Teaching Your Vocalists to Sing Harmony

When I was growing up everyone in my Mennonite community sang harmony. We had no instruments in church, so voices filled out the parts.

Today finding a singer who knows harmony can be difficult.

So how can you teach your melody-centric singers to sing harmony?

A lot of materials have been published, but for now here are a few key building blocks for teaching harmony.

1. Always have a recording on which to base your harmonies so that your singers have a quality guide for practice.

2. Clearly notate the harmonies in the recordings. This way singers can learn to read music by comparing the written music and recording as they learn the song by rote.

This step is easier than it seems. Either use a source like Praisecharts or Paul Baloche’s charts, or find a college music student who needs cash and hire them to transcribe the melody and harmonies.

3. Teach these written out harmonies by rote for those who do not read music; those who read music will love having their exact part in front of then and will help you teach the other singers.

If you are a worship leader and do not read music, recruit someone your team who does read music to be the vocal music director for you. Then take a music theory course and beef up your skills.

4. Point out the harmonic choices you or the recording artist made in the arrangement so that your singers begin to understand how you think and what you are listening for.

Example: Please, for goodness sake, do not put a minor 7th in the harmonies unless you are singing southern Gospel or jazz! From the Inside Out is neither of these!

5. Do not just tell your singers to figure out the harmonies themselves unless you are in a hard spot. Even excellent singers who have sung with you for a long time will make different decisions than you would and you will end up wasting rehearsal time getting everyone on the same page.

Winging it and freestyle are nice with pros, but in the minor leagues of worship ministry you need to firmly direct your singers in learning harmonies. The result will be an extremely tight harmonic sound.

How do you teach harmonies to your singers?

How Do I Make My Volunteers Feel Valued?

Simple.  Value what they value.

“Easier said than done,” you say.

Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Here are some ways to find out what your volunteers value:

  1. Ask them.  I am amazed at how often I or anyone else can miss the obvious.
  2. Remember what you valued when you were a volunteer.  You haven’t been a leader all your life, most likely.  What did you care about when you were just a band member?
  3. Listen to what they talk about.  Again, this is blatantly obvious, but I can miss it sometimes.
  4. Ask them about the best gift they have ever received, and why it was the best gift.

In the past I have found that volunteers value several things.

  1. Time.  Especially with families, time is of the essence, as they say.  One of the best ways you can value your volunteers is by beginning and ending on time.  I try to make it a point to begin on time regardless of whether or not everyone has arrived.  There has to be a benefit to arriving on time or early, and there needs to be a penalty of arriving late, even if the penalty is unspoken.
  2. Appreciation.  Volunteers will pour out their lives for you if you simply thank them sincerely for what they do.  Incidentally, you also need to live out your appreciation.  You can’t bawl out your musician for destroying a musical phrase, then “thank” them for sacrificing their time to be on the team, and then expect them to feel appreciated.  Your attitude and actions, as well as your words, need to be appreciative to them and their families.
  3. Pastoral leadership.  Being a pastor really has nothing to do with ordination or licensure.  Pastoral leadership has everything to do with your heart.  You can be a janitor and also pastor your volunteers; you simply need to care for them, ask them about their lives, pray with them, and follow up on their concerns to see how they are doing.  Just because you are not ordained does not mean you get to care less; you must still pastor your volunteers if you want them to grow and love serving with you.

What do your volunteers value?

To go deeper, check out this post on empathy by Seth Godin, “If I Were You . . .”

The Difference Between Worship Leaders and Spiritual Leaders

Did you think these were one and the same thing?  Never thought about it?  I have only begun to think about this recently.

Worship leaders and spiritual leaders can be the same person, but that is not a given.  In fact, in my experience worship leaders have to learn to be spiritual leaders.

For instance, I grew up playing on worship bands.  By the time I was finishing high school I was leading worship from time to time, and by the time I graduated college I was the primary worship leader at my dad’s church.  After grad school I took a job at a church and became the primary worship leader there in both the traditional and the contemporary services.

