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.