Preparing a song for worship

How can I take my vocals to the next level as a worship leader?

I know how to listen to a recording, look at a chord chart, and sing along…but what would it look like to be even more prepared on Sunday morning?  

How can I sing with more confidence and communicate the text more clearly to help engage people in worship?

A few months ago I was asking myself all of these questions.  I was tired of going through the motions and felt like I had more to give…felt more to preparation to do…I just didn’t know what!  I wanted to lead with a deep understanding and appreciation of what each worship song was doing and exactly what it was saying, I wanted to communicate the text as well as possible, but where would I even begin?

Eventually my voice teacher and I came up with a 7 step ritual that I’ve begun using every time I learn a new song to lead on a Sunday.  Every time.  This isn’t the only way to fully engage and learn piece of music…it probably isn’t even the best way, but I’ve found it incredibly helpful both musically and spiritually to take the time to really, really learn what it means to sing a piece of music.  And then to be totally free to let go and worship on a Sunday morning because of that preparation.

Here are my own,

7 Steps for Preparing a Song for Worship

1. Write out the text by hand

Writing the text out by hand forces me to take the time to really get inside the meaning of it. I notice things I’ve never picked up on before, I spend time meditating on exactly what these lyrics mean to me.  This is important.  If I don’t know what I’m singing, how will anyone else?  If what I’m singing doesn’t mean anything to me, then lets face it, I’m just faking it! The more I create my own meaning with the lyrics, the more I begin to know exactly what words need emphasis and how my line will flow. I try to write it out in a way that gives me a road map to look back on later to remind myself exactly what words or phrases jumped out as being the Most important.  The richest words that I want to make sure and communicate and stress I write larger.  In going through this process, I’ve also began to appreciate the lyrical depth in many of our hymns, and, unfortunately, have noticed the lack of depth in some contemporary worship songs.  It’s not that contemporary songs are all bad, they’re not,  but hymns are just packed so full of imagery…each word has so much weight and meaning it. Here’s an example from my notebook:

Be Still My Soul Lyrics1

2. Speak the text out loud

I do this while I’m writing the text by hand and when I’m done writing it out too.  I try to speak it as if I’m an orator.  I don’t think about the melody or the rhythm of the music, but, how would I speak this if it was poetry (and it is!).  Again, it helps me to connect on a deeper level with the lyrics and to discover what lines and words demand more emphasis than others.  I also concentrate on speaking it from my resonance space (or ‘the mask’), and to support with my breath as I read, since that’s where I want to be singing from.

3. Write out all the vowels

At this point I’ll simply write out the text again (in the next page in my notebook), and dissect all the vowel sounds.  I don’t know the ‘correct’ symbols to put for each vowel sound, I’ve kind of just made my own system up (and if you look close, I’ve even made a few mistakes on this copy).  But it helps me to know exactly what vowel shape I need to make for each syllable.  If I don’t start in the correct space, it’ll be flat, or less resonant that it could be otherwise, and if I don’t begin with the correct syllable, then it’ll will be less clearly communicated that it could be otherwise.

Be Still My Soul lyrics2

4. Sing the melody with one vowel

Next I will sing the entire melody on only one vowel sound.  I take it slowly, line by line and phrase by phrase making sure I can get the vocal line as connected as possible.  What I’m trying to do is to make sure that the entire melody is as seamless and connected as possible, all happening with consistent breath support and from the same resonance space.

5. Sing only vowels

Then I will begin to sing phrase by phrase only on the vowels…with No consonants.  I concentrate on making the transitions between vowels as seamless and smooth as possible. Then I’ll lengthen my phrases to entire lines.  Then my lines into verses.  And eventually I’ll sing the whole melody just on the vowels.

6. Add the consonants

At this point I begin to add the consonants.  Again, just doing a couple words at a time, and then a couple more, until slowly I connect the phrases into entire lines.

7. Sing the whole song

Eventually I’m ready to sing the whole song!

 

So that’s what I do.

I’m not the best singer in the world, by far, but this process helps me to be the best and most prepared I can be right now, and to continue to develop my craft as a singer and worship leader for the future.  The better I can help communicate the text, the easier it will be for my congregation to connect with and understand it, and in this beautiful way, the more my congregation can connect with the text, then the easier it is for them to connect with God, and the less it ends up being about me anyway.  It’s pretty cool.

 

But I’m sure that’s not the only way to prepare a song for worship.  What do you do each week? I’d love to hear!

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