The Role of Music Director in Worship - Practical Tips

What is a music director in a worship band? What do they do? And how does it differ from the worship leader? Why should you consider creating a music director position? What type of person makes for a good music director? How do you pull it off from a technical standpoint? And what are some of the best practices and pitfalls to avoid in order to be successful at it? Those are the questions we will be addressing in this month’s episode. Hope you enjoy the episode and it helps strengthen your ministry!


Direct Download

The Ultimate Guide To In Ear Monitors (Episode)
Whirlwind Mic Mute PT Pedal (Amazon)

Listen while you drive, workout, or do chores! Subscribe on:
Apple Podcasts
,  Google PodcastsSpotify, StitcherTune IniHeartRadio
Not sure how? CLICK HERE

Follow Us!



Our Sponsor This MonthPlanning Center

Planning Center is the ultimate tool for scheduling teams, planning worship services, selecting song sets, communicating with team members, hosting chord charts and mp3's and so much more!  Sign up and get 30 days free at

Enjoy the podcast? Say thanks by leaving us a review on iTunes!


Alex Enfiedjian 00:00 This episode is sponsored by Planning Center, the best way to plan schedule and resource your teams for your upcoming services. Planning Center is an incredible tool that I use literally every single day to manage our multiple services in our multiple venues in our church. And I always want to give you a practical tip when I share about planning center because it can do so much for you to make your life easier. And one of the things I want to highlight today is the ability to create notes in each song for your band, your vocalists, your AV team, your stage crew, etc. You can add specific notes for each group of people in your planning center services app. And within that app, you can create PDFs and print those out to give to your volunteers so that they can see specifically what you want them to do for each song. And this helps a lot with band arrangements. So you can put keyboard player please learn these things. electric guitar player, please learn these things, etc. You can add lighting notes blue for this song red for this song, and about any other thing you could think of you can do in the notes section. So check that out. If you weren’t using that feature, I would encourage you to look into it. And if you’re not yet using Planning Center at all, I would highly encourage you to use it it is worth every penny. And thankfully for the first 30 days, it costs zero pennies, it is free to try for 30 days. And after that plans start at just $14 a month. You can check all this out at planning dot Center planning dot center. Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the worship ministry training podcast, a monthly podcast for worship leaders and worship team members. I hope this podcast is a helpful resource to you as you serve your churches in worship music. You know, I get a lot of emails from listeners and I always try to respond in a timely fashion. Sometimes I’m late because life is busy. But sometimes the question is one that warrants an entire episode dedicated to it. And that’s the case for this question that comes from a listener named rich. He asks, I am the band leader at my church and I have been wondering about the role of the music director on a Sunday morning during service. I’ve heard the term reference many times as far as giving guidance to the band through their in your monitors. But I was wondering if you could unpack some more specifics about that topic? What are the different approaches to the role, potential pitfalls and positives? And just a general overview of how it works? Great question rich, thank you for that question. And the role probably looks different in many churches. But what I’ll do today is I’m going to explain the role of a music director in our church, the role that I’ve heard of in other churches, I’m going to share how you do it technologically, and some best practices. So let’s talk about the role First, the role, like I said, is going to be different in different churches. I’ve heard of some churches that have a full time music director who’s dedicated to just making sure the music is amazing, every single week, we do not have that luxury at our church. But I know some churches do. I’m going to talk about the largest roll that I’ve ever heard of regarding a music director, and then I’m going to share how we do it at our church. So the biggest role I’ve ever heard of is a full time music director at a mega church, who his job is from start to finish to make sure that the music is phenomenal every single week. That means from the tone of the instruments to the backing tracks if they use them, which most of those churches do to the set notes for the team which arrangement they’re going to choose. Because there are multiple arrangements of a song like which recording which band are we referencing, they run the rehearsals with the band and give direction and input. And they direct the band during the actual services. So that is kind of the largest role that I’ve heard of our role is a little simpler. In our church. I am as the worship leader, also the music director, but I have someone on stage with me, who becomes the music director for the services and repeats the things that I said during rehearsal. Hopefully that’s clear. But if it’s not, let me just repeat it. I am the music director, but someone is watching me and listening to me on stage. And when it’s service time, they repeat the things that I said during the rehearsal.

