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Drummers who play for church services get paid the same way as other staff members of the church get paid, usually with a weekly paycheck from a payroll department that requires a W-9 form to be filled out.
In some casual situations, or when a church budget is low, the drummer might be a volunteer. In general, a church drummer is a valued employee of the church. He or she is paid a respectable amount of money to be consistently good at the job while being dependable.
What Does the Pay Scale Look Like for Church Drummers?
There are three pay rates that you can expect to find when looking for church gigs.
- $75 – $100 for one service with a brief rehearsal before the service.
- $100 – $175 for one or two Sunday services and a rehearsal before the first service on Sunday morning, or a rehearsal during the week.
- $175 and up for two Sunday services with a rehearsal before the service on Sunday morning, or a rehearsal during the week.
Looking for Church Gigs
It’s difficult to find online listings for church drummers, although I have seen several listings on Craigslist over the years. There are sites such as churchstaffing.com and Indeed.com that have listings for ministers of music. If a church is looking for a new minister of music, they may be turning over the entire staff of musicians.
If you find a listing for a church near you, inquire about the drumming position even if it’s not explicitly listed. Leave your contact information with the church in case the new minister of music takes the job without a drummer already in mind.
Many drummers, bass players, and guitar players land church gigs through the networking that takes place when playing gigs and sitting in on jam sessions. Being personable and professional will increase your chances of getting invited to substitute for a drummer on a church gig or get an audition.
Which Types of Churches Hire Drum Set Players?
Protestant denominations such as Baptist, Episcopalian, and Pentecostal churches are commonly known to have a drum set as part of the instrumentation backing the choir or praise team. Unitarian and Adventist churches are likely to have a band with drums, but it can vary from church to church.
You might be surprised by which churches use drums. Cast a wide net when looking for a church to play at. Many churches like to post videos of the praise and worship segment of their services on their website.
Playing for Free
If you’re a young student who wants to make your church experience more enjoyable and get comfortable playing in front of people, ask the minister of music if you can sit in or substitute for the regular drummer. A lot of great drummers got their start in the church playing at a young age.
Adults who play drums as a hobby, but would like to perform in public should consider donating their time and talent to a church in need of musicians. The live playing and interaction within the church community can be beneficial musically and personally as well.
Why Should a Church Pay for a Drummer?
Other than the sermon, for many churches, the most important part of the service is the music presentation. This presentation is usually in the form of a large choir with an accompanying band, or a small to medium-sized praise team with two or three musicians accompanying them.
A strong music performance before and after the sermon brings energy and sense of celebration to the service that is considered by many church leaders to be crucial to the church’s success. This is why many churches are willing to set aside a healthy budget for musicians.
A drummer who can be relied upon to show up every Sunday and play well deserves to get paid. The drummer is helping the church create an enjoyable service for the congregation. A church choir and band that performs on a high level is considered to be a reliable recruitment tool as a pastor’s message.
What are the Benefits of Being a Church Musician?
If you are a person of faith, I think that the most obvious benefit is that you are combining your praise of the Lord with your love of music.
Regarding music specifically, here are a few benefits that come to mind:
Consistent Performance and Rehearsal:
Playing drums in a band is the best way to improve your musicianship. The great thing about a church gig is the consistency of it. Even if some of your personal projects or side gigs are slumping, you’ll always have at least one performance and rehearsal to keep you on your toes.
Skills Developed Playing Church Music Apply to Many Styles:
The time signatures that you are likely to play in a church band are quite common, but the tempos and feel required can be challenging. Keeping a fast “2” feel on top of the beat in a Gospel setting without rushing or dragging is a physical challenge, and playing a slow 6/8 ballad with a large choir requires attentive listening and a strong sense of time.
A good cover band will have a setlist of songs that requires you to have the same skill set that you will develop while playing the feels mentioned above in a church band. On a musical level, there’s a lot of crossover between Pop/R&B music and church music; the primary difference is in the lyrics.
Different Time Signatures:
I played Gospel music for eight years in a Baptist church, and one of the most challenging feels that I came across was a slow 9/8 ballad. It took me a while to appreciate the qualities of that feel and time signature, but once I got comfortable with it, I noticed that my ballad playing started to improve in all styles.
Here’s a nice example of a slow 9/8 song, Donny Hathaway’s We Need You Right Now Lord:
Dynamics are Everything on a Church Gig
One of the biggest complaints you’ll hear from musicians is that many drummers can’t play with a broad range of dynamics. Not only do the acoustic environments vary from church to church, but so does the repertoire. Only in rare cases will you be able to get away with just bashing your way through a church gig.
Listen to the Choir:
The choir is the top priority, which is why you need to be a good listener and adjust your volume accordingly. Hopefully, you’ll get the opportunity to play in a handful of churches and learn how to make adjustments to the different sized choirs, bands, and rooms.
Developing excellent listening skills in church performances will help you be more thoughtful with your use of dynamics. And I’m not just talking about knowing when to bring the volume down. Laying into the drums and letting your spirit shine can bring the music to another level; both in and out of the church.
Are There any Techniques Specific to Church Drumming?
The short answer is No. If you’re fortunate enough to get invited to play Gospel music, there’s no need to spend hours on YouTube watching Gospel Chops videos to prepare yourself for the gig. Ask the minister of music for the setlist and spend some time listening to the songs on the list. If you don’t have a lot of experience playing in 6/8 or 12/8 time, you should practice playing in those time signatures.
Gospel Chops has become a popular term to describe flashy and fast linear drumming that is rooted in a vocabulary that has been around for decades. Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Dave Weckl were playing licks back in the 1990s that are similar to what you’ll hear on a Gospel Chops shed session.
Certain feels are specific to church music, and you should focus on those feels more than flashy technique. Study and play along with recordings of the music that is in your church’s repertoire, and you should be comfortable on the gig.
Gospel Feel and Attitude:
Here’s a great song by Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers, titled Never Seen the Righteous. This song has a little bit of everything; feel changes, breakdowns, great energy, and some drum solo fills at the end.
All of the drumming techniques on display in this song are found in secular music, but it’s the feel and attitude that make the drumming unique to Gospel music.
A Good Drummer Outside of the Church is a Good Drummer in the Church
Many of the techniques that you’ve studied and practice to become a good drummer will lead to success when you get the opportunity to play in a church. Keep in mind the listening skills and time feel applications that I mentioned above. These musical attributes will do put you in favor with the minister of music more so than an impressive arsenal of chops.
Successful drummers on any music scene have a talent for being sociable and personable. Good social skills will serve you well in a church setting more than most gigs because it’s about the community as much as the music.
Your Role as a Member of the Church Community
It’s important that you get paid a fair wage for your service to the church, but it’s also essential that the gig isn’t just about getting paid. Be social and try to build relationships within the church community. If you’re not clicking with members of the congregation, or the minister’s messages don’t align well with your personal beliefs, you probably won’t be happy in that situation for long. Good luck with your search for a church gig, and have fun.
Otto Huber is a San Francisco Bay Area based drummer and educator. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Percussion Performance from Northern Illinois University in 1993. He performs regularly with various Jazz ensembles and his own group The Midnight Blue Organ Trio. You can learn more about Otto here: https://ottohuber.com