Shadowlands and Songs of LightQuick note for fans of C. S. Lewis and/or U2 before the article begins:

When life’s sorrows bring us into shadowlands, we need the joy of Christ to restore our strength. We tap into this joy by nurturing a deeper longing for God. Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing takes you on a quest for joy and a life-changing longing for God.

Written by a C. S. Lewis expert and a skilled composer, the book explores 18 beloved C. S. Lewis classics, from Narnia to Mere Christianity, and 13 spiritual principles behind the art of songwriting, as seen in 13 studio albums by U2–all to answer one question: how do we experience deeper joy in our relationship with Christ during times of sorrow and trial?

Shadowlands is available to pre-order at Amazon or If you pre-order a copy, the author will personally email you with a thank-you note and a copy of his upcoming e-book devotional “Devotions with Tolkien,” which uses J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic “The Lord of the Rings” and Scripture. (This is all on the honor system: simply pre-order Shadowlands, and then send an email to shadowlands2016 (at) gmail (dot) com letting the author (Kevin Ott) know you’ve ordered it, and he will contact you.)

Text LIGHT to 54900 to get a preview of Shadowlands and Songs of Light.


Although this article is tailored more towards worship bands where horn and wind parts aren’t written out and arranged into sheet music, if you do have written parts for worship songs, see tip #5 — that one’s just for you.

In my experience, most bands that I’ve played in don’t have the staff or resources to make written parts for horn and wind players, and the worship director relies on the musician’s improvisational skills. And, after playing trumpet for most of my life — and in worship bands for a couple decades — there’s one thing I’ve learned more than anything else:

Less is more.

And this leads into the first quick tip:

1. Spend More Time Listening Than Playing

Probably the most dangerous place to be as a musician is that level of competency where, yeah, you’re getting pretty good at you’re instrument, but a certain overeagerness or desire to impress compels you to play as much and as often as possible during the song. Mature, great horn and wind players with experienced ears and good taste don’t do that. They aren’t afraid to lay out for an entire verse or play very sparsely throughout the song. They’re listening to the music the way a recording engineer or producer or arranger would listen to it: they see their instrument as one small flavor in a large bowl of ingredients, and they see great little spots where they can contribute to the whole without trying to dominate it.

2. If You’re a Bb Instrument (i.e. Trumpet or Tenor Sax), Practice the F# Major Scale Until You Drop

As it turns out, about four billion worship songs are written in the key of E. This means, for some horn and wind players, they have to play a whole step above that, the key of F#, which has about four billion sharps (okay, only six, but that’s still a lot). You might as well get the pain over with in your practice sessions and get so comfortable with playing in F# that the next time a worship service has seven songs in concert E, you won’t break down in tears.

3. Use Dissonance Wisely

One mistake that some musicians make is thinking they can only play notes that the rest of the band members are playing. In other words, the song’s lead sheet shows a C Major chord, and the musician knows that the notes C, E, G form that chord. So they assume they can only play one of those three notes. Not true. It takes a little practice and experimentation, but playing notes not in the chord can add some wonderful colors to the music. It might produce what’s called “dissonance,” to a small degree, but if you resolve the dissonance fairly quickly by moving to a note that’s in the chord, it will add a sense of tension-relief that pleases the ear. For example, playing dissonant notes on the weak beat and resolving them on the strong beat is a classic way to go about this.

4. Listen to the Jazz Album “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis

Listening to the right music will sharpen your sense of what’s tasteful and what’s not, especially in situations where the worship leader/director is leaving up to you to improvise something that fits. Probably one of the most tasteful albums ever recorded in history is the legendary Kind of Blue album with horn players Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley. Although, yes, they soar off into wild frontiers of improvisation in their solos, it is equally surprising how simple and just plain tasteful their licks are. You can hear them listening to the rest of the band: they’re engrossed in what the other musicians are doing, and they’re trying to find ways to fit into the whole, not override it. And just listening to this masterpiece will upgrade your sense of what’s tasteful as a horn or wind player, even if you’re not playing jazz.

5. If You Do Have Written Parts, Try to Memorize Them

When you memorize written music, you internalize it in a way that allows you to focus on the musicianship — and the worship during a worship service — in a way that will drastically improve your notes and the overall tastefulness of what you’re doing. When your eyes aren’t stuck on the page, you can pay better attention to what the band’s doing, what the worship leader is doing, and to worshiping God in general. If you’re sincerely worshiping, you’d be surprised how that shows in your body language, and the congregation will pick up on that.