Three bits of news have hardened my suspicions that guitar music is going to be increasingly niche. One is Paul Gambaccini’s last rites on rock. The second is that Guitar Hero has been discontinued. And the third is that Beyonce could be headlining Glastonbury. I think this shows that the guitar has definitely moved away from the centre stage in society’s music consciousness.

This has interesting implications for worship music. A good proportion of contemporary worship leaders lead from the guitar. A huge number of worship songs today are written around the guitar. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are more guitar worship churches than organ worship churches. So, if the guitar is moving away from the centre of secular music but is the centre of church worship music, should we be concerned?

Concerned in a positive way I would hope. It does warrant thinking and discussion. We are products of our culture and God’s kingdom advances through some of the features of the culture we inhabit. Our worship will always reflect some part of our culture. So we should experiment with new ways of doing music away from the guitar.

How about an iPad/iPod orchestra? Or a more ethereal laptop orchestra?

Sounds alien? Impossible? Impractical? or exciting? Perhaps all of them? Imagine how alien we would sound to Christians a century ago. We have so much more technology than they did. Whether technology is out of control or too much in our lives is open for debate but technology has played an integral role in the way music in the church has evolved. Here’s an interesting quote from the book ‘Electronic Music.’

“baroque music cannot be imagined without the advances of 16th and 17th century luthiers, rock could not exist without the electric guitar, and jazz or hiphop without redefinitions of the saxophone and the turntable.” p89

So as technology changes new kinds of music can appear, not by a wholesale dumping of the past but as natural inheritors to a tradition. ‘(T)he pipe organ was the most complex man-made device,[5] a distinction it retained until it was displaced by the telephone exchange in the late 19th century’ (Wikipedia). Using software is a natural progression from the pipe organ which under pinned church music for centuries. From the same book :

"Good new instruments should learn from their traditional ancestors and not impose their music on the performer."

This is where the challenge really lies. It’s easy to make music sound from the computer. You just press play on whatever music player you have. The challenge lies in actually making music with the computer.

Laptops are a common sight in worship but they seem to be used mostly as a screen for words or for projection. Are there any worship leaders who use a computer as their leading instrument? In my limited experience I haven’t heard or seen any. Within the band context I have seen computers used musically but mostly as a sound bank for the keyboard or as a loop machine.

Loops sound good but they barely scratch the surface of computer music. Live sampling would be the next step. This could be of the singing and we could even sample the congregation’s singing to maybe pray over or recite a liturgy over. Generating sounds from the computer could take things further. It could give us a real sense of the otherness and the unpredictability of God. The next crazy step could be where there could be a network server in our worship space where people with their smartphones could all connect to the server and participate and contribute to the music with the various apps in our worship. Wild.

The possibilities are endless. Everything’s possible but not everything will be useful, Paul reminds us. But surely we have to start trying it out? So over to you.

What could worship sound (and look) like if we used the full range of the computer’s potential in worship?