose of giving the listener of the psalm a chance to “weigh” what they’ve just heard. It’s a musical “pause” from sung lyrics to give us a chance to reflect on the word that we’ve been singing so far.
Some would say that a guitar solo could possibly fit the bill for a selah. Others would say that the movement of a guitar solo might be a little distracting for people. I think it’s up to the worship leader to KNOW the people they worship with and to determine what is distracting and what is not.
There are varied approaches and differing opinions. Here’s some thoughts from worship leaders and worship band members:
I think of an electric guitar solo/piano solo/violin solo as not much different than an instrumental intro: they are appropriate and ‘successful’ to various degrees in different environments. In a traditional church, the appropriateness of an instrumental interlude, in order to change keys before a final verse, would rarely be questioned, but as soon as it’s an electric guitar the ridiculous sacred/secular dichotomy goes off in many ‘church goers’ heads, and we’re back to the worship wars all over again. — Shannon Lewis
Solos in worship are basically all about attitude and intent. If you’re humble and really see them as an offering to God in a different way than just rhythm playing can do (solos, if they’re improvised, are much more creative), and the congregation sees you as that kind of a person, then they can be great. If you have an attitude that seeks attention and glory for yourself, that will come through in your solo and distract others from worship. — Mike Chase
I truly believe that perception is the major piece. Many of the posts have alluded to this. A hymn led on the organ can be just as much of a distraction as a guitar solo if you don’t care for the volume and sound quality of the organ as an instrument. — Joe Brookhouse
This is one of those times where I think the answer lies in “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial”… Some congregations already have an understanding of the various intricacies of focusing on God during a worship service, and they go right into prayer or hand-raising or whatever when the gtr solo kicks in. It’s a freeing moment.Other congregations stand with hands in pockets until it’s their time to sing again… It’s a limiting moment. It’s up to us, as Worship Leaders, to know what is best for our church as a whole, and to rightly lead them into God’s presence. We meet them where they are, all the while challenging them to go a step further. — Mandy Thompson
Gifted and skilled musicians who have demonstrated good stewardship of their talents should absolutely be offered the opportunity to shine in a corporate worship setting. They are simply doing what their heavenly Father created them to do–why tell them, “No, you can’t cut loose, people might think you’re showing off”? If the congregation needs to be educated to avoid judgment, then educate them. I say celebrate it! I’m not going to tell a great player–“Yeah, come worship with us, but please never do anything brilliant.” The more the player demonstrates a humble and worship-focused attitude the more freedom I would encourage. — Trent Smith
The “selah” idea is, IMO, a good and true one. Sometimes the musical break is good to let people wrap their heads around what they are singing. As long as it’s not distracting, that’s a good thing. We actually do that quite often – just playing a melody on guitar or piano. — Michael Mahoney
I think that for the most part, an effective guitar solo in a worship setting would be melodic. There’s nothing wrong with using the chops if you have them, but it should be planned and thought out so that it adds something to the worship experience. Mindless shredding is a great way to show off chops, but I’ve not seen too many instances where it adds a whole lot to the experience. And at least for me, my thought process is even if it doesn’t take anything away from the worship experience, if it doesn’t bring anything to the table, then maybe we should re-think or re-tool that guitar riff so that it’s more than just not bad. — Josh from NJ
That’s a lot of great insight from worship leaders and band members from all over!
What Are your thoughts on using guitar solos in worship?