A church musician is someone who plays a musical instrument during a church service. This can include a wide variety of instruments that may be played solo or as a part of an orchestra. These musicians often accompany the church choir or congregation during the singing of hymns. They may be paid members of the church staff or volunteers who perform as a service to the church community.
When many people think of a church musician, they think of an organist or pianist because these are the most common instruments played in Christian churches. Most Protestant and Catholic church services include piano or organ music, both to accompany the choir and congregational hymns and during processionals and recessionals. In many Christian churches, however, other instruments including drums, bells, wind instruments such as flutes, and string instruments such as guitars, are often present, either independently or as part of an ensemble. Harps may also be found in some churches.
In many non-Christian religions around the world, piano and organ music is rare and other instruments are more common. These can include a wide variety of drums, flutes, tambourines, and other musical instruments. Handbell choirs, which are groups of musicians who create music by ringing a series of handheld bells in concert with one another, are popular in many faiths and churches. Regardless of the faith of the church or the type of instrument played, an individual who plays an instrument during religious services is classified as a church musician.
Some faiths do not believe in music at all. Others believe that singing is acceptable, but that vocal music should not be accompanied by musical instruments. These churches would not utilize a church musician.
In some churches, the church musician is a paid position. This might occur as a formal employment relationship, in which the individual is a direct employee of the church, or as a contract relationship, in which the musician is a self-employed independent contractor who provides musical services for pay. These situations usually occur in large churches that hold multiple services throughout each week and may also require the musician to participate in choir practices and special events, such as weddings and baptisms.
Most small to mid-sized churches utilize volunteer church musicians. These musicians are usually church members who provide music as part of their service to the church. If the musician plays the piano or organ, the instrument is usually owned by the church and remains at the church location. Many musicians who play other types of instruments use instruments that they, themselves, own.