The Role Of The Acoustic Guitar


By Ryan McLouth

So, you’re a strong singer, you’re pretty good at accompanying yourself or others from the guitar or keyboard, and you have a gift for leading a congregation in song. That’s awesome, but do you know what to tell your band members when rehearsing to get the appropriate sound on any given song? If not, you aren’t alone. In talking to and working with other worship leaders, I suspect this is a common obstacle. I also see this challenge in the student worship leaders that I teach here at Central Methodist University. Many worship leaders are great at leading song, but don’t always know what to do with each player on the worship team. At the core of this obstacle is understanding the role of each instrument and singer in an ensemble. This month, let’s focus on the role of the acoustic guitar.
If you’re leading “standard” contemporary worship, this is the foundation of your ensemble’s sound. The acoustic guitar player should know the chord progression and form of the song front to back without exception. Whereas some instruments should only play during assigned parts of a selection, the acoustic guitarist usually needs to play the entire time. This helps to tie the entire song together and provide a harmonic foundation for all singers and instrumentalists to follow.
Whether you’re playing acoustic while leading, or you assign the instrument to another member of the worship team, the rhythm of your performance should be simple and easy to follow. One common error I hear rhythm guitar players make regularly — even highly experienced ones — is playing rhythms that are too complicated. Understandably, simple rhythms can seem tedious at times, but adding complex syncopations in places that they don’t belong is just wrong. Your job is to provide a stable harmony for singers and band members and to replicate the style. Just do that.
Acoustic players should also be playing open chords in every selection, even if this means using a capo. There is a misnomer in the world of guitar that “capos are used to make difficult keys easier.” That’s incorrect. Capos are used to make open chords possible in keys where bar chords would be required. In commercial music styles, bar chords sound wrong since you lose the rich harmonic content of open strings that makes acoustic rhythm guitar what it is. So, encourage your acoustic guitar player to use a capo, and find a position that encourages as many open chords as possible. Good keys for open chords are A, C, D, E and G. There is usually a way to “finger” any given song in one of these keys on acoustic guitar.
Replicate the recording. Another common mistake that acoustic players make is not listening to what the player did on the original recording of the song that they are playing. This can make your playing stick out like a sore thumb. You may be missing one of the most important parts of the song or playing a rhythm backwards from the way that it was written. Always listen to the song you’re going to be playing.
Thanks for tuning in this month. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me at any time via email at or phone at 660-651-9964.