I’ve gotten so tired of going into churches where a wonderful praise band and talented singers are “leading worship” and yet NO ONE around me in the congregation is singing! We’re all spectators, watching the chosen few on “stage” be the participants. Now before you start thinking that I’m an ardent traditionalist who would like to shun all praise music written since the 1970’s, let me assure you that I am NOT! And while I may still be a little startled by lyrics such as “sloppy wet kiss” being included in a worship song [“How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan], I can basically appreciate and enter into worship through most of the songs being written and sung in churches today.
What troubles me is the apparent lack of thought on the part of worship leaders as to how they can engage the congregation in singing along with them. Or perhaps they’ve thought about it, but don’t quite know how to make it work. In this and subsequent posts, I hope to offer some suggestions on how this can be accomplished. Below is point #1:
The “KEY” to Great Congregational Singing: The first and most prevalent problem I see with congregational singing led by a praise band (or led by an organist or keyboardist in more traditional settings) is this: the key of the song is too high for most people to feel comfortable singing it. Now in some very current songs, there is a trend for the “lead” to be an extremely low alto, and so in that case, it can likewise be difficult for the congregation to sing in that range. If the band simply covers a song in the key that the original artist recorded it, it can be problematic for the congregation to sing along. So CHANGE THE KEY! Most on-line sources of praise music offer the ability to change the key when printing out chord charts or full sheet music. So take advantage of that. If the song takes the congregation beyond a high D (a ninth above middle C), you will leave most singers in the congregation behind. Even the high D can be problematic. Yet a good number of worship songs have melodies that soar well beyond that.
And just so you don’t think I’m picking on contemporary worship leaders here . . . when I served as an organist in a very traditional church, I noticed that the keys of many hymns are too high as well. I always transposed these down to meet the criteria mentioned above in order to facilitate greater congregational participation. (Note: most electronic organs as well as keyboards come with a “transpose” feature which allows players to change the key easily, if they feel uncomfortable doing it on their own).
When the key is too high, I’ve heard many in the congregation resort to singing the song an octave lower! Seriously! And there’s nothing worse, when trying to encourage uplifting, stirring, passionate worship, than to have people grunting out the melody an octave lower than intended.
So . . . I want to encourage ministers of music, worship leaders, praise band directors and anyone else in a position to lead congregational singing, to PLEASE consider the key of the music when preparing your musicians for the worship service.
It’s my hope that the National Christian Choir can be an effective proponent of wonderful times of worship (both musical and non-musical) in churches today. Just within our Choir, we have singers that represent over 100 different churches, representing many different denominations as well as independent congregations. So within our ranks, we have a lot of different style preferences when it comes to what we sing and how we sing it. But I’ve found that with proper introduction of newer songs and styles and an invitation to go beyond our personal preferences, we can enjoy wonderful times of corporate praise.
We’ll revisit the topic of “GREAT Congregational Singing” in future posts, so be sure to check back here at PraisePoint for more tips on “Making Worship Better”.
Joyfully serving Him,
Director of Music and Ministries