Incorporating Brass and Woodwinds into Worship Sets

Incorporating Brass and Woodwinds into Worship Sets

This article is tailored more towards worship bands where horn and wind parts aren’t written out and arranged into sheet music, if you do have written parts for worship songs, see tip # 5– that one’s just for you.

In my experience, most bands that I’ve played in don’t have the staff or resources to make written parts for brass instruments and wind players, and the worship director relies on the musician’s improvisational skills. And, after playing trumpet for most of my life– and in worship bands for a couple decades– there’s one thing I’ve learned more than anything else:

Less is more.

And this leads into the first quick tip:

1. Spend More Time Listening Than Playing
Probably the most dangerous place to be as a musician is that level of competency where, yeah, you’re getting pretty good at you’re instrument, but a certain overeagerness or desire to impress compels you to play as much and as often as possible during the song. They aren’t afraid to lay out for an entire verse or play very sparsely throughout the song.

2. Practice the F# Major Scale Until You Drop if You’re a Bb Instrument (i.e. Trumpet or Tenor Sax)
As it turns out, about four billion worship songs are written in the key of E. This means, for some horn and wind players, they have to play a whole step above that, the key of F#, which has about four billion sharps (okay, only six, but that’s still a lot). You might as well get the pain over with in your practice sessions and get so comfortable with playing in F# that the next time a worship service has seven songs in concert E, you won’t break down in tears.

3. Use Dissonance Wisely
One mistake that some musicians make is thinking they can only play notes that the rest of the band members are playing. They assume they can only play one of those three notes. It takes a little practice and experimentation, but playing notes not in the chord can add some wonderful colors to the music.

4. Listen to the Jazz Album “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis
Listening to the right music will sharpen your sense of what’s tasteful and what’s not, especially in situations where the worship leader/director is leaving up to you to improvise something that fits. And just listening to this masterpiece will upgrade your sense of what’s tasteful as a horn or wind player, even if you’re not playing jazz.

5. Try to Memorize Them if You Do Have Written Parts
When you memorize written music, you internalize it in a way that allows you to focus on the musicianship– and the worship during a worship service– in a way that will drastically improve your notes and the overall tastefulness of what you’re doing. When your eyes aren’t stuck on the page, you can pay better attention to what the band’s doing, what the worship leader is doing, and to worshiping God in general. If you’re sincerely worshiping, you ‘d be surprised how that shows in your body language, and the congregation will pick up on that.

The Need for Creative Ministry


The sun would just be coming through the early morning clouds as I drove through the quiet, on my way to the Flower Mart in downtown Los Angeles. It was part of the ritual, the dance, of doing this work that I loved. I only did it part time and I only did it for seven years, but I loved it.

It began with our eldest daughter’s wedding. We were on a budget, I enjoyed working with flowers, and I saw an opportunity inviting me to leap. I jumped in with both feet. I applied for a resale number from the state of California, hired a friend to design a logo and business cards, and “Ribbons ‘n’ Roses” was born.

I worked with a good friend to produce beautiful floral décor for about two weddings or parties every month. I loved the creativity, the people, and the beauty of each arrangement, but I suppose my favorite part of all was that early morning drive to the Flower Mart, a place packed with rich delights and unholy confusion. Most of the mart is contained in one enormous, two-story warehouse with scores of individual flower vendors and one large supply. Driving into the garage while it is nearly dark and then emerging into this brightly lit, bustling activity center is an exercise in delightful cognitive dissonance.

Carts and trucks are loaded, advice is given, cash is handed over, packages are wrapped– all of it infused with the sweet scent of flowers. With the car loaded and my bills paid, I would usually end the morning with breakfast at the adjacent Chinese diner. I would listen to conversations between buyers and sellers as they ate their char siu pork, rice, and eggs, absorbing as much information as I could.

I watched others do this work, marveling at the secrets and tricks they revealed. Experimenting in my garage, I learned the importance of hardening off: cutting freshly-bought flowers and putting them immediately into buckets of cool, nutrient-enriched water for several hours before arranging.

The more I learned, the more I began to see how this form of visual art added beauty that went beyond the senses. Seeing the roses and lilies, the bouvardia and star aster add color and fragrance to those ceremonies and gatherings, I began to think of my work as an offering of sorts. A gift to the couples, to friends, to family. A ministry.

My seven-year stint as a part-time florist deepened and encouraged my love of ceremony and ritual and offered opportunity to support and encourage people during critical times in their lives. During the last fours years of my work in floral design, I was also studying systematic theology and church history as a seminary student; soon after closing down my small business, I answered God’s call to pastoral ministry. And as I entered those ministry years, I took with me a powerful truth, honed and heightened while doing floral work: an appreciation for beauty is a defining characteristic of a fully lived human life.