Alex Enfiedjian 04:19 So usually the music director is a keyboard player or a bass player because those instruments are a little bit less complicated. But I’ve also heard of drummers doing it and electric guitar players, sometimes our electric guitar players do it. They don’t like doing it because they have a lot of riffs to play. And it’s a little more complicated than something like bass or keys. But those are usually the three or four instruments that can be music directors. But I’ve also heard of people who don’t even have the music director on stage. I’ve heard of music directors who aren’t playing anything. They’re not even on stage. They’re either on the side of the stage, or they’re in the video booth with your monitors and they’re listening to the band and they’re giving direction And feedback from that location. And that’s the beauty of in ear monitors which you need. And we’ll talk about that later. But it could be anybody on your team who has four characteristics, I think there are at least four characteristics that are necessary to be a good music director. Number one is that they need to be musical, they need to have a musical ear, they need to be able to hear the parts discern when people are off pitch, or out of key or playing the wrong chord, or not playing the right melody line on a piano or a guitar. That’s number one. Number two, they need to have a good memory, they need to remember all the things that the band is going to do in a set for every single song. So they need to have a good memory, or they need to write it down on their chord chart, if you use chord charts. The third thing is they need to be attentive to details, they need to listen to the small things that make the big differences. And then finally, they need to be focused, they need to have a strong focus, because they have to be one step ahead of the band at all times, they have to be looking forward to the next part of the song and anticipating what they’re going to need to say to direct the band. So musical, good memory, attention to detail and a strong focus. If you can find someone on your team that has those characteristics, you can turn them into a great music director. And I want to encourage you because some people are like, well, we can’t hire a music director. Yeah, maybe that’s the case. But you could train a volunteer to be a music director Hillsong actually has a lot of volunteer music directors, you just have to find the right people with those four qualities that I mentioned. So that’s the role of a music director. Also, the music director can help get the band out of a sticky situation. For example, I don’t know how this happened. But a few months ago, one of our bass players had his eyes closed, and he came in and he was a half step off. And he was staying a half step off from the correct key for a few notes. And finally, the music director stepped in and said, Hey, so and so you’re off key, you’re half step down, like get up to the right key. And then the bass player opened his eyes and looked at his fretboard and move up to the right key. And that salvaged the song. You know, I don’t know how long he would have been playing in that wrong key, but he was until the music director salvaged the sticky situation. Also, the music director can help give direction to the band, when the end of the song happens. Like let’s say you land the final song of your set, and you want to have some underbed of music happening. While the worship leader prays the music director can give the chords to the band so that everyone’s playing the right chords. Because if you didn’t plan it, or you didn’t practice it, or if you kind of go off script, the music director can be like, Hey, we’re gonna do 415. And he’ll just call it like 415. And he’s, you know, staying on the metronome, we’re keeping tempo, but he’s calling out the chords ahead of time, so the band is changing. And so that’s another thing that the music director can do. I’ve even used the music director Mike to give direction to newbie worship leaders. So if I have a younger worship leader on stage, and they’re not used to praying or giving direction to the congregation, like, please be seated or Let’s stand, they might forget those things. And so I will remind them over the music director, Mike, like if I’m playing bass that day. And so the music directors role is really just to make sure that everyone in the band is executing at the highest capability possible. So that is a general overview of the role of the music director in a worship band setting. Now, what do you need to be able to pull off a music director role?

