What about musical skill?

What about musical skill?

During a recent time of worship training in Portugal, I was asked for my opinion about worship team members' skill levels. I coach worship teams of different sizes and skill levels, and questions on this topic are asked in almost every worship clinic. Here are some simple principles that you can apply when your team members are not professional musicians.

Play to your ability.

It's important to assess and know the skill level of each instrumentalist and each vocalist. When a musician's skill level is at an intermediate (not advanced) level, you can tailor a song's arrangement so the musician can play it well.

Keep the song arrangements clean and simple.

I'd rather hear a simple arrangement done well than a worship band trying to imitate a professional touring band. Think about this: why are you trying to sound like another band? Be yourselves and allow God to flow through you with your unique sound.

Continue to develop musically.

I believe in musical auditions before someone becomes a part of a worship team. If someone has a desire to be a part of a team, the first things I look for during a musical audition are: can this personal actually sing, can this person feel/count beats (keep time), can this person harmonize (and yes, that's a must for me), at what level does this person play their instrument, is this person currently taking music lessons. If a potential musician doesn't have intermediate skills but they do have basic skills and potential, I will recommend (and sometimes provide) vocal or instrumental lessons to develop their skills.

When I was in school, I interned at a large church with a robust music program. I was impressed by the multiple worship teams and choirs for the church's multiple services. Each team and choir was at a different skill level, and each team member had the opportunity to develop their skills through music lessons that were provided (for a small fee) through the church. Not only did this church develop people spiritually, they developed the talents and gifts that God had given the musicians. As the musicians' skills and their spiritual lives developed, and their faithfulness and commitment was demonstrated, they were placed in positions of continually greater responsibility and opportunity.

Encourage each other.

Creative people reveal their hearts and passion through music, and this may make them feel vulnerable. If the only comments they hear are critical, a musician will disengage and often will quit. Encouraging each other as musicians is vital. I remember leading worship from the keys one Sunday when my son Rob was on the drums. We had hit a high spot in the worship set where the congregation was engaged, the song was building, and I sensed such a freedom in God occurring. Coming out of the song's bridge back into the chorus, Rob did a drum fill that was amazing and took the song to the next level musically. I turned and looked at him with the biggest smile on my face. The rest of the worship set was even better. After the service, I thanked him for playing with skill from his heart and for being boldly creative. He had added so much to the experience.

Encourage your team. It will inspire them.

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To None But God

A challenge for every pastor, worship leader, music minister, choir director and worship team leader

by Melody Lavin

U.S. Only: $6.99 + s/h

5 more actions of a great worship leader

In a previous blog, I posted five actions you can implement to become a great worship leader. Here are five more practical actions that will help you to become a great leader for your team.

Give the team a vision to follow.

Communicate the vision of the church as defined by the pastor, and communicate the vision for the worship ministry. Team members want to know why they are doing what they do and why they are playing/singing the songs that have been chosen. Team members want to know what the expected outcome of a worship service should be.

Be a great coach.

Most people are not born knowing how to coach other people. To learn how, most of us read books, attend seminars, and talk to others who successfully coach. The best experiences I've had in receiving coaching from my mentors was when they used open-ended questions that allowed me to express an opinion or frustration. They then asked additional questions that helped me to reach a solution or that inspired collaboration with them and others. And when the questions showed a lack of knowledge, great mentors didn't miss the opportunity to provide training.

A worship team leader needs coaching skills We work with people, and people deserve to be heard and helped.

Forgive.

A great leader forgives. A great leader doesn't judge others. Some people have rough days at work, and if the worship team members work jobs before coming to a rehearsal or a church service, you will want to be calm, compassionate, relaxed, and relatable. Be there for them, accepting them for who they are and where they are. Demonstrate God's love and forgiveness.

Model personal development.

Never stop learning. Demonstrate your desire to increase your current skills and to learn new ones. Share your stories. Inspire the team to continue to develop.

Provide cross-training.

