Simplifying The Electric Guitar

This post on the electric guitar is a guest submission by Jacob Ray.  Over the last ten years, Jacob has served in church ministry, overseeing and leading worship teams.  He is a gifted musician who is passionate about seeing people worship God.  Jacob loves empowering others to grow in their gifts and talents.  He is currently located in Nashville.


guest post by Jacob Ray

Take a listen to the majority of modern worship, and you’ll find these dominant features: an acoustic guitar driving the rhythm, some sort of pad/keys undergirding the melody, powerful drums, a bass line in the pocket, and an electric guitar hook pulling it all together.

It’s a formula that has become the standard of today’s praise & worship scene, and a replicable one at that. Most churches can easily find instrumentalists who can take these songs and lead their congregation to the throne of Jesus.

But, more often than not, the one frustrating component of this formula seems to be the electric guitar.

How can we get the same sound from the recording? How can we translate 30 different guitar parts into just 1 or 2?

As an electric guitarist myself, time and time again I have asked these questions, and it boils down not to the actual playing of a song, but more into how we as guitarists do our jobs and use our talents.

The approach we’ll be using to figure this out may seem quite elementary and a repeat of what you learned during your first few days as a worship guitarist, but sometimes in order to move forward, we have to look back at the basics to accomplish our goal of simplifying what it means to do our jobs with excellence.

PART ONE: Off the stage

Before ever picking up a guitar, we need to realize and really take to heart that we are part of a team, not a lone instrument that everyone else is following. We aren’t the stars of the day; Jesus is. Our goal of being a worship guitarist is to complement the rest of the team with tasteful, eclectic hooks, licks, and riffs that add to the worship experience, not distract worshippers from seeing Christ. We need to check our pride at the green room doors, making sure that we know Who we’re worshiping, Who we’re leading for, and why we do what we do.

PART TWO: On the stage

Since we’re about translating worship into all kinds of settings, here are some tips on taking electric guitar into any worship service.
1. Keep it simple. Whether you’re on rhythm electric or lead electric, less is always more. Don’t try to melt faces with your overly-practiced sweep-picking or super technical riffs that you wrote for the songs. Be true to the nature of the tune, and play the licks and lines as similar as possible.
2. Don’t compete. You’re on a team, so communicate with your fellow musicians. Talk about each part with the other guitarist, and stay in “your lane”. When I work with other guitarists, the one question I always ask is, “Are you playing in the higher register or lower register?” i.e., up high or down low. That way, you complement what the other is doing, tastefully playing the songs and not giving your worship leader (and sound guy, too) a headache.
3. Remember your shapes. Everything you do is based on one of five chord shapes: C, A, G, E, or D, or simply put, CAGED. Use these to your advantage. Here’s a short video explaining how to use them well:

4. Preserve your tone. Whether you have zero pedals or dozens in your signal chain, you can get the job done easily. Don’t over-saturate your tone with so many drives, but don’t be afraid to use an overdrive to boost your signal and add dynamic. As many have said before, tone truly is in your fingers; it’s not how much gear you have, but what you do with it and how you use it that matters.
5. Come prepared. Know the song inside and out. Listen to the arrangements your worship leader gives you and learn each little nuance about your parts. Know what kind of dynamic you need to communicate with your picking. Not only that, but know the lyrics too. Truly understand what the words mean so you can complement them with your playing, whether rhythm or electric. We play to support the words and message, not the other way around. By coming prepared and practiced, you also allow yourself the ability to worship while you play, encouraging the congregation to worship as well.

As guitarists, we have the unique opportunity to add more movement and feeling to a song, pulling everything together and making worship a more intimate experience. Don’t ever be afraid to try something new, but don’t ever be afraid to continue honing the lessons you’ve already learned.

I hope that this post was helpful and encouraging to you. If you have need help, assistance, would like a topic covered, or have any questions, the Translating Team is available to serve you. Please contact us here.

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