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.

Flying in a BGV Formation – I love harmony vocals!

This is a repost from SATURDAY, JULY 3, 2010 on my old blog. I hope to include it in a book someday.


This blog post is for all of you who love singing backup vocal, which we in the biz call BGV for BackGround Vocals.

I love singing with you guys. We fit together in a tightly controlled and yet totally organic formation, like a flock of geese flying in a V. Our lead vocalist goes up, we go up. Our lead vocalist goes down, we go down. Our lead vocalist crescendos (that’s fancy music talk for getting louder), we crescendo. Our lead vocalist decrescendos, we back off slightly, too, staying just a hair behind so that the lead is still out in front, in the point position of the V formation. It’s magic and yet it’s reproducible, both an art and a science.

So let’s teach the others how to fly along with us. Feel free to add comments if I miss anything. I’d love to grow our numbers because well-sung harmonies are so rare and so wonderful.

Flying in your zone, it’s like soccer or basketball

So if you don’t like the flying geese analogy, let’s look at the zone analogy.

In soccer and basketball, each player has a zone. You get in your zone and you stay in your zone. If you go into another player’s zone two bad things happen: nobody is now in your zone (say, right forward) and your team now has 2 players in another zone.

In singing harmony, finding and staying in your zone is also important. For example, if your job is to sing just a little higher than the melody or lead (we call this position the “tenor” position) then you should find your position and stay there. Don’t venture lower, either into the melody/lead position or farther down into the “baritone” position. Don’t venture higher, up into the “high baritone” position a full 5th above the melody. There are already players in those positions, so you’ll color that position too darkly and worse, nobody is singing tenor now.

Find your zone. Embrace your zone. We need you there. We sound full and warm with all of us in our zones.

Flying slightly behind the leader

This concept is easy to explain. We need the melody to be prominent, easy to pick out and recognize. So we BGVs stay just a little behind, both in volume and in timing.

As far as volume goes, much of this is up to our sound techs. Pray for them, that God will guide their fingers and open their ears. I mean, we gotta all hear each other or this thing doesn’t work. So we all need to be strong in the monitors, if we’re going electric. And never underestimate the power of a good compressor to balance and shape the vocals. If we’re going acoustic, we need to stand close together, so everyone is within earshot, even if the banjo is banjo-loud.

Now timing is an art, almost a psychic connection. We all need to make our attacks (fancy musical term that means how we start the note) and decays in formation. Us BGVs need to be just a nanosecond behind the lead on the attack, and just a smidgen ahead in the decay. This way, the melody/lead is the first and last thing heard in the vocal blend. This letting go of the note in submission to the leader’s lead is hard for us diva types. We love to embrace that note and hold it for all it’s worth. Resist this impulse, it’s of the devil.

Flying with the leader

Here’s the last little instruction: follow the leader. If the leader goes up a small interval (fancy musical term for the number of pitches between notes in a passage), then we go up a small interval, staying within the chord and holding our positions. If the leader goes up a large interval, then we also go up a large interval, not a small one, not holding the same note we just embraced.

When the leader makes a big leap, you need to make a big leap, too. If you don’t make an equally big leap, you’ll be doubling somebody else’s part, either your other BGV team mate, or the melody, making that part too dark and leaving a big hole where your part should be in the blend. So make that leap. Whee, it’s musical bungee fun!

Now, let me take just a moment to rant about counter-melody. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Counter-melody is similar to harmony because it’s something that fits in the chord and is not the melody. But it’s not harmony. Counter-melody draws attention to itself. It says “Hey, I’m singing over here. Look at me!” and draws attention away from the melody, messing up the nice warm blend of a tightly flying harmony. If you want to sing out front, sing the melody role for goodness sake. Then you can be the goose out front for all the world to see and admire. I hope I’ve made my point. Counter-melody, like refusing to decay in time, is of the devil.

Harmony Evangelism

So there you have it. My small bit of musical evangelism. Singing harmony is for anybody who can sing. It’s simple but it’s not easy. But you can do it. I believe in you.

Please join us. We’d love to sing with you!

Hey! Who Turned off the Water? – The Worship/Shower Analogy

This is a repost from MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2010 on my old blog. I hope to include it in a book someday.