My family and I decided to switch instruments for some special music one night. I left the keys and played drums. My husband left the bass and played keys. My son the drummer played guitar, and my son the guitarist played bass. The church loved it. We loved it. It stretched our skills, made us laugh more together, and created a new dynamic.

To prepare, I refreshed my husband's piano skills (he had taken lessons as a child), my son the drummer gave me some additional drum lessons and he put all those guitar lessons I paid for to use, and my son the guitarist found a new passion in playing bass. Try it with your team, even if you have to simplify a song's arrangement to accommodate skill levels.

Teams I've worked with have enjoyed cross-training to increase their skills. This also gives instrumental depth so you have others who can sub when someone is on vacation or needs a break.

Be creative.

A great worship leader thinks creatively and inspires others to think about how something could be done differently. Be creative in how you structure the team. Be creative in how you schedule them. Be creative in your arrangements. Be creative in songs' dynamics and intros, and more. Be creative in how you start the service. During the week, find a place where you can relax, pray, and allow yourself to dream creatively. Creativity refreshes your enjoyment of the opportunity to lead the team.

To None But God

A challenge for every pastor, worship leader, music minister, choir director and worship team leader

by Melody Lavin

U.S. Only: $6.99 + s/h

5 actions of a great worship leader

 

Great leaders focus on developing each team member's talent and encouraging them to become all that they can be. You have the opportunity and responsibility to develop each worship team member. Here are five actions you can implement to become a great leader.

Put others first.

Being a great leader is not about you looking good because you have an awesome team. Leadership is service to and support for the team. Look for ways to serve each team member. It could be through prayer. It could be defending their reputation. It could be support through a tough personal issue. It's God's love in action through you.

Listen to what they say.

Pay attention to their words and their nonverbal cues. Care about them and their thoughts. You'll be a better leader and a better person when you listen to and try to see other people's perspectives.

Encourage them the way they need to be encouraged.

Find out how each person receives affirmation. When I was a worship pastor, the team and I took a test that showed us the ways in which we preferred to be affirmed. It was eye-opening. I realized that I had been affirming the team in the way that I wanted to be affirmed. Some of them were feeling unappreciated. We talked about test results and committed to support each other, encouraging each other in the way we each needed to receive it.

Give them the training they need to succeed.

Look at each person's unique talents and personality, and help them to achieve all they can. Look for ways to develop them. If you aren't focusing on what they need, then you're not really leading them. If you have a team member who struggles with finding harmony parts, give them some private coaching. If you have a team member who only reads music and can't play chord charts or by ear, make the time to develop their skills. If you don't have the skill to do that, find someone who can coach them.

Provide the resources they need.

Not everyone wants to play their personal instruments at church. With planning and budgeting, you can augment a musician's personal gear and build instrumental resources for the church. I worked with a drummer once who brought his own kit to the church to play. When he left the church, he took his kit with him, and the church was unprepared. You'll also want to have backup gear for the days when a drum head breaks right before a service, or a chord stops working. Plan and prepare. You're honoring the team and their time and gifts when you do that.

Being a great leader isn't difficult; it starts with doing what's best for the team.

 

To None But God

A challenge for every pastor, worship leader, music minister, choir director and worship team leader

by Melody Lavin

U.S. Only: $6.99 + s/h

Reverence

I attended a Good Friday service during this Easter season. It was contemplative but not melancholy. The worship team kept the arrangements of the songs simple and gentle. The choice of songs was appropriate. The Scripture, brief message, and time of personal reflection was meaningful. I was moved deeply.

From the moment that I entered the building, I sensed a reverence, an atmosphere of respect for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. Everything that was said and done was accompanied by honor for God. No attention was placed on any one person; all attention was on Jesus and the cross that sat at the front of the sanctuary.

That sense of reverence was with me for the rest of the night. Once again, I had been made aware of the depth of Jesus' sacrifice and His great love.

I recognize that most of our church services are focused on a celebration of what Jesus has done, and I'm a big advocate for abandoned, joyful praise and worship, but honor, respect, and reverence for God should be a part of my worship as well. I honor what He's done, I respect His presence, I revere who He is, and I love Him with all my heart. My worship is given out of that.