I’ve been leading worship for over 20 years now, but only in the past 5 years have I actually began to be a spiritual leader.

I have noticed some key differences between worship leaders and spiritual leaders.

  1. Worship leaders lead and prepare teams to lead events.  Spiritual leaders lead people.
  2. Worship leaders choose music to propel the theme of a service or fit a particular “slot” in the service.  Spiritual leaders choose music to speak to people’s hearts, and then think about the theme.
  3. Worship leaders hold rehearsals for events.  Spiritual leaders use rehearsals to find out where the team members are in their own walk with God.

Spiritual leaders care most about the people they are leading, not the product.

I have spent much of my life trying to be excellent in music and produce good services.  These are good things.  The problem is, I was pursuing those goals ahead of caring about the people on my teams.

If you want to be a spiritual leader and not just a worship leader or some other kind of leader, here are a few thoughts to consider.

  1. People are most important.  Period.
  2. Because people are most important, you will need to sacrifice other things in order to succeed in keeping people as a top priority.
  3. In rehearsal sometimes we have to let a detail go for the sake of encouraging the volunteer rather than running the volunteer into the ground for the sake of perfection.  Note: This does not mean horrible intonation and sister Mary’s autoharp get to go unaddressed.  This does mean that a missed note here or there is not the end of the world.
  4. Prayer, group sharing, and devotions are critical in rehearsals, not just music.  Note: This does not give you license to hold a revival meeting instead of rehearsal.  This does mean you should take 15 minutes to help your volunteers prepare their hearts and support each other with God’s help.
  5. In a service a slight change on the fly to meet a discovered need is worth a few seconds of disarray.  I have my mentor, Stephen Michael Newby, to thank for this.  He likes to shout “Reggae” and other random musical styles in the middle of a song and expects his players to switch the style.  Needless to say, he only does this when working with higher level musicians, but there always are a few moments of disarray.  The overall result is awesome, though, and Stephen makes these changes when he feels it will help bring people along in worship, not to be “cool.”
  6. If you have to choose between writing a cool new song for the service and having a coffee with a volunteer, choose the volunteer.

As you love people, people will love you and God will bless you.  Worship leading becomes much easier when you are a spiritual leader first, because suddenly people want to follow you where’ve you are leading them.

In fact, musical excellence will thrive when an excellent worship leader is also an excellent spiritual leader.

Your team members will relax and perform better because as a spiritual leader you have demonstrated that you care more about them than you do about whether they are perfectly executing a piece of music.

What changes do you need to make in order to be a better spiritual leader?

When in Doubt, Throw It Out

My dad used this phrase yesterday when I mentioned that I was not happy with my blog post.

Yesterday morning I wrote down some thoughts quickly during breakfast that I thought were very good at the time. Later on, though, I felt uneasy.

I like to let things set a bit or read them through several times before I publish them, but yesterday I did not.

First I took 5 minutes and made a small change. Finally I came back later and deleted the whole thing, as well as the links on my social networks.

Almost immediately I felt better.

The saying, “When in doubt, throw it out,” can apply to a lot of things in life, not just blog posts. If you feel uncomfortable about a decision, change it or make it right. Better yet, don’t make it at all if you can.

I know I would have done well in the past to follow this little bit of wisdom.

What is bothering you that you need to “throw out?”

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Fail, Fail Again.

I wish someone had told me this is elementary school, don’t you?  I wish someone had told me it was alright to fail, that I most likely WOULD fail.  A lot.  That failure was even necessary.

And I should celebrate it.

Think about it.  When you have you learned the most in your life?

Have you learned the most when you succeeded on a grand scale, or when you have colossally failed?  I would wager you have learned the most in the latter circumstance.

I have.