A great worship experience is like a great shower and shampoo. When it’s going great, you can just stand there and let the whole thing wash over and envelop you. Ahhh, that wonderful washed clean feeling. Surrender to it.

There are a couple of things that can cause this awesome experience to fail. These are what I’ll call my “pet peeves” of worship, which I’m going to rant about in today’s post.

So for a minute, imagine yourself in the shower, getting ready to wash your hair. You’re looking forward to it. You have everything you need in easy reach. Shampoo, creme rinse, soap, towel, hot and cold water controls. The water temperature is perfect. The water pressure is just right, not too hard, and not too soft. Everything is perfect. Grab the shampoo, palm it for a second, then massage it into the top of your head. That fantastic smell is all around you, that wonderful immersion into the bubbles and the water is deep within you. Let’s let it happen.

Ok, so now for a minute, imagine yourself in the best worship situation possible. The lights are dim but you can still see. The music is perfectly balanced and seems to come from all around. Feel the bass and kick drum gently rock your rib cage. You know the song by heart, the words and tune, you’re ready to start belting out your heart to your awesome God who loves you so very very much. Open up your heart, take a deep breath, sing the words of your joy and pain into the ear of the God who gave Himself for you. It’s bliss. Let’s let it happen.

Now, we get to the pet peeve part. The song winds down and the sound stops. The worship leader is talking about the next song. The moment that was, is no more. We’ve moved on to the next song, but we’re not quite there yet. Waiting in between as the worship leader breaks the mood by pausing the worship and talking.

This is one of my pet peeves. It’s like somebody turned off your water in mid-shampoo. What the heck? Who would do such a thing? What could possibly be so important that we have to stop the worship experience just because we’re moving from one song to another? Do I need to be told that this next song is new? Do I need to be told what the song is about? Do I need to hear anything other than the conversation I’m already having with God?

Nope, nope, nope. I don’t want any of that. What I want is that worship experience turned back on as soon as possible. I want that wonderful water washing over me again, renewing and cleaning me inside and out. That’s what I want and I’m not getting it. My worship is interrupted. It’s going to take me a couple verses of the next song before I can get back in the zone again.

Now that it’s been said, let me let go of the rant. Let me find forgiveness for the worship leader who’s just trying to do his job. Let me return to thoughts of that wonderful worship experience I crave like no other. Let me stop ranting and start to beg.

Please, Mr. Worship Leader, I know your heart is in the right place. I know you love the Lord as much as I do and all you want is to lead others into His throne room. But please, sir, once the worship starts happening, just get out of the way and let it happen. Embrace the medley. Embrace the parade of same-sounding familiar, even trite and mindless songs. We love those songs like we love that same shampoo we’ve bought and used since junior high school. Embrace that familiar warm cocoon of worship that seems to go on forever. Let us lather, rinse and repeat again and again. Let us stand in that warm water long after the last of the creme rinse has gone down the drain. Let us dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

That wonderful washed clean feeling. Surrender to it.

I Kiss with my Eyes Closed

This is a repost from FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2010 on my old blog. I hope to include it in a book someday.


I kiss with my eyes closed. I also take a shower with my eyes closed and I worship that way, too.

I think worship is a lot like kissing and showering. Worship is an experiential activity and when it’s good, I want to put my whole self into it. I close my eyes and I let go, just like kissing and showering. To do that, I need to be into it, I need to feel safe, and I need to know what I’m doing.

Let me explain.

I’m into it.

When I’m into it, I’m connected and engaged. I’m kissing a guy I like, the very one I have a crush on, and to whom I want to say “I love you” in a language without words. Maybe I’ve been waiting for hours or days for him to kiss me, and now the moment has arrived and I’m so very glad it’s finally happening. Nothing feels as good as this moment right here and now. I close my eyes and pretend the world is only me and him. I’m into it.

Or perhaps I’m taking a shower to get myself ready for a wonderful day, a big date, or a special event. Maybe I’m showering away the dirt of a day well spent, sweat I poured out persevering through a tough time. Nothing feels so good as that warm water on my skin. I feel my muscles relax as the stress of my day goes down the drain. I close my eyes and relax. I’m into it.

