Each week the Praise Team faces the question: What songs should we select for the following Sunday. A number of factors come into play in answering this question: What will fit with the theme of the sermon? Are there directives from the pastoral staff to consider? Do we want to learn a new song, or do we want to stay with the music we know? What music is suitable for the musicians? Does the music match their skill level?
The question that I would like to consider here does not focus on the Praise Team or on the pastors but rather on the congregation and it is this: What songs are suitable for the congregation? Or, to put it another way: How well is the congregation able to sing these songs?
Sometimes it is helpful for the Praise Team to sing a song acapella (without musical accompaniment) in order to listen in to see how well the congregation is managing to sing a particular song. Ordinarily the voices and the instruments of the Team may obscure the sound coming from the congregation and as a result the fact that participation in the singing is limited may go unnoticed. The reason for limited participation may well be that the congregation is finding the music too difficult to sing.
Here is where the focus of the Praise Team is different from that of a Christian band performing in front of an audience. A band is not primarily concerned about whether those present are able to sing along. They have come to minister to the congregation in song. The congregation/audience is there primarily to listen rather than to participate. In such a situation the difficulty level of the music is limited only by the skill of the musicians.
But the situation is very different in the arena of congregational singing. In congregational singing, everything focuses on the congregation. Is the congregation able to sing along? Does the majority of those present find the music singable? The focus of the Praise Team is: How do we enable more people to participate in the singing?
Congregational singing is the congregation’s opportunity to offer their praise and worship to God in song. The music is a vehicle for the words of the song. If the congregation finds the music too difficult to sing, their effort at expressing their worship will prove unsatisfying and discouraging. So one of the ways the Praise Team seeks to enable the congregation to offer their praise to God in a satisfying manner is by ensuring that the songs they have chosen are singable.
What factors should the Praise Team consider when seeking to determine whether a song is singable? Here are some suggestions.
1. The range of the music – There will be those people in the church who can easily reach high notes, and those who can easily reach low notes. Everyone else will be somewhere in between. Except perhaps for the occasional note, the range should be within easy reach of most of the worshipers. It is an unpleasant and unsatisfying experience for those with untrained voices to have to consistently strain to reach high notes.
2. The rhythm of the music – It is my view, that a song chosen for congregational singing should have a rhythm that is reasonably easy for most people to learn. This is not to say that the rhythm needs to be boring. But the more predictable the rhythm of the song is, the more quickly the congregation will be able to learn to sing it.
3. The steadiness of the melody line – Melody lines can either flow steadily in one direction, staying on the same note and rising or descending at a steady pace, or they can fluctuate wildly, with wide gaps between successive notes. Many wide gaps, and significant fluctuations in a melody line will leave the worshipers wondering what the next note might be. Such melody lines are more difficult to memorize and may present a source of frustration.
The Praise Team will greatly promote joy in congregational singing if they build up a repertoire of songs that can be readily sung by the majority of the worshipers. The proof will be in the pudding. If the congregation is singing the songs, then they are singable. If after many attempts at singing a particular song, the singing is still tentative and the sound barely audible, the song may be too difficult for the congregation. An effective Praise Team will seek to ensure that most of the congregation will be able to participate in the singing of most of the songs most of the time.