As a musician in a church band, you need to know who’s taking the lead in each song so that you musically don’t step on each others toes. In general, songs can be classified as being either guitar-driven or piano-driven.
Guitar driven songs are usually in the “sharp key signatures” such as E, D, A and G while piano driven music is usually in the flat keys such as F, Bb, Eb and Db. We fight tooth and nail over the key of C (just kidding but they can go either way).
Guitar driven songs usually have only one or two chords per measure and the guitarist is usually doing something other than strumming chords, while in piano driven music the chords are usually complicated and can even sometimes change on every beat.
An example of a guitar driven song would be “Everlasting God” by Brenton Brown and Paul Baloche. You can hear Brown teach this song in the video below and pay particular attention to the driving rhythm that he describes, and shows, on the guitar. This particular guitar part can also be played by a keyboard player but never should you both be doing it together.
An example of a piano driven song would be “Be Lifted High” by Leeland Mooring. You can hear and watch it here:
During a guitar driven song, the keyboardist should be embellishing the song by adding runs, fills and doing some “donut playing” – playing some bass notes and upper keyboard notes but not so much in the middle range where the guitarist will most likely be (frequency wise). The guitarist needs to be driving this song. He needs to set the beat, the tone, the mood, the tempo and should also start the intro.
For a piano driven song, the pianist needs to set the beat, the tone, the mood, the tempo and should also start the intro. The guitarist takes the back seat and adds support, maybe by picking some chord arpeggios or inversions or blending in the background by softly strumming or finger picking the chords or adding an occasional bass run between the chord changes. The guitarist can get away with just striking the chord at the beginning of the measure and letting it sustain until the next chord change since he or she is not responsible for the main beat.
The bottom line is that it helps to know if the songs that you are playing are either guitar or piano driven before you start them and to set your support levels from each band member accordingly. Remember that not every band member needs to be playing all the time.
With just a little bit of practice, you should be able to listen to your favorite worship CD and identify the guitar driven and the piano driven songs. One of my favorite albums, I mean CD, I mean digital download (come on Steve, get with the program) is Matt Maher’s “Empty & Beautiful.” I do recommend this CD. Here’s my assessment of the songs on this CD:
- Look Like a Fool – Guitar Driven
- Your Grace is Enough – Guitar Driven (we’ve used this one in worship; consider using it when you are covering the story of Paul’s thorn in the flesh)
- Maranatha – Piano Driven
- Leave a Light On – Piano Driven (beautiful song for Ascension)
- For Your Glory – Guitar Driven (based on Ecc 3:1-8)
- Lay it Down – Guitar Driven
- I Rejoice – Guitar Driven
- Empty & Beautiful – Piano Driven
- Unwavering – Guitar Driven (based on the Beatitudes)
- As it is in Heaven – Piano Driven (based on the Lord’s Prayer)
- Shine Like the Son – Guitar Driven (and WOW!)
- Great Things – Guitar Driven
By now, I may have angered a few church bass players and drummers. We struggle without you guys; I know, because we don’t have either at our church. The bass and drums establish and keep the beat and the groove going. You guys are our backbone and our musical foundation. We build our rhythms and melodies off of your back drop. We rely on you to keep the timing throughout the song and to fill in some frequencies (especially the bass) that we would otherwise miss. I miss the drummer so much that I’ve been known to strap a tambourine to my foot and tap it while singing and strumming in worship.