Far too often we hear these disappointing words, “We used to be a singing church.” Churches which once echoed with vibrant singing have slowly declined to become a meeting place of unengaged worshipers - which sounds like an an oxy-moron. In order to fill the void of paltry participation, the most musically gifted are asked to step up, claim center stage and become the focus in providing the bulk of singing on behalf of congregational spectators - in other words, the few taking on a role on behalf of the many. However impressive the few may be, there is something very tragic in witnessing the demise of full-throated congregational singing along with the subsequent joy that cannot be experienced any other way. The Bible is clear that God wants every believer to sing. The benefits of congregational singing are far too numerous to reiterate in this post, so let’s assume that you genuinely seek to develop a bona fide “singing church.” How can this be done? Are there quantifiable steps?
We’re glad you asked! Unfortunately, there is not one silver bullet, nor is there an overnight solution. This comes as no surprise, since most worthwhile endeavors are the result of discipline, hard work and long-term commitment. So, if you are truly sincere in seeking the steps to outstanding congregational singing, consider this proven approach:
Intentionally emphasize and teach the clear commands and benefits of every believer participating in passionate singing and worship.
Seek professional training for leaders who will make it their primary goal to elicit full-participation in worship — virtually turning the entire church into the choir.
Promote musical literacy for every member through regular classes — teaching new and old songs along with the theology they impart, while equipping everyone to learn four-part harmony “by ear.” It’s also amazing how quickly people can learn to read music through the right methods.
Supplement the education of singing classes with daily review and repetition on the part of everyone, as they daily listen to ear-training recordings to reinforce what they’ve learned.
These steps provide the easiest way to transform a mediocre tradition into a spirited atmosphere of singing renewal. If you are fully committed to this goal, insist that your church leaders check out this video which addresses the need for training leaders, along with an opportunity for enthusiastic volunteers to become more involved in reviving congregational singing.
Now for the nitty gritty. Here is a proven method that works wonders, especially when coupled with the daily reinforcement. Begin by assigning everyone to sit by voice part with all the basses together, all of the altos, etc. Immersing beginners into the middle of others singing their same part makes it easier for them to clearly hear the part they are trying to learn.
Next, explain the process to everyone and build expectations. Even with a song they have never heard before, the speed of progress can be stunning.
Step One: Listen (and watch) the training video of the song you have chosen. A pre-requisite to this step is an explanation of where to look on the musical staff to identifying the soprano and alto above the lyrics with the tenor and bass below the lyrics. It’s important that they incorporate their vision and hearing simultaneously to proactively “absorb” the new song with intense concentration. No singing is done while listening.
Step Two: Sing along softly while listening to and viewing the training video. Help participants avoid the mistake of singing so loudly that they only hear themselves and not the training video, causing them to be unable to determine when they sing the part incorrectly. And, by so doing, they are virtually reinforcing the wrong part, requiring countless steps to “undo” the mistake. In other words, the listening instruction is the most important aspect of step one and step two. It’s paramount that everyone can clearly hear the training video (this is the video with only 4 people with the higher voices isolated in the left stereo channel and the low voices on the right.) By sitting in sections, singers can also hear and absorb the sound of others surrounding them with the part.
Step Three: We call this “taking off the training wheels.” Turn off the training video and invite every one to sing using only sheet music or powerpoint musical notation slides. It’s important to encourage everyone to read the music and listen to their section. We have employed this method all over the world with unbelievable results.
If you have the time and wish to proceed at a more methodical pace, results can be enhanced by repeating step two. Also, you can appoint “section leaders” who have previously mastered the song, giving them instructions to sing louder than others during step two, while encouraging and guiding others to correctly learn their parts.
The Praise And Harmony Ministry is dedicated to providing training materials to equip every believer to sing in harmony and worship passionately. Training videos are produced to teach new songs and help everyone learn to sing harmony “by ear.” Praise And Harmony Powerpoint musical notation slides are ideal for churches to use during their assemblies for congregational singing. Sheet music is helpful for individuals to learn to read music. Training CDs and mp3s mixed with high voices on the left and low voices on the right are necessary for every individual to continue their music education on the way to work, school, jogging or at home.
Churches who seek professional guidance may schedule a Praise And Harmony weekend for their church or region. Also, leaders from around the world are attending the annual Worship Leader Institute for a week of highly practical, graduate-level training that is specifically designed for a cappella song leaders.
Do you really want a singing church? What will you do to make that happen?