10 STEPS TO A GREAT REHEARSAL

10 steps to a great rehearsal

I’m often asked how to run a fun, efficient rehearsal that respects the team’s time, builds relationships, reinforces musical skills, and prepares the team for the coming worship service. The information below may be basic and super practical, but it’s good to remember the elements that make a great rehearsal.

1.    Say hello. Sometimes we forget to greet each other and continue to build our relationships. A great team is based on solid relationships.

2.    Tune, and warm up vocally. Take care of the fundamentals first.

3.    Share a scripture or two and what God has been showing you as the worship leader about those scriptures that will encourage the team. Keep it short, about 5-10 minutes. You can find more thoughts about this in my post Building Your Team. Follow this with some prayer together for issues that team members may be facing. I recommend that you don’t do this while on the platform. It’s too easy to be distracted by your gear and not focus on what’s being said or prayed.

4.    Grab your gear, do a quick mic check and check sound levels.

5.    Take a few minutes and talk through the set list. Talk through the song intros, outros, and transitions. Let the team know where you’re headed musically during the set. Don’t assume that you’ll figure it out as you go or that the team automatically knows what you want to do with the set.

You can’t communicate what you don’t know, so during the week, when you’re putting the set list together, prepare musically. Determine how the songs will flow together—ask yourself how you’re going to seamlessly flow from one song to another either through a key change or a musical break or by merging songs. Practice it yourself before the rehearsal. Then when you’re in rehearsal, it will be easy to communicate where the team will be headed musically. Also, make sure the AV team knows what you’re planning to do.

6.    After you’ve talked about the transitions between the songs, then play them. Start with the end section of one song, go through the song’s outro and then into the intro for the next song. Do it until it’s smooth. Then practice the next transition, and so on. Vocals should pay attention so they know what to expect and when to start singing the next song.

7.    Play fully through the set. Check vocal harmonies and listen to the vocal blend. Adjust instrumental voicings, instrumental breaks, and tempos as necessary. Ask if anyone has any issues or feedback about the songs’ arrangements.

8.    If there is time left in the rehearsal, run through a new song that’s still in preparation.

9.    And when possible, take some time simply to worship together. Sometimes we become so caught up in the music that we forget that we’re doing this to worship God and lead others in that worship. As you spend time simply worshipping together in rehearsal, you’ll become more adept at flowing together as a team, and you’ll be ready as a team to respond to what God wants to do in the service.

10.   If you are rehearsing immediately before a service, I suggest that you do not play the full arrangement of a song unless it’s a new song. Vocals should be warm and should do their mic checks, but they shouldn’t be obligated to sing through a full, pre-service rehearsal. If they do, they won’t be fresh for the service. This is particularly important if they will be singing for two or more services in a row.

Remember that your time together as a team during rehearsal can be efficient, spiritually-meaningful, musically-enjoyable, and it can be a time where you continue to build relationships that will enrich your life.

 

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To None But God

A challenge for every pastor, worship leader, music minister, choir director and worship team leader

by Melody Lavin

U.S. Only: $6.99 + s/h

What about culture

What about culture?

I was in Kenya recently, fellowshipping and ministering with Christians there. Although the Kenyan Church has been influenced by western culture, the country’s culture is clearly evident in the style of worship and the musicality of the songs sung in church services.

While there, I learned that within that country, different tribes use different beats for music they write and create. Is one beat or style better than the other? No. Is a western, gospel style of worship music better than an ethnically diverse style? No.

Cultural influences in music style or service style don’t determine whether something is appropriate worship. Worship of God is determined by what is said to and about God. Revelation 7:11 says, “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’” NASB  (boldface added).

Revelation 4:8-11 says, “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.’ And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’” NASB (boldface added).

The style of music does not determine what is worship. The words we say from our hearts that are submitted to God determine whether we are worshiping.

