Creating Flow in Musical Worship
1. Key Signature
At my church we have found that a lot of worship music is recorded in an unsingably high key. It sounds great on the recording and the vocalist makes it sound amazing, but the general church-goer in the pew often struggles to belt out songs that are too high. So we often change to a key that makes the song more accessible.
We also change the key depending upon whether there is a male or female lead vocal for that service as often what is comfortable for one is not that comfortable for the other.
Changing the key can also help with flow. As you want to move from one song into another without stopping the sonic background, sometimes you can change the key to make 2 or 3 of the songs for that service to be all the same.
However, it is a good idea to cut any rhythm when moving from one section to another. Keyboard pad effects are often used for this. I often 'end' a song on my guitar and try to sustain the sound without emphasis on the rhythm to enable a new rhythm to begin.
If the rhythm or beat of one song is similar to the next a single instrument could play one final chord sequence (very similar to the next song as in the same key) and then begin one cycle of the new sequence before other instruments and a strong rhythm section joins in. This helps to give a bit of space and time for the new song to settle.
It may sometimes be appropriate to pause, stop the music and say something. It may be a 'Hi there and welcome to church' greeting near the beginning of a service, or the reading of a Bible passage that helps to emphasise the theme. You may need a bit of time to explain the next song. However, keep it short and keep it meaningful. You are leading the singing, you are not there to preach the sermon. Also keep it meaningful. Avoid saying something for the sake of 'filling the space'. So many worship leaders are very annoying with their worship-leadery expressions that simply become a sort of wallpaper paste, trying to glue things together rather badly: 'Hallelujah! Isn't God good! Let's lift our voices and sing! Hallelujah!'
Now, the example I have given is scripturally sound. It may even be necessary and important to say in certain contexts. However, just reciting worship leader clichés in order to fill up a space or disguise a transition should be avoided - you're not being genuine. Stick with who you are and what is a real and authentic expression of that. Bring yourself to the alter of worship.
One last thing - use sparingly! Don't stop and have a chat between each and every song! Let God do most of the speaking to people's hearts, not you.
3. Spontaneous Worship
When you sense the Holy Spirit moving, abandon your pre-made plans and follow! Somethies it is repeating a particular part of a song that feels particularly anointed. Other times it is simply standing back and giving yourself space and time to hear from God or to sense His direction. Agree a general rule-of-thumb with your band before hand that you will do such-and-such when this happens. For example, with my band we agree to play the chorus chords and continue to loop these during these times, unless I turn around in the meeting and indicate otherwise.
Don't feel you need to sing all the time. Give space to listen and to respond. You might pick up a phrase or word from the congregation you repeat and build upon or harmonize with. Or it could be a word or phrase you have sensed in your spirit yourself. As the worship leader, do not feel it has to be you every time! This may be the perfect opportunity for a backing singer to step forward with what God has given them, you then lead by supporting them!
4. Alternate Leaders
I often call this tag-team leading. This is where one person leads the first song or two then hands over to someone else. Do this without fuss or ceremony, it's just that a different voice takes the lead when the next song begins. This may help when trying to smooth out the key signatures of songs, as some may suit a male voice or female voice better in that key, so share it round to help it work.
5. Pre-program Effects
Those instruments using a massive bank of effects should be encouraged to learn how to pre-program their required effects for the chosen songs in the order of the set list. This will mean a much quicker one-tap change from one effect to another, rather than everything stopping and stalling to wait for so-and-so to scroll through their effects bank to finally find the one they need.
It is also a good idea to program in a default effect at the end of the list in case you depart from the setlist to follow the Spirit. You will have the comfort of knowing you have a pre-chosen effect you can get to quickly to fall back on.
Silence is one of the lost elements of divine worship in the modern context. We do tend to spend a lot of time crafting sound and creating a seamless sonic background for our collective worship experiences. Do not neglect or forget about the power of silence. Silence has long been a very poignant and powerful part of worship and it is well worth rediscovering. It helps to punctuate important moments of encounter with God; where we just stop in awe and wonde; where we simply receive from him; where we can sense the Holy Spirit moving and working amongst us. Silence is not the enemy! However, for it not to loose its sense of power and majesty, use silence sparingly and when you do use it, use it sensitively and gently.
Over To You
I am aware there are many other ideas and tried and tested techniques to help with the flow of worship and the musical aspect of a church worship service in particular. Please do share them in the comments section below, it would be good to hear from you and your experiences. Go on, join the discussion.