In the modern church band context, auxiliary percussion refers to the percussion instruments that are not part of the usual drum set. They would therefore include congas, cowbells, shakers, bar chimes, bongos and all that. Some churches include auxiliary percussion in the band even if they already have a drummer on the drum kit. Other churches may, because of space, budget or noise constraints, choose to use auxiliary percussion to replace the regular drum set.
In both cases, auxiliary percussion can greatly add the people’s worship experience if used correctly. They can also be an irritating distraction if not used correctly.
Before you can understand the correct use of the auxiliary percussion instruments, you need to recognize that there are two main instrument groups. They are:
1) the groove instruments – instruments that are used to create a consistent rhythm. This group includes the congas, tambourines and shakers.
2) The ambience instruments – instruments that are used sparingly for the sake of ambience. This group includes the bar chimes, rain sticks, or even a roll on the cymbals played with the mallets.
From this we can already see the most common problem, attempting to use the ambience instruments as part of a consistent groove. A mallet roll on the cymbals every two counts, for example, when it should be used only as a fill once or twice in a song, or playing the bar chimes continually for three or four bars of the chorus, are prime examples of this kind of mistake.
The other common problem is when people playing the groove instruments do not fit their playing into the structure of the song. They end up pounding away mindlessly whether they are at the verse, chorus or ending of the song.
Please plan your parts. If you are playing the tambourine, for example, trying playing the tambourine on the second and fourth count, or maybe just the fourth count, during the verse. In the pre-chorus, play it on the second and fourth count but a little louder. And when you get to the chorus, you can shake it to an eighth-beat (quaver) pattern if you are holding the tambourine in your hand. If you are not, you can continue tapping it as before but add in a shaker part with your other hand. This is an example of planning your parts according to the structure of the song.
The third problem is not keeping the groove parts consistent. This can arise from a lack of skill or because the player is bored and trying to make the parts musically interesting by changing the beat every bar. Please do not do that. It catches the attention of the congregation, and even at a subconscious level that is a distraction. Even in secular music the acclaimed percussionists like Alex Acuna keep their groove parts consistent. There is a lesson for us in that.
Finally, the most important piece of advice: sing along with the song. Always. I see percussionists in church with their eyes and mouths closed, grimacing and straining intently to feel the song as they play. There’s no need for that. Playing auxiliary percussion for worship is simple if you sing together with the congregation and let your singing guide you in your choice of notes.
In conclusion: auxiliary percussion, whether it is used together with a drum kit or by itself, has great potential to enhance the worship experience of the people of God. Follow the guidelines here and you will better utilize that potential for the glory of God and the blessing of his people!