4 ways to handle disagreements with your musical director

As a musician, you naturally feel strongly about how your performances sound. After all, it’s how you express yourself. Expect that you’re not always the only one on the stage. Most of us perform in groups, and most bands and ensembles have a leader – an artist, producer, conductor, or musical director – who has authority to determine how the music will ultimately be presented.

Artists sometimes have issues with authority. Either we don’t like the leader, or we don’t like the decisions the leader makes. If we’re not careful, disagreements over decisions can lead to musical and relational chaos.

What should you do when you don’t agree with your leader’s musical choices? Here are four keys:

Respect position over decision. While you may not agree with a decision, remember the responsibility for the performance ultimately falls on the leader. Even groups that work well together need a person that can bring an end to discussions and make a final call. Respect the role that person plays in your group, and allow them the space to fulfill it to the best of their ability. The depth of your professionalism can always be measured by your response to authority.

Put yourself in their shoes. Often in musical groups, leadership can change between projects and performances.  Before disagreeing with a decision, ask yourself; how would you feel if you were in charge? Perhaps you will have to make an unpopular choice when you are the decision maker. Give your current leader the same respect you would desire in that circumstance.

Earn your voice. Because music is a deeply collaborative process, the way you say something can be more important than what you say. If you voice your opinion respectfully and with a heart to help the group succeed, you’ll gain greater influence with your musical director even if they choose a different solution. When you give others respect, you will find that people will respect your opinions more.

Play it like you wrote it.  Once a musical decision is made, commit to performing the music as asked. Don’t hedge or play halfheartedly because your preference wasn’t accepted. Perform as if the musical decision was your own. Your performance and your ensemble will be better when you do so.

You can’t be a leader if you aren’t first willing to follow one.

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10 thoughts on “4 ways to handle disagreements with your musical director

    • Thank you so much Pastor Mary – it’s been your influence, along with our outstanding Metro Life worship team , that has helped me better understand the connections between music and ministry. I’m extremely grateful.

  1. Great comments Alan. I am fortunate. I am a volunteer lead guitarist and I serve with a worship leader who is a talented leader and musician who has a huge heart for worship and is great at creating worshipful environments. I have such confidence in his ability and heart that I would play whatever he asked me to play…without question. With that said, he rarely gives that type of direction. He provides direction by making statements like “hey we’re doing Holy Spirit this week and I would like to give it an ambient feel so be thinking that way when writing your parts” or “hey, we’re doing Our God in the #2 spot so instead of the recorded intro come in with a driving instrumental” or “I was thinking….”. On my off weeks I share the stage with another volunteer lead guitarist whose playing style is totally different than mine. By allowing us to write our own parts he is pretty much assured that no two songs will sound alike which is a benefit to the church, especially when some songs get quite a bit of play time. This allows us the freedom to express ourselves in the songs and demonstrates his faith in us that we will write parts that lead the church in worship and not hinder or distract.

    • Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experience. You are definitely blessed to have a great director that can adapt to different musical approaches. I hope your team lets him know he’s appreciated as you have done here!