The best way to play better music, get along with your teammates, serve the congregation well, and enjoy it all is...what? How would you answer that?
I answer that question with a little phrase I once heard called "serving the song."
We're heard of serving the Lord, serving our congregation, serving our team, serving our leaders, but...serving the song? Isn't the song just a tool?
Yes, but think of it as sharpening or oiling the tool - it makes the intended use so much more productive!
What does serving the song look like?
What is the purpose of a song in congregational worship? It is different from other songs and it's a really important distinction! For our purpose, the song we use in church is meant to facilitate congregational singing. And singing, the biblically mandated form of worship, is a primary way of engaging with God - both praising and glorifying Him and knowing His presence in intimacy as His body is gathered to meet with Him. So it's kind of a big deal.
Making a song easy to sing is primary. What makes it easy? The way we play it makes a big difference in how well it facilitates singing.
And right up there with singability is "how does it make me feel?" This isn't a worship narcissism thing, but rather the truth that music is powerful. Poorly played music, on the other hand, is flat and lifeless...certainly not what we're called to create.
Some musical factors are: rhythm, tempo, groove, key, arrangement
Some aesthetic factors are: volume, thickness, timbre, accessibility
Questions to ask yourself as you're making musical choices:
- Will this make it easier to sing?
- Will this make room for the rest of my team to play?
- What will give this song the energy it needs?
But getting to more practical examples...
1. As a drummer, I may be able to play more complicated rhythms and use the toms way more, but does it help the song groove or would a straight (read: boring) groove serve the song better? As Papa Jo Jones’ said "play with the band, not for the band."
2. As a piano player, does my "default" playing style help this song be singable or do I need to get something else into my hands? We always want to work to get our playing style to fit the song, not the other way around.
3. As a bass player, do the typical 8th notes really help this song come alive, or do I need to discipline myself to closely follow the kick drum pattern?
4. As an electric guitar player, is it ok if I noodle over the whole song? The answer is no. Always no. For the love...!
5. As an acoustic guitar player, will the song be communicated effectively if I strum full bore the whole way through? (very, very rarely)
6. As a leader, will mindlessly repeating the bridge eight times help the congregation sing it with passion? (It's like Ed once said "Jesus walked on water, but 98% of the time, He took a boat")
7. As an audio tech, will the song be communicated as intended if you set a mix at the beginning and just leave it? (that was a setup, a trick...never, ever answer yes to that question. Ever.)
8. As a video tech (aka lyrics operator), will it help the congregation sing if you wait until you hear the first word or two sung and then put up the lyrics...just to be sure? ( _ ) I'm not even sure how to say NO strongly enough. Guessing is always better than hesitating. Learn the art of guessing, because he who hesitates...has an accident. And people stare at accidents, but they don't sing.
Ok, so you start to get the point. We are not here for ourselves, we are here to serve the song, because serving the song enables us to do what we're called to do: lead congregational worship.
In what ways could you serve the song?
ps. I need to say this yet. Learning the craft of serving the song takes time and there is absolutely NO CONDEMNATION for where your skill is right now. None. Just don't be there a year from now. Here's why.
pps. The graphic below basically says "keep calm and keep going" in Costa Rican slang. You're welcome.