By: Konner Scott
Recently, I started a new role as an acoustic guitarist at a church. The worship setlist consists primarily of gospel music and Christian contemporary, two lanes with which I am not super familiar. In particular, gospel music requires a unique knowledge of theory and stylistic nuance that I’ve never been exposed to in much detail.
My very first day on the job was Easter Sunday. I scrambled to learn the set list, and then got up on stage and hoped for the best. The band kicked off right away with a song that wasn’t even on the list I had received (I found out later that worship groups will often “riff”, or go by feel, in these situations). Not only that, but from the first bar, it was clear that these guys were on another level. I was surrounded by brilliant musicians, and suddenly I felt inadequate.
In a panic, I desperately grabbed the correct key, then played simple chord shapes that I thought would line up nicely with nearly any chord in the key. Even so, I felt like I was just trying to stay afloat for the first few minutes, which rattled my confidence greatly.
Later in the set, we turned over to a couple more simple songs that I had actually rehearsed. I took a deep breath and focused on the keyboardist. The version of the songs I had learn mostly lined up with what the keys player was doing (an advantage to playing piano as well- I could eyeball his chords and know what to do on guitar), and where they didn’t, I was able to follow much more easily than earlier in the set.
Towards the end, the band went into “riff mode” once again, but this time, I was more prepared. As the energy increased, I just pulled out some acoustic blues/soul licks and chord shapes I had in my library, and made an effort to connect with the energy of the other musicians. The finish – on my end – was lukewarm, but I got off stage feeling like a musical failure, and wondering when I would receive the call that I had been fired.
After our worship set, I had an opportunity to meet and chat with the other musicians. They benevolently praised my playing, and my first instinct was that they were lying- or at best, embellishing the truth. After enough people had positive things to say, though, I started to believe that maybe I HADN’T floundered as much as I had originally thought, and that my years of experience with other types of music (and experience being adaptable; see previous blog posts) had come to my aid.
The next week, I got on stage with a renewed confidence and vigor. I made two plans: one, to follow the keyboard player like my life depended on it, and two, to connect with the rest of the band and tailor my playing to theirs. This time, I got off stage much more confident, having had a lot of fun, and the band seemed genuinely excited about what I had brought to the table.
The first day with the group, I felt disconnected, and even though to the outside observer I may not have failed, I genuinely felt like I had not connected and blended with the rest of the band while I played. The next week, with a bit more confidence and a game plan, I was able to get outside of my own head and focus on the bigger picture. The reduction in my insecurity allowed me to appreciate the fact that I was on stage with incredible musicians, and I believed that I had something to contribute.
I’ve done a couple more services with this group since them, and every week I get a little more comfortable. It’s just become a blast. I can’t wait for the next one!