January 01, 2016

By Ryan McLouth

As we end our first semester with our new program at CMU, I find myself considering what processes lead us to the most uplifting experiences in worship. No matter our role in the worship experience, be it leader, pastor, or congregation member, I think we all have had those extra special moments where it feels like everything is just right.             

The mix is great, the song selection was perfect, the band is together, and the congregation is just “going for it”. Although we know it isn’t always possible, these are the moments that we hope last for the entirety of every service. Nonetheless, we should always strive to distill the best qualities of these experiences so that they may be recreated in the future. This month, let’s talk about how to do that.
As a worship leader, I think of myself first and foremost as a teacher. One aspect of this role takes place in helping band members regularly improve as musicians. Although sometimes we tend focus on the lead vocalist, I believe that each member of the band is leading worship. Knowing this, we must uplift each member by helping them do their best in each service.     
The greatest way to do this is to teach our band members the skills that make them self-sustaining, independent musicians and leaders. This of course does not deem it necessary for them to become virtuosos, but to at least have a set of fundamental and practical skills that they can transfer and build on from one week to the next.
Let’s consider some fundamentals that we should be teaching our worship musicians in order to make them grow toward musical independence. The first thing that comes to my mind is an ability to speak the language of music. Although this phrase, “musical language” seems rather broad at first, it is my goal today to draw some specifics from it. I think that most of us would first think of the process of turning some form of simple notation into a performance.         

For example, performing from a chord chart or sheet music. I want to think past this obvious point for a moment, and ponder something that I think we miss sometimes: style.
I have had opportunities to hear worship music done well, and many opportunities to hear it done average or worse. The musical thing that I feel sets the great worship teams apart from the lesser ones is the ability of the players and singers to get a grasp on style. Think about it. We’ve all been to those services where every song has the same tempo, same key, and same dynamics. This gets monotonous not only to those of us who have a calling in music, but also to the average non-musical congregation member.         

It becomes difficult to continue to focus without variation of some sort. Perhaps similar to a speaker who struggles to implement vocal inflection. Therefore, let’s teach our leaders and supporting musicians to understand and perform using simple elements from different styles.
It occurs to me that the tendency is to turn every contemporary worship song into an acoustic guitar or piano ballad. Why don’t we strive to break out of that stereotype and incorporate something new? I’m not saying that we need to stray into speed metal or jazz fusion, or that the vocal melody would even need to change at all, but I know that many teams can hold themselves to a higher standard. By the way, to the naysayers that would claim better bands or different styles “take the focus away from God,” that’s a cop-out. After all, doesn’t God deserve our best?
Please tune in next month to read more about this subject, or contact me at rmclouth@centralmethodist.edu or (660)651-9964.