6 Ways Notated Charts Can Strengthen Your Church

If there are silver bullets in worship ministry, notated charts may be one of them. Notated charts have been one of my most powerful tools.  

Good notated charts have enabled me to more effectively guide musicians and raise engagement within the congregation.  I have also been able to bring the vision of my senior pastor to life time and time again especially because I employed notated charts with my teams.

Whether I was leading Deathbed by Relient K for an Easter service drama, Who Am I Living For by Katy Perry for a message on purpose in life, or It Was Finished on the Cross by Regi Stone and Kristie Braselton as a response to the message, notated charts have been critical in enabling the church to have truly life changing worship experiences.  

Here is what I mean by notated charts:

  • Notated melodies and harmonies
  • Chord symbols
  • No tab
  • Rhythms notated using actual notes for solos along with a mixture of rhythmic and slash notation
  • Lyrics with the melody, and only lyric cues for the rhythm part
  • Occasional notated drum patterns as guides
  • Tempo markings (descriptor as well as numerical and note values)

Have you tuned out yet?  Hello . . . McFly?

For those of you who have not studied music, set that aside for a moment and just go with me on this.

For those of you who think I have tuned out the work of the Holy Spirit all together, consider that teaching is a spiritual gift and notated charts are part of teaching your musicians to lead on a higher level.

Here are a few reasons NOT to use notated music with your musicians:

  1. To screen out “lesser” musicians.  You are not running the local philharmonic.  Musicians in church need to use their gifts to honor God and bless others, not live up to your expectations.
  2. To help you achieve your “dream” music team.  It’s not about you.  Period.  Get your musical kicks elsewhere.
  3. To impress professional musicians.  It’s not about them, either.  Oh, and impressing others means you’re still stuck on stroking your own ego, which we just mentioned.
  4. To impress your musical and worship colleagues.  Last time I checked this was not about you.  Again.
  5. To achieve your worldwide mission to restore the arts through the church.
I have been guilty of using every one of these excuses either consciously or subconsciously as a reason to use notated music.  I love to be good at music, and I can be a perfectionist in a moment if I am not careful.

Humans have an amazing tendency to be selfish and arrogant, even in church leadership.  Actually, Andy Stanley has said in a recent podcast Courage in Leadership that leaders are even more susceptible than the average person.  We as leaders have to constantly guard against self-centered-ness.

Christ is all about people, and we should be, too.

Why you should use notated music with your worship team:

  1. Every musician, especially those in the church, should be committed to improving their ability.  In the Parable of the Talents Jesus tells the story of three servants to whom the master entrusts his wealth.  Two servants double his investment, but the third is afraid and hides the master’s money.  The master comes back and is furious with the lazy servant.  Jesus expects us to improve and maximize the investment he has made in us.  We want children to graduate from picture books because they can find a much wider world waiting for them; why do we not want adults to see the wider world waiting for them through notated music?
  2. Notated charts unify worship teams.  One of the reasons I notate the melodies and harmonies of worship songs is to answer questions before they are asked.  Any musician on the team can pull out the chart and know exactly where they are supposed to sing harmony or unison, and exactly what those parts are.  The same goes for the rhythm players.  So much rehearsal time can be wasted arguing over what note someone is supposed to sing.  Good leaders answer questions before they are asked.
  3. Notated charts ensure a reliable experience for your team members.  Musicians love to know what to expect, so when you provide reliable charts that look exactly the same every time you are helping them to learn and feel at ease, and you are also saving tons of prep/rehearsal time for them.
  4. Notated charts help ensure the congregation hears a consistent product.  One of the best ways to annoy your church attendees is to sing a song’s melody slightly different every week.  These are amateur musicians at best, shower singers most often, and they are used to learning songs that are exactly the same every time they hear them.  Do you want to up your engagement in the services?  Sing a melody exactly the same every time.
  5. Notated charts save rehearsal time.  In the long run well written and notated charts can save you tons of time in rehearsal, and who doesn’t love that?  Yes, I said the long run, but it is worth it.  Love your team by giving them more time at home.
  6. Notated charts enable your team to play more difficult music.  Above you see the first page of a chart I made for Paradise by Coldplay.  Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, used this song yesterday in their Easter services.  This song is too complex to be well adapted from a chord chart.

