March 06, 2019

Do you think about tempo when making song selections? Though this may not be an obvious initial consideration for church musicians, I propose that it should be.

We’re all suckers for a good melody. 
Think about it. You’re in the car and someone turns the radio to a station that features a style of music you generally don’t prefer. You groan the second the change is made, but a few moments later you’re humming along with the singer. It happens to the best of us. I think this happens to church musicians as well. We hear a great melody, we think it is something that is popular for congregants to sing, and we program it in the service. That may not always be the best choice. I think that when we fall prey to the most popular melodies for the sake of participation, we neglect other important considerations like tempo.

Why is it problematic to neglect tempo? 
Well, there are some practical reasons for this. If you choose what’s been popular for the last five to 10 years, chances are that you’re going to have a lot of slow music. If every song in your service is slow, you may lose the attention of participants. I have seen this issue occur several times recently at area churches. All begins well, but after the second or third extremely slow selection, people start to tune out. It isn’t that the songs are bad, we just don’t have the attention span for it.

I’ve heard other sides of the argument. 
“But those songs have the most meaningful text.” Great! Do one or two. But consider the practical issue. The same tempo with little or no rhythmic or dynamic variation is monotonous. People are going to get bored, stop singing, and start doing something else like looking at their phones. Again, it isn’t that they don’t care about singing along, it’s that the human attention span just can’t handle it.

So what are some solutions? 
Mix it up. Start with a couple of shorter, faster songs back-to-back, save the really slow song for the middle of the set, and send people out with another fast selection. Give participants an opportunity to shift gears throughout the service so you can keep their attention.

By: Ryan McClouth