Ten Ways to Seize All the Attention When Leading Worship

Ten Ways to Seize All the Attention When Leading Worship

As the tone of the title might suggest, getting attention is not always a good thing. As a musician, there are ways you do NOT want to get others’ attention.

As one who plays with a band or team, especially in leadership contexts, this is even more important. A worship leader should not attract too much attention since his whole purpose is to help people focus on the Lord.

The title is “Ten Ways to Seize All the Attention When Leading Worship,” but I could have titled it “How to be a Distraction.” Of course everything below is entirely sarcastic (and slightly irreverent). The purpose is to implicitly show the disastrous ramifications of a worship leader seizing all the attention.

The list includes some of the primary distractions I have seen as a worship leader. They can be made by anyone on the stage, not just the worship leader.

Without further ado, if you are dying to know how to grab your instrument, get in front of people and seize all the attention (because, if we’re being honest, people deserve to be blessed by you), then here are ten ways you can do it.

1. Play A LOT of runs and licks

For most instruments, you can pick some very strategic places to play your best fills and runs. These fit best every time the singers are not singing, though sometimes you can help them out with cool alternative melodies. If it’s an easy song with easy chords, feel free to fill in all that nasty “dead” space with some creative leads. If you want to really get those heads turning your way, use a combination of an alternate melody and some sick syncopation.

If you are a drummer, people like to hear cool fills, so play them- everywhere. As a vocalist, runs and licks are becoming more commonplace, and expected. If this is you, be sure to keep your microphone up at your mouth in case you need to improv at a quiet spot, or between verses.

The point is, the more set apart you are, the better.

2. Use A LOT of interesting body language

Some really famous guys are really famous because of their ability to move their bodies with the music. This works really well with a great lick – bend your back as you bend your string for one of those really high notes. Or, if you are a bass player, know that attitude is everything. Wear shades if you have to. Be as cool looking as you can possibly be. Drummers should definitely swing their head and even stand up at times right before a big “crash” on the cymbal.  Everyone should try to jump at least once during the performance. Or, consider moments where you can dance excessively.

Some of the most interesting body language, however, is worn on the face. To get the most attention, you should exaggerate just slightly, as actors do on a live stage. If you are really enjoying the song, smile REALLY BIG. You can also seize their attention as you work out a really complicated fill. Be sure to stick your tongue out a little to show them how hard it is. Grimacing works exceptionally well for this, too.

Above all, be real. If you happen to see someone in the audience you really don’t like, show it. If you are not in it at all and are feeling bored, drooped shoulders go well with a small scowl or blank stare.

3. Don’t Practice

If you are into the music, the main thing is to be passionate. People will notice passion. If you miss a few notes here and there, or even if you miss most of them, your passion will cause people to be amazed. Just play from your heart. Everyone knows practicing too much nurtures a grudge against music anyway. It’s a drag. Besides, after a church service, you can give all the credit to God! You will be a blessing. If you utilize the first two, and play a lot of runs with some good body movements, you can just “feel” the music. You might feel your way to a wrong note or two, but remember, passion is what counts. Seize all the attention by seizing their hearts with your passion.

As a sidenote, if you are a vocalist and feel the audience should be blessed by your passion, but aren’t the lead vocalist, there’s a quick solution. Simply make a side deal with the sound engineer, mentioning the need for passion in the congregation, and tell him to turn you up just a bit. The leader won’t mind.

4. Yell

This goes nicely with the two previous tips. If you are feeling passionate, a nice, loud, yell works really well. Close your eyes and laugh briefly right after you yell. Just let it out. Don’t be afraid of what others think. These are utilized primarily during the upbeat songs, but can be mastered at key quiet moments as well. Whether you are yelling words or not, a yell will be very effective in seizing attention. Try to vary the kind of yell you use. People will stop looking if they hear the same thing too many times.

If you are not the “yelling” type, another option is to sing/yell. This is half yell, half note. You may have noticed this is a very popular style these days and you should try to be as “relevant” as you can. If they are comfortable with you, they will love to watch you.

5. Mess with your gear a lot

As a musician, you will often have a lot of buttons and or gadgets to play with during a performance. You should use this one with caution. If the purpose is to draw attention to yourself, you want to make sure to look like you know what you are doing, especially if you are playing by yourself. You need to look both smart and talented.

The best time to mess with your gear is when others in the band have started the song first, and you’re just waiting for your turn to shine. You can seize attention even when you are not playing if you do this right. Be strategic. Lean or reach over to adjust your gear the instant before the song is started. With this first motion, you will silently command attention, and people will wait on the edge of their seat for your turn. Use your body language skills and then start playing a little earlier than agreed upon. If you are to come in after the first verse, keep adjusting your volume or push your pedals, then play some light runs in the middle of the verse before you really come in.

You get the picture.

6. Stare at people and wink

With this advanced move, you can draw the eyes of many by looking at one person. One of the best ways to get people to quit thinking about words they may be singing is to wink at inappropriate times. These must all be done during a song, and the timing is critical. The wink must happen at the most random time possible, where no connection to the meaning of the song can be construed. Otherwise, they will not be blessed by you, but by the meaning of the song. If you wink at inopportune times, where meaning might be extrapolated by the viewer, you have not seized all the attention, but have given some away to the song itself.