Alex Enfiedjian 08:35 Well, you need some technology. First of all you need in ear monitors, okay, you cannot have floor wedges and a music director like their voice coming through the floor wedge, telling the band what to do is going to be a huge distraction to the congregation because they’re going to hear all these weird little things that the music director is saying. So you need in your monitors, and I did an episode like three or four years ago, maybe even five years ago, all about your monitors and different setups that you can use, there are some cheap ways to get your band on in your monitors. They’re not going to sound the best, but they will work. So I will put a link to that episode in the show notes. But you definitely need in your monitors to make this work. You also need an open mic channel. So you need enough channels on your in your monitor board or however you’re sending your channels to your ears to have an open mic channel that just sits with the keyboard player or the bass player or whoever is the music director. So you need an open mic channel. And so you need to make sure you have enough channels for that. And then finally, what I like you don’t need to have this, but it’s great to have a footswitch that toggles the open mic channel to on and off. So you can purchase something like the Whirlwind mic mute PT. It’s a little pedal and I’ll put a link in the show notes if you want to purchase that. But basically when you step on it and you hold your foot down, it opens the channel and when you take your foot off, it closes the channel and meets the channel. And the reason I like this is because it keeps the Stage noise from just bleeding into your in your mix when it’s not necessary. Because if you have the open mic channel, and it is by the electric guitar amp, you’re gonna just have all this ambient electric guitar noise muddying up your ear mix when you don’t need it because the music director is not speaking the entire time. And so this thing allows that channel to stay closed and only open when you need it. I also like that when you step on it, it kind of opens up and you hear the stage noise. And so it’s kind of like a warning sign like, hey, pay attention, the music director is about to talk. I personally love that, again, the tool we use is called the Whirlwind mic, mute PT. And I’ll link it in the show notes. I know other churches don’t like that toggling on and off thing, they like to keep it open, like Hillsong, they keep their music director Mike channel open all the time. And what they do is they just filter out some of the unnecessary frequencies. So like they’ll do a high pass filter on the the sound console and just high pass all those lower frequencies out that aren’t necessary for the human voice. And that’ll just clean up the mix a little bit. So you don’t need the footswitch. But I like to have it. So one other thing too about the music director, Mike is you can route that audio anywhere you need it to go. So most of the time, it just goes to the band’s ears. But I’ve heard of churches sending the music director also to the video booth or to the lyrics booth so that those teams can hear what’s going on on stage. And they can hear what’s happening and get ahead to start getting any shots in place. Like if the music director says guitar solo 123, that tells the video team, okay, let’s get our camera pointed at the guitar player because it’s going to be a solo. So it is helpful to communicate to some of the production crew as well. So you can definitely try that as well. Okay, that’s about all I think you’re going to need to technologically make this happen. So we’ve talked about the role, we’ve talked about what you need. And now let’s talk about what kind of calls that a music director might make. So I always try to explain it like this music director doesn’t need to talk the entire time. You know, our music directors, depending on the song can say four different things, or eight different things through a song. Some songs we’re so familiar with that we don’t even need the music director to talk. But I always like them to over communicate anyway, even if we played the song 100 times, but what are the kind of things that the music director says?

Alex Enfiedjian 12:21 Well, I like to think of it like this. Number one, you want to communicate anytime there could be confusion? So are we holding it for accounts? Or are we holding it eight counts? Are we going to the chorus? Or are we going to the bridge,

