Like many rhythm guitarists who have moved to playing electric I would describe myself as an okay guitarist. I can play some lead licks, do swells and keep time. Even though I am not classically trained and can’t play super complex guitar solos I have found some ways to be an asset to the band, fill out our sound and grow as a guitarist. Here are some tips for those of you out there that find yourself in a similar position.
1. Plan Ahead (Yes That Means Practice For Practice)
I have a planner/administrative type personality so this comes natural for me. For others they might need to try harder to implement this discipline, and this is a discipline. Often times guitarists are volunteers and the complexities of life, family, career, etc. get in the way of preparing for rehearsal and even Sunday mornings. I know exactly how it goes. That being said we have to make time to craft our playing and strive for perfection in what we are bringing as an offering.
I recommend picking 2 nights before weekly rehearsal to sit down with your guitar and effects to learn the parts and setup your tones. I am definitely not the best guitarist but I have found that most songs can be learned in about 15-45 minutes. So if your team plays 4-5 songs a week plan on practicing at least an hour/night for two nights before your weekly rehearsal. If you would rather split it up then learn one song per night and play every night for 30 minutes including Sunday night, assuming your rehearsals are on Wednesday or Thursday. As time goes on you will need less time to prepare. You will also get breaks when your church repeats songs you have already learned. You will quickly realize that even at a big church you likely have a cycle of about 30-40 songs. So theoretically within 6-8 weeks of learning 4-5 songs per night you could learn the whole rotation of songs for that period of time.
The other way to plan ahead is to setup your effects for easy of use. If you have a delay pedal that can program presets load in the song’s BPMs so that you can access delay sounds with the tap of your foot instead of tapping times in and adjusting knobs between songs. It will help you be more accurate and definitely will relieve more stress. No this doesn’t mean you have to have a programmable delay or need to go by a Strymon Timeline. The Timeline does make things super simple on Sunday mornings but a pedal such as a Boss DD-20 can get you 5 presets (4 presets and 1 manual setting) and can be had for as low as $125 used. James Duke uses one so it will work for your purposes as well!
2. Don’t Stress the Small Stuff
I think in the society that we live in we often times are too quick to compare ourselves to others. Pastor Stephen Furtick of Elevation Church once said something to the tune of “We need to stop comparing our behind the scenes with others highlight reels.” We all make mistakes the goal with rehearsing more and spending more time learning parts is so that one we get closer to perfection and two we can be less distracted and more free to worship. That all being said when learning your parts pick out the most important things in the song, those signature hooks and huge builds and practice those first. Once you have them down you will feel better about yourself and the rest is likely to fall into place.
The other piece of this is that most churches and teams are not setup to benefit from an electric guitarist that plays the parts exactly like they are on the album. Sometimes there is only one lead guitarist and you have to play the signature hooks for the intros and turnarounds then need switch to rhythm on the heavy bridge builds so that it doesn’t feel empty.
I learned this lesson the hard way last week. I spent 6 hours throughout the week stressing about having everything exactly as it was on the album only to get to practice and realize that what I needed to play was much simpler.
Lastly if you can’t get that lead riff in the bridge right take a step back and look at another part or another song. Come back to it later with a fresh mind. You will surprise yourself. I was struggling over one of the lead lines in This I Believe by Hillsong Live. I left the room played with my son a bit and came back 20 minutes later to find that it was actually quite simpler than I was making it. If that doesn’t work see if there is a version of the riff that leaves out the part you are struggling on. It seems crazy but sometimes there is one note that you get hung up on and it doesn’t majorly effect the riff.
Purists will yell at me for this but it’s the truth. This should never be a crutch and you should continue to work on those things you get hung up on. In the end though you have a job, family and only so many hours in the day. At some point you have to call it as it is and play it like you know it at practice.
3. Communicate with Your Worship Leader
This may seem like a no brainer but we as lead guitarists have egos. We more often than not have a tendency to want to do things our way or at a bare minimum figure it out on our own. Resist the urge to do this when you are not sure where a song is supposed to go. Shoot your worship leader a text and ask them questions. Having a good understanding of where the song is going is crucial and getting clarity will ease your mind make rehearsals go smoother.
4. Listen to What You Are Playing
Seems like another no brainer but you wouldn’t believe the amount of guitarists who I have played with that walk into rehearsal having never heard the song? How are you supposed to play a song you haven’t ever heard. How are you supposed to feel where a song is going if you have never heard that instrumental build before a chorus or the lead riff before the instrumental. I have heard everything from I just didn’t have time to “I don’t listen to Worship music.” Really! I don’t listen to Worship music? Then why are you playing it? If it is that poorly written and squishes your creativity that much. Then don’t play it.
That might be a bit harsh but in all seriousness it is a good question. Why play it if you don’t listen to it?
5. Play More
This is for sure a no brainer and as mentioned before playing more is often hard with the stresses of life, family and work. That said you will never move from a mediocre guitarist to a good guitarist if you don’t practice. We have wrote other articles in the past about Lance Gatch and how he became laser focused and intense about playing lead guitar for Elevation Worship. His wife said that it was scary how intense he got about it. The words “Locked himself in a room” were even used.
Now the circumstances may be different and I am not telling you to lock yourself in your room and ignore your family. What I am telling you to do is to watch one less tv show two nights a week to bring a better offering on Sunday.