7. Spend very little time, if any, tuning your instrument

Hey, if the rest of the band failed to tune to your instrument, that’s not your fault. In general, don’t spend too much valued time tuning. There are more important things to deal with. Believe in yourself, and trust that your ear and your skill will easily accommodate for a mistuned string here and there. Besides, if you show off your lead guitar skills, you will be primarily playing one note or two at a time, and it will be hardly noticeable. And speaking of, you are your worst critic anyway. If people are being blessed by you, they won’t even notice little details like if your instrument is in tune or not.

8. Use bad grammar and speling

If you want people to sing with you, but someone has told you to put words up on a screen, be sure to use bad grammar and spelling. The reason for this is obvious. If you intend to seize all the attention, you can not afford people’s eyes to be off of you for very long. Using bad grammar and spelling has a two-fold effect. It not only causes people to shift their eyes back to you (due primarily to being annoyed by what they see on the screen), it will also cause them to listen only to your music instead of considering the meaning of the words.

This two-fold effect gives this tip much power and should be used as much as possible. People deserve to be blessed by you, after all. For some reason, they don’t realize that the screen is not a person, so you need to help redirect their eyes to your person.

9. Play in a different key

This is really only effective if you are the primary leader. If the rest of the band is following you, one trick to seize 100% of the attention is to suddenly play in a different key. This is particularly easy for guitar players. You can thank the makers of the Capo for that. One ½ step shift is all it takes. If you are playing piano, simply pick the next key that is easiest to play. If you are in a key with a lot of flats, like the key of B, simply transpose the song one half step up to C. Do this on a song with few chords to make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself. That would defeat the purpose.

10. Stop a song in the middle

Like the previous, this one is only effective if you are the primary leader. Of all the previous items, this one is the most effective towards your goal of seizing all the attention when leading worship.

Picture with me: you begin the song with passion and entreat the congregation to sing with you, but you notice serious faces, bowing of heads, and a general somber appearance. A twinge of anger comes over you as you remember all those conversations with leaders about a “dead” congregation. Why can’t they just sing?

Remember at this point that your goal is to seize all the attention. Their lack of singing is only a surface issue. Use it as an opportunity. Take a moment to stop the song and speak to them. Broaden your smile and lightly scold them for their silence. Chastise them for the serious “praying” faces and encourage them to rejoice in the Lord!

(Of course, you and I both know that if they aren’t doing what you’ve asked them to, you might be losing control. This is bad. As a leader, control is what you do. You need to subtly remind them to love and respect you and your music.)

Now, if it’s a newer song, you might even be able to, very slowly, play sections of the song at a time, and have them sing after you. They might think you are teaching them the song, but in these things you have successfully seized all the attention while leading worship.

Way to go!

Seize Attention

Less is More

Less is More

This principle is very important in music. Truth be told, this is a principle important in life, since it is easy to over-work, over-plan, over-stress, and over-think.

Have you ever wondered why the lives of many elderly get simpler, and less cluttered? Could it be that it has less to do with their out-of-touch-ness and more to do with wisdom?

I believe that many, in their years, have learned this principle in their life.

The principle “less is more” reveals how important it is to do a few things well. It means living among other human beings without hogging all the attention. It means listening well to others and contributing to society in a significant way rather than just a noisy, clanging kind of way (I think 1 Corinthians 13:1 might have something to say about that). It means being patient to add your two cents at the right time. After all, if you live by this principle, you are humble enough to recognize that you only have two cents.

In music, it’s the same.

(This, incidentally, is one reason I love teaching music. There are inherent life-lessons involved.)

So what does this “less is more” principle look like in music? Well, I’ll break down the above paragraph:

  1. Do a few things well
  2. Live as others are more important than you (don’t hog all the attention)
  3. Listen well
  4. Contribute in a significant way (don’t just be noisy)
  5. Remember you are only one part of a whole

While you can apply these things to life, I’ll note how I believe they apply to music specifically.

1. Do a few things well

As a student, it is so easy to move on before it is time. It is better to learn a few things well than learn a whole bunch of things without getting any of them down. The reason is because it’s hard to remember that it takes many more repetitions of a skill than you think. Students feel that after they’ve done the skill correctly once or twice, they have mastered it. To put it another way, they believe it is “easy” before it is truly done with ease.

Practice a few things. It will lead to even greater artistry in the future. Less now will mean more later.

2. Live as if others are more important than you (don’t hog all the attention)

This one is especially huge for those playing with others. I believe the goal in learning music is for the benefit of others, so even if you are a soloist, it should not be about you. People watch you and can read pretty quickly if you couldn’t care less if they were there, or if the only reason you want them there is to applaud how awesome you are.

As a band, considering others as more important than yourself is an important concept. Think of it – what would it sound like if everyone played a solo at the same time?

Answer: mass chaos.

