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Opinions on Leading Worship from the Drums

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  • Opinions on Leading Worship from the Drums

    I wanted to ask for your opinions on whether or not leading worship from the drums is inappropriate or even ill-advised? Especially in a one-time, one service scenario.

    I am the worship leader at my church since March of 2013 and I usually lead from the acoustic guitar or if our keyboard player is out I lead from the keys. I can play guitar (lead, rhythm), bass, keys, and drums. Prior to being promoted to worship leader I was the utility musician/singer and would fill-in wherever there was a need. Once I started filling-in occasionally on drums I would still sing my back-up vocal parts with no issues keeping the beat. It is very natural to me. I also would lead a song from the drums if I was already scheduled to lead one. I mentioned all the other instruments I can play and lead from because no one challenges the thought of someone leading a song from the guitars or keys, but on my worship team there is much resistance to me leading from the drums. I have a situation coming up for the Aug 17th service where I have received declines so far by 4 drummers to play that weekend. I have to scramble to unknown sources for a drummer, yet I am willing to play drums and move right along because it is just for one service, but am getting such resistance that it is not advisable to lead from the drums, just because I can. I hate worrying about trying to find a drummer on such short notice when I can easily fill this temporary void.

    I do understand the general argument that if the worship leader is on the drum kit he/she cannot communicate as effectively with the congregation because the drums are in the back of the platform and on a riser. The thing is we have a Roland V-Drums (electronic). The kit is much smaller than traditional acoustic drums and the electronic cymbal pads can all be configured to the sides so they are not obstructing my view (or the congregations). Secondly, I am 6 feet tall and you can literally see me from mid-torso up easily from anywhere in the church which seats maybe 250 people. We donít have one of those drum shields, donít need it. Again, this is a one-time solution as drummers are bailing on me left and right, haha! I know that everyone points to Phil Collins as an example of someone who effectively led a band, but youíd have to admit it is unusual. I am a very comfortable leading from the drums and just want to know if youíve seen it done much in contemporary church worship settings?

  • #2
    Man- tough spot to be in.

    It's going to stir people's Kool-Aid if you lead from drums. They will push back. It doesn't fit the norm. The band leader is the pretty person up front holding a guitar or standing behind a keyboard/piano. That's the way it's supposed to be.

    What does the band think about it?

    As long as you guys work out the cues ahead of time, and you don't change up what was worked out in practice, I don't see where there would be much problem.

    But then again, I'm used to being in bands outside of church and the dynamics are a LOT different. A drummer or bass player quite often 'drives the bus' as far as guiding the tempo, chord changes, etc.. I've led off songs with the bass groove. I've sang lead and led in the chord changes. Our drummer starts off several songs, and leads the changes.

    Church is different. 90% of the time the 'leader' playing keys or guitar or whatever carries all the weight of 'leading' and everyone else follows whatever they are doing. It's an effective way to do it, but it leads to band laziness. They rely on the leader (a.k.a guitar or keys) to do all the heavy lifting and can't wrap their minds around the bass player or drummer leading in the song.

    There are a LOT of bands where the drummer leads and/or sings from the drum kit. Besides Phil Collins, there is Don Henley (The Eagles), Levon Helm (The Band), Sheila E, Mickey Dolens (Monkees), Pete Rivera (Rare Earth), Peter Criss (KISS) sang a few songs, and Ringo Starr even sang for the Beatles.

    So a singing drummer isn't unheard of-

    Hope it works out for you, it sounds fun
    If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.


    • #3
      Thanks Mike! Most of the resistance is from one of my guitarist who is also an elder and has strong opinions about worship related matters, that I mostly agree with, but not on this one. I personally have no qualms about leading from the drums and look forward to the challenge. What's wrong with having fun as long as you are not distracting from the main thing and that of course is our worship? I love leading worship and have very strong support from our congregation and pastor. Though I haven't mentioned this to my pastor I will find out his preference. He's pretty easy going, but likes it mostly when I lead from the guitar because of the energy level I exude when I am not rooted to the spot via drums or keyboard. Some might suggest that I just do an acoustic set. I might agree if I couldn't play the drums, but it is not that desperate a situation. I have typically not suffered from a lack of musicians at my church, but lately I've thought about scaling back the number of players weekly. We sometimes have 2 electric guitars and 2 acoustics, along with bass, keys, a percussionist (he's not a kit drummer, in case you were wondering?). We usually only have 2 additional singers accompanying me. Now and then I think I'd prefer a smaller team (1 guitar, 1 acoustic, bass, keys, drums and maybe only one singer besides myself. Many of the contemporary songs we do sound great with just a lead and one harmony part. Anyway, thanks for weighing in with your thoughts. I still have a couple of other people to seek out for a drummer before I will plan to just do it myself.


      • #4
        Drums are my primary instrument, but like you, I usually lead from guitar or keys. I really don't like leading from the drums, because of the engagement issues that you mentioned, but that's just a personal preference, and I do sing from the drums in the secular bands I play with.

        I certainly don't have a good reason for you not to do it, especially since it's a one time thing and you're in a bind. Sometimes when I'm in that scenario, I'll turn it into an acoustic set and play djembe, etc. from my usual spot.
        Eric Frisch


        • #5
          Nacah, I agree with Eric and Mike. I've lead from the drums out of necessity and there is a comfort / learning curve for the congregation. The first time it was weird for all involved, but the team got used to it and liked it. Maybe I've done it about a dozen times in 5 years, but I really wish we had more drummers available. For my team we seem to do better when I drive from guitar, but that could be because I can cue and communicate with them way better while on guitar. All in all, it has worked well when leading from the drums. With this maybe as a one-time shot or at most very rare occurrence, it will be ok for all. No one will lose (or ever be capable of) their salvation over it.

          If you have strong acoustic and keys players, I'd play the drums that week. If your congregation is not used to having an acoustic set, again, I'd play drums. I would talk with your Pastor and maybe have him address the whole team about it, if that needs to happen. If you two are on the same page, then the rest of the team should follow their leaders.


          • #6
            What is your instrumental personnel? Do you have a set that can use just percussion instead of drums or is your music pretty high-energy? I also play drums, and I've led from the drums in secular bands before, but man does that take a lot of focus away from anything else. For our church, the worship leader is communicating with the congregation and trying to connect with them. I can understand your point of view and theirs, but in the end long term, I would find a teenager in-house whom you could invest some time teaching to play. Or meet with the elder and explain your side of the argument and ask for suggestions as to what to do when there are no drummers. Anyway, that's just my two cents worth. Good luck!


            • #7
              Maybe the alternative is to lead the worship team and have someone else take charge of leading the worship. That's the way we do it. I'm the leader of the worship team due to my music experience and background, but we have three singers that share the duties of working with the congregation. It works out great for us as I can focus my attention on coordinating the music from my spot as lead guitar player. In a way it's kind of a throwback to the arrangement of duties you would typically see in the big band or jazz era where the singer worked with the crowd, but the band leader lead the music. Just a thought...
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