It starts with listening Part 3

In a previous post I wrote about singers listening to each other to create a unified vocal sound. When singers are listening to and blending with each other, they can add the next two equally important skills.

Listen to the band.

You may have been in a church service where the band began a song and one or more of the singers didn’t know when to begin singing. That’s awkward for the singer and the congregation. It’s also frustrating for the band. When a singer pays attention to the intro of a song, counting the beats of the intro, they will not miss the point where they should begin to sing. And when you’re listening to the song’s key, you’ll also be able to determine your starting note.

At times you may not have the best sound gear, and you may not be able to hear yourself sing. Maybe you’re singing outside, and you can’t hear the overall band mix well. When that happens, try to listen to the bass guitar to determine the key and your notes in relation to the song.

In one of the groups I toured with, we were often in acoustically challenging venues. My position on each platform was at one end, and many times I couldn’t hear any of the other singers or most of the band. This was before in-ear monitors were available for the group. There was one mix (no custom mixes) for the platform and only a few floor monitors. So I listened to the bass guitar. I could hear it over everything else, and that helped me to keep myself in pitch. I could determine where we were in the song, and I could feel the rhythm of the song because of the bass. I also listened to the drum kick. The band kept me focused as a singer on the arrangement of the song.

Listen to the Holy Spirit.

Since we’re worship leaders, it’s vital to listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. He wants to direct the flow of the worship. His prompting is most often very gentle, or I would describe it as a knowing—where you just know that you should increase volume or intensity or to wrap the chorus.

When you’re comfortable with listening for the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudge, it’s easy to flow with other people who do the same.

I was invited to sing with a group once where I didn’t know the main worship leader. He was going to lead from the keys. We had a short rehearsal before the special service, and as he began to lead the band and singers, I immediately relaxed. I could tell that he was listening to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. When we led worship for that service, I knew when he was going to increase intensity, change key, and go to the next section of each song because we were both independently listening to the Holy Spirit. It was a beautiful and easy experience.

Recently, while in Kenya, I had been teaching a course on worship and praise in a Bible Training Center. During the course, I was demonstrating how to flow with the Spirit in the worship set. After the students and I had finished worshiping together, in my spirit I heard an older song that wasn’t really sung anymore. Before I could even say anything about that song to the keyboard player, he began to play it. He had heard it in his spirit too. So we all began to sing the song, and the depth of worship was amazing. It was Spirit-led.

When we let go of our own agenda, and allow the Holy Spirit to prompt and direct us, the resulting worship will be far beyond any depth that we could create in our own ability. It will be life-changing.

Listening to each other and to the Holy Spirit will keep you in the flow musically and spiritually.

It starts with listening Part 2

Have you ever heard a worship band that was so tight that all you heard was one united sound; the individual instruments were balanced in their sound levels, their rhythms, and their tones?

Maybe you’ve heard a band that is painful to listen to where the keys are played in a classical style, the bassist is doing jazz runs, the two guitarists either are fighting in their strum patterns or they both want to be lead players and are competing for notice, and the drummer can’t keep a steady tempo. The sound isn’t tight, which means that you may be so distracted by the individual instruments that you can’t focus on worshiping God.

So what do we do to turn the second example into the first example? How can we create a unified sound?

Many of the worship teams that I work with have musicians with mid-level musical skills. They have some experience in playing in a group, but they need additional direction on what to play or how to play it. Other worship teams have musicians who have a professional level of skill and experience that makes working with them easy. They know how to intuitively add to a song’s arrangement. Professional level musicians know their instruments well, but they also know the importance of the following action.

We need to listen to each other.

I recently helped a team to rebuild their audio settings. As the guitarists started to play a song together so we could adjust levels, one of the team members pointed out that the guitarists’ strum patterns didn’t complement each other; the strum patterns actually seemed to fight each other. Each guitarist had their own personal interpretation of what they should be doing during that song, but they weren’t listening and adjusting to each other. Also, they hadn’t talked about the musical direction of the song.

