Tips For One-Man-Band Worship Leaders And Small Worship Teams

by Kristen Gilles

in Worship Leading

Kristen Gilles Leading Worship solo at Sojourn Church women's conferenceBobby and I realize that some of you may not have the advantage (and accompanying challenges) of leading and/or serving with a full worship team each week (or anytime for that matter). You may find yourself, more often than not, a one-man or one-woman worship band.  From my own experience of leading worship by myself and in smaller ensembles, I know this can present numerous challenges.  It can also yield fruitful blessings for you and your congregation.

Recently at Sojourn New Albany, I served in a worship band that consisted of me singing while playing acoustic guitar, a lead male vocalist who also played acoustic guitar, and a keyboardist who sang tenor harmony.  This smaller band is atypical for our worship gatherings and it presented a number of challenges for us as we arranged the songs without a bass player, electric guitarist or drummer.  We set out to utilize the strengths of each band member and also embrace new musical challenges without complicating things unnecessarily.  Additionally, we wanted to serve the congregation by encouraging them to actively participate in creating music with us by singing out (since they’d be able to hear themselves better, given the smaller sound we were generating) and adding percussion with hand clapping on upbeat songs.

For example, I usually play keyboard with the band and would consider myself stronger on that instrument than on guitar.  But for this band, the other keyboardist is much more proficient than I am so it made sense to let him carry the keyboard load, which also freed me to focus on leading vocally.  I was also asked by the band leader, Justin Shaffer, to try my hand at percussion (maracas) while adding vocal harmonies on one of the up-tempo songs.  He led the song and, along with the keyboardist, carried the musical weight of the song.  We encouraged the congregation to clap and keep time with us and the result was very uplifting for all of us.

For two other hymns that I led, we followed more traditional arrangements in which I did not play any instrument, and on one of the hymns (It Is Well With My Soul) only the keyboardist played.  This yielded a powerfully encouraging sound as the congregation robustly rang out the truths of this familiar song.  For the other songs, I played rhythm on the guitar while the other acoustic guitarist utilized his exceptional skills playing lead parts.

Since we were without a bass player, the keyboardist emphasized the bass notes in his playing to help fill out the sound, while also adding some beautiful and interesting lead parts during musical interludes.

The last hymn we played, O Church Arise, is one our congregation loves to sing, so we did our best to arrange the song in a way that best accompanied our congregational choir.  We even added a driving kick bass drum (played by Justin, as he continued to play guitar) for parts of the song which emboldened all of us to clap on every beat and sing confidently together.

As a one-member band (or even a 2-3 member band), you will need to acknowledge your limitations and realize your reach in order to be most effective in leading.  Maybe your band consists of you singing and playing a lead instrument (like piano, organ or guitar). Or maybe it consists of you singing while being accompanied by a non-singing lead instrumentalist.  Maybe you sing while playing a lead instrument and have another lead musician supporting you. Whatever your small band may look like, there will be certain arrangements of songs that will simply not be possible for you to achieve.  THIS IS OKAY.

With limited sounds and support in your team, you have the opportunity to simplify arrangements which can serve your congregations very well if you make the most of this opportunity.  Remember to consider the strengths of your band members and emphasize and utilize them well.  At the same time, consider the weaknesses of your band members and strive to improve in those areas before putting them to the test in your service times.

As an example, if your keyboardist is highly skilled in playing traditional arrangements of hymns but less skilled in playing more improvisational arrangements of contemporary worship songs, then make good use of her stronger skill and consider incorporating more traditional hymn arrangements into your worship sets.  At the same time, you could encourage your keyboardist to listen to a variety of contemporary styles of music to help her learn to play along with contemporary arrangements of worship songs.  You could also conduct special practice sessions for listening and discussing together new sounds and arrangements for everyone to be working on long-term.  When the team is ready, introduce those arrangements in your worship gathering.

We’re sure that many of you have a wealth of experience leading by yourself or in a smaller band, and have much instruction and encouragement to share with us here.  We welcome and invite you to add any helpful tips and words of encouragement in the comments section below. We all have much to learn!


Bret March 27, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Coming from a smaller church with a small worship team, I’d just like to say that you’ve indirectly hit upon a few of the key thoughts I keep in mind when planning music:

+ Songs which are a struggle to arrange simply (or, relatedly, don’t have a strong melody) aren’t usually good songs for congregational singing. When listening to the music of a song, I start by thinking, “Is this a tune someone from our church might find themselves singing or humming to themselves mid-week? Could it be led with a piano or acoustic guitar plus one voice and still seem complete?” A good song may certainly benefit from, a big arrangement, guitar fills, a drum kit, etc., but it shouldn’t “need” them.

+ Don’t do too many new songs. Choose (old and new) songs which are theologically solid and musically compelling, and have the congregation sing them often enough to learn them well and be shaped by them.

+ Yes, “This is okay.” The core of the musicians’ role is to encourage worship among the people, and musical arrangements are just one aspect of this. If focus drifts from encouragement of corporate singing to the musicianship of the team, something is lost.

Thanks for writing about this…

Nathan Weisser April 22, 2015 at 1:02 am

I have a couple things to recommend as I lead a small band that at times towards the beginning was just a one-man band.

1. If you’ve got an acoustic feel – take advantage of it. Don’t just do acoustic covers of songs made for larger-than-life settings, find some complex songs that were made for acoustic settings. For example, anything that Michael Gungor does, or even something like Switchfoot’s Dark Horses Hurley Session to shake things up a bit. Having a song that isn’t a slow or fast song, but rather a specialty song for coffee-shop type environments really ups your “production value” to borrow a term from the film industry.

2. Use pad loops. They always add so much. Google them. YOU ARE WELCOME.

3. If you stumble upon musicians – DO NOT SCARE THEM AWAY. Rather, slowly coerce them into getting involved by inviting them to a jam session after service or away from worship altogether. This gets them comfortable with you, and it also helps you gauge them as a musician. Once you finally get people involved – make them feel special. Make them feel like they’ve just joined a real team. Plan outings like maybe a weekend retreat with them, or invite them to the latest Kari Jobe concert where y’all can worship together. I work in youth, and kids are fickle, so making them feel like a tight unit does leaps and bounds.

4. Even though you are the leader, never take that approach unless there is a conflict to be resolved. There is no ‘I’ in team, even in worship. Get the other band-mates involved by asking them what they would like the band to play, get them to recruit their friends if they have any, and build from there.

5. Seriously get pad loops.

6. Feel like the environment is very stale? Buy some christmas lights and can lights from Home Depot or Lowe’s. BAM. Instant low-budget lighting masterpiece. I just renovated the lighting in my youth room for under $100 and it looks FANTASTIC. Now, if you are in a super professional environment, you probably won’t have this problem in the first place. Also, for a modern church or youth group of any kind: get a haze machine of some sorts.

7. Whatever you do, own it. Don’t feel like you have to sing under your band. Does that high note feel awkward to hit when the instruments are so quiet? Who cares. Your congregation will only know it’s awkward if you make it awkward. Own every song you sing.

That’s it! Sorry for the long post 🙂

Nathan Weisser April 22, 2015 at 1:03 am

By the way – You have an awesome post here, Kristen. Thanks a ton for it!

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