Developing an Ongoing Training Plan for Your Music Ministry

Developing an Ongoing Training
Plan for Your Music Ministry
Raceen Brown

Last year our church moved from a rented lecture theatre at the University of New South Wales to a dedicated church building in a nearby suburb. The move was great for the church in lots of ways, but one advantage for the music was that we now had space for a drum kit. Never mind the fact that we didn’t actually have anyone to play it!

This didn’t stop one girl who had her heart set on getting some drumming going at church. At that stage the church didn’t have a budget set aside for musical instruments, so she ended up emailing around for donations. Here’s how it went:

Hi everyone,

I found a really, really good deal for a 2nd hand drum kit for church…and it’s basically going to be $600 (that’s 1/3 of the RRP)!! However, as we are having a few financial difficulties at the moment, I was wondering whether it would be possible for you guys to chip in so that we can get it. $600 for this set is honestly a really, really good bargain, because if you were to look for a similar range of the same quality on e-bay, you would be looking at around $900.

It would be great if we can get drums for the church because:

1) It would be great if we can use it for the Carols event in X’mas
2) All music needs a bass instrument that sets off the rhythm (and drums are the way to go!!)
3) Drums is a very easy instrument to learn (seriously, all you need is to get the basic beat, and you can make variations from that…) and it would be good to get other people involved into music

So please, please, please seriously consider chipping in for this drum kit…I know that some of you may think this is unnecessary (and it’s true…it’s not essential)… but this is honestly a really good deal, and we’ve all been looking around for a good drum kit for a long time…

So if you would like to chip in (any amount whatsoever) then please, please reply to this email a.s.a.p.!! Honestly, if everyone chipped in a bit (or even if 6 people were to chip in $100 each)…that would be GREAT!! Hmm…like think back to your $15 meals everyone…hehehe…quit on junk food for a month and you can get drums for the church!! =P

Thank you!

Within two days she’d raised $600 for a drum kit (enthusiasm counts for a lot, doesn’t it?). Since then, she and another girl have had a few basic lessons and now enthusiastically drum at our evening service. They were a bit shaky at first, but both of them get noticeably better each week they play. Even now it’s adding a lot to the music. I’m looking forward to how they’ll sound in few months’ time.

That’s not an uncommon story amongst church musicians (in particular drummers and guitarists) who first picked up an instrument in order to serve at church. And when you think about it, what better reason to pick up an instrument?

Church is a great place to grow as a musician too. I know plenty of classically trained pianists who, before playing at church, wouldn’t have known one end of a guitar chord from the other. (In case you’re among them, guitar chords are those funny letters above church sheet music that weren’t there when you were learning AMEB.) But two years later they’re perfectly comfortable improvising off lead sheets.

Encouraging musical growth amongst the team is essential to any faithful music ministry. If we’re on about serving the church, why wouldn’t we take the opportunity to train in doing a better job? It’s also a lot of fun putting new skills into practice, and it’s a great way to keep the vision for music going within the team. How do we go about doing this?

1. Give people a go
2. Encourage musicians to develop new skills
3. Encourage gifted musicians to take up another instrument
4. Consider simple percussion options
5. Get your instrumentalists to have a go leading the singing
6. Organize regular training events

1. Give people a go

There’s no better way to train in any ministry than just doing it. “Ah,” I hear you say, “but how good does someone have to be before you let them play at church?” Yes, you do need people to reach a certain level of competency before you unleash them upon the congregation, but if you wait till they’re playing like Ben Folds, you will have wasted a good 10 years of perfectly respectable piano playing!

I think the answer is that it depends more on who else you have playing. Colin Buchanan learned to play guitar at church by “shadowing” the church guitarists (softly playing along with them). It allowed him to learn from more experienced musicians, and play in a band environment at church long before he would otherwise have been able.

Most congregations need something (or someone) to “carry” the song – a confident song leader, a strong piano part, or even simply a CD that includes audible lead vocals. As long as there’s someone else there holding it together, it’s possible to get away with a fairly basic level of competency in new musicians. If you haven’t got any strong musicians to support new people, consider having them shadow a CD at church. It’s not actually as strange as it sounds, and it will give them experience playing while the congregation is singing.

“But what if the new person is a real distraction to the congregation?”

You might have to give the person a bit more time before playing at church. Training is important, but it’s ultimately the congregation we need to be serving. You do have some other options, though. For example, you might be able to turn their levels down or ask them to play more quietly, as long as someone else is carrying the song.

2. Encourage musicians to develop new skills

All classically-trained piano players who want to play at church should learn to improvise from guitar chords. is a fun little site that shows you how to play any chord on the piano. It can even name the chord you’re playing if you specify what keyboard notes are pressed. So check it out and practice playing from the chords. Unless you force yourself to try, you’ll find it very hard to break that bad habit of only playing what’s written in the piano score! Go straight for the lead sheet (the score with just the melody and chords) and don’t even look at the piano music. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll pick it up.

* (which obviously was originally developed for guitarists) also contains several other resources including guitar chart-generation for any chord.

3. Encourage gifted musicians to take up another instrument

Compared to someone with no musical background, it takes someone who already plays an instrument a quarter of the time to reach a reasonable standard on a new instrument.

4. Consider simple percussion options

The easiest place to start is the percussion section. It’s not without reason (with all due respect to percussionists) that the first instrument you picked up in kindergarten was the triangle! Seriously – bongos, tambourines and rice shakers aren’t hard to play, although if you can find someone to show you how to play them properly, it will help.

A full drum kit is also not hard to come by, and with a little instruction people can usually pick up a few simple beats fairly quickly.

5. Get your instrumentalists to have a go at leading the singing

A lot of musicians balk at the suggestion they lead the singing at church, but keep on suggesting it to them! The song leader is the most important person in the music team, and trained musicians usually make better song leaders. They have more of an intuitive sense for melody (particularly entry points) and rhythm (particularly syncopation) compared to singers with no musical training.

6. Organize regular training events

As well as getting your music team along to a larger music training conference such as TWIST every year, try to organize another couple of training days at church. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular – just invite some gifted musicians (either within your church, or from outside) to run some short sessions where they can teach new skills or get people started for the first time. For the drummers at our church, a couple of short group workshops was all it took to get them off the ground.

If you have a sound system, don’t forget that the sound guys need training in sound and mixing too. It’s also a good idea for all the musicians to become familiar with the basics of setting up a sound desk.

This article “Developing an Ongoing Training Plan for Your Music Ministry” by Raceen Brown was excerpted from: website, March 2008. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”