Likewise, what would happen if a car had two steering wheels?

Answer: mass chaos (and death).

What happens when there are too many “cooks in the kitchen?”

Answer: mass chaos.

If you are playing with others, it is crucial that you don’t try to hog all the attention. Playing more and louder will only lead to mass chaos. Instead, how can you support those around you in what you play? What is your role? The more players, the less you should be compelled to play. I often think of a classic band like the Eagles with this. They were extremely good at this principle, and their music reflected it.

3. Listen well

Don’t try to be heard. Try and listen. This one is related to the above. If you are considering the other players as more important than yourself, you will be listening to what they are doing. Besides what they are playing, you will notice how they are playing, and will be able to adjust if they change. The beauty is that communication begins only when all are listening well to one another, and the team can then adjust simultaneously. Some bands are so good at this that very little body language or facial expression is needed to communicate effectively.

Play less for the sake of better communication, and a better sound as a band.

4. Contribute in a significant way (don’t just be noisy)

No one wants to listen to flat-out noise, and every band should remember that they are on a continuum between chaotic, cacophonous noise and beautiful ordered music.

One potential problem with #3 above is that a tentative, nervous player will play so little that he barely contributes at all. Now, this might not be all bad, for obvious reasons, but he should push himself to contribute meaningfully even if he is not a great player.

On other hand, some players don’t realize they need a lot of work on their technical skills and will play loud and proud without consideration of the whole sound (he’s already blown the first three above).

This item is included so that neither claiming “minimalist” as a musical philosophy nor claiming irresistible “Animal” tendencies are an option. If the goal is to contribute in a significant way, you will find balance in between. This item is also placed where it is because doing this well is somewhat dependent on the first three.

Less means more significant, not necessarily fewer notes.

5. Remember you are only one part of a whole

I hope this one is fairly self-explanatory. As a musician, you cannot and will not make the same kind of sound by yourself as with a group.

I think of the kind of sound all the saints will make in heaven as they worship the Savior (an enormous thought).

As you play with others, remember that part of the reason you play “less” is because you are not the whole.

You are not a band any more than a soldier is an army.


The “less is more” principle means practicing and mastering a few things at a time, listening well and considering others as more important than you, and then contributing meaningfully to the overall sound as you play with the team.

How have you seen this principle in action?



Getting over the Blank Canvas

Getting over the Blank Canvas

Sometimes playing music can start with as much of a blank canvas as painting. Even if there is a sheet of paper with notes or chords on it in front of you, players or groups still get this familiar sense: “Where do I start?”

For instance, a guitar player, bassist, drummer and a singer get together to play. If there is no set songs to play, it’s worse, but even if there are songs that have been chosen, they still must decide how to start.

Or, when a beginning guitar player picks up his or her guitar to play, they play around on chords, but how do you put them together? How should they strum?

A large part of this blog is to help get over this hurdle. I hope to offer tips that help get over this “blank canvas” feeling.

I enjoy the visual arts as well and have felt this many times. It comes with the territory…and you don’t realize how tall that mountain is until you get right up next to it. In other words, until you pick up your pencil, brush, guitar pick, drum sticks or get together as a band and begin to play, you don’t realize that the squatty thing in the distance was Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Every artist must learn to overcome this feeling. And you can too.

So here’s the first tip: Imitate

One of the best principles I’ve found for learning anything is to try to copy what someone else has done.

This is called “mimesis” in classical education circles. It’s why God wanted Moses to write the song in Deuteronomy 31-32. It’s why Jesus asked those men to follow Him. It’s why Paul and the other apostles told the churches to imitate God and Christ in love (cf. Eph 5:1-2). It’s why the apostles not only told the churches to imitate them (2 Thess 3:7-9), but to also consider the outcome of the way of life of their leaders and imitate them (Heb 13:7).

Back to music. This is fairly easy to do these days with guitar. Find a song. Find the chords. Play along.

(Simply type in the name of the song in google with “lyrics and chords” next to it and you should find something.)

I have led worship music for much of my life and these types of songs are wonderful to use.

Number two: Consistent and Simple is Best

Secondly, remember that it is more important to be consistent with something simple than to try to do too much. If you’re by yourself, it’s better to work yourself up to the more complex thing. If you’re with a band, the same applies – it’s better to work up to the more complex thing than try something too complicated…even if one person can do it so easily.

It’s a trap.

Just work on being consistent with something simple – on your skill level – first.

For instance, as a band, try this. Strip the chords to their bare bones by only playing the chords shown at major places (like the down beats – or maybe even just the 1 count).

As a beginner guitarist, try this: play a D chord until you have mastered it, and don’t move on until you can close your eyes and put your hand in the right place. Or if you’ve mastered the D chord, try using the D to practice switching to a chord you don’t know as well, and go back and forth. Master that.

Work on being consistent with something simple.

I know there are many things going on that can cause a musician to freeze up, quit in frustration, or simply get bored. Remember you are training yourself (even as a band), to hear well and play well. It’s ear training as well as muscle memory training.

Stay the course!