Average Musicians, Amazing Results…How?

Relying on the Rockstar

Ever had a super-talented musician come along that kicked up your worship team’s sound several notches?

  • Maybe it was a drummer who brought a newfound drive and energy to your sound.
  • Or a keyboard player who could (tastefully) fill and improvise.
  • Or a bass player who could lay a foundation like you never had before.
  • Or a guitar player that could actually play the riffs from the recording.

Admit it—secretly, you wanted to schedule him or her EVERY week. I know I did.

Whenever that musician is scheduled, it’s like breathing fresh air after being stuck in a box.

But then there’s that one Sunday when they’re not scheduled. You’re back in the box, breathing the stale air of average.

Unfortunately, your congregation can tell, too.

On the weeks your high-level player is on, you get all sorts of compliments ranging from, “Wow! That sounded great!” to “That was amazing time of worship today” and even “I sooo felt the Presence of the Lord…”.

(To that last person, you just want to say, “REALLY?”)

But the very next week when the golden child’s NOT scheduled?


Now, do I have an issue with a musician joining my team whose talent is lightyears beyond the rest of the team? If he’s not a jerk (or she’s not a diva), and they’re there to serve, heck no! Bring ’em on.

But here’s the problem: too many worship leaders are waiting for that one rock star who can raise the whole level of the team.

And if those leaders do have a killer musician on their team, they’re frustrated when that person isn’t there to carry the band.

The Untapped Potential of “Average”

What if instead of relying on a rock star, we explore the untapped potential of an average team creating above-average music.

How? Arranging.

If your band understands some simple arranging techniques, it’s musical alchemy. You put plain rocks in a box, and POOF! It transforms into a pot of gold.

OK, so that might be a little overstated. But it’s the law of synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

A band of mediocre musicians following good arranging principles will sound far better than the C-team who’s codependent on an A-player to raise their grade.

Five Simple Arranging Principles

So let me give you a few simple arranging principles that can transform average musicians into an awesome band.

1. Know your place on the musical spectrums.

There are two spectrums all of our instruments and voices live inside: the sonic spectrum and the rhythmic spectrum.

The sonic spectrum has to do with the tones. Look at an 88-key piano. That’s our sonic spectrum. Most music we play won’t extend above or below these notes.

If the sonic spectrum is about what notes are played, the rhythmic spectrum is about when, how long, and how often.

The rhythmic spectrum ranges from silence to an ADHD drummer jacked up on Red Bull.

Too many worship teams crowd one or more areas of these spectrums. A few examples:

  • The acoustic guitar and high hat fight over a 16th note rhythm.
  • The left hand of the keyboardist steps all over the bass player.
  • The acoustic guitarist chops wood on open chords and drowns out a tasty mid-range piano part.

The result is a blob of sound.

All the notes are “correct.” The rhythms might even be in time. But it’s a mushy pile of poo that not even an expert audio engineer could redeem.

The next arranging principle gets more specific about what, where and when.

2. Understand what part you’re contributing.

Modern song arrangements contain five distinct elements:

  • The Foundation
  • The Rhythm
  • The Pad or Constant
  • The Lead
  • The Fill

We don’t have time to dig into each of these elements now. But when your team members understand each of these parts AND how each one contributes to the song at any given time, the musical magic starts to happen.

Teach your team even more arranging skills and techniques.

Get the Quick Guide: Arranging Essentials For WorshipGet access here.


3. Listen. Listen. Listen to each other.

The fatal flaw for too many worship musicians is how enamored they are with their own sound. When team members get their heads out of their instruments and start listening to each other, great things happen:

  • They create parts that complement each other
  • They leave space that serves the song and worshipers
  • They honor each other’s gifts instead of trying to highlight their own

4. Embrace rest.

The mark of an immature musician is overplaying (and over-singing).

Musically and emotionally mature people don’t need to play every note of every measure of every song. Space and rest are crucial to an arrangement that accompanies the congregation as they worship.

5. Determine Dynamics Deliberately

A team who understands arranging will intentionally plan the dynamics of the song.

Too many times bands start the song at one dynamic level and stay there. Or if they do understand dynamics, they try to achieve both “big” and “quiet” with volume alone.

But the dynamic journey over the musical mountains and through the gentle valleys aren’t achieved with a mixing board fader or a knob on a guitar.

It’s a “more and less” thing, not just an “up and down” thing.

Wrap Up (And a Tool To Help)

Having that stellar player come along to raise the overall sound of your band is good. But don’t wait for her.

You can lead an average group of musicians to awesome if you can teach them some basic arranging principles.

To help you, I put together this Quick Guide: Arranging Essentials For Worship that you can use with your team. Click here to get access to that.

Jon Nicol

Jon Nicol is a worship pastor and founder of WorshipWorkshop.com and WorshipTeamCoach.com. He and his wife Shannon have four kids, who apparently were all born without the "inside voice" gene. They all live and serve in Lexington, Ohio.


  1. Katrinka on January 27, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    This subject would make a good post. 🙂
    In recent years God has placed our family in churches where the WL sings lead and the other vocalists harmonize. To be on the team, I need to be able to hear and/or make up harmony parts on the fly. These are skills I currently don’t have. I’ve always sung melody. I’ve always heard melody. I try listening for harmony parts on Sunday mornings but the band and BGV’s just create one big wall of sound coming at the congregation, with the lead slightly louder. (In fact, I question whether anyone could learn to sing harmony in our churches today!)
    The worship team uses ear bud mixers for each vocalist, which is most helpful for those who can hear and sing harmony already.
    Vocal auditions take place during the Sunday morning band rehearsal. Hearing myself in the mix would be great, but as a harmony newbie, trying to pick out a harmony part for the first time on a hot mic at rehearsal…not so much…because of this, I probably wouldn’t audition well. Still, Lord willing, I would like to use my gifts in this way.

    I know worship leaders are busy. So, is it unrealistic for me to ask him for extra grace and some guidance in developing harmony skills? The church develops members in other areas. Is the church a place where the creative arts can be developed as well? Should part of the worship leader’s role be to develop the talent God has placed before him or does one need to have “arrived” to be included in worship ministry? I look forward to hearing the perspective of The Worship Workshop and it’s community. Thanks so much!

  2. Alvin on February 6, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    Great words Could you follow up on this post that there has to be a good mix at the sound board to achieve this goal

    • Jon Nicol on February 7, 2018 at 2:18 pm

      Great idea. But I get out of my depth pretty quick in the sound tech arena. 🙂 I’ll pass this request along to one of our guys who’s better equipped to address this

  3. Grant Norsworthy on January 31, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    Nice one Jon! Thanks.

    • Jon Nicol on February 7, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      thanks, Grant!

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