Lead So You Can Be Followed

January 24, 2019

Are you leading music in a way that can be followed?
As we all know, the goal of leading song in a worship service is to engage congregation members to sing along. One challenge that the modern church faces is a lack of participation in corporate singing. Let’s look at some of the reasons for why this may be a challenge and some possible solutions.

Consider the range of the song.
With the onset of modern worship music and online sheet music resources, it is now possible for worship leaders to choose any key for the selections that they lead. This is beneficial in many ways for song leaders and instrumentalists but can come at the cost of the congregation’s participation. Keys that are best for certain instruments or the voice of the lead singer may not be ideal for the congregation. Remember that most congregation members cannot sing as high or as low as a trained or experienced vocalist. Many hymnals arrange songs to be within a comfortable range for the average untrained voice. This range is predetermined by musical specialists and is a model that the modern worship format could benefit from. Vocal specialists each have a different opinion on what this range should consist of, but a good starting point is middle C (C4) to the C one octave up (C5). Transpose these one octave down for men.

Consider the contour of the melody.
Again, this is where hymns have traditionally excelled and some of the latest in modern worship is lost. Does the melody feature many skips, atypical harmonic structures or even octave leaps? Then this song may not be a good choice. Melodies consisting of stepwise motion and skips that outline typical tonal harmony will lead to success with your church members.

Consider the wordiness of the song.
Another mistake of many modern worship songs is that they contain too many syllables to read or follow. Congregants are often asked to read lyrics from a screen without the assistance of standard notation. In this case, songs need to be easier to follow with text that falls in predictable places within the meter. If there are too many words, or the emphasis of text is continuously changing, then people aren’t going to sing along.

Consider the basic melody of the song. 
We get that you have chops as a singer. You don’t need to demonstrate your technique and improvisation on every song. When you decorate the melody of a song with your own liberties, the average participant stops singing because they think either you or they have made a mistake. The common singer doesn’t understand that improvisation is a strength of musical performance and simply needs the basic melody to follow.

Sing what’s on the screen.
Similarly to number 4 above, most singers need you to sing the text that they are reading. Remove as many variables as possible from the corporate worship experience.