Song Leaders Resources - Page 2

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The purpose of this page is to define the negative elements of song leading and now to avoid them.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Song Leading

It being the Lord's will that we sing in our worship assembly, it is right and proper to ensure that we bring our best efforts to bear. Having visited a few congregations where the song leading is lacking in merit, I would like to point out the following offenses against decency, order, and good singing.

  1. Not knowing what you are doing.
  2. Not preparing the other worshippers.
  3. Leading obscure songs.
  4. Slowing down.
  5. Keeping your nose in the song book.
  6. Singing the wrong part.
  7. Destroying the dignity of the service.

1. Not knowing what you are doing.

Nothing kills a song more than when the song leader starts out mumbling instead of singing. The ability to start out and continue with firm confidence helps the other worshippers know where they fit into the music and enables them to join with confidence. The only way to avoid this problem is to lead only those songs whose melody you know by heart. But do keep checking the lyrics as you go; different song books have differing lyrics, even for our most popular favorites.

Note that the foregoing does not apply during those times when the assembly is trying out new songs. During the monthly singing night I will try out a new song, perhaps; on Sunday morning I will not touch an unfamiliar song with a ten-foot-pole.

The wrong pitch is almost as bad as not knowing the song at all. There are several reasons for this:

  • Songs are written at a certain pitch because the composer thought they sounded best at that pitch. I have personally witnessed the conversion of Sing and Be Happy into a funeral dirge through a failure to properly pitch.
  • While most songs are written so that each part falls into the middle of the natural range for people accustomed to singing that part, many songs push the envelope towards either the high or low range; pitching farther in that direction will cause notes to be unsingable.
  • Singing out of one's natural range--whether too high or too low--is bad for the voicebox.
For these reasons I strongly urge the use of a pitch pipe. Get one, and learn to use it properly. Those of you who have perfect pitch should still use one, because the young men who are growing into the role will follow your lead.

 2. Not preparing the other worshippers.

When you start singing, the other worshippers should be as fully prepared as possible. That means the following:

  • Never lead a song that is not in the book. You are not playing Stump the Choir. That old favorite of yours that has been left out of the new books may have had different wording in the versions used by the other worshippers, and those who do not know the song will feel left out. NEVER make anyone feel left out.
  • Always announce the next song to be sung, even if five feet to your left there is one of those boards with the black-and-white cards showing the song numbers; there may be people whose eyesight is very bad, or who have forgotten which was sung last, or the numbers were from last week and you forgot to change them.
  • After announcing the song, and while the other worshippers are turning the pages to that song, announce what will happen (unless it's another song); this will notify the persons chosen for that part of the service that they're "on deck," so to speak. Then give the song number again.
  • Always instruct the audience to stand when they are expected to stand, to remain standing if they are to remain standing, and to sit down when they no longer need to stand. Don't expect them to figure it out.
  • It is best to announce the song of encouragement after the song before the lesson has been sung, and before the lesson. This way the worshippers need only keep track of one song at a time, the page-flipping will be done while the gospel minister is getting ready to speak, and everyone will have it ready to go when he says "come forward as we stand and sing."
  • Always signal the next stanza to be sung, by holding up the appropriate number of fingers near the end of the preceding stanza. If you are not in the habit of doing this, now you know why the first measure or two of each stanza is a solo by you. It's not necessary to precede each song with an announcement of the stanzas to be sung, and since after starting you may encounter a very good reason for changing the selection on-the-fly, it's better not to announce them.
One reason for all these things is so that visitors, who may be accustomed to doing everything differently, can participate as fully as the members who regularly attend. They will feel more welcome. This is unity without compromising the Gospel. Seize it!

 3. Leading obscure songs

If you want to solo, do it at home. Congregational singing is supposed to involve everyone. So, involve everyone! Unless it is a service dedicated to learning new songs, avoid songs that aren't well-known to the congregation, especially any song marked as having an "Irregular" rhythm; these are especially difficult to pick up as you go. As a general rule, you are safe leading any song written before you were born, if you know it well enough to have any business leading it in the first place.

If you find yourself needing to say "Now for this song the sopranos start off by themselves, and then the altos come in, etc.", pick a different song.

4. Slowing down.

Sound travels at a finite speed, and the assembly will generally follow the sound of your voice; consequently, it will always sound as if the worshippers are singing a little bit behind you, and the larger the hall, the greater this perception will be. Resist the temptation to slow down. Trust me, everything is just fine. If you slow down, they will slow down, and you're back to square one. Keep doing it, and it's like an old record player slowing down. Let them adjust to you. My experience affirms that your fellow worshippers appreciate a song leader who keeps things going.

5. Keeping your nose in the song book.

You are the song leader, not the song statue. When your nose is in the song book, you look like an introvert who'd really rather not be up there. Also, your mouth will be pointed towards the song book, making it harder to hear you.

Make regular eye contact with the other worshippers over the course of the song. Do not read every single word as you sing it, but scan a few measures at a time, and sing those while you look into the happy faces of your fellow saints. You should not need to look at the notes as you sing; when you lead a song you should already know it by heart.

Do not play favorites with your eye contact; give everyone equal time.

If you are very shy about eye contact, or if someone's appearance makes you blush or bust out grinning, simply look just above the heads of the people in back.

6. Singing the wrong part.

The lead is the part that is most prominent to the listener. Pitch and sing that part. Since the lead is usually the soprano or alto, you men who ordinarily sing tenor or bass will have to learn another part as well. If the lead is out of your natural range, do not sing falsetto, which sounds silly; simply pitch down an octave.

7. Destroying the dignity of the service.

The song service is not a talent show. It is not a hoe-down. It is a portion of the worship service, and is subordinate to the requirements of worship.

You are not there to prove that you're the very best song leader to ever blow into a pitch pipe. You are not there to show how it's done where you grew up. You are not there to turn the congregation into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. You are not there to have fun. You are not the star of the show. You are there to help the other worshippers worship.

If someone can explain to me how winging it on the songs, clapping hands, or swaying ones hips to the beat helps with the real purpose of the singing, I'm all ears. The hand-clapping and dancing-in-place are fine, outside of the worship, but inside the worship we have no authority for these things. Remember, Nadab and Abihu were not given the chance to say "you didn't tell us not to!"


The Greatest Commandment of Song Leading:
"Let all things be done decently and in order."