Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Tips for Singing Songs of Praise in a Small Group Setting

Below is the body of a handout I wrote for a recent lifegroup leaders training session. Some of the top tips were added by others as we talked it through - this is the result...


“Canned worship is to lifegroup singing what modeling magazines are to teenage girls – they can have the unintended consequence of making our own efforts feel fake and inadequate.”
Richard Walker musing on his sofa 5th May 2014.

We are part of a church culture saturated by canned worship, but what do you do if you’re no Tim Hughes yourself and you're in a life group that doesn’t have a wannabe Matt Redman or Lou Fellingham to whom you can delegate the singing bit??

Before launching off, let me declare, there is nothing inherently evil about listening to worship music or using it to help you sing in lifegroups. But we miss out on something very human and God given if we never sing together unaccompanied.

Massive generalisation I know, but… Our culture says that singing is an expression of feelings. The Bible says that singing is an obedient reality check stemming from seeing who God is and what he has done. Most of our reticence around sung worship stems from us listening more to our culture’s definition of singing rather than the Bible’s. Not that feelings aren’t important, but they slot into a bigger picture. We so often take ourselves and our feelings too seriously - placing ourselves at the centre, rather than taking obedience to God seriously, and putting him at the centre.

Very few people are incapable of singing in tune.  Whilst we may not all have "platinum album" quality voices, God made the overwhelming majority of the world's population to sing in tune, they just need practice and confidence.

The Bible says we should make a joyful noise (Ps. 95, 98, 100), nowhere does it say that it has to be tuneful or beautiful. There is nothing morally dubious about off key, raspy singing.

That said, whilst tone deaf raspy singing is not problem for God, it can be a (big) distraction for us, so here, in no particular order are some tips to help you survive and hopefully enjoy unaccompanied sung worship and minimize the number of cringe worthy moments…
  1. Don't take yourself too seriously, take God seriously.
  2. Most people have never been taught to sing properly and whilst no one needs formal training some tips can go a long way in helping.
  3. Stand to sing. Take some deep breaths together (remember point 1). Stretch if you have been hunched up all day / since you arrived. Like exercise, people need to warm up voices before singing. Nothing will stop you hitting those high notes well like a scrunched up diaphragm and cold vocal chords.
  4. Lead confidently, if you’re reticent, then don’t be surprised if everyone else is. Even if you delegate this part of the meeting to someone else, you still need to help stir everyone.
  5. Pick songs that help your group. If everyone is tired on a week night, don’t avoid worship, sing songs of truth that get their eyes off themselves and onto the living God.
  6. If a song starts badly, people will thank you if you kill it, admit it and start again or choose a different one altogether.
  7. Starting a song at the right speed is best, but if you err one way, err on starting a song too fast rather than too slow.  A too-fast song is weird, but a too-slow song is painful.
  8. Many songs have low verses and high choruses. If the song goes high at the chorus, start singing at the chorus or wherever the high point is, so that you can pitch it appropriately, and don’t all turn into a bunch of strangled cats half way through the song.
  9. Have someone tap/clap/beat out a rhythm especially with modern songs which often have long pauses in between verses and choruses – that’s when the musicians on the CD would be doing their clever twiddly bits.
  10. We do most of our singing in rows meaning we don’t have to try to avoid eye contact. Remind people it’s ok if you catch each other’s eyes as you sing.
  11. Avoid closing your eyes for long periods of time, keep an eye on the dynamic of the group, encourage people to contribute. Often they will do if they get a green light from you.
  12. It was felt that "Here I am (Majesty)" was one of the best songs to illustrate these pitfalls.
  13. As you come to the end of the chorus, say the first line of the section where you want people to go next e.g. Back to the beginning / back to verse .... Etc. Whilst your regulars might do this intuitively, it's especially helpful for those who are new to your group.
  14. If your lifegroup finds sung worship difficult, talk about it together, explore why. Some of the most extravert people can become quiet and reclusive when singing - why is that? Talk about where you are and where you want to get to / should be.
  15. Sometimes we let good practice slip over time, don't be afraid to say "We used to do… and for some reason lately, we haven't, we need to get back there…"
Any other top tips to share?

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