Five Favorite and Five Least Favorite Instruments Used in Worship Services

January 11, 2016

Jonathan Howe told me I was opening a can of worms by conducting this Twitter poll.

He was right.

Still, I wanted to hear from churchgoers what their favorite and least favorite instruments are. Some of the responses were anticipated. Many were not.

Favorite

  1. Piano — Piano is not only a favorite; it is one of the few instruments that did not also get mentioned as a least favorite.
  2. Acoustic Guitar — This instrument was a clear second preference.
  3. Organ — This instrument was also the number one least favorite. There seemed to be a clear generational divide here.
  4. Violin — The violin and the organ were only one vote apart.
  5. Cello — This choice surprised me. Maybe it should not have surprised me.

Least Favorite

  1. Organ — Wow. There were very strong negative sentiments here. One person wrote, “I will ask God for permission to haunt my wife if she allows an organ at my funeral.”
  2. Tambourine — I was surprised at the negative sentiment here. Apparently, many churchgoers believe this instrument to be the choice of those not musically inclined.
  3. Drums — Again, there was mostly negative sentiment here, but the reasons for the negativity varied.
  4. Handbells — Handbells did not get one positive vote.
  5. Banjo — I can’t remember the last time I heard a banjo in a worship service. Maybe there’s a reason for that.

I was also fascinated to see the “one-vote wonders,” those instruments noted by only one person.

  • One vote wonders, favorite: Hammer dulcimer; mandolin; and ukulele.
  • One vote wonders, least favorite: Oboe; jazz flute; whistle; kazoo; harmonica; recorder; tuba; shofar; cowbell; accordion; chimes; and saxophone.

I bet this discussion will be fun. Let me hear from you.

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123 Comments

  • John W Carlton says on

    Piano is my favorite, but good accompanists are getting harder and harder to find. I love the rich majestic sound of an organ, pipe or good electronic. I played clarinet and trombone as well as guitar and a little mandolin. Love the mando but not in a worship service. Tambourines? Not without the 16 chickens. lol.

  • My least favorite is drums. We move often, and when I look for a church, (I try to see the sanctuary online). If I see a drum set, I don’t go there. The reason is that most drummers think they’re a louder version of Buddy Rich. But the biggest reason is that, if a standard slow hymn is played, such as “Abide with Me”, the drummer seems duty-bound to add a positively embarrassing “Boom, chick, boom, chick”. Music is too important to me to listen to this.

  • Organ is something of a generational divide, but people also have very different organ experiences. A good organ is extremely expensive, and trained organists are hard to find. For churches that have both, I’ve seen young people learn to love or at least accept the organ.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      It definitely seemed to be a generational divide in the poll.

    • Charles Hines says on

      I am such ; I play also in liturgical churches, getting the best from your instrument (pipe -organ) is an on-going learning process.. I have known some wonderful spiritual moments come out of the formality of that setting ;from joyful ,sometimes raucous, praise ,but also the gentle, yet deep solemnity ,sense of Holiness, and Presence of God ….and not all from hymns /songs, sometimes the mood of compositions ,where the composer revealed something of a spiritual discovery of God, or an improvisation .where you express His Life in you…

  • Dennis Raffaelli says on

    In the 1980’s I was part of a praise band playing the accordion. It was well received. In another church, I did special solos because the pastor enjoyed it so much. In the church, I now attend, I have played solos for open mike night. It has been very well received. Believe it or not, I got the best response from the teenagers.

    Played properly the accordion is a very expressive instrument. Some of my best solos are Because He Lives, Majesty, and How Great Thou Art.

  • Being a drummer and harmonica player, these 2 are faves. Harmonicas Can be carried practically anywhere.

  • Christopher says on

    I enjoy modern worship but I have to say there is something rather majestic about a big piano and organ sound when played by musicians who really know what they’re doing. But that’s always the key: whatever you do, do it well with musicians who know what they’re doing. (and tambourines are definitely the choice of those less musically inclined)

  • All I got to say is this; the banjo IS in the Bible; “Praise with a blast on the trumpet, praise by strumming soft strings; Praise him with castanets and dance, praise him with banjo and flute” Psalm 150:3-4 (The Message Bible anyway… which I had to do multiple searches and some eisegesis to find the version that said banjo)

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Friends don’t let friends do eisegesis.

    • Charles Hines says on

      ‘barjou..’ an Asian portative organ ,almost like an accordion with proper small range keyboard ? Possibly? I’m not sure..

    • I LOVE Banjo! I grew up in a Pentecostal church and played Banjo for the Sunday evening worship services. Now, most modern P&W would not fit that instrument, Good Ol’ Camp Meeting type Southern Gospel, you bet! Bluegrass Gospel is pure heaven!

