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5 Tips For Leading With A Small Team

5 Tips For Leading With A Small Team

Leading worship with a small team of musicians is a real challenge and considering the majority of churches in the U.S. are 200 people or less this is a challenge most worship leaders face.  Weather you lead regularly with a small team or only occasionally there are certain guidelines that can make things much stronger and smoother.

Each Sunday our church hosts four services.  The first begins at 7:30am in a smaller secondary sanctuary on campus.  I normally don’t have a chance to lead for this service but every six weeks or so I make it a point to be there for this early morning gathering of about 40 people.  I had that privilege on Sunday.  Just me, my acoustic guitar and a cellist.  Throughout the rehearsal I was reminded of these principles for leading with a small team.  

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1) Simplify The Arrangement

The number one mistake I see small teams make is trying to hard.  Forcing it.  Pretending to be something they’re not.  Most of the songs we lead come from worship bands 15 strong or from studio recordings at least 100 tracks deep.  There are 3 core pieces to every song:

     •Rhythm (Groove & Tempo)


     •Chord Changes (Harmony) 

This is it.  Everything else is enhancement.  Make sure you’re doing these well and strip away the rest.  Don’t have your drummer play the full rock groove without a bass or electric player.  Just play the CORE groove.  Don’t have your keys player hit that soaring synth lead if they’re the only instrument.  It will feel out of place.  Ultimately, lean in to your strengths, don’t fight to break away.    

2) Make The Most of Dynamics

There’s a real mastery to playing well in a small team.  The secret?  Play less!  With only a few instruments the places you play and more importantly don’t play, are crucial. 

• Guitarists, don’t strum big all the time.  Use of the full dynamic range of your instrument so the song has movement. 

• Percussionist, cut out for full sections of a song.  It will make your re-entrance that much more impactful.  

3) Shorten The Map

Have you ever tried to build that bridge the full six times only to discover you’ve maxed out by bridge three?  Long intros, extended instrumentals and eternal builds often don’t work with the small team.  If i’m playing by myself and I get to a 16 bar instrumental I’ll often shorten it to 4 or 8 bars.  I don’t have drums to build.  I don’t have an electric guitar or keys to add harmonic interest.  It just get’s boring so keep it moving.  

4) Get Creative With Lead Lines

As a guitarists I take playing on my own as a challenge.  Keys players can do the same.  Don’t have another instrument to play a lead or melody line?  Try working it into your chord changes.  This can help expand your chord vocabulary, build dexterity and create more musical arrangements. 

• Try playing Cornerstone with the lead line embedded into the chord changes. 

• Or 10,000 Reasons with an embedded chorus melody. 

5) Get Intimate

Simply put, you have more flexibility with a small team.  You don’t have to worry so much about leaving someone behind if you go somewhere unexpected.  This is a good thing.  Take advantage! Great things can happen in an intimate setting.  

• Smoothly transition from song to song

• Add extra choruses or bridges to the end of a song

• Venture out altogether for a chorus of an unplanned song

…And a bonus tip, 

6) Dial In The Sound

Mixing a small team is just as tricky as playing in one.  Every frequency and nuance is that much more noticeable for the better or worse.  Take time to dial in vocal EQ especially.  Make sure there aren’t any harsh highs or muddy lows.  Carefully choose and place mics on percussion instruments.  It’s possible to still get a strong, full sound with only one or two musicians.  

What challenges have you faced with a small team?

What solutions have you found?  

Join in the discussion below!   

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