church gigs

I have some of the funniest stories about playing church gigs.

It’s crazy, because no service EVER goes according to plan.  Pieces can be cut short, pastors can skip parts of the service, and any number of things can throw a wrench into the service plan.  Because of this fact, the most important thing about working with churches is the ability to be flexible and make quick adjustments.

Playing at churches is a very important source of gigs for the freelance musician for three reasons:

  1. Church gigs are fairly easy to find.  There are churches everywhere, and they typically hire musicians for their bigger services (Easter, Christmas Eve, All Saints Day, etc).
  2. Churches also provide opportunities to network for other types of gigs (like weddings!), and you never know when a contact will pay off.
  3. They give musicians a place to perform and keep their performance “edge” up.


How do you find church gigs?  

Start by talking with the music director at your church (if you attend one regularly), and after that, Email local church music directors. Offer to play a free gig for them, and if they accept, bend over backwards to make that gig spectacular.  If they have any strange requests (like arranging parts to different songs), offer to take on the task with a great attitude.  By doing that, it will make you stand out as being willing to go the extra mile.


Performance Tips in Church Services

The most common parts of the church service for music are the prelude, the offertory, hymns, anthems, communion, and postlude.  The important thing to keep in mind is the style or mood for the different parts.

Preludes and postludes are almost always in a fanfare or heroic style.

The offertory and communion are almost always more lyrical and thoughtful.

Hymns and anthems can be either style.


The ability to play hymns and execute them properly is a skill unto itself.

The first thing that you need to keep in mind about a hymn is the fact that there is usually some sort of intro.  Do you play it, or does that come from the organ?  Also, you want to know which verses to play.  If asked your opinion, typically brass play on the first and last verses of the hymn.

On the last verse of a hymn, there is typically a descant (a countermelody played over the top of the hymn tune).  Many churches will provide you with a descant, but if they do not, you will need to know how to create one.  Luckily, it is very simple.  When reading out of a hymnal, take the alto and tenor lines up the octave as your guide. Change a few of the rhythms around to add some interest, and voila!  You have a descant!

By following these tips, you should be able navigate through any of the ups and downs that a church service may create.


Question:  What tips and advice do you have from your recent church gigs?




Photo by Marc. Used under Creative Commons License.

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