When you play a rhythm pattern, it should complement what the other band members are doing; it shouldn’t duplicate or oppose what they’re doing. Listening to the rhythm pattern of the other musicians is vital. What you hear will either inspire you to change what you’re doing or to take a moment to talk about what the song needs from each of you.

Also, the tone of your instrument should complement the other instruments’ tones; not duplicate them or create musical tension. Your tone should add to the group sound and fit in with the style of the song. A gritty voice on your guitar may work on an uptempo song but it may be too distracting on a slower, contemplative song. Listening and experimenting will help you to find the best tone.

We also need to listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting as we lead worship.

You may want to increase your dynamics and rhythm as you’re playing, but first, ask yourself what you sense in your spirit. Are you determining the flow of a song’s arrangement or are you listening for the gentle prompting of the Spirit who would like to lead you as you lead worship?

The more comfortable you are in allowing the Holy Spirit to prompt your spirit, the easier it will be to flow with Him as He gently instructs you on what to play and when to play it. The Holy Spirit knows what will bless our heavenly Father, so why not listen to Him?

We don’t just listen with our physical ears to each other; we each need to listen with our spirit to the One who wants to direct us in giving worship to God our Father.

It all starts with listening.

It starts with listening Part 1

A worship leader asked how the singers on the worship team could be taught to sing like a team and not like a group of soloists. The singers sounded like they were fighting each other vocally when they sang.

Each of us has a solo voice—the ability to sound unique—whether we sing in a chest or head voice/falsetto. We each have a unique tone and range, but when we’re a part of a worship team, we need to do two main things to create a group sound where people don’t hear multiple solo voices competing for attention.

We need to listen.

Singing isn’t just about opening your mouth and producing a sound. Singing involves your ears. You hear your voice and the notes you sing. You hear the band and the congregation, and if you are paying attention, you hear the other singers on your team. To create a seamless group sound, you need to listen to the other singers. Listen to how they form the words. Listen to the tone of their voices.

Singing as a group means that you aren’t the most important voice; you’re not the star. The most important voice is the complete sound of the entire team.

We need to blend our voices with others.

If every group singer would open their throat and create a warm, smooth tone, the sound of the group would be amazing. If you will do that, you will still sound like you, but you will sound like the best possible you. It’s easier to blend with someone else if your throat is open, your jaw is relaxed, your mouth is open, and you are supporting your sound from your diaphragm.

When you listen to the other singers’ tones, and your throat is open, it’s easier to adjust your tone to complement theirs. This adds depth to the overall sound.

When I began my singing career, I auditioned for a touring group that had a strong lead singer. Her voice was warm, rich, and powerful. My voice was lighter and lyrical. The directors asked me to sing with her. When I sang, I listened to her, opened my throat, created a warm tone, and supplemented her sound. I got the job.

Just because you have a great solo voice does not mean that you need to sing that way all of the time. If you truly control your voice, then you’ll be able to adapt your voice to the other singers’ voices.

The goal of being a team is being a team, creating a team sound. Worship teams demonstrate to the congregation that together we bring our uniqueness and submit it to one another so we can display the unity found in Christ.

Paul stated this principle in Philippians 2:1-4, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” NASB

When the principle of preferring others and focusing on unity guides our lives, then making the practical, musical adjustments for team singing becomes important and easy.

Are you questioning?

In these days when people are questioning their faith and turning toward a self-directed philosophy, we need to recognize that being a part of a worship team or simply being attuned to worship of God is not enough to keep us stable in our faith.

God created us to be infused, permeated, and saturated with His Spirit. He provided not just the experience of the new birth by the Holy Spirit, but also a revelation of who He is, how He acts, and what are His thoughts and directives. God reveals Himself in the Bible.

We need to have a real understanding of the Bible in general and of the core concepts of what it means to be a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 NASB

It’s vital that we know what Jesus has said to us. We should be asking ourselves challenging questions such as, “When was the last time I read the Gospel of John and got to know my Lord and Savior?”, “Do I spend as much time getting to know Him as I do following someone’s social media posts?”, and “Do I want my life to be a reflection of His life and Spirit in me?”

