If the Leader Ain’t Happy, Nobody Sings

This is a repost from WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 2012 on my old blog. I hope to include it in a book someday.

Warning: What you’re about to read is considered a heresy in schools that teach worship leadership. It is based on my personal experiences, both as a worshiper and as a worship leader, and is offered as a cautionary tale.

One size does not fit all

What they teach about arranging a song for the mean (average) vocal range doesn’t work if the leader’s range isn’t average. Maybe like me, your range isn’t average either. That means that when you’re singing in the prescribed vocal range, like you might if singing melody from a hymn book, you’re pretty much in pain the whole time. Not really conducive for a worshipful singing experience.

Anybody watching you, like the folks who are trying to follow your leadership and worship with you, will sense your pain, feel your pain, and they won’t be able to sing either. Which pretty much defeats the purpose of leaving the song in the group’s singable range. Even though they can sing the song, they won’t sing the song. And all because you’re not comfortable.

From time to time I doubt myself and try to lead worship in the hymnbook key. It always ends in an unfulfilling worship experience. The last time was a few weeks ago when I was leading worship at a small group Bible study in Berryville. I was running late so I decided to just play the songs as written, in the songbook keys. These folks are singers so I thought it would be alright.

It wasn’t and I felt bad about cheating the group out of some great Godtime.

I mean the whole idea of leading worship is for folks to sing along, curl up in Jesus lap, put their head on His shoulder, give Him a high five, and worship. But they can’t because what you mean to be a sacrifice is causing them pain. Silly you.

A Change Will Do Me Good

One of the first things I do when I’m setting up a worship set is choose the song keys, which is to say that I change the song keys. Since I have a low vocal range, I usually lower the key about a half an octave. The highest note in most song arrangements for group singing is usually a C or a D, about an octave above middle C. But the top of my lead range is only a G, so I change the song key pretty much every time. For example, if the song is published in C, I feel most comfortable when I move the song to F or G.

If I don’t change the key, I can still sing the song but it sounds awful. I either sing it quietly in falsetto or I belt it out like Janis Joplin in the screaming range. Neither of these is very inspiring or inviting to those who might want to sing along.

Usually in a small group setting, I’ll choose the highest key possible for me, with the highest note in the song capped at G. Since I do a lot of worshiping in small groups for women, this key is comfortable for them, too.

If the Worship Leader ain’t happy, nobody sings

If the Worship Leader is comfortable, everyone feels safe. You gotta feel safe to worship. I blogged about some of this in my posts I Kiss with my Eyes Closed, Hey, Who Turned off the Water?, and 4 Musical Languages of Worship last year.

So be comfortable as the leader. Change the song key to match your vocal sweet spot. Get that out of the way so you can throw your head back, close your eyes, play your instrument and sing.