Guitar Alternative for Liturgical Music

In the 15 years I have directed a choir at our parish, I have had the luxury of having a keyboard player and organist off and on for only 5 ($0 music budgets and high learning curve for these instruments). Like many parishes, we have guitar-only liturgical musicians (the free ones :)). I am a guitar player myself, and have worked to adapt both music selection and my playing style over the years to produce music that I feel fits the reverent atmosphere appropriate to the Mass. The guitar can only do so much, however, and I still longed for the rich piano and organ accompaniment that, I feel, really fits the setting. I have experimented, at times, with sequencing and recording tracks with rich instrumentation, but always found them awkward and unnatural (hard for the Spirit to move the CD to change tempo or dynamics :)).

I have a professional background in computer science and longtime hobby of MIDI music, which I began to seriously combine a few years ago. Insipired, but daunted by the $2K-$3K professional MIDI guitars offered by Star Labs, I discovered a much lower cost alternative in a “teaching guitar” made by Yamaha, that I have adapted (with a few electronic adds and some custom programming) into an effective, highly-portable, digital guitar instrument that gives me access to the rich sounds I sought with the control and feeling of a live instrument. A sample of my live accompaniment can be heard here For those interested in some of the technical details see [ATTACH]9356[/ATTACH].

Are there any other refugees from past decades “Guitar Mass” that are on a similar “quest for conversion” in their music?

Whats wrong with a cappella? Can your choir read music?

Visit and see the link to Corpus Christi Watershed.


I used to think any instrument is okay, its all the same. After attending an Eastern parish, I am fully converted to their way of Church music. I say throw away not only the guitars but the organs as well! Let our voices be the natural instruments of praising God.

Amen, and I’m a guitarist!

I love a capella music (even though I can’t spell it), and love the opportunity to sing that way. However, most of the members of our choir don’t have the training or skill to sing that way. I have an adequate voice, but a really good ear. We sang without accompaniment on Good Friday, and it wasn’t pretty. People have to actuallly practice and come to rehearsals, and in our case, that doesn’t happen. I’d like to sing unaccompanied all the time so I can sing in the key I like! Alas, it won’t work everywhere.

The choir at a nearby parish has about 18 members, and the youngest one is about 65. There’s no way they could go it alone. They have enough trouble singing with the organ, and they only sing in unison. But they show up.

I think it starts by selecting music that sounds better without instruments. Of course its easy in Eastern Liturgy because all the music were written to be sung without instruments as that has been the tradition. In the West we have been using organs for such a long time, and today we use a long list of other instruments, everything is composed with instruments in mind. But I’m sure there are songs there that would be better sung without accompaniment.

An a capella choir is a good longer term goal. It is most likely not a viable short-term solution for the reasons mentioned above. There is not a strong tradition of a capella music (either sacred or secular) in the West.

A solution might be to have the choir try to learn one or two a capella pieces of music that can be accompanied by guitar while the choir learns to “self-tune”.

What I’m suggesting is Gregorian chant. Use the simplified modes. if you are in an OF parish I would strongly advise to use the FREE chant available at Corpus Christi Watershed. The link can be found on . There are even audio files for free.

I’ll admit that Sacred Polyphony is very complicated but chant can be very simple.

By Flowing Waters is an excellent simple chant resource as well, along with Fr. Columba Kelly’s simple chant settings of the Propers.

Guess it’s time for me to weigh in. I too am a guitar player, and I play every sunday at our contemporary mass, along with a pianist. However, there was one time when I got caught by myself (pianist called in sick just before mass) and I did not know most of the music (I do not read music). So - acking like I knew what I was doing, I announced that we were going to try something new. A cappella is difficult if you do not start at the right place - so - I just played the first chord of each song, each verse, etc, as needed, and silly as it may sound, it went well. Of course I could just learn to read music I guess, but the point is: we did it and those in the pews thought we planned it that way. God was served. In the world of volunteer music ministry, ingenuity and a sense of humor are gifts to be cherished - and used.

Well, thanks for all the recommendations on eliminating instruments entirely, but that was not really the point of this thread. Mine is a Roman Catholic parish. As was pointed out, there is a long tradition of the reverent use of instruments to accompany sacred music in the west. I am not opposed to acapella singing, nor chant, but do not feel compelled (nor guided by Rome) to abandon all instrumentation. I would love to hear from others who are looking for ways to make their instrumentation more reverent and sacred.

I make accompaniment tracks on my pc using Sonar recording software. I have a basic set of instruments that includes keys, strings flute, French horn, guitar, bass, and drums. I input the notes from the score into the program using my mouse. The result is an amazingly real sounding ensemble which we play into the church’s sound system via iPod. As the ensemble plays I play my guitar and my choir sings live. We have been using this system for over ten years with great praise from parishioners and staff. It has opened up worlds of music that we would not have attempted with just guitar or amateur musicians.

Actually, there is. A lot of chant, if not most is sung unaccompanied.

Try the Simple Propers Project.

It seems to me that this is a violation of the prohibition on using recorded music in the liturgy.

It is.

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