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.