Tag Archives: Music

Pointers about Style

When we think about the style of a piece of music, we are thinking about an identifiable pattern according to which the piece of music has been constructed. Many of these patterns have names. We talk about jazz, classical, swing, hip-hop, rock, blues, country and so on. All these terms have to do with the pattern according to which a certain piece of music has been constructed.

When we apply the word style to “Christian Music” we often talk about traditional versus contemporary styles. One traditional style of Christian music is the hymn. Hymns are pieces of music that are constructed according to a certain pattern or format. Contemporary Christian musical pieces resemble a different pattern. A contemporary style resembles a musical pattern that is more current.

Everyone will have a style preference. Generally the preferred style is the one that we are most familiar with. It may be the style that we grew up with, or the style that is currently popular in the media, or that is being used by an artist whom we favour. We prefer the musical style (pattern/format) that we are most comfortable with or that we can most easily relate to. Sometimes our preferences change with the times; what was once a favourite style is set aside in favour of one that we now like more, or perhaps one that our friends like more.

Another thing to consider with respect to style is the instruments that are usually associated with a given style. Organs and pianos may be associated more with traditional kinds of music, whereas stringed instruments, amplified and electrical instruments and percussion instruments may be associated more with contemporary styles. There is no hard and fast rule here. Any instrument can be associated with any style.

In order to answer the question “How important is style in worship music and singing”, we need to ask ourselves what the relationship of style is to worship. In no particular order, here are some questions to ask:

1. How important is style to God? Does it matter to God, the one whom we are seeking to worship with our music and songs, which style we use? Does HE have a preference? I think the answer is pretty obvious – God is more interested in the heart of the worshiper than in the style of the music with which we worship God. The style with which we chose to worship will not make up for the things that are lacking in our heart.

2. Is one style of music more spiritual that another style of music? As a general rule I believe that style is neutral. Style does not make the music more spiritual or less spiritual. The spirituality of worship music resides in the content, that is, in the words of the music and in what the worshiper does with this content and with these words. The content of a song is what makes the song spiritual or not so spiritual. Spiritual has to do with the Holy Spirit. If the words are in agreement with the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures which he authored, then the music/words are spiritual. If the words are not true in what they say about God, or the Christian life, then they are not spiritual. No amount of style can make a song spiritual if the words are not spiritual.

3. Does the style of music have an impact on the worship experience of the worshiper? I would say yes. Our lack of comfort or familiarity with a certain style of music may serve to lessen the ability that we have to focus on the words of the music and so to focus our heart on God. This will be especially so when we feel that a certain style is being forced on us. We may have to battle a sense of resentment and this battle will be a distraction to our worship. Just as we are most comfortable to worship God in the language of our mother tongue, so we will also be most comfortable and it will seem most natural to us to worship God in the style with which we are most familiar. So, as a basic rule, style does matter in that it increases or decreases our level of comfort or distraction.

4. If we allow for the theory that style does impact our worship, does it follow that we should separate into different groups during worship time in order to accommodate sections of the congregation according to their favourite style of music? My answer is that this does not follow for the following reasons:

1) The style of a piece of music can never be the most important thing about a piece of music. Style is much more like the wrapping of a gift than the content of a gift. It is the content of a song and the content of the heart that sings it that is by far more important than the style in which this gift of worship is offered to God.

2) The unity of the fellowship of the worshipers is more important than the style of a piece of music. To give up something important (unity of the body) for the sake of something less important (the nature of the style of worship) is to give up the blessing of fellowship for the sake of a personal preference. Being together as the body of Christ ought be more important to us than preserving the pleasure of singing and worshiping according to our preferred style.

3) The variety of style-preferences in a congregation provides a beautiful opportunity to practice love and acceptance and tolerance and patience – in short, the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible calls us to think of others more highly than of ourselves – to regard not only our own interests but also the interests of others. To separate a congregation over what are our own interests would appear to be in conflict with this desire of the Spirit in our lives. Differences in style preference give occasion to the leadership of the church and the Praise Team to ask: How can we show love to one another by accommodating the different style preferences that are in the body, while maintaining the unity of the body. Differences like this provide the members of a congregation with an opportunity to grow in their walk with God by considering not only their own preferences but also the preferences of others.

5. Is it possible to learn to like or to adapt to a new style or an old style of music? I believe that this is within the realm of possibility. Often style has to do with familiarity. Increasing familiarity may lead to increasing tolerance for, and acceptance of a different style of music. We can learn to develop new tastes in clothing or food. Why not in music?

Share

Pointers about Volume

Here, in the opinion of the author, are some principles to observe with respect to the volume level of the voices and instruments of the PT (Praise Team).

1. A lot of noise is not automatically the sign or indication that something spiritual is happening. There can be loud sound coming from the instruments of the PT and from the voices of the singers, but this is not an indication that anything spiritual is happening in the heart. 

