Contemporary Music

It is important in our worship that we in some measure experience the “opening of the doors of the spirit”.  There are all sorts of doors which need to open: doors of grief, burden, hurt, fear, worry, sadness, joy.  Furthermore, our desire to experience that which is beautiful, and good, and true represents a hunger for God in our lives. There is a tremendous hunger for transcendence in worship I believe; to know more than that which is part of our finite lives.  Clearly, a live worship experience is vibrant with “untellable recognition” and I sense that when worship really happens, that our lives are reconfigured into “eternal mode”.  – Thomas Troeger, Trouble at the Table

When ministry becomes performance, then the sanctuary becomes a theater, the congregation becomes an audience, worship becomes entertainment, and man’s applause and approval become the measure of success. But when ministry is for the glory of God, his presence moves into the sanctuary. Even the unsaved visitor will fall down on his face, worship God, and confess that God is among us. – Warren and David Wiersbe

Acoustics are usually the last thing we think of in building design and the first obstacle we confront when trying to preach, or sing, or worship in a room. What the floor is to a dancer, acoustics are to a musician. “No doubt, if you put a musician into a great live acoustical environment they will automatically get feedback from that environment and play [or sing] better.”  – Hans Zimmer (composer)

Here we will present resources for learning to more effectively lead worship music through a Folk Group or Praise Team. These resources include a growing list of effective (tried and true) contemporary songs for congregational singing sorted by church season (see link below). Also a collection of “how to’s” in both video and Q & A formats on everything from visual presentation, to the use of and arranging for melodic instruments such as flute, trumpet, oboe, violin, etc., to the use of the guitar and bass, to the use of percussion instruments, to the use of digital and acoustic keyboards, and to more effective miking of the group as well as testing balance, sound mix, and volumes. It’s a tall order.

We encourage you to look under the main heading Hymns and Spiritual Songs for a church season Worship Planner (Years A, B, and C). For a philosophy of leading, participating in, and choosing music for Praise Teams and Folk Groups we encourage you to read the fine offering from The Rev. Joe Gasberre under the Pastor and Church Musician Relationship main heading. Also the offering from Mark K. Williams under Music Leadership Philosophy is worth a look. And finally, you will find several excellent articles on the effective use of and leadership of contemporary music in worship, as well as criteria for how to successfully choose contemporary songs, under both the Hymns and Spiritual Songs and the Keyboards main headings.

Word to is a helpful website committed to helping find contemporary worship songs based on Scripture. The website also has a link to the ACNA Lectionary ACNA Lectionary | Word to Worship and includes a vast collection of songs, most with YouTube links. We are impressed with the size of the collection here as well as the liturgical indexing. We also encourage users to be judicious in utilizing these extensive resources and in this to strive to choose songs clearly written for congregational participation (easily sung/quality melodies, few complex rhythms, vocal ranges no lower than the A below middle C and no higher than high D or E in the soprano range) and not music composed as materials meant for a soloist. We also encourage the printing or projection of lead sheets with printed melodies and words togethers so that the entire assembly is not corralled into learning every new song by ear. Printed melodies provide worshippers with a graph of pitch movement and basic rhythm indications and allow those who have some skill at following music to aid the assembly in learning new music both more quickly and more successfully.


Video on effectively leading Contemporary Songs at the piano from a Lead Sheet –

Best book on composing and arranging songs:  36 Song Arrangement Tips for the Small Recording Studio: Practical Arrangement Tips to Take Your Songs to the Next Level – Amos P. Clarke

Finally, a user-friendly and well-written book on successfully composing and arranging song.  Although the title communicates a focus on studio artists and producers, the book is entirely applicable to composers and arrangers of sacred song, both experienced and inexperienced. In my experience, far too many worship songs have been written without the proven fundamentals of good composition in play.  Without the use of these time-proven essentials, many composed songs and arrangements wind up with complicated rhythms, are solo artist rather than congregation focused, and have melodies which wander or fall flat as they are not memorable melodies that take the singers, the worshippers, on a journey.  That is a journey with God as the audience and a melody that illustrates and reveals the text with craftsmanship and profound simplicity for the worshippers.  As you will see, worship songs with staying power, the ones with lasting intrinsic value, are the ones that employ many of the excellent essential principles communicated in Amos Clarke’s book.

36 Song Arrangement Tips for the Small Recording Studio: Practical Arrangement Tips to Take Your Songs to the Next Level is a must for any musician who wants to successfully compose a new or arrange an already composed song for a congregation, a worship band, or a church folk group.  No doubt, inspiration from the Holy Spirit has undergirded many a successful sacred composition. At the same time, the Lord exhorts us to “play skillfully” and to “sing with the heart and with the mind also”. This book will significantly aid church musicians toward these ends.

Written in highly compact but powerful and easily accessible chapters of 2-3 pages in length, the book is filled with indispensable approaches to successful composition and arranging.  We cannot more highly recommend Mr. Clarke’s book.  If this topic is a need, a desire, and you want to improve your own ministry, get this book!  You will not regret your purchase.


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