The Key to Worship Engagement

Choosing the right key for a song is like choosing a mate: everyone has their own way of doing it.

Few of us get it right.

The most frequent discussion revolves around this issue:

Should we keep the song in the key of the recording (often at nose-bleed-inducing heights), or do we adjust the key to fit the worship leader’s range?

This is the wrong question.

Think about it.

We, as worship leaders and musicians, are here to do two things:

  1. Honor and worship God with our gifts and talents.
  2. Point people to Christ through our gifts and talents.

We are not here to demonstrate our vocal ability, make ourselves sound good (yes, we must seek excellence; I’m talking about the heart here), or get our “music fix” for the week. This is not about us.

We are here for God and for others. Period.

So let me ask you: what should be our real consideration in choosing the key of a song?

That’s right. The congregation.

If the congregation cannot engage fully in the song because of the key, we have failed. Our whole goal in leading worship on Sunday morning in front of a bunch of people is to help them to engage in worship. If we just needed to use our gifts and talents to worship him personally we would not need to be in front of people. The fact that we are in front of people demonstrates that we are there to serve them.

All of our decisions in worship leadership should revolve around this fact.

So when you want to introduce a new song to the congregation, in addition to considering the theology and musical qualities of the song, consider the range.

  1. The melody should generally fit between a D in the bottom and a D in the top – one octave. Over a D both women and men start to drop out. Below D the singing is weaker.
  2. Some songs that stay within in this range are still barely singable because the majority of the notes lie at the top of that range. This concentration of notes in a line of music is called the tesitura of the line. The tesitura of a successful song is usually in the middle between the two D’s.
  3. On rare occasions a small allowance should be made for the lead guitarists. If, and I said IF, you wish the lead guitarists to play the exact solo on the recording, you need to consult them on your key choice to see how the solo transfers to the new key. The lead guitarists need to make the new key work 99% of the time (capo!!), but occasionally you will need to compromise a bit.
  4. Sometimes it MAY be necessary to compromise between the congregation’s needs and the worship leader’s needs, but if you compromise I strongly recommend that you only use ONE (1) key for the song, regardless of who the worship leader is. Why? The congregation needs continuity. They don’t know when you have changed the key, but they will find themselves singing differently. We, the musicians, must think for them.
  5. Sometimes a song is just so powerful that the benefits overwhelm the drawbacks, even drawbacks like a wide-ranging melody.

Just remember: we are here to serve people, not ourselves. We are here to draw people to Christ, not to have a warm, fuzzy spiritual moment ourselves.

Are you asking the right questions about your songs?

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