In worship, there are times when I arrive badly in need of time with God. I’m battled and bruised from the week behind me, I’m fearful about things that might happen in the week ahead. I want to run into God’s throne room, crawl up in His lap, bury my face in His shoulder and disappear into Him. I raise my hands in the air saying “Lift me up, I’ve fallen down.” Or maybe I’ve had such a great week that I can’t wait to thank God about it. I want to kneel at His feet and pour out my gratitude to Him. I raise my hands in the air for a big high five with God. This is an intimate moment and my heart aches for quality time with Jesus. Nothing feels as good as this moment of Just me and Him, that’s all there is in the world and that’s all I need. I’m into it.

I’m safe.

OK, let’s get to a confession. I’m afraid of being judged. Judgment is just a precursor to condemnation and I fear it like nothing else. What if I’m not good enough or smart enough? What if other people stare at me or laugh at me? If I’m kissing or showering or worshiping, I want complete freedom to enjoy myself. I want complete privacy, even invisibility. We know how this plays out with kissing and showering. In worship, it might take some explanation.

I want dark.

I want the room to be as dark as possible. In the dark, I think you can’t see me and I’m safe in the dark. I have complete privacy in the dark. I can make faces of joy or I can weep quietly and only God will know if I’m here in the dark. I’m free from any embarrassment about how silly I might look. I’m safe here in the dark to worship.

I want loud.

Loud is to being overheard as dark is to being seen. I want the music to be loud for the same reason I want the room to be dark. I don’t want you to be able to hear me because I’m afraid you might judge my singing. Think about a rock concert held in an arena. It’s so loud, I can’t hear my friend screaming right next to me. It’s the perfect environment for total all out top of my lungs singing along. It won’t matter if I sing the wrong words, the wrong tune, at the wrong time or during a big solo. Nobody hears me but God. And that’s just how I want it. I throw my head back and belt out my heart to God. I’m safe here where the music’s loud and I can worship with total abandon.

This desire for a really loud worship experience might offend some of my friends who complain when it gets loud in church. I know you want the volume of the music to be close to what it is at your home listening to your stereo. I understand that’s a comfortable listening level. But that’s the point – you’re not supposed to be listening. You’re supposed to be worshiping, singing along at the top of your lungs, too. This is a different experience than the experience of listening and the music level has to be different to make it happen. We want to be safe to participate without embarrassment or judgment and that takes really loud music. With loud music, we’re safe.

I want lots of other worshipers.

Think “rock concert” for a second. The stadium is packed with lots and lots of us, getting into the music, having an awesome time. The sound and excitement in the air are so thick, you can see them. Nobody is looking around. All the attention is focused elsewhere. In a concert, we are focusing on what’s happening on stage: the music, the lights, the performance. In worship, we are reaching for the spirit of God in the room. It’s a paradox of worship that the more crowded it is, the more privacy the individual worshipers have. Other folks, in the dark, surrounded by the sounds, raising their hands, raising their voices, closing our eyes, kneeling, dancing, worshiping. It’s a picture of heaven.

I know just what to do.

So I’m in my happy place, worshiping with all my heart because I’m totally into it and I’m totally safe. This will go well as long as I know just what to do.

Knowing what to do means I’m familiar with the music. I blogged about that in a previous post, 4 Musical Languages of Worship.

I know the next word coming up without having to open my eyes and read the slide. Maybe it’s a familiar song I’ve sung a hundred times before. This song comes alive in a new way for me right here, right now because I’m truly immersed in it. Even an old song becomes new when I’m offering it up in a new way. Eyes closed, alone with God and enjoying my time in the throne room, pouring out my broken heart to my loving Father, or singing out my thanks for the great things He has done for me. I don’t have to think, I don’t have to see, I just open up my heart and let Him fill it up.

How about you? Are you like me? Do you kiss and shower and worship with your eyes closed? Be sure to leave a comment at the end of this blog and let me know.

4 Musical Languages of Worship

This is a repost from WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21, 2010 on my old blog. I hope to include it in a book someday.


