The Church Musician at Work, Part 3

by vernsanders on March 23, 2010

I am posting about some of the things I talked about with a group of Brehm Center students earlier this month at Fuller Seminary. My task was to lead them through a couple of chapters of Bob Kauflin‘s recent worship book, and share some of my perspectives based upon 40+ years of being a professional church musician. Part 1 of this series (on letting the congregation hear themselves sing) is here. Part 2 of the series (on tech issues) is here.

Kauflin says this, about musical transitions:

“[Misconception:] Playing a song faster will make people worship God more passionately. Not necessarily. Usually it just means that they’ll have a harder time thinking about the words…Speed doesn’t equal spiritual impact.”

Ah…the “louder, faster, higher” syndrome.

I couldn’t agree more. Every tune has that “pocket,” where the tempo is just right. Finding the pocket is tricky, though. The most common problem here is believing “the tempo on the recording is the only tempo possible.” Not true.

If the recording was done live, for instance, in an outdoor arena, the tempo might be significantly different than if it was done in an intimate studio, or in a reverberant church. There is no way to find the “best” pocket in a particular space on a particular day except by instinct, experience, and acoustics. Yes, the recorded tempo is a very good guideline. But if you have a small worship space would you turn up the sound to the same levels as that outdoor arena?

Wait a minute…that’s another problem…sigh…

But back to finding the tempo pocket. The most efficient way to get to the pocket is to find the tempo at which your ensemble can manage the most complicated textual phrase at a speed that can be clearly understood by the listeners.

In other words, look for the problem spot or spots. Sing through those spots at a tempo that you and the congregation can manage while still communicating the text with meaning.

In a tune like (bear with me…I’m using examples that I figure most people will know) As the Deer, if you can sing “panteth for the water” at a speed that is intelligible you should be fine…and that’s not a difficult proposition. In The All Day Song, “Love Him in the morning when you see the sun arisin’” presents a bit more difficulties, and will become mush at a blistering tempo.

In concert you can push the speed for artistic effect. No problem. But when a congregation is singing along, give them a chance to sing the line and their participation will increase significantly.

The reverse is also true. A traditional hymn, in a typical acoustic, does not need to be a dirge. Move it along, using the text as a guide to find the pocket, and you’ll find that the congregation is more engaged.

What do you think? Do you have any trouble finding the pocket? Any tips or strategies? Please leave a comment and let me know what you do.

You can follow me on twitter here
Join me on facebook here

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Vicki Carr June 3, 2010 at 11:59 am

I have. Tendency to push the tempo a bit. so I am grateful for a really good drummer who has a keen sense of tempo. I find that if the written accompaniment doesn’t fall easily under the fingers, we’re going too fast. And if I find myself needing to do a lot of “fill” we are singing too slowly.

Previous post:

Next post: