(Video) How to Lead Worship on Electric Guitar

Things to keep in mind when switching from acoustic to electric.

Leading worship on a good acoustic guitar is classic and timeless. There's a reason so many worship leaders start out with an acoustic, after all.

If you're thinking of making the transition into electric guitar as the lead instrument, however, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind. Continue reading as I walk you through everything to keep in mind when switching your worship team from acoustic to electric.

Why Switch From Acoustic to Electric?

There's a distinct perk to choosing an electric guitar. If you're seeking to achieve a massive, 'full band' type of sound quality, then leading worship with an electric guitar is going to greatly help you forward. You don't need to sacrifice the warm sound you might think acoustic guitars can achieve in worship, either. Even by simply hooking yourself up to an amp and playing the same chords you would have acoustically, you will create a loud, bright sound with a more powerful accompaniment.

An acoustic guitar won't fill up the same amount of space an electric guitar can. The overall band mix can truly enhance music capacities for Christian churches, and guitar players globally will be able to tell you that contemporary worship music tends to be electric, not acoustic.

Keep it Simple

If they aren't your forte, electric guitars can be a little intimidating. As an experienced worship leader, however, there's no need to overthink it. Electric guitar players don't need to do all that much differently in order to seamlessly transition into a worship band. It isn't about playing power chords or pulling out the best electric guitars money can buy - in fact, it's relatively similar to how acoustic guitars are used for worship.

Don't overcomplicate things or make a song 'too busy. Worship leaders need to have a comprehensive grasp of the melodies that will make a song interesting, and your job is often as simple as following a lead line relatively close to the main vocal melody of the song. Playing worship guitar doesn't demand a cool riff or overcomplicated skill. Sit back, and provide the song with some body and added fullness. That, ultimately, is the very heart of playing worship guitar.

Learning Both Rhythm and Lead

If you have the luxury of not needing to be the only electric guitar on stage, you should make the most of that opportunity. While you're bound to have some sort of preference between playing rhythm or lead parts in a song, strong leaders will be able to play guitar for worship in both ways. Chugging your way along rhythm chords can sometimes seem a little boring or dull, or maybe playing rhythm is comfortingly familiar to your history of acoustic guitar playing.

Either way, learning to play both is going to be incredibly beneficial for you in a worship context. You don't need to become an expert, but working to become proficient in both is going to make you far stronger as a worship leader. You'll be more flexible, and more able to support your team in whatever way it needs each church service.

Supporting Electric Guitars with Drum and Bass

While an acoustic guitar can “take over” a song and drive it from start to finish, an electric should still be more of an accent instrument. That means your rhythm section needs to be tight and confident, so you can lean on them throughout your set. The stronger they are the more freedom it will give you. Being able to trust your drum and bass will improve sound quality and ensure your playing rhythm is cohesive. 

Electric worship guitarists need to be able to trust their team, and you don't want any brash distraction through a disjointed band in a church setting. If you aren’t confident in your rhythm section, you’ll have to stick with lower-range chords, palm muting and clear rhythm patterns like 8th note down strums to compensate.

Creating Space Without an Acoustic Guitar

Creating an open and free-flowing space in your music with an electric guitar is very different from working with acoustic guitars. As someone who leads worship, you'll understand the importance of being able to build dynamic space and open sound. Rather than strumming openly on an electric guitar, create space and rhythm by playing more staccato.

The places you do land a chord will have more impact and reinforce the rhythm. If you need to go big, throw on a little overdrive and one strum your way through a chorus emphasizing the changes and filling in with light picking in between. This will enhance your sound quality and build a comprehensive worship service. 

If you play guitar, you need to be able to switch up your style and rhythm in order to get the most impactful sound out of your instrument and worship band as a whole. Being able to create that safe, warm space with electric instruments is a crucial capacity you need to have as a worship leader.

Frequency Range

As a worship leader, you need to be able to work with the other team members around you. Worship music needs to be cohesive, built from compatible frequencies that are straightforward to follow and pleasing to hear. If your bass does a good job of filling space, hang out in the higher range of the guitar. Triads are a great way to do this. Lay off the overdrive, use some delay and arpeggiate your way through the parts. Choose some repetitive rhythmic patterns over the chord changes.

In order to lead worship, you need to feel confident in your ability to respond to changes and frequencies around you. If doing so on an electric guitar is less comfortable and familiar to you, then it's best to ensure you don't do it for the first time in the middle of a church service. 

Lead worship music with confidence, so be sure to practice working with your team on matters such as frequency range and musicality choices prior to the service itself. Do plenty of preparation before you take the jump into transitioning from acoustic guitar to electric guitar.

Move From Acoustic Guitars to Electric Guitars in Your Own Time

Making this switch can be a fun and challenging move - one with the capacity to greatly improve your worship music and open up opportunities for your worship team. At the end of the day, as a worship leader, it's your job to ensure you're only moving away from the acoustic guitar when you're ready. Your church's worship team plays a vital role in setting the tone for the entire service each Sunday, and you don't want to switch anything over before you're ready.

The key thing to remember is that your playing styles may need to change in order to create the best sound quality. In a worship setting, it's not about having the most expensive guitars or playing exceedingly big chords. It's all about beautiful sound and a clean tone, making sure you sound good and won't be held back by a new set of instruments.

There’s a learning curve to an electric guitar. Doing your own research and understanding how to use one in a lead context can really help you understand how to use it as the main rhythm instrument. I’ve suggested a few lessons below that utilize some of the techniques I’ve described. Go through them from start to finish and then think about how you could adapt that type of part to another song.

Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA. He is husband to Alli and father to Bjorn and Asher.

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Comments

Thank you!!

Mind blown. Thanks for the tips Jason!

Glad it was helpful

It's funny how adjusting your perspective slightly can open up so many more possibilities.

Thanks a bunch!

Thankyou Jason, exactly what I needed to hear to get the confidence to step out and make that jump.

Awesome.

Go for it and tell us how it went

I'm not the worship leader but...

I am the only electric guitar. On songs that build and have big distorted chords (like Great I Am), should I concentrate on playing the chords or jump to the lead lines?

Depends on the band

You really have to use your ear to make the choice. Our lead guitar arrangements are built for a single lead player so what I play in the lessons will work but if you are lacking some other instruments you may need to fill more space by laying down the big chords. The question to ask yourself is "What does the song need?"

I'm having this problem as

I'm having this problem as well. The lead lines are so critical to how the song sounds but as we tend to play with drums, bass, acoustic and me on the electric it can sound a bit thin if I stop playing big chords and start playing single note lines. On weeks when we do have 2 electrics, the other guitarist is much better than me so I end up playing rhythmn anyway!

Thanks

Been thinking along this line for a while, but haven't dared try. Looking forward to working this in. I think it might give the dry.mer and horns more space. With the acoustic i feel lime I'm sometimes competing with the other instruments. Thanks.

In terms of competing with the other instruments

Make sure your sound guy has you eq'd so that most of your low range is gone. What sounds good when you're playing by yourself can get real muddy real fast. Acoustic in a full band setting should be a jangly high end that pokes out of a mix. Of course, don't let that hold you back from electric :)