2. Nevertheless, the loud volume of the instruments and of the singers can be a sign that something spiritual is happening. It may arise from the enthusiasm that the worshipers feel about God and Jesus and about various other spiritual themes. Excitement about something will generally raise the level of volume of voices and instruments. This is not a bad thing!

3. Volume is to some extent governed by the words of the music and by the mood of the worshipers. When enthusiasm is expressed in the words of a song, it is appropriate to express that enthusiasm with voices and instruments. If a song calls for quiet contemplation is would seem appropriate to let the volume express this also. For example, loud music would seem inappropriate for a funeral service. Generally, when the mood of the worshipers is enthusiastic, the volume of the music will rise.

4. On occasion the enthusiasm of the PT will be greater than that of the congregation. It would not seem inappropriate that the volume of the singers would therefore be greater than that of the congregation. In such a situation the enthusiasm of the singers could be contagious for the congregation, and they may catch the enthusiasm also. But this is not the same thing as volume for volume’s sake. The volume is in relationship to the enthusiasm of the PT.

5. Generally, the volume of the Praise Team should not consistently drown out the volume of the congregation (People of God). It becomes discouraging for worshipers when they can not hear themselves or anyone else sing. As the volume of the congregation rises, the volume of the PT may also rise.  In other words, there should be some correspondence between the volume of the PT and their instruments, and the volume of the congregation.

6. The reason why worshipers should be able to hear their own voices and those of other worshipers is that one’s own faith can be strengthened when one hears the voices of others lifting up their own voices to the same God. The expression of the faith of others encourages one in his/her own expression of this faith.

7. In summary, volume should not be like the motor of some furnaces. Some furnace motors have only one setting – full blast. In my opinion, praise and worship singing will be more enjoyable when there is some correspondence between the words of the songs, the mood of the congregation and the volume of the voices and instruments of the PT.

 

Share

12 Practical Pointers for Praise Teams

If I were to summarize what the most important factors in making for an enjoyable experience of praise and worship are, I would list the following:

 

1. Please keep the beat!!!!! 

2. Try not to let the volume of the playing/singing of the PT dominate the congregation’s singing. It is beneficial for the congregation to be able to hear not only the singing and playing of the PT, but also its own singing.

3. Teach the congregation music that is singable. Try to avoid complex rhythms and melody lines. Remember: The congregation is not made up of musical professionals.

4. Chose songs with texts that are meaningful and theologically accurate.

5. Avoid meaningless repetition.

6. Remember to balance the learning of new songs with the singing of better/well-known songs. People get more pleasure out of singing songs they know. It is hard to put one’s heart into songs one hardly knows.

7. Be more concerned about the content of the songs (the words) than about the style of the music. God is more concerned that we worship him in spirit and in truth than that we worship him according to the latest style. Teach the congregation this principle.

8. Seek to approach the singing and worship time with an attitude of reverence and awe. We are worshiping the Holy One.

9. Discourage “showmanship” by the musicians. We are not here to impress anyone, but to lead others in worship.

10. Seek to avoid dress that draws the worshipers’ attention away from the music and  to the musician. God should be the primary focus of everyone present.

11. Remember the elderly when standing for long periods of time. Show solidarity with them by adopting a sitting posture from time to time. Let them know that you are aware that it may be difficult for them to stand with the rest of the worshipers.

12. Let everything be done in love.

Share

Pointers about the Lyrics

How important are the words of the songs that the congregation sings? It is my view that the words are very important.

The words of the songs are the means the congregation is given to express their worshipful thoughts and feelings to God. Words can stir hearts and minds to worship. Words have the power to influence the thoughts of the congregation in a certain direction. The content of the words of songs will determine whether the worship that is being offered to God is in spirit and in truth or not.

It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will only empower songs that consist of words about God that are true. He bears witness to the truth and not to fanciful imaginations of men. Truth will inspire the hearts and the minds of the worshipers and fill them with thoughts about God that are worthy of God.

So one of the important questions to ask in choosing songs for worship is: Do they convey truth? Are the lyrics filled with truth? Do they say things about God that are true?

Another principle to consider when choosing songs for worship is the loftiness of the lyrics. Are the words that are being stated about God expressed in a way that is worthy of the subject that is being sung about? The Bible deals with lofty subjects, with majestic themes, with matters that have to do with eternity. Do the lyrics convey a sense of the grandeur of these themes?

I believe that the more fully and accurately the song-writer is able to express the great realities of our salvation and of our Saviour in words that convey the worthiness and loftiness of these realities, the more likely it will be that these words will resonate in the hearts of the worshipers and bring forth feelings of joy, awe and conviction, as the Holy Spirit bears witness to their truthfulness.

 

 

 

 

Share

Pointers about the Beat

I have come to the conclusion, that keeping the beat is a matter of great importance in congregational singing. In other words, it is of great importance, that the Praise Team keep the beat during their playing and singing of the songs. I cannot overstate how important this is.

