Last time, I discussed looking at the melodic range of a song and the vocal range of the worship leader (vs. congregational participant) as a key consideration to get the congregation to participate – especially the guys!

To review, in my experience, there are seven common factors to dialing in the right key for each song being sung in a worship service set:

  1. top note of the melody
  2. melodic range of the song
  3. vocal range of the worship leader
  4. skill set of band members (esp. guitars)
  5. demographic “makeup” of the congregation
  6. song tempo
  7. where the song is positioned in the set

Let’s look at #6, then #5.

Song tempo should be strategically connected to determining the right key of any worship song.

Tempo? What’s tempo got to do with it?

It’s simple really and all about context.

Faster songs are usually energetic, enthusiastic declarations of faith. They are shouts of joy. Songs of victory. Beats and grooves that can make you move (ok, dance), at least a little. In order for up-tempo types of expressions to be most effective, people need to be given permission (even challenged) to belt it out, project their “Amen” of affirmation and proclaim with a loud voice their gratefulness and salvation to their Lord and Savior. This cannot be achieved if the song is pitched in a vocal range that is too comfortable. I can’t recall my friends and family ever whispering or gently murmuring along at a concert or while playing/watching any sporting event. It requires people to stretch a little, which is OK because they don’t have to hold a note out quite as long as most slow songs, making it a bit easier. And neither do they have to sound as “pretty.” Psalm 100:1, 66:1, 95:1-2, 98:4 all say, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord…” (ESV). As a worship leader over the years, I heard all kinds of joyful “noises” coming from the congregation – much to the delight of the Father’s ear.

On the contrary, slower songs, if pitched too high in the vocal range of an average congregant produces fatigue (and sometimes, pain). I’ve seen people drop like flies when a slow song is too high. At the very least, I’ve heard vocal gymnastics going on throughout the room. Slower songs, because they are often more personal and introspective, are quieter and more contemplative. They need to be pitched in such a way that two parties (in this case, a believer and his/her God) can have a conversation in the right context with respect to space, intimacy and relationship. As worship leader, you need to make these songs as easy as possible to sing.

Having said that, a lot of power ballads being written today have a very wide melodic range requiring people to sing parts of it low and parts of it high. This can create a challenge for many participants, and makes it tricky to find that perfect key. However, with any slow song (generally speaking), when given the choice of a lower or higher melodic range, opt for lower. More people, especially guys, will sing. Additionally, higher melodic sections can (should) be supported by a higher/fuller volume (dB) from the band and vocal team. It helps cover the fears and inhibitions of non-singers being, or thinking they’re being heard by nearby worshipers. It becomes safer to sing out.

With regard to congregational demographics – specifically age, the younger the congregation, the more freedom worship leaders have with higher pitched faster and slower songs. Why? It’s the reality of anatomy. As men and women age, lots of not-so-fun things happen to their voice. There are many reasons for this. If you’re interested (and worship leaders better be), check out this article written in 2016 by Justin Davidson (mysteries of the aging voice).

The point is this: younger people can sing higher (than older people) and are less afraid to let it rip. They don’t care quite as much about what others think of them. They typically have more energy and are often more “into” newer worship music.

Bottom-line: Know your congregation! Learn their abilities and preferences. Understand how they respond to different styles and types of songs, tempos and corresponding keys.

What are your thoughts?

PS…next time: examining the skill set of band members as a determinant in selecting the right key.

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