When we do not have a solid understanding of the Bible embedded in our hearts, we will not be able to view life the way God sees it. I’ve often said that when we take our experiences and superimpose them on the Bible, interpreting the Bible through the view of what we’ve seen, heard, and experienced, we will incorrectly interpret who God is and what He says. Instead, we should search the Bible and learn from it, then take that understanding and superimpose it onto our daily lives and the challenges we face. We should be looking at our lives and saying, “What does God say about this?”

Of course, if you don’t want an absolute moral authority in your life, then don’t read your Bible.

I was talking to someone the other day who is not a Christian and he told me that in his search to become the best version of himself, he took what he thought was the best of all religions and applied them to his life. In that case, he is the self-determined moral authority in his life. When a believer—a follower of Jesus—does that, confusion occurs and faith is shaken.

Have you noticed that the subject of many worship songs usually focuses on human experiences rather than on who God is? Songwriters are so busy looking at themselves and writing about their own experiences instead of writing about who God is and what He has done. If you truly know God from studying your Bible, and you write and sing songs about the revelation of who He is which is found in His Word to you, then worship will be an expression of true revelation of Him, not simply a song about your experience or perspective.

Let’s take the focus off of ourselves and put it on God. He is faithful and unshakable, and He is in you.

Making your vocals smooth Part 2

If you find that throat is sore after speaking or singing, or your jaw hurts after a day of talking, you may be creating a strain on your voice and jaw by pushing your chin forward when you speak or sing. The tension that occurs in your throat and jaw also affects the tone of your voice.

In part one of Making your vocals smooth, I wrote about opening your throat to create a rich tone. As you’re becoming more comfortable with speaking and singing with an open throat, you’ll want to avoid tension in your jaw and strain on your voice. Let’s add this next component to your skills.

Relax your jaw.

When there is tension in your jaw, that beautiful tone you’re creating will be distorted. Forcing your jaw forward while singing or speaking creates tension. I recommend that you place your index and middle fingers of one hand on your chin to remind yourself to relax your jaw. Now sing something simple like Allelujah.

Keeping your fingers on your chin, sing something more challenging. Focus on relaxing your jaw and opening your throat at the same time.

You’re creating a warm tone with your throat, you’re avoiding tension in your jaw and throat, and you’re now going to allow that amazing sound to come out fully. You’ve worked hard to produce something beautiful, so let it out. Open your mouth.

When your jaw is relaxed, it’s easier to open your mouth. Relax your lips now and place two fingers in your mouth. Turn your hand so your fingers are not flat in your mouth but your hand is positioned so your fingers are vertically stacked in your mouth to force it to be more open. The point of this exercise is to get to know the feeling of having your mouth fully open.

With your fingers in your mouth, sing Allelujah. It won’t be possible to create the consonants, but go ahead and sing the vowels. Remember to relax your jaw and open your throat.

Consistently achieving a full, open feeling in your throat, face, jaw, and mouth when you speak and sing requires practice, but with time and attention you’ll succeed.

You’re on your way to making your vocals smooth.

Making Your Vocals Smooth Part 1

Have you ever heard a vocalist whose tone is so warm and pure that you could listen to them all day? I had a voice teacher whose voice reminded me of honey—warm and rich. Listening to her was a pleasure whether she was singing or speaking.

There are things that you can do to achieve depth in your vocal tone. We’ll look at one of them in this blog, and we’ll look at others in future blogs.

Open your throat when you speak or sing.

If you’ve ever been in one of my worship clinics, you remember the fun we had while yawning. We didn’t yawn because the topic was boring, we yawned as an exercise and learning experience.

You can learn how to open your throat by yawning and focusing on the open feeling in your throat that happens when your soft palate (muscle tissue) in the back of your throat lifts up and your larynx relaxes and opens more fully. Very simply stated, your larynx connects your throat to your trachea (your windpipe). Your vocal chords are located in your larynx.

