Your Church Drummer Has More and Less to Do These Days

How the keeper of the beat is adapting to shifts in worship music.

It was a church drummer’s worst nightmare. In the middle of a service, David Wagner was playing “Heaven Invade” with his worship band when his in-ear monitors stopped working.

Wagner posted a clip on Instagram of what happened. It includes the audio that should have been coming through in his monitors: a mix of the sound from the band, some added reverb, and of course, the click track—a repetitive tapping sound that keeps time, usually sounding for each beat. Halfway through the video, one of the vocalists—his wife—passes him a new pair of headphones.

The role of the worship drummer has changed a lot over the past 20 years. In addition to the evolving sound of worship music—moving away from rock and toward electronic dance music— drummers have adjusted to new production setups, becoming the person on stage who makes sure that musicians and tech are fully in sync.

Since the rise of contemporary worship bands during the late 1990s, many churches have adopted technologies that were once reserved for live concerts in stadiums and large auditoriums, where musicians needed in-ear monitors and click tracks due to crowd noise and echoes.

For veteran church drummers, these changes are pushing them to develop new skills and to adapt their approach to the music. Some say these shifts are making drumming more boring, lower stakes, and monotonous. Others are finding that new tools allow them to be creative, to explore using their instruments in different ways, and to experience new freedom as worshipers on stage—even if they are behind a Plexiglas cage.

Wagner, who has been a drummer for 12 years, moved to a church in Murray, Kentucky, that uses in-ear monitors (IEMs) about 3 years ago. …

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