Reading a Song

14 12 2009

Music reading is a science within itself. There are many successful worship leaders who read very little or no music at all.  However, they do know how to read the song.  Much of singing has to do with phrasing and dynamics.  Leaders who can emphasize the right parts of the song help congregations focus on the message better than those who do not.

We’ve talked about mood and the importance of using it to set the tone of a worship assembly.  Proper phrasing is every bit as important as determining mood. Notice the following phrase, read it and emphasize the bold text and see what it does to the meaning of the sentence.

A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.

In contemporary artist Chris Tomlin’s song “How Great is our God” he means for us to emphasize this phrase differently each time we sing it in the tag.

How great is our God, sing with me.
How great is our God and all will see,
How great, how great is our God.

The power in the song often comes in the subtle nuances of emphasizing a word or phrase.  Reading a song means determining where to get louder, softer, broader, quicker or where to insert a lift or a pause.  These things will go a long way into making a song live and bringing the meaning to life in the hearts of worshipers.

Many recording artists never do the stanzas of a song the same and vary the emphasis of the chorus each time they sing through it.  Although we are not going to be able to be as fancy in our execution of a song we can punch up the style in every song we lead.

One of my favorite songs is “Low in the Grave”. As an exercise in reading a song let’s go through and mark the parts of the song that should be emphasized.

Low in the grave He lay,                  This is dark, sorrow filled.
Jesus my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,                  Here is a glimmer of hope.
Jesus my Lord!

Vainly they watch His bed,          I would skip the refrain and go
Jesus my Savior;                              right to this stanza
Vainly they seal the dead,          This time is brighter with hope
Jesus my Lord!                                Emphasis on Vainly

Up from the grave He arose,                              There is a stark contrast from the
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,              stanzas.  This is bright and lively.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Death cannot keep its Prey,               This is the most important
Jesus my Savior;                                    part of the song!
He tore the bars away, Don’t lead this stanza slow
Jesus my Lord!                                        Emphasis with broadening

–Robert Lowry, 1826-1899

The last time through the Refrain needs to be a joyous, powerful, almost out of control celebration.  Get bigger every time you exclaim “He Arose!”

Much of reading a song is relative.  However, some topics and themes lead us to joy, sorrow, anger, doubt, determination and many emotions.  Look for those themes and phrases.  Help your congregation see your interpretation by big facial and body movements that demonstrate the appropriate expression.


Simple Things To Improve Congregational Singing

12 12 2009

In my work I’ve been blessed to lead the singing for many congregations.  There are several common problems in most all congregations that hinder great singing.  There are somethings that will make the singing more powerful and effective if they are practiced consistently.

Sit Closer Together

This may seem to simple to be true, but this one thing can make the difference between poor singing and powerful singing.  It matters not if you have 12 or 1200 voices sitting closer together will improve the sound of the congregation immediately.  I’ve experimented with this and have yet to be proven wrong.

It seems odd that people spread out all over the room instead of sitting close together.  I used to joke about how people always want the front row at the ball game and the back row at the church building.  Encourage the congregation to move closer together.  Have the leadership encourage people to sit close together.  Ask the preacher to mention it every so often until the congregation forms the habit.

When people sit more closely together they are encouraged by the singing more.  They hear their parts being sung, they are bolstered to sing out themselves.  This simple change will vastly change the participation and impact of the worship in song.  The command is to sing to each other as we sing to God.  It’s hard to connect with people scattered so far apart that you cannot hear them or they you.

Lift the songbook from your lap to shoulder level

If you are still using hymnbooks encourage everyone to raise the book up to about the level of their shoulders.  This will cause people to stop singing to their laps.  When people look up they can breath better and therefore sing better.  This is one thing that projection of lyrics has helped us to do.  People have to look up to see the screen so they are better able to sing out.

Just with these two simple changes your congregation’s singing will change for the better in a matter of seconds.  These little adjustments will go a long way in preventing dragging, keeping everyone together rhythmically, increasing energy and the ability to sing phrases and dynamics efficiently.

Along with these technical improvements will be the spiritual improvement also.  Singing to each other and with each other is one of the most effective teaching and edification tools the church has. God didn’t suggest that we sing to one another but rather commanded that we do this (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19).

