Ask the average church goer what a worship pastor does during the week and you’ll likely get answers like, “play guitar”, “drink coffee”, “pray all day”, “work on his hair”, or for most people “I have no idea, doesn’t he have a real job somewhere else?”. And while a couple of those may occasionally apply, reality is more complex and less sexy.
In this series we’re identifying areas of craft that aspiring worship pastors and leaders need to develop. Our framework is a proper preparation for that first round of interviews, and hopefully, getting that first official staff position. It’s also a good reminder for those already on staff, and hopefully, provides us with some focus for continued improvement.
In part 1 we looked at the need for worship pastors/leaders to know, and be comfortable articulating, their theology. (If you haven’t read that, you may want to start there; it’s an important step) Here in part 2 we’re looking at a more practical side to the job – music theory. Now agreeably, this is an extremely broad subject, and far too complex to completely cover here. However, there are a couple key areas that I believe are worth highlighting.
Depending on your experience, this may be a no brainer. On the other hand, if you’re self-taught and primarily play by ear, it’s possible you’ve never felt the need to know theory. Let me add one disclaimer here, while a certain amount of knowledge is universally helpful, certain positions will demand more or less than others.
For example, if you’re looking to become the lone hired worship leader/musician at a small to medium church, realize your level of knowledge may be the highest on the team.
Maybe not, but it’s very possible. Let’s say, however, that you’re looking to become more of a “programming” guy/gal in a larger church with other worship leaders and a music director. In that case, you may be able to squeak by with less theory, and spend more time filling that section of your brain with other, more beneficial, knowledge. I’ve been in both situations, and in the latter, really appreciated the knowledge of musicians who were better than I. It helped me become better, and more knowledgable, just by being around them.
So briefly, here’s what I feel is the bare minimum of theory necessary for any paid worship staffer. There may be other valid opinions out there, so again, “eat the fish and leave the bones”.
- Basic understanding of chord progressions/relationships – Example: if you’re in the key of D and someone says “go to the 5”. Know where to go.
- Basic understanding of scales – Example: one of your players asks how to play an “add9” chord. Know what notes they need to play.
- Understand chord/note relativity – Example: you’re back in the key of D and your next song is originally in Ab. Know which direction you’d probably want to transpose and why.
- Know basic scale patterns – Example: in any given key (major or minor), be able to identify the notes in the scale for that key.
That’s down and dirty, and in my opinion, the very basics for modern worship music. As a genre, it’s pretty basic. However, while the structure is simple, it’s as unforgiving as classical or jazz – certain things work, and certain things don’t (although jazz musicians might argue that).
If you’re looking to land a position that’s heavy on worship leading, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll be asked to lead worship as part of the interview. You really don’t want to be the guy/gal who shows up and doesn’t understand what everyone else on the band is saying.
In part 3 we’ll talk production! It’s not a question of whether or not you ARE a producer. It’s a question of how good of a producer are you, and are you growing. See you next time!