Focus Track: Acoustic Guitar
The acoustic guitar is the quintessential worship music instrument -perfect for stages, prayer closets, and campfires around the world! It is hard to imagine the typical Worship Team existing without an acoustic guitar -and rightly so! The acoustic guitar, as imperfect of an instrument as it is, continues to be the most foundational piece of nearly every Worship Team ensemble on the planet. If you are an acoustic guitar player, or a Worship Leader who is trying to speak their language and give them direction, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind (appearing in no particular order).
The fundamental frequencies for the acoustic guitar typically range from 82Hz to 392Hz, with the bottom E ringing at 82Hz and the third fret G on the top E string ringing at 392Hz. That fundamental frequency range covers basically every open chord note played within the first five frets. Obviously there are harmonics in play, and adding a capo changes the range substantially, but the acoustic guitar is naturally a low to low mid range instrument.
Using a capo is the easiest way to play the acoustic guitar in different keys. By simply learning the G, C, D, and Em chord, you can pretty much play in every key by playing those same chords with the capo in a different position on the fretboard. That is a great trick, but it is not really the best use of a capo. The capo is most helpful in allowing you to achieve a different “voicing” for the key that you are playing in. Some songs simply sound better in the G voicing -even if you are playing in the key of C, for example. By using a capo, you will typically utilize different frequencies, which could be very helpful depending on your Worship Team instrumentation.
If you have a second acoustic guitarist in the band, definitely consider having that guitarist use a capo and play in a different voicing. Also, so as to keep the music crisp and clean, have that guitarist use a different strum pattern. Perhaps they play only whole notes during the verse and add dynamics by strumming sixteenth notes in the chorus and bridge.
The “musical buddy” for the acoustic guitar is the hi hat. If you are wondering what kind of strum pattern you should be using, listen no further than the hi hat. The acoustic guitar often gives tonal expression to the drummer’s hi hat. In fact, a great strumming technique is to use all down strums to match a quarter note rhythm on the hi hat, and solid up and down strums to match an eighth note rhythm on the hi hat.
Don’t be afraid to use all down strums when playing acoustic guitar within the context of a band. Sometimes that sounds the best! If you are on your own, or playing in a small band, you may need to consider your instrument to be the main percussion piece, and you may need to strum your heart out to create an effective groove. However, when the acoustic guitar is played within the context of a full band, treating it like a percussive instrument is a sure shortcut to Sloppyville.
Good dynamics are achieved more through the strumming pattern than through strumming intensity -especially when you are playing acoustic guitar within the context of a full band. Acoustic guitar players often make the mistake of thinking that they have to strum harder when the song is supposed to be really big, dynamically. In reality, the dynamics are typically already changing with the other instruments in the band, and the acoustic guitarist’s role is to either remain a solid rhythmic foundation, or to simply add more subdivisions in their strumming. On the flip side, changing your strumming intensity is a fun way to break a lot of strings… so there’s that.
Consistency is key. The acoustic guitar is such a solid, foundational Worship Music instrument. To play it well, you need to pick a strumming pattern that you can play well for the duration of the song. Other instruments may be coming and going as the song progresses, but the acoustic guitar will typically remain throughout (this is creating good dynamics, by the way). Sadly, the acoustic guitar will often get lost in the mix as the song progresses. This is not a problem. Don’t panic! In fact, many members of the congregation will typically only notice the acoustic guitar when it is being played poorly. Don’t do that. Play it strong. Play it well. Play it to the glory of God.
Artwork provided by my good friend, Brooke Gehman, an authentic and wonderful man of God, devoted follower of Christ, and an amazing husband and father. Brooke is a gifted Worship Leader, an incredible artist, and a Potter by trade (check out his website).