The idea that “less is more” has spread like wildfire in the recent years. I like the saying itself, but I don’t necessarily enjoy the mediocrity that it sometimes ushers in to the art of music. Sometimes the idea of “less is more” can be used as a crutch to continue standing on mediocrity or to justify a lack of improvement due to whatever reasons one may have. I have even seen this excuse being used to make one feel better about their own laziness: either in the world of musical practice/ knowledge, or even in the recruitment of musicians.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that no person has ever walked out of a church service and said, “If they had one more guitar or drum solo I probably would have encountered the presence of God.” But I can guarantee you that someone has walked out of a church and said, “The music was very good and the musicians were very skilled… but instead of worshipping I got caught watching a performance.”
The reason I can say that is… I have been that person. I have said those exact words.
I think that sometimes we fall victim to a shortfall in our thinking concerning our music making in the church worship context. We can think that, “I am part of a worship band, I need to be playing all the time… that is what I am here for!” However, I think the opposite is true. We as artists or musicians want to contribute and play/ use our craft all of the time… for good reasons too! We have been given a particular set of skills and we want to use them to bring glory and honor to Christ. But somewhere along the way we have misinterpreted the idea of worship and music-making… many of us have come to believe that we are to be “busy” as musicians all of the time. That is where our “less is more” phrase comes into play.
Now hear me out… the phrase “less is more” doesn’t mean that we should be satisfied with mediocrity, or my most despised phrase, “It is good enough for church.” Instead it means that we should be content in serving and providing what is needed. In some instances that may mean rocking out with all that you have got to add texture and energy to song arrangement… in other instances that may mean sitting on your hands for ten minutes and focusing on the words of the song being sung.
In fact, instead of saying “less is more” I like the phrase, “tastefully add what is needed, and leave out the rest.”
I like the idea of being tasteful. You may ask… how does being tasteful apply to music?
The great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis has an interesting nickname for someone of his musical “caliber. “ Davis has been deemed the master of understatement. Miles Davis has been quoted stating that,
The more important notes are the ones you don’t play.
I live by the idea that I lead more through my worshipping and presence than I do from my instrument. That being said, I may actually lead better by not playing and just worshipping God than by playing the most complex part that can fit into the song.
How do we provide tastefully what is needed? Let’s think together.
- Acknowledge your role.
What is your role in the band? Are you the bass player? Drummer? Keyboard player? Vocalist? Is your role to provide content and lyrics or to support the text of the song?
Music played in church worship serves a higher purpose than any other form of secular music… it teaches and shapes the thinking of Believers. That means that every part of every song should be intentional and beneficial to the song as a whole. No single part should distract or pull away from the whole “being” of the song. Everything happening should point to the purpose… Christ. That doesn’t mean we can’t be artistic and do “cool” artistic things. That doesn’t mean we can’t solo or have “catchy” tags/ parts. But… like I said before… every part should contribute or add to the “whole.” Because what we do informs peoples thinking of our Savior it should go without saying that…
The content of the song is important!
We have discussed in previous blogs, that can be found on this site, about how important the songs we choose and play are to the life of a church and the life of an individual believer. The same can be said about how we present the songs that we do choose to play.
Each of us needs to discover and embrace our role in the “band” and do it well in order to point to our God.
- Take only what is yours.
As musicians we should always be asking ourselves, “Where, when, and what should I be playing?” And… “Is my playing or singing robbing someone else of the opportunity, or misdirecting the glory or praise?”
Just because we can play or sing something doesn’t mean that we should be. The question I always ask myself before getting on stage or while rehearsing is, “How is this going to be perceived by the average church attendee.” What I mean by that is where is the attention and glory going? Where is the spotlight being pointed?
If I play a tremendous solo or sing a great run and the attention and praise goes to me then ultimately I have failed at what I set out to do.
DISCLAIMER: We do have to be careful in this thinking though because we shouldn’t allow our own expressions of worship to be suffocated or restricted by the misunderstandings of others. We may be approaching the throne room with our musical abilities with the right heart and in the right spirit and some may question our motives or technique, but that shouldn’t stop our endeavors… but we should at some point be mindful at how our methods come across.
- Benefit comes with discipline.
The word “discipline” usually comes with negative connotations or a “bad rap” when in fact it can be a very good thing.
Tasteful worship can also be described as “skilled” worship.
Psalm 33:3 says,
Sing a new song of praise to him; play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.
God desires our “skillful” worship. Skills without the authenticity and genuineness of God-centered worship is nothing but ear-pleasing… but when combined skills and purpose can shake up the system.
We should be consistently practicing and honing our skills… not so we can show them off at every opportunity. But instead so we can seize the opportunity when it arises and give all the glory to God who has provided the set.
1 Chronicles 15:19-22 tells of a “praise team” who plays under the provision and instruction of a man chosen for his skill at the craft. It says,
The musicians, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan were chosen to sound the bronze cymbals. Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah and Benaiah were chosen to play the harps. Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah were chosen to play the lyres. Kenaniah, the head Levite, was chosen as the choir leader because of his skill.
Clearly, God wants our best, and we should bring Him our best, purest sacrifice of praise as we worship Him. We should discipline ourselves to practice and play with self-discipline. Just remember that just because we can play something doesn’t mean that we always should. Not playing can also be a sacrifice of praise.
John 3:30 contains a great principle for life and artistry. It says,
He must increase, but I must decrease.
This applies in a worship band context to say that I must be willing to decrease to help people focus on the purpose… God.
Let’s remember… a great song will be great no matter if it’s played with a single instrument, or hundreds of instruments, and authentic worship will take place despite how it is presented or performed. I think we need to re-evaluate and concentrate on what’s important… let’s not fall into the temptation of adding things just because we can. Let’s be musical for our God.