What it means to lead singing
When one assumes the responsibility of leading congregational singing, several things are implied. Some of those are understood, and, apparently, some are not.
Those things generally understood include the following: selecting how many songs will be sung, selecting which songs will be sung, selecting how the songs will be sung (which verses, volume) and selecting the order of worship (songs, prayers, scripture reading, the Lord’s Supper, the sermon).
However, there are other responsibilities that song leaders accept when agreeing to lead the congregation in song in the Lord’s church. These must not be so obvious, because there are a number of men in charge of the song service who do not practice this aspect of leading. Those responsibilities include the following:
1. Get the pitch correct: A pitching aid (pitch pipe, smartphone app, etc.) can do this. Estimates are that one in 10,000 people possesses perfect pitch, which would include starting a song on the right note without an aid. It is also a fact that most a cappella groups tend to “flat” (or drop in pitch) as the song progresses. So, a song starting lower than on pitch will be even lower by the end of the song. What is a comfortable pitch for you may not be comfortable for everyone else; there is a reason songs are pitched as they are on the printed page. The wrong pitch pulls everyone away from the words and gets them worrying about hitting the really high or low notes. It hurts the worship.
2. Get the pacing correct: Pacing — how quickly or how slowly the song is led — is determined within the first few words. Decide this ahead of time, and start the song at the pace you intended. If you are going to get it wrong, it is better to start it too quickly rather than too slowly.
3. Keep the pacing consistent throughout the song: All congregations tend to slow down as the song progresses; it is just a fact of life. If you start the song too slowly, it will only get slower; better to start too quickly than too slowly. Here are some other pointers to help with pacing:
• Assert yourself. Keep the pace of the song as you originally intended. Be willing to “go solo” for a few words at the faster pace; the group will initially go a little silent on you, but they will immediately pick up on your attempt to renew the pace of the song. The beginning of a new verse is an easier time to accomplish this than in the middle of a verse. Most will appreciate your effort to keep up the pace.
• Use your hand to beat the time for your pacing. Although many members seldom look away from the hymnal or the overhead regardless of how many times they have sung the song, this could help. Make the motions meaningful. Each measure has a specific number of beats; merely waving or even beating off-count is more confusing than no visual support at all.
• Move closer to the microphone (if available) so the group can hear you. How can you lead if they cannot hear you? It makes no sense to announce the number so it can be heard and then step back from the microphone so you cannot be heard. If you cannot be heard, then you are definitely not leading.
• Finally, singing songs too slowly hurts the worship. Singers cannot maintain their breath through a phrase and cannot, as a result, focus on the words of the song as they slog their way through a “draggy” rendition.
Leading singing is not simply getting them started and blending into the baptistry.
Once you agree to this leadership role in the worship, there are responsibilities that you have accepted. Congregational singing can be tremendously inspiring and uplifting or uninspiring and un-motivating; the song leader can make that difference. Work on these things so that your song leading can enhance the worship and not detract from it.
RIC KEASTER worships with — and shares in the leading of singing for — the Rome Church of Christ in Proctorville, Ohio.