Thinking Like a Non-Musician

1It’s hard for musicians to turn off their musician brains. We hear, notice, and pick apart things that a non-musician would never notice. For example: the snare drum hitting on the wrong beat, the bass playing the fundamental instead of the 3rd, the alto singing the wrong fourth note of that measure, the electric guitarist using the wrong kind of delay, or (one of my favorite pet peeves that a non-musician or non-guitarist would never notice) an acoustic guitarist hitting the bottom E string when he/she shouldn’t be.

Our brains are trained over time, through lessons, and with practice, to pick up on mistakes, inconsistencies, tonal conflicts, rhythmic errors, or just an all around lack of cohesiveness. We learn to spot the problem and identify how to fix it: whether it’s fixing our own fingers/voices, or helping someone else fix their issue(s).

Musicians notice specifics. Non-musicians usually don’t (except for when they’re glaringly obvious). They notice generalities.

It’s good for worship leaders to think like a musician, and notice specifics. But it’s also good to think like a non-musician and notice generalities.

Most people in your congregation are non-musicians. And here are some things you need to know about them:

– They don’t notice the musical minutiae. They seriously don’t hear the things you hear.
– They do notice musical excellence. They can tell when something is working and gelling.
– They don’t notice the intricate details. Their ears aren’t trained to pick up on that stuff.
– They do notice when something (vague) feels off (generally). They don’t know what it was, though, until you tell them.
– They don’t notice tiny mistakes, especially when the musicians play them off graciously and cover for one another.
– They do notice when there’s tension between musicians on stage.
– They don’t spend all of Sunday afternoon/Monday morning going back over all the musical details in their minds.
– They do remember singable melodies and grasp-able lyrical phrases.

So, you go ahead focusing on the details, and the specifics, and the minutiae, and the intricacies that combine together to form musical excellence and skill. But don’t let all that work get to your head. One way to stay humble is to also be thinking like a non-musician. Most of what you’re obsessing over will not be noticed by most people in your congregation, except for a few. Instead, they’ll notice the final result and the general fruit.

Hopefully your musical brain can produce something in addition to musical things only musicians will notice. Aim to produce a clear and compelling invitation for people to feast on Jesus. A musical invitation that’s skillful, excellent, and aimed at engaging as many people in your congregation as possible. That’s an invitation that musicians and non-musicians alike can accept.

5 thoughts on “Thinking Like a Non-Musician”

  1. Good article! I am a worship leadership major and have to remind myself to stop “studying” during a worship service and simply focus on having a heart of worship. Thanks for the article!

  2. So true, Good reminder for us when we sit in the pews as well. We are not always as forgiving of “bad” music, and are easily distracted from the message as a result.

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