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Church Music and the Sax.
4 Musical Styles - Traditional, Southern and Black Gospel,
Praise and Worship

Lets take a look at the basic styles of Music found in the Church and explore where the Sax fits in this new Century.
The Church and the Sax.....

The picture on the home page shows a Church that looks nothing like my own. For as many different looking Church Buildings, there are as many, if not more, varying opinions of what Church Music is.

Nothing can divide a Church faster than Music. The primary styles found in the Church today are Contemporary Praise and Worship, Southern Gospel, Black Gospel and Traditional piano and organ lead styles. As Instrumentalists and Saxophonists today, we are finding opportunities in all 4 primary Church genres.


Living in Southern California, my experience has been Traditional growing up in the Church in the 70s, and more Contemporary and Black Gospel since the mid 80’s.


Playing the Saxophone, I experienced an early period of time that the Church as a whole, disliked the sax and referred to it as an instrument of Satan. Typical of the Church, 40 years after the secular world had embraced the saxophone, the Church began to change its attitude on the Saxophone too.


In 2006, we can see Churches all over the world using the Saxophone in a wide variety of Worship settings.

Traditional Church Music

Traditional – I have played 2 times in the past few years with piano or organ at an old school Church, playing Hymns as a featured soloist. I have also done many a funeral with an organist and sax for special music. There are possibilities to explore for the Church Saxophonist attending a very traditional service. I would suggest talking with your choir director if you are interested. This type of service would probably be a once in a while schedule since it is still a little unusual. Thanks to your input and suggestions, I must now include Classical in the Traditional category since many emails have been received mentioning that Classical Sax solos and Classical Quartets are being used in some Traditional Church settings. Very cool guys!

Southern Gospel Church Music

Southern Gospel – This style implies more up beat, sometimes country flavors and still focuses a lot on the Hymns, and will also, often include a rhythm section. Saxophone can fit very nicely into this style of Worship and I know many a Sax Player playing Southern Gospel and even recording CDs in that style. I have very little experience in this style and can add very little to discussion on it.

Black Gospel Church Music

Black Gospel – Slower tempos, longer songs, more hoot’n and hollering. This style can cover into Traditional styles with a pianist, organist and featured soloist and or choir backing it up. More contemporary Black Gospel will include a full rhythm section, sax player and or horn section and more. I have both recorded and played in these groups and there is lots of opportunity for sax and horns with very interesting music, often pretty difficult and seems to attract many great players. It can be a blast playing in a good Gospel Band with Gospel Choir.

Contemporary Praise and Worship Music

Contemporary Gospel – or Praise and Worship Teams – This is pretty much the main stream in Churches today, but all these styles can over lap and mix, and a single service might have a few different styles represented before Church is out that day. The music style is Adult Contemporary or mainstream Pop. Most Worship teams consist of a rhythm section with sax or horns, possibly an orchestra or big band at times with a lead singer (Worship Leader) and a few singers all the way to larger vocal teams and choirs.


Being a member of the Purpose Driven Church home, Saddleback Church, I am under the conviction that Worship Music Styles are to be regional in approach. This would mean a Church in Texas might have a Music Style that is more country, and a Florida Church could have a Latin influence. I believe the music should be determined by the Church demographics in relationship to its community.


Many of the negative statements I’ve seen on the Purpose Driven movement would be shut down quickly if the person could understand the premise. The idea is to be aware and effective for who you are and where you are. Not to copy what works in Southern California and force it on Nashville to the big apple.

I’m not going to go all the way into this one, and I do want to restate that Music Styles are heated battles indeed. All I want to suggest at this point is your Church Music should be aware of Who and Where you are.

Sax Player – Depending on where a Church is at with this basic question will determine your possible role. Sax, Trumpet, Flute, Trombone, Violin, Clarinet and the list goes on. There can be a place for you at your Church and many musicians are playing in Churches all over the world every weekend now.


My Church has 6 service times a weekend and numerous Music Styles take place each weekend. We have Gospel Services, Traditional Services, Worship Band, Passion Band, Island Worship with dancers and all, and have even tried a Country Venue which did not work out. Saddleback has many service styles with one message, the same all over the campus. Saddleback calls this ‘Venues’ and Churches all over the country have modeled Venues with various Music Styles. That also means we have a lot of Musicians on campus on any given weekend and Saddleback has become a major employer for Musicians in the area.

The Role of the Sax Player in Worship –


Sax Players can expect as many different roles as there are styles and variations. Technically, the Sax Chair can be written music or improvised playing, often being somewhere between with written parts and solos with some fills taking precedence over the written parts, then back to the parts. If there are more than 1 sax player, the role of all the other sax players would be written parts or support to the lead player.


Since most Contemporary Praise and Worship music is pop in style, listening to pop music with sax can give you a good idea what might be expected. Branford with Sting is an example. Please read my Article on Playing Sax behind the Vocals for a more specific description.




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