8 Tips to Being a Better Band Leader

band rehearsal

With a few people jumping into the role, I think it’s only fitting I write a few things about being a band leader (or MD – music director) on the team. For those not in the role of band leader, it’s still good to know what we do so we can work together more effectively! And who knows, maybe some of you might step up to the plate 😉

If the role of worship during the service is to point people to Jesus using the medium of music, then the role of band leader is to make sure the music side of things is smooth so that every member of the team can point people to Jesus without distraction. Here are 8 tips to think about as you go about your journey of becoming the best band leader you can be!

1. Understand the role of the worship leader

To be blunt, we aren’t the be all and end all of worship leadership. We have to follow the worship leader because they are the leadership placed by our pastors over us to lead us. Ultimately, the role of the worship leader is to lead the congregation in worship. The more we can lead the band the more they are free to lead the people in worship and not have to worry about us on the back line.

2. Assist the worship leader

Not every worship leader is the same. Everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses. Some worship leaders are musically trained, others aren’t as musically minded, and it’s your role to help the team achieve the vision smoothly. Will some ideas not work? Absolutely. Will some ideas be out of the norm but when you try it they really work? Absolutely. Rehearse and try things!

3. Lead the band

The role is “band leader”, so I guess there might be something to do with leading the band. To this end, know how music works. There are dynamics, layers, complimenting and interlocking parts, song builds. If an acoustic guitar is doing solid open rhythm, a keyboard may not need to do chunky chords down low. If the drummer is just on the ride, chances are the bass guitar isn’t going to be doing running 8th’s. There’s interplay between instruments, and each instrument needs to fit with each other.

4. Know your parts (and the others too)

Get your parts into your muscle memory and you’ll be able to play them half asleep. But don’t go to sleep… Instead use that free brain to think about what others need to play. If you’re constantly thinking about your own parts and how to play them, how can you band lead? And if you don’t know how others’ parts go, how can you guide them?

It’s also great to learn their vocabulary, like palm muting, cross sticking or finger picking. This will let you communicate more effectively and efficiently. You don’t need to know exactly how to play what they need to play, like the exact finger positions of a keyboard riff or the precise strumming patterns for guitarists, but the more you know, the better off the team will be!

5. Know the song structure

Think ahead. A song is never at 10/10 the whole way. There is always a structure and build to it. Does it start off small and get big over 3 minutes? Does it start with a 16 bar strong instrumental and drop in the verse? Does the song hammer a huge instrumental before a cliff hanger into a soft bridge, or is it a softer build going into a driving bridge?

6. Know the service structure

How does congregational worship fit within the context of the service? What is the purpose of the service and what are the logistics? Communion, baby dedications and baptisms may be interwoven in the service, and some of these things may help us determine if we smoothly end on a soft note into a background atmospheric support for the MC, or end on a big note and transition to more friendly lounge vibe.

7. Be mindful of time

In rehearsals, it’s easy to focus on one small section for 45 minutes and then have no time for anything else. Know when to call it and hand the responsibility over to the team to work on it at home.

In services (this is for the worship leader too), sometimes the team loses track of time and we end up doing 17 bridges of free worship and dishonour the time given to us, going over by 6 minutes. Give the heads up to the worship leader and let them lead the song to a solid finish. All good if God is leading you and the service pastor gives the ole’ wheel of repeat hand signal. Otherwise, discern a good idea from a God idea and be mindful of time.

8. Lead spiritually

Remember: the role of worship is to point people to Jesus. Practicals aside, the most important thing is that our heart is in check. One way or another, what is in the team’s heart will be projected to the spiritual leadership that they have on and off the platform. Lead the team in prayer, be attentive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and point people to Jesus with your words and actions, and your leadership through that microphone will be all the more effective.

Daniel Tusjak is the music director at South West Christian Church