Hey, it’s Viqui Dill again. I haven’t blogged in a while and now I have something to say. I want to hear your thoughts about it, too. So please please please leave a comment.

Today I want to talk about the 4 Musical Languages of Worship.

We don’t all speak the same language. The language or languages you speak depend on the places you’ve been, how you grew up, and the languages you heard as a kid.

The same is true for music. Music is language and we don’t all speak the same one. The music that moves you, makes it possible for you to worship, will depend on the music of the places you’ve been, the music you enjoyed in happy times, the music that comforted you in tough times, the musical language of your walk though history.

The quickest way to get somebody in the worship mood is to speak their musical language. The quickest way to disconnect them is to urge them out of their musical comfort zone. So I think it’s important to try to speak each person’s musical language at some time during the worship experience.

I think there are 4 such languages, and the languages correspond to the group of folks that speak that language. There are four groups: the regulars, the n00bs, the shoppers, and the traditionals. Let me explain.

The regulars

The regulars are the folks who come out to worship regularly. Like Homer having a beer at Moe’s Tavern, the regulars want things to be pretty much the same as they were last week. They loved the way things were last week or they wouldn’t be coming back week after week. The regulars like to worship to songs that they know, songs from the top 10 or 20 songs on your CCLI play list, the songs you play week after week. The regulars love the hits from past Sundays. The regulars love those contemporary worship songs that you sing regularly. The regulars love what you play already.

The n00bs

The n00bs have never been to your worship, in fact they may not have ever been to any worship of any kind in their adult life, so they won’t know much contemporary church music. They’ll know and like the music they hear in their regular lives, music that gets airplay, music that gets downloaded, ambient music played at the gym and the grocery store, music from movies, music from tv, music of the street.

The shoppers

The shoppers have a background of regular worship attendance but for some reason, they’re not plugged in to your specific community. They are looking for a new place to plug in, with all of the things that they loved about the old place, just none of the things that made them decide to make a change. This group includes college students away from home, kids at a new summer camp, family members visiting relatives from out of town, committed worshipers who are new to the area, as well as folks looking for a change because they just don’t like where they’ve been going. What kind of musical language do the shoppers speak? They like the hits, the songs from the CCLI top 25 for the last year, the songs chosen for compilation CDs and WOW Worship. Like the n00bs, the shoppers listen to some kind of radio station, and like the songs played on the radio, downloads, movies and tv. But this time, the stations, downloads, tv shows and movies are playing Christian music. For the shoppers, we should choose those popular worship songs that worship leaders love to hate. Yes, we’ve played “Shout to the Lord” a zillion times, and yes, we’re tired of it and want to play newer cooler songs, but the older reliable songs are the ones that will touch the heart of worshipers who are not familiar yet with your current favorites.

The traditionals

Traditionals love that old time religion and are still looking for a place to get some. They like those old hymns, and some of the new hymns too. The more traditional the hymn, the more comfortable the traditional worshiper will be. n00bs might like traditional hymns, too if they had an older relative that loved them very much and brought them to church. I have seen small group worship experiences dissolve into happy tears whenever I’d play a traditional hymn. Afterward, folks would come up and tell me “That was my grandmother’s favorite hymn. She used to let me sit on her lap when we visited her church. I cried just thinking about her.”

So, there are the four groups of people with their preferred musical languages, the songs they prefer to hear in a worship experience:

  • regulars like what you already play
  • n00bs like what’s popular on secular radio, on tv, or downloaded
  • shoppers like the top worship hits, what’s popular nationwide
  • traditionals like those old hymns

So why not speak all four languages when you’re choosing songs for worship? You’ll be helping more folks plug in to the worship service because they’ll hear the gospel spoken in their own language at sometime during the service.

Need a scripture reference for this? Try these. God asks us to speak in the language of the listener, not in our preferred language. Check these out.

Acts 2:7-9 (New International Version)

7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

1 Corinthians 14:16-17 (New International Version)

16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

So let’s learn to speak the language of our worshipers. Let’s learn some music that may be not our favorite, but will speak love into the world of those who hear it. Let’s learn some songs that may be new to us, but will speak comfort and love into the ears of the listener, whether they’re regulars, shoppers, n00bs, or even traditionals.