Monday, June 3, 2013

The "Entitled" Endangered Electric Guitarist?

I read this article over and over again.  Steam started coming out of my ears. 

The author asks, "Why is it so hard to find a good electric guitarist for a church band?"

His answer?

The current generation is "possibly" too lazy and entitled to put in the hard work and dedication to learn electric.  They'd rather pick up an acoustic.  

Dang.  I had no idea my acoustic = entitlement

 The author, Dan Leverence, makes so many inaccurate assumptions that I can't believe this article made it past the editorial staff.  This is *not* the way I wanted to join the community at, but there are some points that have to be addressed. 

There are at least four legitimate reasons why more believers don't learn electric guitar:

1) Bad Theology.

I'm so glad that everyone at has the freedom to play electric guitar at their church.  However, some of us grew up in rural churches full of misguided people that believed all "head-banger" music was "of the devil." Those of us who attempted to bring "contemporary worship" music to a highly traditional church were given a resounding "No," because Lucifer himself might be hiding out in the Marshall amp. 

This is not a dated problem.  Just last week, I picked my daughter up from preschool, and found out that certain music is prohibited in the host church because of "The Beat."  Apparently, some  beats are  satanic.   (Click on any word in that sentence for an article that will make your head spin.)

I wish I was making this up, but this is a false belief that has infiltrated church culture for decades.

Of course, many young people move on from churches like this, but what should they do in the meantime? Fight with their parents, pastors, and teachers over musical styles?  Hide money in a coffee can to buy that Fender Strat? Bury their musical talents and tell the Lord, "I'm sorry, Mom thought that if I played electric, I'd start sacrificing babies"?

I picked up an acoustic guitar, and learned to play hymns. I learned the language of the people I went to church with, and how to communicate "worship" with their words and traditions. According to Dan Leverence, that doesn't mean I was trying to serve the people closest to me with my gifts --it means I was too lazy to put in the hard work of learning electric.

Dang, and I thought I was being Christ-like.

Mr. Leverence is a worship pastor *and* an adjunct professor in a worship ministry degree program, and he doesn't mention this theological phenomenon once.   Mr. Leverence, have you asked any of the guitarists you teach what their families and home churches think about the electric guitar?  Do you think anyone in an informal conversation is going to volunteer, "I'd love to play electric, but my dad would kick me out of the house, and brand me a heretic"?

2)  Lack of Musical Mentors

Despite the prevalence of worship bands today, there's no mention in this article of the fact that contemporary worship music *in churches* is less than 30 years old.  (Hmmm, that's kind've the definition of "contemporary.")  Mr. Leverence's solution to the "entitlement" of young guitarists who are too darn lazy to pick up an electric was to form healthy, mentoring relationships.

Well, that would mean that there would have to be an older electric guitar player in the church.  An older guitar player who had already fought and won any psuedo-theological battles about "rock" music in church. An older guitar player who had a  heart for teaching, for washing the feet of the younger generation, who didn't feel threatened by someone younger coming in to possibly take his place.

 If contemporary worship music is only ~30 years old, then how many of those guitarists do you think are out there?

I was so blessed to HAVE such a mentor when I was a young teenager.  A man named Terry Steiden saw that I had musical talent, and a desire to serve God with it.  He explained the  subtleties of leading worship, how to play in a band, how to do acoustic techniques like palm-muting and arpeggios, how to vary the dynamics, and how to do it all to God's glory.

In 15 years, he's the *only* such guitarist I've met, who's actively been willing to mentor me.  I've sought mentors out, I've paid for lessons, I've connected with my (harried, busy, over-extended) worship pastors, and yet there's been only one Terry Steiden in my life. 


3) Gear is expensive!

As a young teenager, already working one or two jobs outside of high school, leading my FCA chapter, leading people to Christ, and trying to get into college, I was THRILLED that my father paid for a Taylor 410 CE acoustic guitar.  I still have that guitar today, and I will forever be thankful to him for it.  But there was no way, I repeat NO WAY he was going to support my desire to play hard rock music.  There were too many theological questions around it.  (Plus, he hated the sound of it.  If it wasn't bluegrass, it wasn't good enough.)  How is a young adult going to grow as an electric guitarist when she *must* have gear to grow, and gear is so expensive?  (This was also in the late-90s, when sites like Craigslist and Ebay weren't around to give us access to decent-quality used gear.)

Now that I'm an adult, I buy my own gear, and I borrow some from my church.  However, to characterize a generation of young people as "entitled" because they won't drop 2-3 grand on a gig for a worship band is outrageous.  Should they take on an extra job, outside of high school and college, just to pay for this gear? 

And what will they get in return for their hard work and investment?

