After worship this morning, I felt compelled to share my deep and abiding respect for an often-overlooked worship tool.
Ah, the tambourine. That venerable praise instrument: there is no other instrument that so quickly ushers us directly into the presence of God. And, the tambourine is the only remaining praise instrument to be handed down, generation after generation, from the times of Jesus, all the way to our modern worship services.
Originally made of large dried segments of gourd with small, paired pieces of hand-hewn metal tied on with leather strips, the tambourine is much like the gospel: ever-changing, yet always the same. The modern word tambourine is a derivation of the original Hebrew words tambler (meaning “to shake”) and shourine (meaning “earnest”). Throughout the ages, praise leaders have found this ever-changing, always-the-same God-shaker to be the tipping point between mere singing and true worship.
Proper use of the tambourine in praise leadership has been highly refined over the years, and can be seen in many hillsong-influenced cultures around the globe today: first, it’s helpful to have a high-tech tambourine, the kind made of composite materials, in the shape of a crescent, with a polyurethane hi-grip/no slip handle weighted close to the middle. Second, there are only two effective body positions for a praise leader utilizing the tambourine:
a. Big smile, big eyes, bouncing at the knees and a mock-rock eagerness. This is used for upbeat songs, and calling the worshipping audience to intensified emotional excitement. It has a similar effect as slapping one’s knees in front of a dog and saying, “here boy, here boy,” which is why it looks so similar.
b. The second effective body position while tambo-leading is used for slower songs (worship, instead of praise). Every aspect of this is essential (as is clearly seen by its universal global usage). First, the worship leader’s eyes must be closed. Open eyes communicate to the audience that you’re not really focusing on God. Closed eyes = sincerity. Second, one hand (obviously, not the one holding the mic) must occasionally be raised throughout the entire song (the only exception to this rule is when that same hand must be used to give signals to the praise band). Admittedly, this is tricky to do while playing a tambourine, and practice, in front of a mirror, is encouraged. Two effective ways (not really rules) for adding flourish and power to this position are: tilt the head slightly, and – for that little added worship push – point one finger on the mic-holding hand toward heaven. This reminds the audience of whom you are singing about.
We can only speculate about the future of this truly anointed praise instrument. Electric tambourines? Digital tambourines? Tambourine “machines”? Who can say (except the Lord)? What we can be sure of is that the tambourine will be around for years to come, and will be a centerpiece in our glory-day praise in heaven one day. Shake it!