In my book, To None But God, I wrote, “The worship experience should be primarily about creating an opportunity to express adoration of God and to exalt His character and nature. It’s not about creating a current-culture, natural atmosphere that you like. If it was, then all those in the past who worshiped in a different style, or those people who worship at home without the production, weren’t and aren’t really worshiping.”  And, “When our focus is on pleasing our senses, we have looked away from God Himself—His glory, His power, His beauty, and His holiness.” (To None But God, © 2017 Melody Lavin)

Music is powerful. It impacts our bodies, influences our souls, and can be used as a tool to enhance our worship of God. We should ensure that the music styles we choose don’t overshadow what we’re saying in worship, and that they aren’t manipulating our bodies and souls to the detriment of the spiritual connection of our worship of God.

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To None But God

A challenge for every pastor, worship leader, music minister, choir director and worship team leader

by Melody Lavin

U.S. Only: $6.99 + s/h

Respect the team’s gift Part 2

5 steps for making your worship team’s time more productive

Worship team volunteers give their personal, family, or recreational down time to the church for rehearsals and services. We need to respect that. I wrote a blog a few months ago about the value of a volunteer’s time.

I’d like to take that thought a step further, and give you some practical ways that you can respect their gift of personal time and also produce the best results with the time they give to worship ministry. I recognize that we are all at different skill levels, but the five steps below can be applied to all volunteers.

1.  Send the set list to the team well before the rehearsal (and the service).

This is a courtesy to the team, and ensures that you prioritize your personal prayer and planning time in choosing music, arrangements, and the set for a service.

When you send the set and some type of recording to the team in advance, you are giving them a chance to practice, to get the chord progressions into their fingers, to learn the lead lines and develop harmonies, and to be creative. Your rehearsals will be more productive if your team is not being exposed to the song for the first time during the rehearsal or right before a service.

2.  Provide resources.

If you’re the worship leader or music director, then you should be the person responsible for finding the chord charts, lead sheets, and arrangements for your team. There is every reality that your volunteers do not have the time to find the chord charts, etc. in the key you want them to be played.  And many volunteers do not play by ear well enough to grasp and remember the chords and arrangements the first time through. 

Ask your guitarists and keyboardist if they need chord charts, or simply the words, or a lead line. Give them what they need. And if you can’t find it online, write it for them.

Also, if you have a specific arrangement in mind, communicate it. If it doesn’t exist, write it out for the team.

3.  Schedule regular rehearsals.

Volunteers may be of professional caliber, but regular rehearsals turn a group of people with individual skills into a team.

If you can’t rehearse mid-week every week, then try every other week, or possibly after a service to learn new songs and tighten arrangements. Holding your only rehearsal before a service denies you the opportunity to build relationships as a team (see the blog post Building Your Team) and to deal with any issues. It also can overwork your vocalists so they can’t give you fresh voices for the service.

Speaking of which, when you rehearse before a service for that service, I recommend that you simply warm up vocally and instrumentally, run through the intros and outros to the songs and the transitions between songs, talk through the arrangements, and pray together.  Then you won’t have overtaxed your vocals, or required that your people have a 1 ½ hour rehearsal before a service. If your volunteers have young children, they’ll thank you for that.

4.  Stay on point during rehearsals.

Have a plan on how you will be running the rehearsal and what you’ll cover. Be efficient. I’ll cover more about running a rehearsal in one of my next blogs.

If you plan to do a little teaching to encourage the team because they are like a small group, then keep your teaching brief and to the point (5 – 10 minutes). If you’re going to have team prayer time, stay on point with the prayer.

5.  Keep it fresh.

When you rehearse a song at a mid-week rehearsal, and you rehearse it fully again before a service, and then you play it during multiple services, your team can become bored with the song. The congregation will have only sung the song during the services, but your team has been exposed to it during the learning stage, rehearsals, and the services. The song can lose its impact and value in their eyes.

I recommend that you switch up the arrangement when you sense that happening. Change the intro. Change the guitar voicing. Change the tempo or rhythm style behind the song. Maybe sing it acapella. If a song is worth singing, it’s worth the extra effort to keep it fresh.

