Friday, March 6, 2009

Book Review - The Art of Worship

A Critique of The Art of Worship
(A Musician’s guide to leading modern worship)
by Greg Scheer, Baker Books 2006

All of the bio info on Greg seems to indicate that he possesses the skill set and body of knowledge that would qualify him to write authoritatively on the subject that he addressed in his book. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Pittsburgh and has an impressive resume. Greg has experience in all the facets of music ministry such as being a church musician, composer, and a director of choirs and praise bands. He also has experience teaching as a music professor. By all accounts, Greg seems to be a good model music minister (although I do not know him personally, nor have I ever worked with him).

Greg’s book is quite comprehensive insofar as that it covers most (if not all) of the aspects of music ministry in a church. The fact that his book has 51 foot notes demonstrates that he did his homework. His book covers:
· The potential hazards and pitfalls a church may encounter when making the transition to a contemporary service format with a praise band;
· The details to consider when putting together a praise team and making it effective in a church service;
· How to select songs and build a repertoire;
· The different formats in a church service and how adapt style to structure;
· Each instrument’s role and dynamic in the praise band;
· How to prepare and conduct rehearsals;
· And finally, how to lead the singing during the actual service.

The book gets quite technical in some parts. Greg shows his vast knowledge of music theory when he elaborated on the various types of modulations a praise band could do in the last eight pages of chapter four. He even provides scores of these modulations to illustrate his point. Greg also did the same thing in chapter five when he devoted about eight pages to elaborate on the different types of harmonies the vocalist can use. Greg provided a lot of insight and analysis to many of today’s popular praise songs. He addressed their lyrical content and musical style while also demonstrating a knowledge mainstream pop music.

In chapter 5, Greg gives an analysis on all the typical instruments that could be used in a praise band. He elaborates on each instrument’s distinctives and how they contribute to the overall dynamic. For the most part, I thought Greg did a pretty good job of breaking down all the instruments and their specific roles. As for explaining the drums in particular, he did a good job on this instrument as well. However, I think Greg fell a little short in capturing a few of the nuances of the drums.

His first oversight is on page 155 where he incorrectly scored the hi hat line on drum part that he provided to illustrate how the bass drum locks in with the bass and piano. When scoring drum parts, it is a common practice to use an “x” as opposed to a dot to illustrate the hi hat and cymbal parts. Also, he put the hi hat line on the space just below the top line of the five line clef (the place where the note E would be on the treble clef). This space is typically where the 1st tom line is scored. The hi hat line is usually scored on the space above the top line of the clef (the place where the note G would be on the treble clef). See the score key to know more about how the drum rhythm lines are placed.

Greg goes on to provide suggestions on how a drummer can control his volume. I think there some nuances about drumming (and praise drumming in particular) that Greg has overlooked. One of his suggestions for reducing drum volume is, “to not use it at all, opting instead for congas, bongos, tambourine, shakers…” The thing to keep in mind here is that drums and percussion are two different instruments requiring two different skill sets. Just because one can play the drums well does not necessarily mean that he will be able to play percussion well. This is more the case when it comes to playing the congas, bongos and timbales. Tambourines and shakers are typically not too difficult to play. Therefore, many drummers don’t think they are enough of a challenge for them and think it is beneath them to play those instruments. Yes, there may be some acoustical settings that may be more conducive for just the percussion instruments and no drums. However, you better make sure your drummer can and/or is willing to play whatever percussion pieces you want him to play before you put him in that setting. Otherwise, get a true percussionist or a lesser skilled musician who would be willing to shake a tambourine to do the gig.

Another suggestion Greg made for reducing drum volume was to put the drums behind a plexiglass shield in which he referred to as a “drum shell.” This is a good idea. However, proper term is drum shield. A drum shell is the wood, metal or plastic cylinder that the lugs, rims and heads are attached to in order to make the drum.

The use of “Hot Rods” and “Lighting Rods” was another suggestion that Greg gave for drummers to reduce their volume. This too is a good idea. However, the terms “Hot Rods” and “Lighting Rods” are trademark names by Pro-Mark drumstick company. I am sure Pro-Mark would not have a problem with Greg using their trademark names in his book. However, the generic term for this kind of drum stick is called Multi-Rods.

The problem with all Greg’s suggestions for drummers to reduce their volume, is that he only centered around different equipment options. He never mentioned any technique options such as cross sticking. The cross stick technique is where the drummer puts one end of the stick on the snare drum head while using the other end of the stick to strike the rim and thus giving a wood block type sound. Another technique is playing the hi hat on 2 and 4 (with the stick or foot) on the first verse of the song and then graduating to a groove with the cross stick in the next segment.

To Greg’s credit, he did say that a drummer “should be able to control dynamic” without the aid of equipment. He also said, that a drummer should “play sensitively” and be “alert to volume changes within a song” and adjust accordingly. This is very true. To add to that, the ability to play softy in the verse and contrast that with a louder dynamic during the chorus while maintaining tempo is a nuance a drummer will need to master if he wants to be effective in the praise genre. This is especially true for the second group of songs in a praise music set. These songs as a general rule tend to be slower, softer and tend to feature a wider range of the volume dynamic. I think it is the second group of songs in a praise music set that really shows the effectiveness of a praise drummer. A drummer playing the first half of a praise set is not that much different than playing mainstream pop music because these praise songs tend to be high energy, up-tempo and the volume dynamic is not as critical of an issue.

