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

  • Robert Webb says on

    One word: theramin!

  • Billy Simmons says on

    I am 80 years old and have seen music literally tear our churches apart. I think it is so sad!

    • I think that is sad too. Regardless of age, background, or musical taste, I believe it is selfish to think that our favorite style of music or favorite instrument is the only kind that should be used in worship. I personally like most musical styles and instruments, and as long as they are used skillfully and with the right attitude of worship, I’m all for it.

  • How well the music is played is probably more important than which instrument but If your church wants to reach millennials, the organ should probably go away. Most young people hear an organ and they think “funeral”. Pianos, guitars and drums are all good if the music helps to prepare for worship.

  • Carla Vornheder says on

    Don’t like song leader to lead with guitar. Also as a longtime choir member, I prefer music in my hands when I sing.

  • I remember at a dominational conference the worship leader decided to use a worship team instead of the traditional piano and organ for one of the services before the conference speaker spoke. About 30 people came out for worship out of a few hundred. You could hear comments from the older people I’m not worshipping with drums and people stood out in the hallway until worship was over. Broke our hearts.

  • We have drums, banjo (Banjo Ben Clark) & mandolin occasionally and they are incredible! We also have specials featuring hand bells. Our multi-generational church seems to affirm a good, healthy mix.

  • Tom Van Duzer says on

    Handbells. While they may not be a favorite the great benefit of handbells is the number of people that can get involved in music ministry that have NO PREVIOUS MUSIC EXPERIENCE. They are a great teaching tool, and the handbell choir can have great interaction.

  • My church has a magnificent organ which sounds awesome when the old hymns are played on it. It sounds awesome all the time actually. We also have a handbell choir that plays about every other month and sounds wonderful. It also gives people a chance to participate in a choir if they don’t or can’t sing. I feel it adds to the worship service.
    We also have a set of bells for children that are color coded and the leader shows the cards to the kids and if it’s their color bell, they ring it. It’s fun and adds to the service.
    Drums can be a part of a contemporary service if the acoustics are right, but many times it is just too loud.

  • There are so, so many other factors than simply “what instrument?” when speaking of music in worship. For starters…

    1) what is the purpose of the music: pure performance? leading and encouraging congregational participation? accompanying a soloist? filling in empty space (like Muzak)? and more…
    2) who is playing: a skilled musician? a complete novice?
    3) what’s the “style” and genre of the music: gospel? Renaissance? hip-hop? new age? and MUCH more…
    4) what are the sensibilities, the heritages, the musical “tastes” of the congregants (i.e., what will serve the purposes of #1 above (whatever it is) and be true to that purpose)?
    5) who is directing and orchestrating the music (or NOT): a professional musician with skills in musical interpretation and ensemble? someone waving their arms or nodding their head? nobody?
    6) what did the composer specify as instruments (including vocal instruments), if anything, in the score?
    7) what instrument(s) is/are available?
    8) what is the acoustical environment?
    9) WHO (one or many) can analyze all of these factors and discern the best implementation? Music is a means to some end (see #1 above) and in that sense it is to “get out of the way” to that end, not to call attention to itself by poor performance, being inappropriate to the occasion, or over-shadowing the purpose of worship.

    It is a tragedy that we have surveys on favorite and non-favorite instruments in worship without taking into account much more than the instrument itself. A $1 million organ played at peak volume in the hands of a novice for a community-wide funeral may kill any one’s interest in the pipe organ; similarly, an old beat-up Hammond organ played by a professional organist to gather up a mostly Afro crowd into amazing and inspirational song will send many home in tears.

    What for? where? who? why? when? the context? All of these things matter…

    Asking what your favorite instrument for worship is…is similar to asking what your favorite Psalm is. The answer is, as in many questions like it, it depends. Psalm 22 draws me in when I’m down in the ditch, literally; Psalm 51 when I need to confess and to be reminded of God’s love; Psalm 23 most every morning; Psalm 119 when I’m feeling particularly important and self-sufficient.

    First things first. What is worship? Then, how can we be faithful to its purpose?

    peace…

  • Hi! Do you know how many total people responded in the survey?
    Just curious if it was a survey from 50 or 500 or….
    Thanks! Very humorous…

  • I am a worship leader and have piano, guitar, bass, flute, cello, and a cajon (beat box) in our band. I have never been really fond of organ, having heard a lot of soft, funeral home Baptist-type organ playing in my day. The church has a very nice, expensive organ, and we used it a little bit until the lady who played the organ passed away. Now, no one really plays it all, so I started teaching myself how to play and found out that this organ can really crank out the sound. My wife and I play piano/organ duets for offertories once in a while and we get a mixture of roaring applause and rolling eyes. Definitely a divided opinion in our church. Last duet was “Great Is the Lord” by Michael W. Smith Played like a pipe organ concerto. Fun!

  • I think it is all in the quality of the musician playing the instrument.

    Our church is much more traditional in terms of music.

    We have a new large pipe organ and at least 3 musicians that can play it very very well.

    We have a bell group that are also very well rehearsed and play maybe once a quarter.

    On special occasions we will bring in other musicians to compliment our organ, our choir and our service. A string quartet, or brass quartet, or maybe one or two different instruments. It does not happen often, but when it does happen it is a special treat. And because it is relatively rare, it does not get old.

    Finally once a year, we have a service where we are celebrating “The Kirking of the Tartans”, we have a Bagpiper. I am sure a Bagpiper would be on the high end and low end of you survey also — high end if he was there once a year, and on the low end if he played every week. 🙂

    So I do not think it is the instrument as much as the quality and the occasion.

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