Practicing Is A Discipline That Sets You Free

You can't make music if you are focusing only on your instrument. You have to listen and respond to the rest of the band for it to be music.

Oh you can make it through the chord chart, but it’s not “making music.”

Have you ever felt bound to your chord chart? Ever felt scared that you were going to make a mistake and missed the whole moment of worship?

Jon says “Practice is personal; Rehearsal is relational.” I’ve said “Practice is what you do before you get to Rehearsal.” That’s why I’ve used the language of worship rehearsal rather than worship practice.

Practice allows you to focus on the main thing when you’re in the service. Practice reduces tension among team members. Practice puts you in a better headspace when you’re rehearsing. Practice gives you more margin – in the sense that more things can go wrong before they affect you. Practice is key. Just don’t do it at rehearsal. :)

So that’s some of the WHY you should practice. But HOW should you practice?


  • Before you sing/play, listen.
  • Listen to the song at least two times before playing or singing. Notice three things:
    • Dynamics (where does the song get big and small, the energy rise and fall, where does it hold back and let loose)
    • Form (what are the sections of the song, how does it flow)
    • Core (what is making this song “work” or feel like it does – a melodic line? A drum groove? A strumming pattern? In the spirit of my nephew Will, “This is important because without knowing what makes a song work, you’ll tend to just play the chords on the chart and miss the whole core of the song.”)

I remember “learning” a song having heard it once at a conference. I’d come home and teach it to my team from my memory of it. How surprised I was when I heard the song years later being done “wrong” by…the author! Ha! (disclaimer: this was in the early nineties, before you could just YouTube anything you wanted to hear)

Important caveat: Make sure you’re listening to a version that your team is going for. There are so many covers these days that alter the feel, the arrangement, even the notes and rhythms of the melody that you want to make sure you’re learning. For example, King of my Heart from the original Sarah MacMillan version is different from the Kutless cover. (and as a bonus, check out the amazing tag that Suzanna Espamer-Murrill wrote:


Once you’ve listened well, play along with the recording a couple times. This will help establish lots of good habits including really learning the song well.

I love the way they said it at the Vertical Church Band Worship Nights: “Learn to replicate before you create.” You absolutely want to make it your own and create an authentic, artistic expression. Do that AFTER you’ve submitted yourself to the discipline of replicating and learning the original. Everybody you’ll ever play with will thank you.

But what if you’re not playing it in the key that the video or recording is? Great question. Two easy solutions (because it’s really, really important to practice it in the same key that you’ll be playing it at rehearsal.) First, if you use Planning Center Online and have uploaded mp3’s of m4a’s you can change their keys like this. If you don’t have PCO, you can also use their free resource where you can transpose mp3’s only. What if you don’t have the mp3? Buy it. (or find it on YouTube, copy the share URL, and paste it in the search bar of You’re welcome.)

Then take the training wheels off and play with a click or a metronome This will also make everyone you play with appreciate your consistency, discipline, and groove. You may have to slow the click down to be able to play it. It’s always a good habit to slow the tempo down to the speed that you can play something in consistent time. Once you’ve got it, then speed it up to the song’s tempo. Since playing to a metronome helps everybody to lock in on something common, doing this in your practice time will help everyone once they are together.

If you say “I don’t have a metronome,” you’d better check your pants for flames. ;) If you have a smartphone, you do. If you prefer the flip to the smart, on your computer, go to and either move the slider or tap the spacebar to set the tempo. Or just google “metronome” and use the one built into the browser. My favorite iPhone app is’s Prime. It’s what I use to play multitracks, but you can add clicks. Simply set the tempo, time signature, and name it (the song name) and off you go. (bonus: you can even use this at rehearsal to play to or just start at the right tempo!)

So work hard on your own. Practice well. It will set you free!