Worship Leaders: Here’s How To Communicate With Drummers


I’ve always considered the drummer to be the musical backbone and leader of the band. They are the cornerstone of the feel, dynamic and groove of the song. If they’ve prepared well, the drummer will anticipate the important transitions in a song, whether from verse to chorus, chorus to bridge, or even one song to another. This is what separates a great drummer from a good drummer. In my worship leading career, one of the biggest insecurities I have heard from other worship leaders is in their ability to communicate to the drummer in a rehearsal. There’s nothing worse than not being able to communicate what you’ve practiced and hear in your head. I hope in these next few paragraphs we can take something that feels foreign and turn it into something you feel you can confidently articulate.

Identifying the signature pieces of the drum kit used in the song.

Our foundation for effective drum communication begins with identifying patterns. This assumes you know the basic parts of a drum kit- kick drum, high/low tow, snare drum, ride cymbals and hi-hat cymbals.

Identifying signature drum patterns is especially important with worship music because the drums are not typically the feature of the song. So we have to ask ourselves, “What matters most?” For example, the song “Only King Forever (Elevation Worship)” starts out with a signature tom and kick pattern, while the song “You Have Won Me (Bethel Music)” starts out with a signature kick, hat, and snare pattern. Identifying these signature parts will enable you to communicate a general feel to your drummer. As you practice for service, look for repetitive drum patterns in each song.

Identifying Beat Placement.

Most professional drummers understand the subtleties of beat placement. This is so important to the feel of a song. It can make the difference between whether a song feels rushed or like it’s dragging. Essentially, there are three ways of playing in time in any musical situation:

  1. TOP of the beat: slightly ahead of the metronome click
  2. MIDDLE of the beat: dead center with the metronome click
  3. BEHIND the beat: slightly behind the metronome click

Knowing the difference between these will help you effectively communicate how you want the song to feel in time.

Communicative Fills.

Just like any other musician, drummers need to see beyond their parts and look at the song as a whole. If they do not understand the vision or proper execution of dynamically transitioning from part to part, you can’t take the song where it’s meant to go. I really believe this can make or break a song. With that being said, a helpful tool is to know the purpose of drum fills.

Simply put, drum fills are for signaling, navigating, and establishing new movements or parts in a song. Jordan Loftis describes the role of drum fills in this way:

“Drum fills are like blinker on a car. A responsible driver signals his or her intention to move in a different direction and indicates which way with that yellow blinder.”

An intentional fill serves the same purpose; it indicates that a change in the direction of the music is approaching. Not only that, but it also establishes the mood or feel for the new section. Its important to communicate the importance of a drum fill to you drummer, and how to use them responsibly. I like to call these fills communicative fills, which are simple drum patterns at the end of a phrase. Here are a few great examples of this.

Chris Cauley (North Point Music)Always (1:06-1:10) coming out of the chorus the drummer does a very simple drum fill to communicate they are heading into the next section.

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Kari JobeForever (5:34- 5:37) it’s coming off of a building section and the drummer makes the build more intense. I like to label these building fills Dynamic Fills.

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Some Drum Terms You Should Know:

  • 4 on the Floor: The kick is played on all 4 beats on the measure.
  • Ghost Notes: Ghost notes are notes that are played much quieter than others, giving it more of a feel rather than a sound – which explains why it is called a ghost note. Ghost notes can be added anywhere in a beat, and can be played on any drum or cymbal. Using ghost notes in basic beatswill give the pattern more depth and more groove. Learning how to play these strokes will help you in developing a better feel for your drum sticks as well as your drum kit itself.
  • Rim Shot: A drum stroke in which the stick strikes the and the head of the drum .

That’s just a few things that can benefit you as you communicate with the drummer. Set up wins for them and make sure to communicate steps on how to get to where you want, not just the end goal. Our job as a worship leader during a rehearsal is to cast vision and empower each instrument individual’s role. Bring clarity, give simple and intentional direction to the drummer and I believe this will help develop a language you both can understand.

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Drew Eales leads worship at the Hollywood campus of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale and its college service, Eikon. Drew can play pretty much any instrument but he loves the drums more than anything. He also loves hockey, Big Macs and his wife Allysar.

Republished with permission. Originally published at: http://www.oceansedgemusic.com/worship-tips/drum-communication-crash-course-for-worship-leaders/