 

You have the privilege to work with musicians who are creative people. Yes, as a team you serve God, work with the pastor, and lead the congregation, but as the team’s leader, you have the responsibility for ministry to the team as well.

Honor the team’s time, their talent, and the gift they give of themselves. They’ll appreciate it and you.

Avoid the screech

Avoid the screech.

When a song is in the wrong key, people who aren’t musicians can’t sing it.

You may be a tenor, a lyric soprano, or a true alto, and you may have had vocal training and are comfortable with singing in your full range, but most people haven’t had that training and aren’t comfortable.

An untrained voice has a limited vocal range. It’s difficult and discouraging for people to sing in a key where the lead line goes beyond their vocal ability. They’ll stop singing, and possibly disconnect from the worship experience.

Some worship leaders choose to sing in keys that are comfortable for their voices. But one of our responsibilities as worship leaders is to create an environment where the congregation can participate.

When you’re selecting the key for a song, try this:

Play the lead line of the song on a piano and look at the lead line’s range. Choose a key for that song that keeps the lead line in the range of a G below middle C up to the B or C above middle C.

Most people can sing in that range or one octave lower. You won’t always be able to select song keys so the lead line will fit in that range, but it’s a great, basic guideline to follow.

Let’s create some vocal comfort for the congregation and avoid the screech.

Break out of the rut

Break out of the rut.

Once upon a time, I was a classical pianist. Then I fell in love with jazz and exchanged scored music for chord charts and improvising. And then came gospel music with big harmonies and big sound, and trips to other countries where I was immersed in both poignant and powerful rhythms and melodies. When my foray into contemporary worship music began, songs were simple, bands were few and far between, and verse—chorus—verse—chorus—bridge—chorus was not a formula.

Even with a diverse background, over the years, I’ve found myself in a few ruts here and there where I realized that my musical skills had stagnated. My fingers played in chords that were comfortable, and my fingers hit keys in predictable rhythms. At times, intros to songs began to sound the same. I also faced the temptation at one time to stay with a particular vocal sound and style just because I was trained that way and it was comfortable. Does any of that sound familiar to you?

So how do you break out of a rut?

The challenge is to recognize when you’ve begun to play the same way overall regardless of the song. Having your own style is good, but it can become boring and the sparkle can diminish if you don’t continue to experiment and develop musically.

You can make your sound fresh by listening to other musicians, watching some tutorials on YouTube, or taking some lessons from someone with a skillset that’s different from yours.

You may also want to objectively look at the musicality of the songs you’re writing as well. It may be time to collaborate to create something fresh.

Familiarity and comfort aren’t bad, but growth is better. Invest in yourself and develop your God-given talent, and see what happens. Break out of the rut.

Playing on the Fly

Playing on the fly.

During my days as a worship pastor, I often was asked to play along when a guest speaker spontaneously would break into song. The potential for some powerful ministry exists in those situations.

But what if it’s a song you may have heard only once, or you’ve never heard it? And what if it’s being sung in a key that no one has yet discovered?

Unless you have perfect pitch, there you stand, playing a chromatic scale, searching for the key, or a matching note, or even any actual note. You paste a smile on your face, find something that seems to work, and then boost the volume, hoping the preacher (now a singer) will settle into the key you found/chose/landed on.

What to do? Should you try to direct the song or just follow the preacher-singer a millimeter of a second behind them?

My advice? Keep it simple. Listen to the singer and don’t over-process what you’re doing. They probably don’t want a full arrangement. They’re looking for something specific—a connection with the words of the song. If they ask for more, give it; otherwise, keep it clean.

Listen to your spirit as well. Listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He may tell you to raise the key, to lighten your touch, to add another instrument or vocals, or to be still. Listen.

If it’s your pastor who does this regularly, then I recommend that you talk at some point after the service. Discuss how to make this type of ministry easier for the pastor and for the musicians.

If it’s a guest speaker who’s singing, just go with the flow, do your best, and don’t criticize when it’s over. You don’t know who or how many people were blessed by that.

Take a deep breath, thank God for the opportunity to serve Him, and thank Him that you’re learning to play on the fly.