To develop a warm rich tone as you speak or sing, you will want to begin by developing an awareness of what it feels like to open your throat. You can do this with the following exercise.

Please yawn for a moment now and pay attention to what your throat feels like when you yawn. Feel your soft palate lift up and your larynx relax with the sensation of opening outward or downward. Now yawn and say, “Ah” at the same time. You’ll hear a difference in the sound of your voice.

Now try to open your throat so it feels like you’re yawning, and say “Ah see lah” so you can hear the open vowel sounds and feel the openness even when you use two consonants as well.

Try it again, and focus on relaxing your throat.

You want to avoid pushing the sound through your nose, so just relax your throat and your shoulders and allow the sound to come out easily. You don’t have to push or strain. The back of your throat should feel open and relaxed.

I like to do this in the morning as I’m getting ready for my day. I take a deep breath, open my throat and my mouth fully, and say a few sentences about what a great day I’m going to have. Then when it’s time for me to prepare to sing, I will do some vocal exercises while concentrating on keeping my throat open.

The difference in the sound of my voice is amazing when my throat is fully open compared to when it is simply at rest. That open, warm, rich tone has allowed me to sing and speak professionally in a way where the audience can enjoy the sound. It’s not harsh or nasal in tone.

In the next few blogs we’ll look at other things that will protect your voice and help you to sustain that amazing tone that you’re developing.

Where does worship of God begin?

I was listening to a song while driving the other day. The words of the chorus were simple, “You are holy, holy. Holy is the Lord.” As I sang along with the song, my spirit was so stirred, and once again I was reminded that God is real and is so worthy of adoration of His character.

In a world full of compromise and subjective morality, there is an absolute. God is holy. He is moral, pure, and light in which no darkness exists.

Think about that.

We tend to want to shape God into our image instead of truly looking at Him and seeing that He is more. He is more of everything that is strong, beautiful, worthy, and wise. He is the source of health and life, the designer of opportunities, the creator of intricate nature, the orchestrator of a plan that transcends time. He is more.

The revelation of who God is is the inspiration of worship. When we actually look at Him, at who He is, we will truly worship Him.

Everything is put into perspective when you worship and your focus is actually on God. You realize that not everything is about you, but you’re a part of a great design and a community that is connected through Jesus Christ, one which has the privilege and pleasure of relationship with someone who is the definition of all that is good, just, righteous, holy, faithful, and so much more.

Stop for a moment, put the distractions aside, and just worship Him. If all you say or sing is “You are holy” it will remind you of His purity and power—His character that is above all that is around you. Focus on Him. Bless Him with your recognition of who He is. That is true worship.

Finding that place

There’s a sweet spot in the presence of God. A place where it seems as if you cease to exist and it’s all just Him. A place of such comfort and rest that you are refreshed. A place where you’re sensitive to Him. A place where hearing from Him, sensing His prompting, is easy.

How do we get there?

It happens in your personal worship time when you shut down the noise and distractions. It’s when you open yourself to Him, being authentic and abandoned. It isn’t the time when you are crying out to Him for the answer to a question or praying that a situation would be resolved. This is a time where you’re only focusing on Him and expressing your love and appreciation for Him.

It’s a place of simplicity.

It’s not in the midst of production or presentation. It’s a simple expression of your relationship with God. Real, meaningful, heartfelt worship starts at home. It’s you giving Him the adoration He deserves. It’s you saying, “God, You’re more than enough. You’re stronger than any other. You’re always faithful. You never lie. You’re the One True God.”

It’s you appreciating the depth of His character.

We’re quick to vent to each other about problems and challenges we face. We’re quick to try to produce worship services that are structured, slick, and perfect. We’re quick to try to live our lives and do the ministry with our own strength and wisdom. But God never intended that we live our lives or minister that way. He wants us to rely on His wisdom, His direction, His strength, and the refreshing that comes from being with Him where He is the center of our attention.

