As a worship leader, one of the best things you can do for yourself, your team and your congregation is to memorize your music. Here is a quick list (in no particular order) of reasons why:
- Memorizing a song forces you to learn it better. If you can rely on your music stand you will. No matter how well you think you know the song, you don’t know it fully until you can play it comfortably without the chord chart.
- Memorized music looks better. When you are in front of people, they will look at you. If you are watching your music stand the entire time, people notice. It’s not a good visual. You want to be free to move with the music.
- Memorized music frees you to close your eyes or make eye contact with the congregation. Both are important. Eye contact helps people engage who are otherwise disengaged. Closed eyes helps you focus. Having your eyes free also helps you discern what is going on in the room and communicate with your team.
- Memorized music frees your mind to think about other things while you lead. The less you have to think about the better. You have to focus on Jesus, the band, and the congregation. That’s enough to think about without adding paying attention to a music stand.
- Memorized music gives you confidence. You know the songs and you know that you know the songs. Confidence allows you to lead well. People don’t like following an unconfident leader. They will disengage quickly.
- Memorized music allows for spontaneity. You will never break into spontaneity as long as you are tied to a page. Memorizing is really the only way to get there.
So here’s how you do it. If you have never memorized a song before, go to your instrument right now and try playing anything that comes to mind. See how far you can get. Did you know all the words? Did you know all the chords? Could you tell when you were wrong?
Now, look at the music and see what you missed. Put the music away and try again. Try it with your eyes closed. Repeat it over and over until your confident. Work on it a little bit at a time every day. Doing something for a short amount of time every day has much longer lasting results than practicing for three hours once a week. Muscles have memory and practice makes permanent. So get to it!
It sounds like an oxymoron, I know. Still, scheduling a time of spontaneity into the worship service is the best way to make sure it happens if you’re not accustomed to being spontaneous.
So, what do we plan? Certain songs are great launching points for times of free praise. Free praise or spontaneous singing are terms that mean everyone sings their own song to God with their own words at the same time. It can sound chaotic, but most often, it is simply wonderful. An example of a planned spontaneity could look like this:
- Sing to the King
- Sing My Love
- O Praise Him
- Free Praise – Chord progression same as O Praise Him chorus
- Agnes Dei
- Worthy is the Lamb
This way, everyone on the team knows when to expect the free praise and they will not be caught off guard. Eventually, when your team gets really comfortable with free praise, you can then take it out of the plan and just give a vocal cue in the moment whenever it seems timely. To cue, use phrases like “Lift your voice to the Lord”, “Sing with your own words” or “Sing the love song of your heart”.
Getting everyone on board can be a challenge at first, but with the right leadership, people become familiar with the idea and participate joyfully. The best way to lead free praise or spontaneous singing is by example. You as the worship leader and your vocalists should all sing very boldly. We can’t demonstrate timidly because that is what the congregation will do. Having multiple singers on stage actively engaging encourages people to engage also. If only one person is singing loudly, people will tend to listen to that one person.
Before you ever try it in a worship service, you should acclimate your team by practicing in a rehearsal. Find words that are easy to sing spontaneously. They can be simple phrases like “Jesus, we love you” or “Hallelujah”. Try spontaneous singing without instrumentation and with instrumentation. Practice for a really long time (10 minutes or more) until everyone is uncomfortable. The more you push the limits, the easier it becomes. Once the team is ready, then it will be much easier for the congregation to follow.
Do you incorporate free praise into your service? Is it planned or spontaneous?
Music theory, that is. While I am definitely not about putting the cart before the horse, I think every budding worship leader should learn music theory and teach it to their team. Increasing your knowledge and ability in this area will lead to your next breakthrough in excellence.
Right alongside music theory is ear training. The combination of these two elements is critical for skill development. Your ear is like the director for your hands and voice. Ear training is one of the practical sides of music theory. A highly developed ear provides great freedom while playing, singing and leading worship. Conversely, an underdeveloped ear will stunt your growth and keep you from your full potential as a musician.
So, where do we start? In the future, I plan on writing posts with theory lessons specific to worship leading, but for today, I thought I would introduce you to one of the most helpful resources on the web: Ricci Adams’ musictheory.net.
Adams has equipped the site with many lessons, exercises and tools (there’s even an app). Whether you are brand new to music or have a rudimentary understanding of theory, this website will bring the pieces together and provide a wonderfully easy way for you to develop your ear. Check it out!
Is music theory exciting for you or a complete headache? Are you a nerd or a free-spirit?