The addition of a single instrument to the typical Sunday worship team of piano and organ can add fresh color to the service music without tons of prep. (Some prep – but just not tons of it!) So, what does one do with a talented individual instrumentalist ready and willing to participate in corporate worship? How do you plug that person in to your service music?

It depends…

Can the player improvise? A good musician can often improvise countermelodies, reading only from a hymnal. This is easier for C instruments, where no transposition is required. That said, many wind players are taught to transpose, as a necessity for survival. In the church I attend, we have a trumpet player (granted he is a real pro) who has a well-developed ability to add complimentary countermelodies that never go “over the top,” and draw too much attention. He knows when to play and when to lay out, requiring very little guidance from the music minister.

If you have such a player in your church — put ‘em to work right away! What are you waiting for??? Encourage the player and offer the guidance that he or she needs. But let them be themselves. if they are comfortable in the role, trust their instincts and let them play.

If the player cannot improvise, then some writing will need to be done. (I told you there would be some prep work.) Somebody will need to write countermelodies suitable for the overall approach of the hymns. If that isn’t you, perhaps it’s the player himself. (Some musicians don’t improvise, but given time they can sketch out a decent tune ahead.)

You will need to consider the “space” the instrument occupies – and by that I mean the aural space. A trumpet or a flute can make themselves heard above a full choir, congregation, and organ – so long as they stay in the upper register. A violin or a clarinet can only play so loud – and will be lost when the organist pulls out all the stops on the final stanza of “A Mighty Fortress.” A cello will be lost inside the piano player’s overzealous left hand work. So you will need to some “arranging” with your keyboardists to carve out some space for the additional player. This generally means that not everybody plays all the time. We don’t play every stanza forte. And we mix up the registers and textures of the accompaniment with each stanza.

A pretty classic approach would be for stanza two to be more subdued than stanza one. This is generally an ideal time to feature an obligato instrument. In the following stanza, that player can change register, or drop out and wait for the final stanza. The important thing to remember is: mix it up. That is essentially Arranging 101. Keep it interesting. Keep it moving and changing. And always use the hymn text as your True North when deciding who plays, when they play, and how big they play. Of course, not every instrument will serve as an ideal addition to every hymn. So pick your moments wisely. As a rule, “less is more.”

A final word: If at first you don’t succeed – well, you know. Bring the musician back and give him or her another shot. They may need to grow into the role of adding color to the service music without drawing unneeded attention to themselves. This could take a little time. But once you have a musician who can shine in this role, you will have a resource available to you that can be drawn upon time and again.


Editor’s Note: Please click the links below to enjoy these selections from Robert.





I am a fortunate man…
• Husband to a wonderful woman for so many years it is assumed I must have married her when she was five years old.
• Father to two talented, grounded young men, both of whom I would choose as friends if I wasn’t already their dad.
• Grandfather to four beautiful grandchildren.
I am a fortunate man…
• Still finding new avenues for the work I love after some four decades.
• Privileged to make music with incredibly talented cowriters, artists, and recording musicians all along the way.
• Blessed to work with ethical, creative clients from all around the globe, in the worlds of church music, advertising, musical theater, & broadcast media.
• Winner of six Dove Awards.
• Writer of eight Top Ten Christian radio hits.
• Producer of Point of Grace, the Talleys, Kurt Kaiser and several other talented recording artists.
• Writer/Arranger/Orchestrator of a small mountain of choral music anthems, collections and musicals.
• Author of The Craft of Christian Songwriting.

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