As a preacher I know that the singing profoundly effects preaching.  If the singing is poor it is difficult to inspire folks with the Word of God.  However, if the singing is energetic and everyone participates it opens the door to better preaching and hearer participation. Ask any preacher and he will tell you he would rather preach after a great singing worship than a poor one.

We will make some more suggestions in the next few blogs.

Please tell others about this blog and encourage them to subscribe to it.

Joseph D. Chase
Special training for worship leaders and congregations who want to sing and praise God better.

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Get In The Mood

9 12 2009

Your mood is important to the message you are trying to portray. Songs, Scripture and sermons all have mood messages that are our job to duplicate. Mixed signals can confuse worshipers. The mood of “Holy, holy, holy” would be ruined if sung like “Jesus is Coming Soon.” The joy of Exodus 15 cannot be read correctly like The sad words of Jeremiah 9.

“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. 2 The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name” (Exodus 15:1-3)

“Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!2 Oh that I had in the desert a travelers’ lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a company of treacherous men.3 They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:1-3).

Mood is important to understanding a message. Conversations depend greatly upon the inflection that mood brings. It will take some work on your part to bring the mood off of a dead piece of paper. Look for the clues we use in language to help discern the intended mood.

Some Mood Markings

Punctuation in Scripture and dynamic markings help you know some of the intended mood.

Sometimes the use of short or curt wording lead us to see anger or urgency. Subject matter often indicate the type of mood is appropriate. Be aware of the mood expressed and match that with your singing or reading.

It seems only natural for us to use the mood built into types of songs and passages of Scripture to build mood into a worship assembly.

Worship that centers on repentance and godly sorrow calls for songs and readings with those moods.

  • Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy
  • Break My Heart
  • My Eyes are Dry
  • 2 Corinthians 7:8-11
  • Psalm 51

These songs and passages reflect the state of heart and being needed for a worship theme of repentance and godly sorrow.

There is much to be gained by learning to discern mood in Scripture text and in poetry and in musical phrasing.  Adjusting our mood to the passage or song will bless those we are trying lead. Fill your heart with a lot of the Bible and sing a wide variety of styles so you can shape your demeanor as needed for worship leading.

Do Re Mi

3 12 2009

I am about as old school as they come when it comes to sight singing music.  I prefer shaped notes and relative pitch.  In the a capella church this method of notation and reading of music helps the average “Joe” like me be able to learn one basic scale and sight read any piece of music.

The shaped notes are easy to memorize.

Notice the shapes can be either solid faced or open faced.  It does not change their name or their relative pitch, it will change their length as we will learn later.

I’d suggest that everyone spend an hour or so learning these shapes with their names until they can recognize them upon sight.  You an also start learning their relative pitches.  They represent the major diatonic scale.  Which is easy to learn.  It would be playing all the white keys on the piano from middle C up 8 notes to the next C.  You will recall the “Sound of Music” used this scale in the song Do Re Mi.

Sing this scale up and down over and over until you can do so with your eyes shut.  Soon you will be able to skip degrees and learn them.  But that is for another lesson.

For budding musicians there are several ear training methods that are adapted to the computer.  Windows users can download the open source “Solfege” here.

Within a week of 30 minute lessons you will be able to sing the Major Scale in just about any key and be able to identify the solfege symbol and proper relative pitch on most simple songs.  Please download some of the Paperless Hymnal free slides to practice sight singing.

Song Selection Guest Article

30 11 2009

As we think about methods and purpose for song selection we will feature various worship leaders who are willing to share their thoughts.

Brother James Tackett produces the Paperless Hymnal which has truly changed the way most congregations of the Churches of Christ present printed music.  Here is Brother Tackett’s method.

I like to get the sermon topic from the preacher. You have to start somewhere, so I start there. If I don’t have his topic, I make up one.

With a topic in mind, I try to find the best song on that topic and use it right before the sermon. That song should also be lively. I want the audience to be awake and ready to listen with I give them over to the preacher.

I usually pick the first few songs for praise and or call to worship content, the first one easy, the second lively, the third not as lively. That set of songs should be a short time of worship within it’s self, not just a bunch of favorite songs stuck together. I never sing all the stanzas of a song because they are there but choose what I need for the thought of the set.

