Reading Music in the Worship Drummer World

This may not be the case for all instruments or types of learners, but I've noticed that in the worship drumming world, learning from sheet music is not a high priority. I do see the benefits of being able to look at a piece of music and read the groove if you've never heard the song before.  Whether we learn with the sheet music originally, or learning a song from hearing it only, I think there are important reasons for internalizing songs beyond the need for the sheet music. 

Soak In the Song

I'll bet my week starts like a lot of yours: I receive a list or open an email from Planning Center with the songs for the upcoming week. I listen to each song and make notes (mental and written), and memorize the material before I even pick up the sticks to hit a drum. This allows me to hear the song as it is without covering up anything with my playing. Personally, I never start the process by looking for the sheet music for the songs.  However, if it does help you, I've included sheet music in all the lessons I've posted.

Groove Is In the Art

If you've been playing for a good while, or even if you haven't, a fundamental skill for a drummer is the ability to listen to the song and (for the most part) pick out the underlying groove and anything else that needs to be played. Memorization is the key here. When we put in the time to memorize our material, I think it makes us better players, musicians, and worship artists in the long run. 

A fundamental skill for a drummer is the ability to listen to the song and pick out the underlying groove.

Corporate Connection

Learning with sheet music is one thing.  But when we rely on a piece of music to get us through a song in the worship setting, we establish, what I see, are bad habits.  First, our eyes are glued to a music stand during worship. Even when we've memorized most of the music but still rely on sheet music for reminders, we naturally tend to look at the music more than we need to.  Also, when our eyes are focused on a stand we are less engaged with not only the band but everyone else in room as well. That connection can be hindered if we're still learning the song from the sheet music, and corporate worship, ultimately, is a time for engaged connection with both others and God. 


I've played for a good number of people, both live and in studio, and never have I been handed a piece of sheet music to learn before I show up. I listen to the material, learn it, do what it takes to get it into my brain, and show up prepared. Invest the time just sitting down with the headphones to learn and memorize. If we do this, we'll be better musicians all-around as well as open the door for connection with God and others.

Josh Ward is a versatile drummer of 18 years and heavily involved with the worship team at Marcus Pointe Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. He is a husband to Rosie, dad to Amos and drum instructor for

Reading Music in the Worship Drummer World

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Hi, I'm a new drummer trying to learn the songs for a new church band. I am learning alot from watching u tube videos of the songs but feel intimidated by all the awesome drummers on the videos! I've watched a few of your lessons which break everything down in a simple way but I have to know the song first. I am trying to just get the basics down but feel alot of pressure. Any tips for starting out and not feeling overwhelmed/anxious? Hope this makes sense!

drums fills

drum fills are hard even without sheet music but I just let the Holy Spirit be my guide. I do my part he does the rest Any advice how to do that fill more dynamically and not bringing attention on me but on the Lord

Starting out

I've had little training but I've taught my self to hear and keep a steady beat or groove.
The praise leader of our worship team is taking a chance on me but I don't want to mess up or hinder the spirit while in church.

However even when I watch the tutorials counting often throws me off. 4,8, and 16 beats seems pretty natural to me and even with a metronome I can keep up at least to me I can. Do you have any suggestions for keeping count better. I know that all drummers don't play songs the same and yet they still sound good but I often feel intimidated that I'll mess up when I try to play the way the videos instructs me. Any suggestions?