You may have noticed by now that every one of these reasons have to do with improving the worship experience for either the congregation or the musicians.  Embracing notated charts can open up great possibilities for unifying your musicians, engaging your congregation, and realizing your senior pastor’s vision.

How could your church benefit from notated charts?

5 Steps to Improve Your Preparation

Do you remember the parable of the talents?  In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the story of a man going on a journey who entrusts his property to three servants.  Two of the servants invest the talents and double their investment.  The third, however, buries his talent and returns it unimproved.  The master is furious with him, gives his talent to the one with ten, and then throws out the lazy servant.

Until God returns we are to be improving the talents God has given us, not accepting mediocrity.  In Luke 12:48 Jesus tells us that “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.”  Much has been given to us as worship leaders, and Christ expects us to use and improve it wisely.

Here are 5 steps that can help you improve your worship leadership and make the most of the talents God has given you.  When I have followed these principles, I have been able to plan more completely, worship more deeply, and lead more effectively.

Please note that I am assuming that you have an active relationship with Christ through prayer and Scripture reading; without an active relationship these steps will simply make you a better musician, not a better worship leader.

1.  Listen.  I always provide an example mp3 for me and my team members to base our song preparation upon.  Listening well means

  • clearly hearing your part on the recording
  • hearing how you are or are not matching your part on the recording.
  • adjusting your playing or singing to match the recording

The improvisational and seasoned musicians will balk at using recordings as a guide, arguing that we should not be a cover band.  True, but the band that recorded the song has spent countless hours perfecting an arrangement that is orchestrated well and flows well.  We would be wise to make use of their practice and not re-invent the wheel, particularly in an environment where we are teaching volunteers how to play as a band.  Consider the recording a free masterclass with world class musicians.

You can do this while driving, walking, or any number of things; just get the music in your blood.

2.  Read.  The chart you provide for the vocalists and instrumentalists should completely mirror your example recording to reinforce the listening we just discussed and to teach reading skills.  Reading is

  • being able to decode and follow the written music in your preparation and in rehearsal if necessary
  • being able to match the written music with what you hear in the recording to give you a fuller picture of how to prepare
  • being able to notice when something in the written music does not match with the recording so that you can address it before the rehearsal

Part of your preparation should always include sitting down and listening to the recording with the music in hand, followed by playing/singing through the music with the recording.

Did I mention that following these steps will reduce rehearsal time?  Who wouldn’t want that?

3.  Feel.  After you have learned all of the songs you need to personally practice the songs as a set; don’t wait for rehearsal to practice the songs as a set.  Feeling is

  • being able to experience a song well enough to feel and sense how it should connect to the next song, move from section to section, and fit into the bigger picture of the service.

At Lakeshore Community Church the Creative Arts Pastor, Frank De Luccio, refers to the service as a story, and the main point of the service as the moral of the story.  Worship leaders and musicians must be able to feel how a song fits into the story.  When I have made mistakes in worship planning I have often tracked the mistake back to not truly feeling how a piece fits into the big picture.

In order to feel through a set of songs, sit down and listen to them without your instrument or the music or moving; be completely still.

4.  Worship.  Worshipping is

  • knowing your music so well (usually by memory) that you can actually worship individually and as a team and not just play or sing on Sunday, in the Sunday morning run-through, or in rehearsal.

We should be at this level before the mid-week rehearsal.  Am I always there?  No, but I should be.  After all, we are here to lead worship, aren’t we?  I am playing keyboards for a multi-church service this week, and writing this post has been a good reminder of what my priorities need to be as I prepare.

Musicians: To get to this place you need to play or sing and feel through your music often in the days before rehearsal.

Leaders: If you are in charge of planning, your team members will prepare better or worse based on whether or not you have the music to them a week ahead of rehearsal or not ahead at all.  You are responsible for their success.

5.  Lead.  Actually, this step is not a step at all.  If we have listened and read well, felt through the music, and worshipped personally to the music, we will be ready to actually lead others in worship.  You have heard me say it before, but it is true: You can only lead someone somewhere after you have been there yourself.

What practical steps do you take to prepare for worship?