I tell my musicians that I would rather them make a huge, loud mistake than play or sing timidly and make an unheard mistake.  Here’s why:

  1. I can only help them fix the mistakes I hear.  Timid musicians never improve.  You must risk yourself to improve.
  2. Timid musicians rob us of all the good stuff.  While you play quietly for fear of making a mistake, chances are 75% of what you do will still be good.  Who cares, though?  If you play quietly, I will never hear you.  You might as well turn off your guitar or mouth the words.

When you are tempted to timidly toe dunk into a risky world where you might fail, think about this:

  1. Risk is required for improvement.  Make a mistake.  The worst that could happen is that you could *gasp* find an area to improve.
  2. Don’t selfishly rob us of your successes.  Yes, embracing risk, whatever it is, pretty much guarantees some failure somewhere.  If you shy away from risk for fear of failing, however, you are going to rob us of all your successes along the way.

By the way, I have been thinking about this topic because, well, I need to hear it as much as you do.  So skip the toe dunk for a cannonball, OK?  I’m right there with you.

Where do you need to take a risk even though you might fail?

What Do Andy Stanley, Marketing, and Good Marriages Have in Common?

If you’re thinking that Andy Stanley did a marketing campaign about a marriage series, perhaps he did, but that is not the link.

Better yet, perhaps Andy Stanley used a marketing scheme when he was pursuing marriage and looking for a partner.

Nope.  Creative thinking, though.  I’d love to read THAT story.

No, Andy Stanley, marketing and marriage share one thing:



That’s right.

Michael Hyatt, in his blog post 3 Characteristics of the New Marketing, said:

The new marketing is fueled by generosity. As we were looking over the menu (at The Southern in Nashville), the server brought us free BBQ Shrimp and Oyster Southern appetizers. This was totally unexpected—and wonderfully delicious.

In today’s environment, the way to create wow experiences is to define your customers’ expectations then exceed them. This is exactly what our server did. As it turns out, “It is more blessed to give that to receive” is a brilliant marketing strategy.

Websites like Copyblogger talk all the time about how good content + generosity = successful marketing, which is completely the opposite of old/traditional marketing (think car salesman hard selling you on a lemon).  In the post A 7-Step Guide to Mind Control: How to Quit Begging and Make People Want to Help You, Jonathan Morrow says:

This isn’t about “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” It’s about generosity so overwhelming they can’t say no.

In a top message series at Northpoint Community Church Andy Stanley, the lead pastor, spoke about Staying in Love, and in the fourth installment, Multiple Choice Marriage, Andy points out one of the key choices we have to make.  Couples often have to make this choice daily or even multiple times per day.

We must choose whether or not to be generous with our partner.

When your partner forgets to do something, you can go negative or positive.  Option 1 is to assume that your partner is incompetent and, worse yet, does not care about you or the marriage.  Option 2 is to assume that your partner may have had a bad day and completely lost track of what he or she needed to do.

Be generous with your partner.  Over . . and over . . and over . . again, like Jesus was with you and me.

Give grace, because you are going to need it soon enough.

How can you be more generous in your relationships?

Thinking Like a Graduate Might Save Your Life

One of my favorite authors is Shauna Niequist, author of Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines.  This past Saturday she spoke at the Azusa Pacific University commencement, and she just posted her speech two days ago.

I love this speech.  She is talking to graduates, but I feel like so many adults (myself included) have lots to learn from Shauna’s commencement speech.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” but he might as well have said, “Let the college graduate come to me.”

We are so busy accumulating things and “succeeding” (whatever that means) in life that we forget to stop and value what we have and who we are.

So stop.  Listen to what Shauna has to say, and see if her words don’t stir something deeper inside of you.  Here is a link to the speech as originally posted in her blog.

Forces of Nature

Thank you for having me. I am so incredibly honored to be with you today. I know that I am a little bit of an unconventional choice for a commencement speaker, but I’m okay with it if you are. I knew I was out of my natural habitat when I was asked if I would be bringing my own regalia. I did not bring my own regalia, first, because I didn’t know what it was, and second, because when I figured out what it was, I realized I certainly didn’t have any.

