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The 10 Commandments Of Worship Drumming

Brandon Toews  /  UPDATED Nov 21, 2023

When Moses stood atop Mount Sinai and received the 10 commandments, he knew they weren’t about drumming. But if there were 10 rules for worship drummers to follow, this list has them all!

Play to the room

Worship drummers know that every church has its quirks. Are you in a small room or a massive modern theater? Is the floor carpet or wood? Because carpet absorbs sound better than a reflective surface, you can open up more on the kit. But you’ll have to watch your volume if you’re playing on wood or concrete. If the drums are still too loud, try drumstick alternatives (like Hot Rods) or dampen the heads with Moongels or Snareweights.

If you’re in a larger church, try using a deep snare and big washy cymbals to better recreate the sound from the song’s recording.

Know the arrangement

Are you playing a hymn, a medley, or a modern song? You might end up playing arrangements in 4/4, 3/4, or even 9/8. You might need to be ready for quick transitions or turnarounds in 2/4. Have go-to grooves for each feel and time signature so you can adjust as needed. And it’s always a good idea to brush up on your theory.

Understand the lyrics

Is the song declaring something, reflecting, or celebrating? The theme can help you make better choices on your drums. If there’s a story being told, it doesn’t make sense for drums to take over. Instead, they should develop with the lyrics and support the message. Create emotion; don’t get in the way.

Shape your drum parts

Your number one job is to help the congregation engage with the music. Know what type of drumming is appropriate for the song so you don’t throw off those who are listening or singing along. Only play loud if it makes sense. Imagine leading the congregation with your dynamics.

Be easy to work with

You’re usually playing with musicians who are volunteers. They – or you – may not have time to make practicing a priority. Play solid time and enjoy participating! Have empathy and know why you’re there. The musicians may end up changing each week so it’s tough to develop long term band chemistry. Trust each other and know that everyone is doing their best.

Be prepared

Are you playing multiple songs in a row? Counting off any songs? Are there interludes or announcements between songs? Are you controlling click tracks or backing tracks? Make sure you’re prepared so you don’t interrupt the flow of the service.

Worship drumming = Pop/rock drumming

There’s no point treating worship drumming as its own style – it’s essentially pop/rock drumming. So when you’re looking for drum lessons that focus on what you do, look for pop drumming or rock drumming content and topics.

Keep it simple

While some parts might occasionally throw you for a loop, most Contemporary Christian Music is simple. Think about the rhythmic foundation the song needs, like a four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern, a backbeat on 2 and 4, or a repeating rhythmic phrase. Most members of the congregation may not play an instrument, but they’ll be able to tell when something is off. It’s not about the drum parts; it’s about the lyrics and the music as a whole. Sometimes silence is best!

Pace the builds

There’s often a bridge section with a build toward the end of the song, and you want to carefully pace it to create the most impact. Many drummers hit the peak too early or too late, so make sure you know how long the build section lasts. Think about which note values you want to use to build tension and intensity. Think about the sounds you want to use. Maybe start with light toms and cymbals to start the build, then move on to washy cymbals, bigger tom hits, and even the snare as it progresses into a wall of sound before you release the energy into the next chorus section. 

Be a flexible timekeeper

Be reliable and keep solid time, but be willing to flex when you need to. If there’s a section without drums, the rest of the band might slow down or speed up. You could play quiet quarter notes to keep the tempo and help them out, or you might all use a click track (in which case you’ll need to know how to confidently lock into a metronome). Know the arrangement, be flexible, and have fun.

For Christian Contemporary play-alongs, lessons on gospel chops and more, check out Drumeo!

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Brandon Toews is an author, educator, and performer based out of Vancouver, Canada. Brandon is the author of The Drummer's Toolbox, co-author of The Best Beginner Drum Book, and the Content Director at Musora, home to the award-winning online music education platforms Drumeo, Pianote, Guitareo and Singeo.

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