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Rehearse for every Sunday, not just next Sunday

October 9, 2010

Matt Blick did a series on his blog on the subject of helping the congregation participate in our meetings, and I want to spend some time interacting with each of his twelve suggestions and see if I can squeeze out some more value from his ideas and share them as widely as I can.  This is number two of twelve.

Rehearse for every Sunday, not just next Sunday

Matt rightly points out that there is an assumption inherent in this point – I’ll wait a while…..

“If all you want to give your people are the greatest hits of Chris Tomlin/Graham Kendrick/Charles Wesley then half an hour warm up should be fine. If you want a team that can serve a congregation as it chases the wind of the spirit you have 3 choices.”

Oh, Matthew, baby! Preach it!!!

  • Hire the best jazz/session musicians you can afford.
  • Start an outreach to said musicians in the hope that they get saved and come play for free.
  • Rehearse.

The suggestion of jazz musicians is a little tongue in cheek: the point we would both make is that the skills needed on a Sunday morning (if you actually want to help your congregation in this area) are different to those required to make the music sound like it did on that album or at that conference.  The skills required are the semi-improvisational approach of jazz, along with the understanding and appreciation of loose structure to musical form and the outstanding communication that such musicians and bands demonstrate seemingly effortlessly.

Of course, Matt’s suggestion that you actually rehearse this is also a good one.

So – how should you rehearse (instead of taking ten minutes to get the exact same effect on the electric guitar pedal) ?

Practice playing songs in different keys – the congregation are unlikely to have perfect pitch, and it will be very helpful if the band can pick up the song in the key it was started in (if it is humanly possible to keep singing it in that key) rather than immediately going straight back to the Christian key of G at the end of the first verse.

Practice playing songs by memory or by ear – the band haven’t a hope in heaven or hell of picking up a song started by the congregation if they only know how to play with a music book in front of them.  I know this one is scary for most, but it is so helpful to the congregation that the musician who really wants to serve them will learn.

Practice what you will play at the end of a song – don’t just keep playing the same melody line too prominently, or you will stifle the singing of new songs (people will only be able to think of the one you’re sub-consciously telling them to think of). Don’t just go quiet every time (although more people would do well to do this much more often). Don’t always go to ‘G’ and stay there – don’t always play the bridge – and definitely don’t ever just go round and round the circle of fifths – it’s not big and it’s not clever!  Have a plan, and when it is a song you don’t know or haven’t planned to play……

Practice ‘follow my leader’ – In many forms of jazz, once the basic pattern of the song is understood, the musicians are able to follow the band leader through the performance by means of commonly understood hand signals, vocal cues and musical patterns.  Going to the head, splitting into layers, round again, go to the bridge – all are able to be done with hand signs that don’t look too masonic or vulgar.  Vocal cues are much under-rated in worship musicians, I find – everyone wants to come up with the Matt Redman one-leg-stand or the Stuart Townend guitar-lift, or the Al Metcalfe hand-slash (recently witnessed by me at CCM’s recent worship conference!).  It is good to talk! Gently singing the words of the section of the song you are repeating can help, even reciting the chord pattern is ok if it keeps the band together and doesn’t distract the congregation too much.  While practicing this, you could go on to ….

Practice improvisation of basic melodic shapes – As mentioned, only ever playing melodic fragments from readily recognised worship songs is not helpful (unless you are already singing the said worship song).  Try something different – try a new melody over the chords to ‘Blessed be your name’ or ‘Beautiful One’.  These are wonderful songs, but they kind of don’t ever end, so are great opportunities to sensitively bring new fragments of melody in over the same chord sequence, letting the congregation carry on worshipping instead of snapping out of “My soul, my soul must sing…” or whatever.  And as they worship, and pick up on your relaxed and anointed melodies, what new songs may they bring?  What prophetic words may your music inspire?  What a sweet sense of Jesus’s presence may come upon you all?

And most of all – practice worshipping as you play. I am so cut up every time I look at a group of musicians, appointed to lead the congregation into the presence of God, who look like they are so scared they’ll get a note wrong or are concentrating so much on the twiddly bits that they look in pain or are so fed up of the same chord sequence of G-Em-C-D that they look like they are planning a suicide attempt …

Here is a secret for you all. The congregation actually couldn’t care less how well you play or how technically correct you are or how ‘excellent’ (oh, how I hate that word) your sacrifice is that morning – they are no fools.  They can tell if you are enjoying meeting with your Jesus or not – they can tell if you are even meeting with your Jesus or not – and they will not follow you where you are taking them.  You will have greater influence with them and have a greater effect on their meeting with God if…..  you are meeting with God.

There is no shame in stopping playing to raise your hands to him – there is no problem if the DI box gets a little crackly because you are jumping for joy – there is not a ‘hallelujah’ box that you will have to put 50p into every time you get a little over-excited and actually express your worship out loud.  All these things will actually be a greater encouragement to the congregation than anything you can play or sing – because no one is that good a musician that their music could be more encouraging than the act of observing one who loves Jesus with their whole life joyfully giving Him everything they have, and receiving everything He has to give them.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2010 8:08 pm

    Things I love about this post

    Christian key of G

    I knew it. The Holy Spirit always seemed more present when we played in this key. Now I know why!

    hand signs that don’t look too Masonic or vulgar

    ,i>The Matt Redman one-leg-stand – really means “I need the toilet. Play something prophetic”

    the Stuart Townend guitar-lift is due to his guitar neck being made out of a dowsing rod. When the guitar neck goes up it’s time to get your washing in.

    The Al Metcalfe hand-slash? That’s why they call him the ‘Northern Worship Ninja.

    ‘excellent’ – oh, how I hate that word

    I’m with you there to not least because pursuing excellence is either delusional or idolatrous but I‘ll leave that for another time… 😉


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