Mr. Leverence says, "... if the emerging generation sees that more doors of opportunity can open to them if they expand their abilities[to electric] it’s motivating for them."  What are these doors of opportunity? Playing as a volunteer in a church band?  Touring, perhaps?  Playing in *bigger* bands?  Bigger churches?  What are these amazing excellent opportunities that only open up to people who play electric?  Avoiding being called "entitled"?

There was one aspect that Mr. Leverence didn't touch on at all:

4) What if the guitarist is a girl?

How many female guitarists do you know?  (I personally know three.  Exactly three.  And I've been leading worship for 15 years.  I met Ashley Cleveland at the CMS conference about a month ago, so I guess that brings it to four.)  Mr. Leverence, with all of the boundaries that MUST be in place in a healthy ministry (no one-on-one time alone with members of the opposite sex, etc.,)  if mentoring relationships are the way that guitarists grow, how would you advise a female guitarist to go about getting this mentoring?  Are we destined to either stay entitled and unteachable, or stay in the lower-skilled realm of acoustic guitar? How many Terry Steidens are willing to take the risk of mentoring a young girl?  How many Vickie Steidens are going to be okay with their husbands spending quality time with a young girl?

The acoustic guitar was not a way for me to escape responsibility, stay low-skill, or accommodate an entitled attitude.  It was a way for me to work with the theological, logistical, financial, and relational issues I had to deal with, and still develop my skills to God's glory.  Ignoring those issues will limit your ability to understand why you don't have enough electric guitarists to get the sound you want. 

Okay, I've stretched my three kids' patience to its limit.  My 18-month old is banging on the piano, my 4-year-old is doing gymnastics on my chair, and my 7-year-old is reading Narnia. I hope this response shows some of the problems with Mr. Leverence's article, and maybe worship leaders will have some helpful information to "get the electric guitarist off the endangered species list." 

And I only have one more payment to make on my ES-335 Dot, before it comes out of layaway..... ;)


  1. Hey Dotty,
    I saw your short replies over on the original article, but you really elaborate on some good points here!

    First, the bad theology - I have a close friend and mentor who's been a worship leader for 15 years at least. He was in a worship band that played around the state back in the day, and one time they rolled into a small town to eat. Some locals saw their trailer and asked if they were in a band and what kind. When one of them told the men "Christian rock," one old man said "There ain't no such a thing!" And while I don't encounter it, I think there is still a stigma out there against anything loud and distorted.

    A lot of our metal brethren don't do much to help that situation either. But a few do. I saw For Today and The Devil Wears Prada, both Christian bands, both VERY heavy. There were people there praying with people in the crowd. Both bands gave a Christian message during their shows. For Today's singer even witnessed and gave testimony. It was very cool to see.

    Lately, I am reading a lot about "entitled" kids. And while some appear lazy on the surface, if they find something they are really passionate about, they will put in the effort (at least in my experience). I've seen my older teen get up at 5:00 AM, on his own, to go to marching band or debate competitions, because he was passionate about them. As you noted, maybe we need to be better mentors to kids to ignite these passions in them. They already have coaches and band directors and other adult figures in their school activities that do this - so it's up to US to do it for worship music and playing an instrument. It won't always work out - my youngest decided he didn't want to play drums anymore - but we have to let them try and give them support and direction.

    Regarding gear - I had not even considered this until you and others mentioned it. As an adult with a decent job, I have been blessed to have the leeway to purchase gear as needed (and unfortunately often on impulse!). But I remember as a kid, pining over items in the Sam Ash or Carvin catalogs, knowing that if I asked my folks for a $600 amp they would say no. I was able to get summer jobs to buy gear, but I had to settle for less most of the time. Putting together a decent electric guitar rig can be reasonable, but it's more than an acoustic, and some of these kids are first-timers. Their parents may be reluctant to spend the money since they know their interests are fickle ("last year it was fencing, before that it was skateboarding"), and these things add up. Unfortunately, a lot of parents wind up buying inexpensive gear that is of poor quality, which further frustrates and discourages the kid from playing. I totally understand the cost thing, but come one, buy a decent used guitar instead of a poor new one.

    And if kids were so entitled, having quality gear wouldn't be such an issue, since they are so spoiled and get everything they want! (NOT!)

    I also didn't think much about the girl vs boy thing. We had a girl bass player who was very good. One of our main vocalists, also a girl, plays the drums when the regular drummer is out. But we don't have a girl guitar player, electric or acoustic. I would like to see that change. Hopefully I can influence that in some way.

  2. Dotty,

    What great thoughts. I've been a guitarist for years and my 4 kids are all ranges of musical. My oldest is 16, a drummer, and awesome. From his perspective, it's not about entitlement. He's frankly bored with worship music. Yes he's a metal player, but when he gets to style our student worship band with double kick and all that, I personally think he engages his fellow students into deeper worship because he's honestly playing what they want to hear.

