Hello, I have a question for some worship leaders...

I am not the worship leader for my church's congregation, but I am the music director and piano player for the band. I ask how many instruments should there be in worship because I feel there are too many sometimes.

When I was learning music theory in school they started off showing us melody, and then adding harmony (chords), and rhythm. I had also played trumpet in the band when I was at school, and we did have many players, but..

a) Most of our instruments could only play one note at a time (compared to a keyboard or guitar)

b) None of us ever continuously played for the entire songs

I was also watching some worship videos online and I had noticed there were many musicians on stage, but I know that some of them were not heard on the recording. I could see their fingers playing, but not hear it at all. The largest I saw was:  piano, synth, organ, 2 electric guitars, 2 acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and a small string section.

My church has three congregations (English, Spanish, Vietnamese) and I play for the Vietnamese. However sometimes I am asked to play for our English congregation which is has a very large band with many instruments. We have our own special Aviom monitoring system so I try to adjust it so I can hear what everyone else is doing. However it ends up sounding very muddy.

For example... If we play in the key of G and the next chord is C, everyone will play a different inversion of that C chord and others will make additions to it. I might play a simple C triad, the acoustic guitar will play Cadd2, and the electric guitar will play Cmaj7. To me it doesn't sound very pleasant. 

However, I know our soundman doesn't do the FOH mix the same way I do my Aviom mix and doesn't include all of those instruments in the mix. He uses a sheet given to him that says which instrument is the lead instrument for a particular song and adjusts the volume to accommodate that.

I understand the reason for large bands acoustically speaking. You need more volume so you need more instruments, but since modern worship is played through sound systems isn't are overall volume simply determined by the master volume of the FOH speakers? The soundman can make us sound very quiet or very loud simply by adjusting the faders.

EDIT: I also realize that in larger venues they might have to run the sound in mono so you have no separation of the instruments in the stereo field. Everything just sounds like it's directly in front of you which makes it even more muddy sounding.

Sorry for the long post, but I was just wondering what are others feelings on this topic. 

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There does seem to be an unofficial 'who can have the most vocalists/musicians on stage at any one time' competition going on. Hillsongs are certainly big on this and as you say most of them are not on the recordings. I went to a Hillsongs London conference a while back and they had a lot of singers most of whom you couldn't really hear so they must be there more to encourage the congregation to engage in the worship...? Personally I think you only need one of each instrument and vocal type. If you have lots of musicians then perhaps rota them in to take turns.

There's no specific limit but the more people on stage, the tighter arrangements must be to prevent the scenario you described happening. My preference would be 1 of each instrument plus 1 lead singer and 2 backing. No reason not to silence some instruments if a particular song doesn't need it.

Once you get beyond a handful of competent musicians, you need increasing orchestration to make use of more. However it does allow more people to be involved. Cut your band down to a handful and you might be freeing people to work in other areas but you could also be leaving them frustrated or just not building the skills required when some of your first call team aren't available.

If you have an in ear system, don't try to hear every one. Just pick out what you feel are the core players and remind yourself that having too many players is probably rarer than having to few.

To me, it sounds like your church may suffer from a classic case of everyone overplaying the songs.   What you described from your band days is what worship in church SHOULD be like: every instrument playing their individual part, and every instrument having it's own "place" in the music.  Everyone doesn't need to be, and really shouldn't be playing, all the time. 

And if you have quite a few instruments, probably not most of the time!  I suppose you could do like Hillsong and the like do on those recordings, which is have the sound tech take out any not needed instument or voice, but that doesn't help your musicians to learn how to play thogether as a team.  And really, it is like making the sound guy/gal the main orchestrator and "music leader" as they would be in complete and total control of everything FOH...

Thank you all for the replies!

I suppose it's a bit more difficult for worship bands since a lot of the musicians improvise over a chord charts, and we are not playing specific notes on sheet music (as it was in my band days). 

I think it was a bit easier then in my band days since each instrument could only play one note at a time and didn't have a large range, whereas the popular instruments today (keyboard instruments and guitar) are polyphonic in nature and have a much larger note range.

In band it may have taken four or five of us to construct the chord that was in the sheet music, but with guitar or piano one person can play those same notes with just one hand.

I don't think it's more difficult, just different.  It does require instrumentalists, and even vocalists, to realize that they do NOT need to be playing/singing all the time.  That can be hard for some musicians to learn, but it's a vital lesson.  I teach my team that a song is like a pie.  Each instrument has their own piece of the whole.  If one person takes too big of a piece, then there's no place for someone (or anyone!) else. 


Also, different instruments should try and find a sound for their instrument that doesn't overlap, or at least tries not to overlap, with the other instruments.  For instance, if you have a a piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, and keyboard in your band (I'll leave out the drums for this illustration) The piano can play the main chord structure, but mostly with their right hand.  The bass player will cover the bass, so the piano player doesn't need a lot of the lower notes.  The acoustic guitar could play higher up the neck or use a capo, to give a higher sound and stay out of the "main range" the piano is playing.  The electric guitar could then find a melody line to play, or play just a few strings, and in select places to add to the song.  And the keyboard player could either play some string sounds for a background, or also play some melody/harmony parts with the electric guitar.


It's seems like a lot if you're not used to doing it, but it will make things so much better.  Much better than just everyone playing whatever and then leaving it up to the soundman to "fix" everything!  But since you're not the worship leader, you may not have much say so in the issue.  If you do, I'd encourage you to work on it, even if just asking people to take baby steps!

I think the answer is different for every congregation and probably will change in any given congregation over time; depending on the size of the congregation and the make up of your music team.

I joined a congregation when I was in college and ended up staying there for another decade after graduation. (married a local)  When I first joined it was at the tail end of the "Jesus Movement" and the music team consisted of about a half dozen acoustic guitars, a Fender Rhodes piano, bass and drums.

A scandal hit the leadership during my junior year of college (including several members of the music team) and we were reduced to ONLY a single acoustic guitar (me).

Then they started to re-build.  5 years later we had a 32 voice choir and a worship band (grand piano, synth, drums, electric and acoustic guitars and bass) with a small orchestra (3-4 violins, viola, 2 cellos, french horn, trombone, 3-4 flutes, 2 clarinets, bassoon)   The music director had a masters degree in composition and theory so there were written parts in multiple keys for every song.

That worked well.  What was amusing is at large gatherings there were 3 "conductors" to lead all those people and they all had their backs to each other.  There was they guy who was leading the congregation.  Behind and to the right was the guy directing the choir and to the left was guy conducting the orchestra.   It actually worked well.

That arrangement works ONLY if you have at least a few professional caliber musicians.  Several were members of various area Symphonies. Our principle violinist was 2nd chair violin with the Detroit Symphony.


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