I’m not a scholar, or an expert in anything at all, but I graduated from a Southern California college very much like this one, on a day very much like this one fourteen years ago. That makes me about half a generation older than you. In half a generation, some things are still the same. The Dave Matthews Band, U2, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are still touring. Traffic is still the major topic of conversation in LA, and they’re still making Mission Impossible and Men in Black movies.

But a few things are really different. In 1998, Gwen Stefani was just a girl, and No Doubt was an Orange County band. Now the No Doubt guys are dads, and Gwen Stefani pretty much runs the world. When I graduated from college, you could bring anything you wanted on an airplane—liquids, weapons, etcetera. Also, when I graduated from college, many of you still had your baby teeth.

You all grew up with computers—that pesky half generation between us means that I remember a world without email, and you don’t. Also, when I was in college, no one was taking cell phone pictures of all the dumb things I did and posting them immediately on Facebook. For this I am very grateful.

One thing that has not changed at all is that we as a culture love to move on to the next thing, on to the next thing, on to the next thing. You’ve already experienced this, I’m sure. The second you started high school, people started talking to you about college. As soon as you arrived, people wanted to know your major and your plans after graduation. The bad news is that this never stops. After you go on two great dates with the same person, your aunts and grandmas want to go ring shopping, and the moment you are pronounced husband and wife, someone will ask you about a baby.

I am not kidding when I tell you that one of my family members came to meet our baby Mac in the hospital—he’s seven months old now—and while he was holding this brand new baby, that sweet family member asked when we were thinking of having another baby. I thanked him for asking and told him I’d be delighted to revisit that conversation just as soon as I could walk again.

We tend, as a culture, to be future-focused, on to the next thing, but let’s not be so quick to move past what’s happened here, in this place, in this season. There are some ways of living that you’ve experienced in this context that I believe are so helpful for the new season you’re entering, ways of living I’d like to encourage you to keep for the next leg of the journey. 

First, as of today, you are no longer a college student. Congratulations! But my hope is that you will never, never, never stop being a student. Some of my favorite people in the world are people who possess an unquenchable curiosity about life, people who, no matter their age or accomplishments, are still learning, still asking questions, still willing to be wrong. 

Your formal education has concluded, but I cannot encourage you enough to continue your own education. Travel, read, ask questions, challenge assumptions, ask for help. Listen to people’s stories, ask good follow-up questions. Never assume that you know all there is to know about a place, a person, or a situation. Commit to being a life long-learner, a person of relentless curiosity.

And become a student of your own developing self. Pay attention to what moves you, what you love, what makes you angry, what makes you exhausted. There are no right answers to those kinds of questions, but if you don’t pay attention, you may find yourself several years down the road, living a life that looks good on paper, but doesn’t ring true to the deepest parts of you. That’s a terrible place to be. Become a student of what you love, because what you love flows out of the way God made you.

Another thing about college life that I would recommend you take with you is a commitment to living in community. The people that you’re sitting with right now are your tribe, the brotherhood and sisterhood of people who know you, who love you, and who will walk with you into an uncertain future. The relationships you’ve formed here are of great importance, and I urge you to continue to value and invest in these friendships and relationships.

Now may be the time goodbye to this town and this campus. But absolutely do not say goodbye to the people who have walked most closely with you during this season. This is just the beginning for many of your most significant experiences together. You have just barely laid the foundation—keep building, keep making memories, keep telling each other the truth, even when it’s hard. You cannot imagine how badly you’re going to need these friendships throughout your life. The people you’re sitting with today are your lifelines for the next passage—hold very tightly to them.