    I also like Ken's comments since my same son (who thrives on drumming) is also in drumline and that group practices all the time! Yet, he's the same son that doesn't put any effort into school because he doesn't see the value.

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughts.

    OH, and an ES335 dot!?!? NICE! My guitar has the same vibe:

  3. I really, really appreciate both of you for coming here and commenting. Neither of you were saying, "You're waaaaaay off base here!" Thank you for affirming and validating my experience. And I'm so glad to meet other musician parents!!! One of the *worst* lies that the enemy attacked me with (over, and over, and over again) was that I couldn't be a good mom and a good musician at the same time. Yet, here you guys are, raising kids to love the Lord and love music (and Greg, I saw that your wife sings too! My husband plays a Koa Larivee, was a vocal performance minor in school, and runs the sound/tech equipment at our church. He's the theory to my music.) It was really great to "meet" both of you.

  4. You are so kind to say those things. I was just having fun, hanging out with good people and playing music - you make it sound so...important! As a matter of fact I learned a lot from YOU - but that will be for another time.

    When I began playing in church, I knew of just a few churches that had drums in church. Why is that relevant? Because electric guitar without drums and bass is like an oboe solo - once in great while, it's interesting. Not good, but interesting. So that's the first problem - electric guitar is not a solo instrument - acoustic is.

    Next, you CANNOT learn to play electric without playing in a band. You MUST hear how it fits sonically and in context.

    On electric, a 2 note chord fragment is as loud as a 6 note polychord - you only need a volume pedal to change that - there are no dynamic subtleties you can bring to bear on electric through the use of your hands (except muting or harmonics).

    My point is that except for the location of the notes, your left and right hand technique is entirely different AND you must learn a whole new set of technical skills having to do with electronics that are in no way related to the music you love to make except that if you DON"T learn that skill set, your tone will suck, while any solid top Taylor with a new set of strings will sound like god in a box.

    Electric is not more difficult to learn, it's just that the context for learning it is more difficult to come by. Acoustic only requires sitting in a room alone learning to sing along with chords, then moving on to sitting in that room singing along with fingerpicking, then tapping, then open tunings, etc. All it takes is an acoustic and time.

    So, I think that the main reason more players don't learn electric is that their church situation is still (30 years later) a lot like yours was - there just aren't the musicians available to create that context to learn electric well, so what you get mostly is a guy or girl playing acoustic style on electric.

    And while we're on the subject, I'll vent about one more element of this subject - Most churches still use electronic drums and are averse to anything but lounge level volume. This drives me nuts. These people will go to a movie where the music and explosions are causing gastric distress, but complain about 85 db on stage. I'm sorry, but you can't learn electric like that because there is not enough dynamic range for rock music. Smooth jazz, torch songs, Ok - but not rock.

    So, who knows all this stuff? Not the young players for sure - but I DO. The 58 year old guitar player. Yeah, it's a little disconcerting teaching myself out of a job I love doing, but the 30 somethings don't have time to teach them to do it, much less convince them they NEED to learn electric, so I think it's us.

    I certainly don't disagree that this generation has an entitlement mentality, but in this case, I don't think most of the young players even know enough to feel entitled. I think if more older guys and girls got engaged with the young knuckleheads they would LOVE to learn these things. At least that has been my experience as I still mentor young musicians in the church.

  5. Guess who got her 335....? ;)

  6. Hey! Thanks for the comment :) No real lip update. They aren't inflamed but they are always a little swollen and get irritated when exposed to air. They got irritated when I left my hat off too long on our trip and didn't like salt water either. I got a blister a day or so after we got back but it's already gone. I started gluten free Monday. We'll see how it goes I guess!

  7. Dotty,

    I believe your tone in this response presents a great deal of immaturity. You resort to sarcasm driven by your own hot temper instead of trying to engage in a meaningful conversation. From what I have read, I believe the author's name and place of employment are listed on his blog post. Perhaps connecting with him rather than spewing your own fire and getting other people fired up would be more helpful to you and the Church body as a whole.

    Your response took ALL of the quotes out of context and you spun them to mean what you wanted. I would expect MUCH more from someone who considered themselves to be a worship leader or leader of any kind.

    1. Well, I would expect more of a writer from a respected, national magazine who is also a college professor, than to label an entire group of people who don't play his chosen instrument as "entitled." I'm sorry you disagree.

    2. And oddly enough, I'm surprised that you're not commenting on my actual points, but rather on my anger. Isn't anger Biblical? Didn't Jesus, David, Job, Paul, and God himself feel anger? Is it sinful to feel anger when someone--especially a fellow believer, in a position of authority--unjustly labels you? I truly don't think so. I think you're trying to read into my motivations, instead of addressing the points I brought up, and that saddens me.

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