What do we mean by “keeping the beat”? Each bar of each song has a number of beats. Sometimes 3, sometimes 4, or more. Each beat has the same length. Usually it has the same length throughout the song. One can speed up the beat or slow it down, but if we slow the beat down, we need to slow every beat down, and if we speed the beat up, we need to speed every beat up.

Keeping the beat is important in all forms of music. Regardless of how complicated the rhythm of a musical piece is, the beat is always steady.

Musicians are familiar with the metronome. The metronome is a handy tool. It is a tool that helps musicians keep the beat. The metronome is set in motion either by winding it up, or, if it is an electronic version, by turning it on. See http://www.metronomeonline.com for an example of an electronic metronome.) Metronomes can be set to keep a slow beat, or a fast beat. But one thing is certain, unless the metronome is broken, it keeps a steady beat.

Why is all of this relevant? I believe that human beings have an internal beat-keeping sensor (I think I  just made up a term). We can often see people tapping their feet, or their fingers, to a certain beat. Or they will be rocking their body or their head back and forth to a certain beat. Even those who cannot carry a tune, or sing, have the ability to keep a beat. Somehow this beat-keeping sensor is something that is in us from birth. I believe our creator put it there.

Here is how this impacts congregational singing. When for one reason or another, the beat of a song is not kept, in other words, when beats vary in length within the same song, the worshiper experiences a conflict within himself. The lack of a steady beat is in conflict with the sense of rhythm that his creator has put inside of him. And this conflict becomes a distraction during the singing. It takes the joy out of singing, because trying to sing against the beat becomes a frustration to the worshiper.

We might say, why should the worshiper be distracted? If he is spiritual enough, he will remain focussed through it all and still worship. True, God will still see his heart of worship, and God will be pleased. Nevertheless, the worshiper will be frustrated, and the experience of worship in song will be an unpleasant one to him.

What is my advice (pointer) to the Praise Team? Please make every effort to keep the beat. How can this be done? Here are some suggestions.

1) Practise your songs with a metronome. Make sure that the beat is steady, whether it is slow or fast. Practise until the beat is steady. If the metronome is not loud enough, find a way to amplify the sound. Make sure all the musicians in the band/team are keeping the beat. 

2) Listen to the drummer (if there is one on the team). One of the drummer’s roles is to keep the beat. A drummer can be a big help to a Praise Team. He can alert the Team when they are not keeping the beat. The drummer will know when the beat is not being kept, because there is nothing more frustrating for a drummer than to have to adjust to musicians who are not keeping the beat. He should not be shy in alerting the Team. In the end, the frustration that he feels will also be felt by the congregation. The rule here is: When it comes to the beat, the musicians need to adjust to the drummer, instead of the drummer needing to adjust to the musicians.

3) Here is a suggestion to guitarists: If you are strumming, try having your strong strums land on the beat, not on the offbeat (in other words, on the tick of the metronome, not between ticks). This will also help the congregation to keep the beat.

Keeping the beat will make singing more enjoyable for the congregation, and the Praise Team will be encouraged when they sense this increase in enthusiasm.

 

 

Share

Pointers about Songs and Singing

 

We have seen that the heart attitude of the participants in congregational singing is the most important matter. If the heart attitude of the participants is not right before God, it really does not matter what else is right with the singing and playing of the Praise Team and the singing of the congregation. If the primary audience of our singing is not pleased, what is the point of our singing?

Having said this, we should not understand this to mean that heart attitude is the only matter of importance in congregational singing.

The act of worship originates in the heart of the worshiper, but it is the music, the songs and the singing, that are the vehicle by means of which the worshiping congregation offers their praise to God. This process of transmission of our worship to God can be impacted positively and negatively in a number of ways.

What are some of these tangible ways that may impact the transmission of our heart worship to God in song?

Well, there is the song itself – for example, is it singable? Not all songs are equally singable.

There is the content of the song – do the words make sense to the worshiper? Are the words expressing thoughts and ideas that are consistent with the truths of our great salvation, and with who God is and what he has done? Do they express what is in a worshiper’s heart?

There is the speed of the music – is the song being sung so fast that it is hard to even realize what the words are saying? In other words, is the worshiper unable to formulate thoughts in his/her mind because of the speed in which the words whiz by the worshiper? Or are the songs being sung so slowly, that the worshiper is distracted from the words?

Is the rhythm too difficult for most of the worshipers? Is the beat being kept?

What is the role of the instruments of the Praise Team? Is the way the instruments are being used serving to underline and lend support to the message of the song or is it serving as a distraction from the content of the song?

All of these issues are matters of importance. They are important because they affect the process of the transmission of the worship of the congregation to God. With time, I hope to look at some, or all of the factors mentioned, in order to examine more closely what bearing each of them has on the singing congregation.

No doubt there will be differences of opinion about what constitutes an aid or a hindrance to worship. My hope is that at least some of the things I am saying will resonate with the reader, and that he/she will find in them something worth considering or even adopting.

 

 

 

 

Share