8 Things for Your Worship Team to Rehearse
Before considering the HOW of running your worship rehearsal, you must consider exactly WHAT you are going to rehearse. Identifying the most important elements for rehearsal up-front keeps us from wasting precious time and goes a long way toward boosting team morale.
Let’s take a look at eight of the most important things to rehearse:
- Smooth out the trouble spots
- Utilize dynamics
- Know when not to play
- Play in different registers
- Refresh your song arrangements
- Excel in spontaneous worship
- Prepare for the altar response
- Win with transitions
1. Smooth out the trouble spots
You know ’em. These precarious musical moments typically present a higher level of difficulty than others. A tempo change or a key change. A borrowed chord or a big drum stop.
Whatever they are, the temptation is to practice your trouble spots just until you play them perfectly one time. Please don’t make this mistake. Make sure you hit these babies correctly three or four times so your team will be able to play them accurately and confidentially during the service. Doing this should take only three or four minutes each, since you can begin and end no more than four bars on either side of a particular trouble spot.
2. Utilize dynamics
When was the last time you intentionally rehearsed your dynamics? Honestly, this is one of the most vital and often glossed over rehearsal elements in music. Think of it like a movie. If the plot holds stagnant for a long time, people go to sleep. Same with music.
Dynamics play a crucial role in inspiring and engaging people. Rehearsing your dynamics together as a team will greatly multiply your team’s impact and—believe it or not—increase your congregation’s desire to participate. A couple notes:
- Subtle changes in dynamics make a big difference. Practicing these nuances increases your effectiveness and brings joy to the music-making process for the team.
- Avoid operating as many bands do-with only two dynamic levels-soft and loud. Make sure you incorporate at least one nice medium level as well (mezzo forte), and then navigate between all of these with a variety of sudden and gradual rises and falls.
- Attention keyboardists (and other instrumentalists who carry softer moments by themselves): When the band is playing loudly and suddenly goes soft (or drops out), the common approach is to suddenly go soft along with them. Unfortunately, this creates an extreme vacuum in volume, causing the musical momentum to dissipate inopportunely.
Think multiplication and division rather than addition and subtraction. Consider this: If each instrumentalist is playing loudly (at a volume of 9 out of 10) and suddenly drops to volume 2, there is much too great a loss in overall volume, causing the congregation to shrink back. In this case, the lone musician standing (often the keyboardist) need only drop to level 5 or 6 for there to be a substantial (and wonderful) dynamic shift.
Please resist the temptation to play too softly, especially after the rest of the band drops out. Maintaining some of the energy in the soft moments will allow for a desired shift in dynamics without pulling the rug out from under the congregation.
3. Know when not to play
Teaching your band to leave musical space for others affirms the glorious “less is more” mentality. For some, not playing is a foreign concept and desperately needs to be rehearsed. Ironically, some bands assume (naively) that more notes equals better music, when in actuality, playing fewer, more intentional notes typically yields a more palpable soundscape.
For drummers, make sure they understand, for example, that overuse of cymbals and fills causes these precious elements to lose their value, a true oxymoron. Playing too many fills or cymbals causes the mind to begin to tune them out. Incorporating them calculatedly (after avoiding them for a stretch) helps to create a heightened interest for the listener.
4. Play in different registers
You must guide your team in understanding the concept of playing in different registers. For example, when the keyboardist is occupying the lower/middle of the sound spectrum (around middle C or lower), it makes good sense for the guitarist to play higher inversions up on the neck.
Likewise, asking your keyboardist to play only single bass notes in the left hand (just below middle C), instead of full octaves, often creates much needed space and clarity in the low register for the bass guitar. (Of course, there are times we do want that low-octave key’s power to hit in conjunction with the bass guitar, just as there are times we would ask the keyboardist to play with the right hand only, mostly above middle C.)
5. Refresh your song arrangements
Creativity is a huge part of helping people connect with God. It serves the congregation by helping them break free from the numb. As a result, our rehearsals should always allow time for developing unique and intentional variations on the common songs we cover—partly to keep the congregation from slipping into a coma, but also to keep our team from becoming a “karaoke band.”
First, ask your team to prepare a “default” version of each song, and then work together (either in advance and/or during your rehearsal) to brainstorm a few new twists. This provides some additional excitement and ownership for the band and keeps the congregation from developing a “been there, done that” mindset, subconsciously believing they already know the way the songs are going to go, and thus, checking out.
Trust me, the worship police won’t show up if we alter a song from its originally recorded version.
6. Excel in spontaneous worship
For now, we’ll simply say your team’s ability to flow skillfully in spontaneous worship will always correlate directly with your commitment to rehearsing spontaneous worship. We must rehearse spontaneity if we hope to be effective (skilled and anointed) in this area. Seems like an oxymoron, right?
Do we really need to practice being spontaneous? Moreover, how do we practice being spontaneous? You simply make space for it in your rehearsal and then ask your team to flow on one of the chord progressions from one of the songs you are learning. Ask the team to ebb and flow with dynamics on that chord progression, inviting singers to take turns singing simple and prayerful spontaneous lyrics while the band takes turns playing various melodies led by the Spirit.
This will grow your team musically and also spiritually, and you will be shocked at how fun it is for everyone. Honestly, you may also write some new songs that you can introduce to your congregation in the days to come.
7. Prepare for the altar response
There’s no question. Altar-response moments can serve as one of the most impactful moments in our services. The problem comes when the altar music is not rehearsed and is only an afterthought.
This happened to our team once. Near the end of our rehearsal, we quickly discussed which section of which song we would play and even how we would get into it. But regrettably, we forgot to discuss exactly where we would end. No big deal, right? Well, unfortunately, this particular song didn’t contain an easy off-ramp like most songs, and we found ourselves looping eternally, before awkwardly careening through a guardrail, over a cliff, to an abrupt stop.
Discussing and rehearsing your post-sermon song moments is vital. For longer altar moments, consider choosing progressions, sections, and songs that flow together in the same key/tempo to help you achieve the maximum impact, all without starting and stopping eight different songs or, worse yet, beating one to death.
8. Win with transitions
These little beauties are so often forgotten (creating painfully awkward moments in the worship service) that we’re going to dedicate a completely separate blog to them as Part 2. Stay tuned.
We are confident that when you walk through these eight steps to leading an effective worship rehearsal, you’ll find your team and yourself moving to levels of greater effectiveness in leading the congregation into worship. I hope you know that we pray with you to this end.
Other Worship Leadership Articles:
6 Steps for Increasing Worship Team Effectiveness
8 Ground Rules for an Over-The-Top Rehearsal
Your Guide to Smooth Transitions Between Worship Songs
7 Compelling Reasons to Avoid Chasing Culture and Style When Leading Worship
5 Biblical Reasons for Spontaneous Worship in Your Church
4 Great Ways to Take Your Congregation to the Next Level in Worship
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