That sweet spot of connection with God in personal worship is the basis for worship-leading in the church. When it’s important to you to spend time with God, it will show. Your worship-leading at church will be grounded in that sweet place of relationship. It starts at home.

How to write a worship song Part 2

There are some practical, musical components that you will need to create when you write a worship song. The experience doesn’t have to be frustrating if you follow a simple process.

Here are my suggestions for you when you start to write a worship song.

  1. Write the words first.

    Ensure that the words are meaningful. A common way to write the words is to focus on the chorus first and express the theme of the song in the chorus. Then write the verses to support the theme that is found in the chorus. The verses can be more specific, possibly stating the why or the reason for the thought found in the chorus.

    Here’s an example from a song I wrote titled None Like You.

    The chorus states the general theme of the song, which is that Jesus is above all: “And Your Name will be exalted, the Word of God who is victorious. Lord of lords You rule in power. You are glorious. Seated high above the heavens with the Father in all glory, You will reign with Him forever for your Kingdom has no end.”

    Verse 1 gives specifics on the theme: “In all the world there is none like You. The only One who’s faithful and true. Worthy to be honored and adored, Jesus, You alone are Lord. You are the only blessed Son who was sent to make God’s Kingdom come, and on earth His will to be done. Jesus, You’re the Holy One.” © 2002 Melody Lavin / ASCAP / CCLI #4028963

    All verses should have the same rhythm and melody structure to create consistency in the song. You also can write a bridge and/or a pre-chorus, both of which provide musical interest and can augment the song. A bridge can express the thoughts found in the chorus in a different way, or it can add an additional thought that augments our understanding of the main theme of the song. A bridge usually has a slightly different musical feel and group of chords. A pre-chorus can be a line or two of words and melody that create musical and thought movement from a verse into the chorus.

    Examples of a pre-chorus and a great bridge are found in the song More Than Amazing by Lincoln Brewster and Mia Fieldes. (Click the song title to listen in YouTube.)

  2. Create a lead line—a melody line—for the words.

    The melody should be singable by people who don’t have trained voices. You want the congregation to be able to sing it easily. Select a key in which the congregation can sing the song. Some songs have melody lines that are written in two octaves, and while a trained tenor or soprano can sing them, the congregation may wonder what notes to sing if they can’t hit the notes that the worship leader is singing. Be thoughtful when choosing the melody line.

    A musician friend of mine once said that we often write lyrically and musically in the styles that we know or are comfortable with. I do agree that when we’re looking for a lead line or chord progression and we’re using our naturally-developed musical skill we’ll tend to lean to our musical knowledge and experience. However, I find that when I’m just privately worshiping God, I’ll hear lead lines and chord progressions in my spirit, not in my mind. If I write those down and use them as the basis for the song, they are more powerful than what I can create from my mind and musical experience. They came from my spirit, and there is a spiritual depth and connection when they are played.

  3. Create a basic chord structure that supports the melody line.

    If you start with simple chords that work with the melody, when the song is roughly finished, you can go back and rework those chords, substituting the simple chords with some that are more rich and complex in their structure. This will create musical interest within the song. If you aren’t comfortable or skilled in doing that, you can ask another musician to help you.

  4. Establish the rhythm and tempo.

    Choose a rhythm style that expresses the meaning of the song. Also, your culture, your church and its vision, and your personal preference for the song’s rhythmic feel can all be powerful influences when you select a rhythm style.

    Choose a tempo for the song. You may have thought that you wanted to write an uptempo song; however, if you’ve written verses that have a lot of words, you may need to slow the song’s tempo. Since the words are more important in a worship song than the music (because it’s worship to and of God which is defined by the words), then you want to ensure that the congregation can sing the words and engage with their meaning. This doesn’t mean that worship songs all need to be slow. It means that you should be musically thoughtful.

    A song of praise or worship of God will focus on Him, but it also will give you a way in which you can be uninhibited before God. The song will provide a way through which you can release and express the joy and love within you toward Him.