Greg gave five and a half pages of his book to cover the nuances and dynamics of the drums. However, he only gave less than half a page to cover percussion. The title he used for that section was, “Hand Percussion” as opposed to just, “Percussion.” Percussion is a much broader term because it includes those percussion instruments that require sticks and mallets. Such as, the timbales, cowbell, cymbals, jam/wood block and the mounted tambourine. These instruments should not be excluded from the mix.

There are a lot of dynamics and chemistry that go on between a drummer and his percussion counter-part that is very similar to the dynamics and chemistry that go on between the drummer and the bassist. It would have been good if Greg had made the effort to address that. He could have provided scores of drum and percussion grooves to illustrate how these two instruments can bond and lock in with each other as he already did with the other instruments.

Another nuance to playing percussion that Greg did not mention is the coloring and texturing techniques a percussionist can do with the chimes, rainstick, and cymbal effects (with mallets or sticks). The techniques used on these instruments are especially conducive in the second half of the praise set.

I love the cover of the book. It has a photo of a five piece drum set (brand name unknown) accompanied by three crash cymbals, a hi-hat and ride cymbal (brand name of cymbals unknown). I could not have selected a better cover design myself. While I love the image on the cover of the book, I don’t at all agree with Greg’s choice for the title of the book. The title of this book should be, “The Art of Praise, A Musician’s Guide To Leading Modern Praise.” This title would be far more appropriate simply because worship is not an art form while there are two types of praise (music and dancing) that are an art form.

The problem with Greg’s view of worship is that he has bought into the pop cultural evangelical definition of worship and not the Biblical definition. In the introduction of his book, Greg attempted to define worship and praise. As for his understanding of worship in particular, Greg took his cue from Dr. John D. Witvliet who is the director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, in Grand Rapids, Michigan and cited a piece that he wrote in June of 2000 entitled, On The Three Meanings of the Term Worship.

Dr. Witvliet’s article outlines what he believes are the three basic definitions of worship. The first, is his broadest definition. Using Romans 12:1 to support his premise, he defines worship in a general way in regard to our lifestyle and how we live out our Christian lives. His second definition is a little narrower in the sense that he defines worship as the gathering of believers at the weekly church services. No scriptures were referenced to support this point. The third is the narrowest of the three. Referencing Psalms 95:6, Dr. Witvliet defined this definition of worship as engaging in specific act of “adoration and praise.”

Interestingly enough, Dr. Witvliet’s third definition of worship is actually the closest to the actual Biblical definition because Psalms 95:6 reads, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” However, Greg did not cite this scripture in his book. Dr. Witvliet’s never mentioned anything about music in his third definition. However, Greg took the liberty to suggest that this third definition has something to do with music and he did not even reference Psalm 95:6 as he did Romans 12:1. My study of the Biblical definition of worship has showed me that worship is primarily a lowly posture, either in a bowing, prostrate or kneeling position. The problem with the pop evangelical definition of worship is that it is characterized as an activity as opposed to a posture.

There are dozens upon dozens of verses of scriptures that contain the word worship. The exact count varies depending the translation of the Bible one reads. Worship is listed 198 times in the King James Version, and 256 in the New International Version. I find it amazing that Dr. Witvliet only uses two of the many available scripture verses that contain worship to support his position. I would think that a guy who holds a graduate’s degree in theology from Calvin Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in liturgical studies and theology from the University of Notre Dame would be able to make his case using a wider sampling of scriptures.

After defining worship according to Dr. Witvliet’s perspective, Greg then goes on to analyze the phrase, “Praise & Worship.” He identifies this phrase as a misnomer, and rightly so. However, we don’t see this phrase as a misnomer for the same reasons. Greg characterizes worship as an “umbrella term” that incorporates “praise, lament, confession,” and many other “acts of worship.” He argues that the joining of the words, “Praise & Worship” makes no more sense than joining “lament and worship” or “armadillos and animals.” When it is all said and done, Greg then concedes to the pop evangelical norm by stating that he will use this term as is throughout the remainder of his book.

I have studied the Biblical definitions of both Praise and Worship and my research has led me to the opposite conclusion that Greg has arrived at. I contend that Praise is actually the umbrella term that encompasses seven different activities and worship would not even be one of those activities. This is because worship is not an activity, but a posture and attitude. Greg’s “armadillos and animals” analogy is a misapplied analogy. Here is how I would analogize Praise and Worship using Greg’s analogy. Praise is to animals, and of the various types of praise would be analogous to the several categories of animals, such as mammals, reptiles, birds, fish insects and etc. Worship does not fit within animal kingdom analogy. So, if praise is analogous to animals, then worship would analogous to plants.

Overall, I think Greg’s book is very good. Once you can get past the semantics of worship and his oversights in covering the drums and percussion, his book would be very useful for those who want to be involved in praise ministry in any capacity.


  1. cross sticking????? RIMSHOT

  2. Actually, the plexiglass drum shield doesn't work as well as you let on in your article.Acoustic drums are Naturally loud. If you really need to tone the volume down, try some roland electronic drums.But with electronic drums, you need a pretty good sound reinforcement system with it.