Alex Enfiedjian 12:32 those key crucial moments are when the music director should step in and eliminate confusion before it even happens. So is there going to be a confusing spot in the song, that is a great time to have the music director talk. And then the second time to have the music director talk is is somebody going to forget something. And I always put it this way the music director should speak to the least competent musician on the stage is this person going to forget it. And if that person might forget something, the music directors should say something at those moments. So with those two thoughts in mind, let me give you some examples of some of the things that our music directors call out. Or that I call if I’m music directing, number one instrument entry points. So if we’re starting the song on piano, you can actually call that out, you can say Amazing Grace piano starts 234 pianos in play through the verse, When you get to the chorus, you say, cymbal swells and bass for the chorus. Or you don’t have to pay for the chorus because the band already knows that. But you just say cymbal swells and bass and they swell in, they come in first chorus is quiet. And then when you get to the end of the chorus, and you want the full band to enter and you say band two, three, wrap up, boom. Right. So that’s entry points, those are certain things that the music director can call down choruses. So if the first chorus goes to down chorus, you call the down chorus. also things like builds, you know, kick drum, build it, everyone in like those types of things, as you’re building out of a bridge, you know, call to build other things like breaks or special sub drops or weird punches. You know, like, there’s a weird little break in the song great things and calling that break, or that weird accent. That’s something that the music director would also call or if it’s just a simple break, use a break on 312 and let the band break. But giving them the heads up so that everybody hits the break at the right time or sub drop on for 123 sub drop right? Or tags. For example, at the end of 10,000 reasons. It’s like I worship Your holy name tag it, I wish should be a holy name. So that tag you can call the tag and you can also call the chord change. Because the first time you do the tag, it goes to the one chord, the root chord, but the second time you do the tag goes to the sixth chord. So the music director would call those types of things because those are either confusing, or someone’s going to forget those are the two criteria that you should use as a music director. To know what you should call, is it confusing or with someone forget. So hopefully that makes sense the types of calls that you can make, I have found that it’s always better to call the item in question at the first part of the call and then count it afterwards. For example, sub drop on 3123. Right? So you say what you’re doing, and then you count or verse 234, or hold it 2342234. So hopefully, you’re hearing what the music director should be calling. Now let me give you some tips on how to succeed as a music director, and then we’ll end this episode. So the first tip is to know everybody’s part to know everybody’s part. So that means that at home, the music director’s job, and I will say the worship leaders job should be to learn every single part for every single song. Now, you don’t have to know it exactly perfectly verbatim for every single section of the song, but you should know the general drum groove, you should know, the general bass groove like, is he playing 16th notes with the pick, or is it like a bouncy song and he should not use a pic. If there’s a specific baseline, for example, the song made alive has a really groovy baseline, it’s very specific, as the worship leader and the music director, you should learn the baseline and be able to hum it to the bass player, or show them on your guitar because you need to know the key elements of a song, but make that song have that core characteristic that it has. So you need to learn the drum grooves, the bass lines, the keyboard parts, the electric guitar parts,

