Is This Common Musical Blunder Holding You Back?

When Playing It Right Is Wrong

I’ve been teaching music for over 15 years and one of the biggest mistakes I see in all levels of musician is laser focus on playing a song right.  It might sound like an odd thing for a guitar teacher to say, but hear me out.

How do you play a song right?

There are parts of songs that are essential and there are those that are not.  If you get caught up in the parts that are not you miss the entire point.  I mean, how deep down this rabbit hole do you want to go?  Is the right way simply following the chord chart correctly?  Is it playing the correct notes or do the notes have to be in the exact same place on the guitar neck?  Do you need to include every little mute and ghost note?  Is it having the exact tone on the album?  What about that background riff that was clearly overdubbed?  Do we need to have a third guitarist to hold that down?  I’m all for holding a high standard, but every good musician puts their own stamp on a song.  It’s not supposed to be identical to the record.

Focusing on playing a song right can quickly get in the way of playing it well.

ALL live music is interpretation.

Worship music is inherently a live experience.  Professional bands have to interpret their own music to play live all the time.  Sure they can lean on tracks to cover the studio parts, but the great ones know how to strip the song to its essential pieces.  At Worship Artistry, most of the effort that goes into a lesson is arranging 40 track worship songs so a 5 piece church band can play them and sound like the album.  That involves making a lot of choices.  Sometimes it means the lead guitar gives up on a riff to fill in some chords.  Sometimes the keyboard covers the background pad so the guitarist is freed up to play the hook.  Sometimes the drummer has to cover a kit groove and loop at the same time.  It’s all about recreating the song, not just the part. 

It's how this 15 person band arrangement:

Can become this:

Maybe you have a 15 person worship team that plays as tight as a professional band, but I certainly don't.  Is this a perfect, note-for-note reproduction of the original recording?  Of course not, but it does capture its spirit and that's what we aspire to.  (Side note: Full band lessons are almost here!)

This is awesome!

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Bring Your Best

When Worship Artistry was just an idea, we were discussing what our tag line was going to be.  “Play It Right” was on the table but we chose “Bring Your Best”.  Why?  Because focusing on playing a song right can quickly get in the way of playing it well.  As worship musicians, we don’t’ play to satisfy our ego.  We play to usher our congregation into worship.  Stay focused on the right thing and don’t get caught up in the details.  Your best will just keep getting better. 

I Want To Be Awesome!

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Jason Houtsma serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA, Husband to Alli, Father to Bjorn and Asher, and guitar instructor for

Is This Common Musical Blunder Holding You Back?

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It's about balance

I feel we need to capture as much of the original (popular) artist's sound, technique, and song dynamics as possible. The Holy Spirit inspired that particular version of the song in such a way to touch the masses of people who's requests made it popular. It speaks to our souls in that form. But you have to balance that with reality... As a hard-working, average, sole lead guitar player in a 7 piece worship band, I know it is impossible for me recreate all of the guitar sounds in a song that the larger worship bands make popular. I have to focus on the heartbeat of the song. As this article states - the important stuff! Key hooks and melodies at the proper time. I know it's right not when I "nail it" but when I see people freely worshipping along with us. Worship Artistry training excels at helping me accomplish this and is my lifeline. I am well aware of the hours of work I have to put in to capture and document what I have to play for a new song request from our worship leader on a song that Jason and team don't have in the library. My first step is to search Worship Artistry for the requested title and leave the site with either a "learn to get proficient with what Jason teaches" or "go listen to the song for hours and break it down with documentation" assignment. I much prefer the 1st.

You hit the nail on the head

in success being when our congregation is worshipping alongside of us. While God is glorified through our hard work, even as we stumble through tunes sometimes, it can be so much more enjoyable for us when we can sit back in the groove, confident in what we are playing, and shift our total attention onto Him.

That's a good point

Great article about how to play a song "right". So much of today's worship music has layer upon layer of guitars, which is awesome but tough to re-create with a small band. Jason, I really appreciate the way you boil 7 or 8 guitar parts down to 2 guitars. It helps our worship team immensely. I'm looking forward to the full band lessons to help bring it all together even more.

I'm so glad it's helpful

Because it definitely takes FOR-E-VER :)

thanks for this article

This was an eye opener for me for sure. I always have the struggle of trying to get it as close to the album as possible for our 4 piece worship band and as the only guitarist I have to make a lot of choices too on what parts fit the best for the song. I realized that I have not been giving the rest of the band the same freedom and have let my frustrations of not being where I would like us to be interrupt the great place that we are in NOW and are growing towards more. Anyway, thanks for the insight and all the time and efforts that you all put forth for all of us. It's your heart that shines through in it all.

Thanks for the comment.

I love every one of you and can't wait to finally release these full band lessons!!!!!

I agree. I try to capture the

I agree. I try to capture the basic feel of the song and save the headache of playing it note for note. Then my worship leader tells me to play something different. I just roll with it and remember why I am there. :)

I agree. Especially with the

I agree. Especially with the part about rhythm chords sometimes being needed more than "lead parts" in a typical worship band. What I often see in our band is the acoustic guitar playing chords/rhythm, but almost buried in the mix, one lead guitar playing parts but occasionally playing the same chords in the same positions as the acoustic guitar, and a third electric basically fumbling around trying to find something useful to play ( but generally not rhythm/chords ).

I guess I feel the lead parts are worthwhile, but not at the expense of solid rhythm guitar. Or maybe I'm looking at this wrong and in a band like ours which has 2 or 3 guitars, drums, bass, piano, vocals and often keyboard, the rhythm guitar doesn't have to be pronounced or even heard. I do know that I prefer to hear pronounced rhythm guitar on the faster songs that are obviously not keys-based, and when I'm up I use a hybrid ( CarvinAE185) guitar with delay and OD as needed to fill out the rhythm. What the sound tech does is not in my control.