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The Inadequate Guitar

Jonathan Aigner, with his usual crisp pungency, argues that the guitar is an inadequate instrument to support voices in public worship. I agree with him for the reasons he states, but also because one usually plays a guitar on different beats than one sings. Further, it is next to impossible to pick vocal parts out of guitar chords unless you know your part by heart already.

Now, at the risk of being called a hypocrite, I will disclose that we occasionally meet as a church at our house for an evening service; and for those occasions I will ask our resident musician to bring his guitar. But I would never ask him to lead us in a complex or unfamiliar hymn for the very reasons Aigner gives and the ones listed above. The guitar may be fine for informal gatherings like potlucks at the parsonage, but it’s not adequate for Sundays.

Ponder Anew | 6 Strings and the Voice of the Faithful: The Problem of Guitars in Church

About Christopher Ames

Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Boyceville, Wisconsin. Bicycle owner and operator. I used to play in a Campus Crusade band.

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8 Responses to The Inadequate Guitar

  1. Hi Chris, when a piano accompanies, must the music essentially be SATB to be adequate, IOW, each note on the beat essentially, or constrained by the melody line? Seems like a preference from a “get off my lawn” kind of place (this coming from a pastor with a very conservative approach to worship, and very much part of the “get off my lawn” mentality.)
    Second, he seems to make a broad generalization based on a dislike of contemporary music–can he legitimately apply his same dislike then to timeless hymns with guitar accompaniment?
    Last, organs, pianos, guitars, wind instruments, violins (stringed instruments)–these are all ubiquitous in varying styles of pop music. That part of his argumentation feels more like the “don’t wear wire rim glasses because hippies do” from my the church-goers of my childhood. I thought this generation was trying to be post-that-kind-of-reasoning. Or do I make too much of his pop music reference?
    Thanks for your thoughts. Have a delightful Lord’s Day…

  2. btw, until I took my church website out of the “Website” form field, my above comment was marked as spam by your website. Seems mebbe change the filter, or take the website form field out? :D

  3. Sam,

    I know you’re one of the good guys :)

    I think that we need to consider this on a spectrum from “Best” to “adequate” to “inadequate.” Also, we would need to consider how the particular accompanist is playing: Simple, unadorned playing on an instrument like a piano is “best,” while janky, overblown piano is not even “adequate.”

    But as an instrument, piano greatly surpasses guitar. Guitar never really rises above “adequate,” and by the time you fill a room with people and add distortion, delay, compression, and flange/phase/chorus to a guitar, it has sunk down to “ok, worship is not the goal here.”

    Is he being grouchy? He says he isn’t, and I’ll take him at his word. We know he’s not keen on contemporary music, but this is another issue: suitability. And I’m not being grouchy either: there’s a time and place for guitars, and you can ask my sister what I listen to when I’m riding my bike or whatever. But guitars, along with lutes, harps, dulcimers, banjos, violins, etc. are suited for different kinds of music. Could press them into service for worship if we had to? Sure, but they are less suited to congregational worship than piano.

    Thanks for your non-spam questions, Sam! Hope this clarifies.

  4. There is an adequate use and inadequate use of the guitar for worship. There is an adequate and inadequate use of piano for worship. There is an adequate and inadequate use of the organ for worship.

    I think this passes the test of adequacy:

  5. The challenge with dismissing the guitar entirely is that in many ways the instrument, when plucked (not strummed) resembles the lyre of Old Testament worship practice. Having said that, there is a reason the Hebrews employed *many* lyres when accompanying singing. A single plucked instrument does not support singing well. Even Parkening’s rendition of “Fairest Lord Jesus,” as beautiful and fitting for reverent worship as it is, would not support singing well. However, get a choir of several guitars playing in the manner of Parkening, and maybe you could adequately accompany the singing of a congregation.

  6. thanks for the note Chris. I get where you’re going. I might propose that some of this adequacy depends on the group size, and people’s singing skill, and the player’s skills. Larger groups/rooms push the envelope of useful accompaniment gnerally. Interestingly, my guitar teach back in the big D does marvelous chord melody and without a Stratocaster, etc. but with a 6 or 12 string acoustic, and some careful, undistored amplification, he accompanies 500 part-singing Lutherans (or as we said in the UP ‘Looterans.’) In hymns no less. But one example does not adequacy make I suppose. Guitar for us is a necessity due to church size and lack of musicians. We’ve tried a Capella, and most agree some kind of instrument helps. Otherwise we have trombone and baritone horns. Not so much. No takers on my Jews Harp efforts yet. [Goes back to work on his project of converting a cheap Ebay Strat into a great sounding Strat-style knockoff–not for worship services.].

    To Scott, I am wondering if the many lyres in Hebrew worship was also related to group size?

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