Alex Enfiedjian 16:39 like the post chorus riff, right, the turnaround riff, or in verse two, it has this delay chimey thing and it goes like this. And you should learn all those parts for each song in your set. And then you should be able to communicate those parts to people. Typically what I do is I send a chat message to the band on Tuesday afternoon. And I say, Hey, everyone really excited to worship with you here are the set notes for this week, first song, so and so learn this, pay attention to this. And this so and so learn this and this is on the base, and you give specific instruction ahead of time, so that they can come to rehearsal prepared, and you can just piece it together at rehearsal. Now the reason why don’t just put those notes in Planning Center cuz some people do put their notes in Planning Center, I choose to do it as a separate text message or a chat message. Because I like my team to get a notification in the middle of the week, reminding them to learn their parts instead of just hoping that they’re going to check Planning Center and read the notes there. So that’s why we send a separate private message to the band each week to kind of spur them on to learn their parts. So you need to learn your parts, you need to communicate those parts to people beforehand. And then at the rehearsal, you need to be able to tell them what they’re doing wrong. So if they are playing it slightly wrong, you need to be able to hear that, identify that and tell them the right way to play the part. That’s your job. You’re the music director. And it’s not only the parts that you need to know, but it’s also the feel of the song, the groove of the song, the structure of the song and the dynamics of the song, you need to get those internalized as well. So you can tell when it’s not going right. So that’s the first thing is to know everyone’s part. The second thing I like to tell music directors is error on over communication, not under communication, you should over communicate, rather than under communicate. If you’re going to do something wrong, I’d rather you be wrong in over communicating, say more, not less. It’s better when you get to the end of a song to be like ending 234 big crash, crash it out symbol symbol symbol symbols. All right next song 1234 like, it’s better to say that instead of just getting to the ending and letting them hopefully crash out big and strong together. You want to give direction you want to be super clear. So even if you’re like, oh, the drummer is gonna remember to do cymbal swells into the first chorus. Well, he might not like just assume people are gonna forget and just say it doesn’t hurt anyone for you to say it. You know, even saying things like, next song and you can call the song title like great things. Next song full band, more communication is better than less kill the click track, you know, you’re the director and you need to use that microphone to give as clear direction as possible to make sure everyone is moving on the same page. Okay, so over communicate if you want to be a good music director. The third thing is to speak early enough, you can’t call a break on for at three and a half beats. You know, you have to call it early enough so that people can hear what you’re saying, process it, find the correct place on the chord chart and get their bearings to be able to execute what you’re telling them to execute. So don’t be last minute with your calls. If you call things too late. It’s going to confuse people, I’d rather have you called things early than late. And that way people can get ready to do what you’re telling them to do so communicate early, and be very clear. And that’s the last thing I would tell music directors is that you and your worship leader need to have a predefined vocabulary, you need to have an agreed upon set of words, that only mean one thing, you know, because there are certain words that can mean different things. Like you could say, riff, or you could say instrumental, but what do those things mean? You know, or you could say solo? Well, who’s solo? You know, so you need to say no, when we have a solo, we say, electric guitar solo, or we say, Mikey solo, we say the person’s name. Or if you call it a riff, then you need to decide No, it’s called a riff. But for us, we have some predefined words. So we say, riff as the short catchy hook. So like after the chorus, usually, there’s like an electric guitar riff, like this is amazing. Grace has the synth riff, then and then and so we say riff, that’s what a riff is. But an instrumental is a longer section of chords with someone playing on top of it. So we differentiate those two words, but everybody knows what they mean. Okay, so work with your worship leader, work with your music director to define some pre determined words that always mean the same thing, so that there’s no confusion. And then it’s not changing from one music director to the next. Like, if when we get this guy in the next week, it’s this girl. If they speak differently, it’s going to be confusing for the band. So pre determine your words, and then teach it to your band. So those are my tips for being a good music director. And we’ve learned a lot through the last year and a half that we’ve been using one. And it really has made our band better, because our musicians, they’ve got a lot going on, you know, they’re usually volunteers, and they’re tired from a long week, and they’re coming, and they’re just trying to do their best. And they’re trying to nail their parts, and they’re trying to get their tone, right. And when they’re just focusing on that they can forget about the little details of

Alex Enfiedjian 22:12 the song that actually make the song really cool and really impactful. And so the music director’s job is to help the band remember those little details that are actually going to make a big difference in the final presentation of the song and of the worship set. And, you know, just something to say, too, I had one of my team members Tell me, you know, it used to feel like we were worshiping on stage. But now we’re getting so precise, it feels like we’re producing an album or something. And I totally understand what he was saying, I totally get his heart. But I also want to remind us all that being a Christian musician, in the church, our job is to be the absolute best musicians that we can for the glory of God, and the best band and the best team and create the best set with the best cohesion as humanly possible. You know, we want to bring our best and then trust the Lord to use it. But our job as Christian musicians is to be the best that we can be for the glory of God. And I have found that having a music director helped the band stay together has really helped bless the church and serve them as they sing to the Lord. And so I think if your context makes sense to have a music director, you should definitely try it out. Expect to fail a little bit expect to learn some things expect to grow into it and refine it and make it your own. But these are just some of the things that have helped me and our team as we’ve begun this journey of using a music director for our worship set. So I hope this episode was helpful. I hope it was practical. And if it was, please send it to someone that you think might be helped by it. And always feel free to leave us a review on Apple podcasts helps us get more people seeing our podcast, and thanks for being a listener and I will be back next month for another helpful episode. see you guys then