  • These results came in from a Twitter poll, is that right? I would suggest a “generational thing” exists there as well. Even though I tweet, I’m 40 years old and pastor a small SBC church, putting me outside the target demographic that Twitter appeals to. My mother would love to worship regularly with a banjo, mandolin, fiddle and maybe a doghouse bass. But she is 75 years and has never owned a computer. For the sake of other readers (no doubt Thom know quite well) the responses of 20 – 30 somethings in a storefront church plant will respond quite differently than a middle aged to elderly congregation that still meets in a 150 brick building.

  • Do you think that the person who didn’t like cowbells is an Ole Miss fan? I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    • I think it is a reference to an old Saturday Night Live skit where a studio recording session is interrupted constantly with the producer saying, “More cowbell.” But you could be right also. Still too funny either way.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You two Davids are more informed than I.

  • Ah, organ. More often than not, a bagpipe with keys.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I think I know your vote, Jon.

    • Dave Brown says on

      There’s a big distinction between a Hammond B3 under the fingers of a skilled gospel musician vs. other types of digital organs under the fingers of lesser skilled individuals (think “Hit it, Pearl!” from Saturday Night Live’s “Church Chat”).

      I see the harmonium making big inroads in the music (Gungor, Rend Collective) that my teenage daughters are listening to. I would not turn down a “bagpipe with keys” if the player has chops.

  • Brett Clayton says on

    I really believe it all depends on where and when you grew up and what genre of music you listened to growing up. I grew up in a National Baptist Church or what some people call a “Black Church” and all the top three of those least favorite instrument were we used. I still love those instruments and when I think of having “church” I think of those instruments even though I am a Independent Fundamental Baptist now. Long live organ, drums, and tambourines lol. You add the bass and i am satisfied. Great article. I appreciate all of your blogs.

    • I’m the one who just wrote about disliking drums, but I have to say that I went to 2 Black churches, and the drummers REALLY knew what they were doing, and their drumming fit the hymns perfectly.

      • Linda Greenwood says on

        That’s the key—knowing HOW to play properly

      • My own objection to drums stems from the fact they are too loud! Often the drummer is recruited from a band that is into Rock&Roll or sees himself playing for a Rave, rather than a church service.

        Drums easily can blast out 130 db, which is the pain threshold for most people. When drums are introduced, the rest of the “Praise Band” cannot be heard, unless the sound board technician pushes the sliders up to amplify the rest of the group to match the drums. He will tell you he is trying to “Balance” the instruments and vocals. The result is that the overall amplification results in 100 to 140 db and is very unpleasant to listen to. Furthermore, the congregation is supposed to enthusiastically sing along with this cacophony! Yea, like try singing while standing near a 747’s engine at full RPM!

        Okay, okay, some churches put screens around the drums. But then they hang a microphone over them so they can be….. ahem…”balanced” against the rest of the group. Alas! we are back to the pain threshold before you know it.
        Here is a guide I have developed after years of working with and leading Praise Bands.
        60 db. This is the level of normal conversation between two people and is good for those “quiet times” during worship.
        80 db. A good target for most music and a full worship level promoting congregational singing.
        90 db. Loud! only use this level for special music, soloists and loud praise music. This is the level of a full orchestra playing loudly. There is really no need to go beyond this level.
        100 db. Don’t allow it! NEVER exceed it! Muffle the drummer and do NOT amplify him. Don’t push the slider up for a musician who complains he can’t hear himself, pull all the rest of the band’s sliders down until he is satisfied or they all complain!

        Buy a db meter at Radio Shack and measure what your band is doing. This will give you enough factual data to end a lot of arguments!

        I like drums, really, but they introduce a big problem for any band and church music leader, unless they are properly muted.

      • Ann Hunter says on

        Give me a Salvation Army band any day

      • Use a good electronic set. Very versatile. You can get a classic drum sound, Latin drums, and the volume can be controlled by the house sound man.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Brett and Kathie!

    • How can you be IFB and like drums…JK!

      • Brett Clayton says on

        I mentioned how I grew up. And if you talk to most people they think the way they grew up is the best just lime in sports.

    • Charles Hines says on

      A skilfully played jazz /swing style electronic organ made a lot of difference in the early days of charismatic renewal in the 1960s here in UK, also the piano with the organ.
      I recall some of the ‘glory people’ songs .’The rain is over the winter is gone the time of the singing of the birds is come …’ I also recall ‘Walk ,walk in the Light .Let us love one another till the saviour we shall meet…walk … ‘ from the Apostolic Black community in UK.
      Banjos ,tambourines , and guitars were part of the culture . Also cymbals. We miss the ‘skiffle ‘ influences…

  • More cowbell!

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