For a number of years we've been incorporating junk drumming and hand-percussion with congregations during worship. After a great time with the JunkTank crew at our Engage Worship Day 2014, we thought it was time to give some thoughts and tips on encouraging a 'joyful noise' through worship.



Handing out percussion instruments or junk drums for the congregation to use in worship can be helpful for the following reasons:

1. It encourages congregational participation. We have all heard the stories that it is hard to include some people in modern worship because of the emphasis placed on singing - well, this is a great way to release worship from people who would prefer to hit something to God's glory. This includes men, teenagers and children, but we have also found that many adult women are just as interested in banging a drum for Jesus!

2. As a related point, it encourages wider music-making than just the band or music-group. There are many people who might not have the skills or the confidence to be part of the regular church musicians, but percussion can be an easy way into exploring music-making - especially if you run workshops where people can be taught and try things out.

3. It is biblical. The Psalm Drummers do a great job of unpacking the biblical references to the 'Toph' - the Hebrew word for a frame drum (typically mistranslated tambourine). We are encouraged five times in the Psalms to praise God with the sounding of the drum. Why not extend that to your congregation? If you can get hold of it, we can also recommend Terl Bryant's book 'A Heart to Drum'.

4. Junk percussion can have an added layer of significance because of the the notion of 'reclaiming' and 'recycling' discarded items to use for God's praise. You could base a talk around the idea of God taking what we think of as broken or unusable and resurrecting it for his Kingdom. Or be more literal and talk about how recycling and reusing things is a good way of taking care of God's creation. Shows like Stomp, or the junk percussion band Weapons of Sound can give you some inspiration here.



A good place to start can be using small hand drums, like djembes, bongos, tambours and other things that people have brought back from foreign holidays! These are much quieter than any drum you strike with a stick. Alternatively, if you are doing this with children it can be great to encourage them to make their own drums - perhaps with a large cardboard cylinder and a balloon, as this lady demonstrates. Thirdly, you could use upturned plastic rubbish bins - but watch out for sharp edges that could hurt people's hands.
Warning: with children and adult beginners avoid anything with jingles. Tambourines or similar instruments with metal jingles really cut through the sound around them. If you have ever had an errant tambourine player in your congregation you will know what I mean. So only entrust a tambourine to a fully qualified person!
The next thing to bear in mind is that if you are giving percussion to a congregation during a service, only hand it out for a short period and then collect it all back in. There is nothing more annoying than the child (or adult!) who keeps hitting something all through the notices, the talk, the quiet song... So limit the use of the drums to certain songs, and then have some people take back all the instruments and sticks.
My next tip is to use a call-response format to get people listening and playing together. So tap a simple 4 beat phrase, and get the drummers to tap it back (if you also have congregation members who aren't holding drums, get them to clap back). You can also turn this into a game - BIG Ministries taught us 'don't clap that one back' which involves the group clapping/tapping back any rhythm you set, except for the beat that goes to the phrase 'don't clap that one back' (crotchet, crotchet, quaver-quaver crotchet or 1, 2, 3-and-4). Anyone who claps/hits that rhythm back is out, and you can keep going, with harder rhythms and a faster pulse, until you have a champion!

Leading during a service

When it comes to including the instruments in worship, have a leader of the drummers who can work with them, distinct from the lead singer or worship leader. This person ought to have a drum which is louder than the rest of the group, such as a kick drum in a Mumfords-style to help keep the beat, or a snare with a stick. Using this you can give the group a beat to play that will compliment the rest of the instruments and the song.
Keep it simple to begin with. Focus on keeping in time and varying the dynamics (volume) to encourage musical shape (for example, bring the volume down in the verses and up for the chorus). You also want to have a signal for stop - holding your stick in the air works well. Encourage the drummers to watch you as the drum leader, to follow your tempo, dynamics and stop-starts. Make sure the drummers are gathered together in a group, not spread all over the building.
Songs which we have used and work well with this kind of percussion group include:

Let everything that has breath by Matt Redman (which we have used with the congregation reading Psalm 150, and opportunities for 'solos' from different drummers)

We are marching in the light of God, the African song collected by Anders Nyberg

Give thanks to the Lord and Praise the Lord by Sam Hargreaves

I will worship by David Ruis...

... but we are sure you can think of others that could work in your context.


If you have the opportunity to workshop with the group before the meeting, you can develop more varied rhythms. Distinguish between the low sounds (typically achieved by hitting the drum near the centre) and the high sound (heard when hitting the edge, rim or side of the instrument). A very good place to start is the 'low-low-high' of the 'We will rock you' beat, which will fit most 4/4 songs. You can also split the group so they are playing different but complimentary beats. A good way to do this is give them a phrase with words which fits their rhythm (see example below).
Clearly there are many other variations and opportunities available - an experienced percussionist or music teacher could work with a group until they had specific parts for each song, or were proficient at samba-style polyrhythms, or prepared dramatic Bible readings illustrated by the instruments. You could also begin to incorporate some tuned percussion. Or maybe if you don't have the expertese to lead this within your church, invest in a session run by the Psalm Drummers, or hire a whole junk percussion rig such as provided by JunkTank.
If you have other ideas or experiences of using percussion and junk drums in worship, please post them below!
(With thanks to Richard Morgan, Dan Earley, Tom Hancock, Bernie Gardner and BIG Ministries for helping and inspiring us with this stuff over the years.)