My best friend’s name is Annette, and we met the first week of our freshman year of college. A few years later, I stood in her wedding and then she stood in mine. I visited her in the hospital when her son was born, and then five months later, she visited me when Henry was born. Still now, after years and moves and babies and long distance, she teaches me and challenges me, tells me the truth and makes me laugh, and if my college experience had given me nothing else, it would have been worth it for that friendship.

Another aspect of college living that I think you should hang on to for a few years at least pertains to your stuff. Most college students have almost no stuff. When Annette and I drove my car back to Chicago after graduation, the only thing that wouldn’t fit was a twin bed I’d bought for $99, so I left it in the house I was moving out of, because some guys from my college were moving in after we left.

College living generally means all your earthly possessions can be stacked up in four crates and a duffel bag. You run a nimble organization, with very low overhead. That’s good. Stay with that for a while. There’s no need for a mortgage and bedroom set and media center. Decide, before you start accumulating things, what you want your life to be about, because you might find along the way that those things you thought you needed end up being the things that handcuff you to a lifestyle you don’t want. Stay nimble with low overhead, so that you can listen closely to the whisper of the spirit instead of the scream of financial obligations.

You may feel right now quite uncertain about the future, and you’re anticipating that one day, things will stop feeling so scary and foreign. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially on such a happy day, but that feeling will never come, not when you start your job or find your spouse or buy a home. That wiggly, sometimes scary feeling like anything could happen and you don’t totally know what’s next, that feeling is called life, and it would be best for you make friends with that feeling, because it will be with you for ever. It would be best as well for you to remind yourself that you’re not the only one feeling it. We tend to believe that everyone else has the answers to the most important questions, but I have it on good authority that everyone else is just as scared and uncertain as we are.

Dear graduates, this is the heart of what I want to tell you: God made you. He loves you, and he created you for a purpose. I used to think that purpose was singular—like I was made to be one thing and one thing only. But the more life I live, and the more things I become and un-become as life progresses, the more I realize that he’s not calling me to be a certain thing, but rather that he’s calling me to live a certain way. He’s created me and calls me to address the world’s need with my gifts, with my heart and my mind, with my hands and my voice.

It’s very easy to wait around on the sidelines for your very specific, perfectly-fitted part to play. But in my experience, you might find yourself waiting around for a long time. In my experience, God uses willing hands, not spectacular ones. He uses passionate people, not extraordinarily-gifted ones. We all want to feel that sense of everything coming together, our gifts and our passions and our life experiences. We all want to have that “I was made for this” feeling. In my experience, the way to that feeling is to put on your boots and get to work.

Start where you can, when you can, with what you have. Start with your belief that God loves you, and that he made you on purpose and for a purpose. Not for a moment, but for an ongoing lifestyle of service and sacrifice and vision. Don’t wait around and expect that amazing experience to come find you and tap you on the shoulder. Start making the world better every day, every day, every day, with your hands and your resources and your love and your willingness and your belief and along the way, you will find your place. 

In the twentieth chapter of Acts, Paul wrote “I consider my life worth nothing to me, in order that I may testify solemnly to the goodness of the gospel of the grace of God.” That’s the heart of it all. God made a deeply beautiful and multifaceted world, and along the way, that beautiful world became broken, still very beautiful, but now also very broken.

This is where it gets exciting. You can make it better. You can testify to the goodness of the gospel of the grace of God. You can bring the garden back to life. You can stand in the way of injustice, or isolation, or abuse. You can sing or dance or teach or write stories that call us back to our better selves. You can be architects and speech therapists and scientists and athletes and pastors who give themselves, in daily, unglamorous ways to making the actual world better, to beating back the darkness and bringing light and life and motion and healing to the corner of the world that you’ve been called to.

In the words of George Bernard Shaw “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. 
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Dear graduates: the life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask, and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.

Your life, right now, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages, because they all are. Every life is.

You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, as though that was not enough, the God of the Universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.

You are more than dust and bones.

You are spirit and power and image of God.

And you have been given today.

How have Shauna’s words impacted you?