    I encourage you to evaluate the musical components of your song. When you’ve chosen your chords and rhythm, ask yourself this question: Is the music manipulating my body or my soul? Determine if the song allows your spirit to rejoice or if the music is simply inspiring you to want to dance because the song has a great rhythm. Ask yourself if the musical lead line is so plaintive, so melancholy, that it affects your emotions. Ask yourself why you chose that structure or chord progression. Be thoughtful and focus on being inspired and sensitive to what will bless God and give people a great vehicle through which they can praise and worship Him.

  5. Play the song for trusted friends and other worship leaders.

    Ask them what they think about the song—the words, the melody, the rhythm, and the chord structure. Be open to hear what they have to say. They’ll have suggestions that may make the song better and stronger. Try to avoid being defensive when they give their suggestions. The way to do that is to remember that other people may have exactly what you need to augment what you’ve written and created.

  6. Enjoy the process.

    I love the process of writing music. I love music. Even more, I enjoy spending time with God to discover what will please and honor Him. I’m blessed in the development of the songs.

    When I look back at the songs I wrote years ago, I see my musical and spiritual immaturity. Those songs helped people to worship God, and I grew in the process while writing them, but I understand more now. When I write, it’s a connection with God combined with the desire to give something to other Christians—a meaningful way to express their adoration of God.

How to write a worship song Part 1

Music is powerful, and it can be used in worship either to inspire your heart (spirit) to worship God or to manipulate your emotions and appeal to your body.

When we write worship songs, we have the opportunity to create something that blesses God and provides people with a vehicle through which they can release the love and adoration that they have for God.

It’s vital to first understand the spiritual component of writing a worship song.

Many songwriters begin by writing from their past life experiences and their journey with God. They write about what they’ve been through and how God has helped them, but they are the primary focus of the song. For example, “I am weak. I’ve been through this. When I am crushed…, etc.” I am in no way diminishing the struggles and challenges that we face; however, if it’s worship of God given to Him, then the focus of the song should be on Him and who He is.

Why would you write a song about your experience or pain, call it a worship song, and ask other people to sing about something that they didn’t experience or can’t relate to, and the song itself doesn’t exalt God in any substantive way?

True worship comes from your spirit.

Your spirit worships God. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24 NASB God is looking for true worshipers—people who genuinely have the nature of a worshiper of God—people who have placed Him first in their lives and focus on blessing Him with their lives and their words.

A worship song should focus on God. After all, it’s worship of God and to God. It will come from your spirit where you are connected to Him. The words of worship will be about Him and to Him.

Jesus also said in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” NASB And in verse 17, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and that He abides with you and will be in you. The Holy Spirit prompts you to write words of worship and praise that glorify God and are aligned with God’s Word.

When you write a song, you reveal the depth of your spiritual life.

As you’re writing worship songs. you will reveal both your knowledge and your ignorance of the Scriptures. The words you choose for the song will reveal what you know about God and don’t know, and what you know about who you are in Christ and what you don’t know. It’s vital that you read the Bible and study who God is and who you are in Him.

I find that my best songs come after a time of prayer and worship. I’m fully focusing on God at that point. I am able to sense the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and I’m inspired to exalt God in the words that I write.

Here’s a quick test that you can use when evaluating the worship song words that you’ve written. Count how many references you make to yourself where you’ve written the words: I, me, or my. Then count the number of references you make to God where you’ve written the words: You are, You have, Your.

When I write a song that is worship of God and to Him, I diligently avoid writing about myself. If I find that I’ve taken the focus of the song away from Him and put it on myself, I will rewrite that section.

Worship isn’t about glorifying what I’ve been through or how I feel or what I think. Worship is about how amazing God is, who He is in His character and nature, and how He expresses who He is.

Here’s something to think about. Instead of trying to get people to connect to what you’ve experienced, give them a revelation of who God is and let them see Him, His strength, His wisdom, His love, His faithfulness, His joy, and more. That will take their focus off of themselves and where they are, and it will put their focus on the One who is our source, who is greater than anything, and who is more than enough.