If the topic allows,I’ll use a song or two before the Lord’s Supper  that will point to the cross and also involve the topic. Otherwise, I choose a separate set of songs to emphasize our Lord’s death, burial and resurrection. I might even insert a scripture reading in the mix.

I like to have a flow in thought and energy. Sets of songs are better than songs interrupted by the other “acts of worship”. If I can, sets of songs are in the same key, flowing from one into the next. Even though I have been using The Paperless Hymnal longer than anyone else, I usually don’t use it for the invitation or closing songs. I want to be flexible with the invitation song and I am always changing my mind on the closing song after hearing the sermon. I don’t want technology to get in my way of doing what is better at that time.

I use an index file with scripture and topical information to help me find songs. You can download that file at:

James Tackett

The Paperless Hymnal


Does Your Song Selection Have A Purpose?

25 11 2009

Just before worship the preacher asks the song leader, “what is your first song?”

The song leader replied, “I don’t know yet, what did you think I did during the first prayer? What are you preaching on today?”

The preacher answered “I don’t know yet what did you think I did during the song service?”

This is quite certainly an exaggeration of what may be true far too often. It is tragic when worship leaders don’t put forethought and prayer into every song they lead, every Scripture they read, every prayer that is prayed and every communion thought used. Purpose and planning for every thing we do in worship is necessary.

Why do you lead the songs you lead? There should not be a song on your list that does not have purpose to the overall flow of the worship. Your selections should vividly reflect the purpose you have in mind for the worship assembly.

I am not saying that every song has to be based on the sermon text. They should combine to bring worshipers into God’s presence and reflect the purpose of the assembly.

I led worship for a few years where the worship committee demanded that all songs reference the sermon and be thematic revolving around the subject of the sermon. There is some merit to that type of selecting songs but, we have to remember that there is more to worship than what the preacher is going to preach. You will be hard pressed to find songs that tie into a lot of texts. Can you think of one for “Greet one another with a holy kiss?” A lot of preaching will not bring us to see the whole nature of God, the beauty of Holiness. There are many songs that take us beyond where a preacher can take us.

Ask yourself several times during your worship planning; “How does this song fit into the purpose for this worship assembly?” Do early and do it often.

Remember also the needs of the assembly. Some will be grieving, joyous, searching, doubting, struggling and a hundred other attitudes of heart. Your purpose will need to bring those people with you to God’s throne. Don’t forget that various age groups express themselves with different styles of music. My purpose must include something for all to find a road to the Father.

I Love It Makes Life Easier.

30 10 2009

In the last post we talked a little bit about recording practice tracks for people to learn new music.  I am fortunate in that I have a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).  I can record practice tracks with ease.  Usually a practice packet for a new song will include the following.

  • PDF of the sheet music
  • mp3 of the entire song mixed with all parts
  • mp3 with each voice part emphasized
  • midi file of each voice part
  • PowerPoint of the song with the practice track attached to it plays while the slides scroll (pseudo karaoke machine)

I can distribute these files very easily by using is a free service that allows you to make a pickup point on the cloud (Internet).  The process is simple.

  1. Go to
  2. At the website you will see a menu box that allows you to create a name for your “drop” if you don’t name it you will be assigned a random name that no one will remember.  A good practice is to name it with the name of the song. does not allow spaces so use underscores between each word or just mash it up together.  Ex.  or
  3. The next line has a radio button that reads”Select Files”
  4. A new menu window will appear.  Select the files from your computer that you want to include. I usually make a folder in my documents on my computer and save all the files into it as I create them so I can find them easily. After you select the files hit the upload button and off to the cloud go your files.
  5. This is where the cool part come in.  You send an email to all your peeps that need these files.  You include the drop name you created  Now the folks who receive the email click on the link.  They are cyberported to the drop and can download all the files they need.

For all our “green” friends there is nothing more eco friendly than paperless. lets this happen for you.  Everyone can download the file they need, view it or play it on their computer and learn the new song. As Granny Chase would say “That is as handy as pockets on a shirt.”

Looking at Dropbox to see if it is a good tool.