Creating A Dynamic Worship Set

Jimi Williams —  October 24, 2013

Creating A Dynamic Worship Set
A few months ago we talked about how to choose songs for your setlist. Now we have five more things to consider when planning your worship set:

THEME

Not every church gathering is going to have a theme or even a subject focus. Many pastors I’ve served under are still forming their sermons on Thursday for the coming Sunday. However, if you do have a theme, it’s powerful to plan songs with the same theme to create touch points with the sermon. For example, if the sermon is on grace, at least a couple of songs with a grace theme, like “Your Grace Is Enough”, will help connect worship to the teaching. You can search for songs by theme at www.WorshipTogether.com.

TEMPO & DYNAMICS

A worship set should have some sort of dynamic flow. This is usually created by planning songs of different tempos in a way that takes the congregation to your chosen destination (see point 5). It’s very boring to sing four songs of similar tempos, so variety is the key. There’s no rule for whether to sing faster songs at the beginning and slower songs at the end. I’ve seen this done very effectively both ways. If you want to end your worship time in a quiet, reverent manner, plan your upbeat celebration songs at the beginning of your set. You can search for songs by tempo at www.WorshipTogether.com.

KEYS

Along with different tempos, it’s good to sing songs in different keys for variety. The “key” to song keys is: (a) picking keys that the congregation can sing, and (b) thinking through how you will transition from one song to another (see point 4).

A good rule of thumb on keys for congregational singing is to keep the lowest note above a Bb and the highest note lower than an Eb. This will ensure that everyone can sing along. Just because Chris Tomlin can sing an F note on “How Great Is Our God”, doesn’t mean your church can. Be sure to choose keys that push the top register and not the bottom. Singing songs in too low of a key will kill the energy. You can search for songs by key at www.WorshipTogether.com.

TRANSITIONS

The difference between a great or awkward worship set are the transitions between songs. Periods of unplanned silence, while your band looks for charts or you take a drink of water, will make your congregation feel uneasy. During your rehearsal, think through how you will get from song 1 to song 2 with minimal disruption.

If song 1 is in the same key as song 2, you can easily transition to the new song without stopping playing.  If you are changing keys, you can have a keyboard player transition into the new key with a pad sound. If you can’t transition musically, then think about transitioning with a Scripture or encouraging the congregation to worship.

DESTINATIONS

I touched on this above in the Tempo & Dynamics section. You need to decide where you want your congregation to be when the music finishes. Do you want them in an atmosphere of awe and reverence of who God is and what He’s done? Do you want them to be celebrating God’s mighty works? Is there a certain song that your Pastor would like sung right before the sermon? If the music is after the sermon, do you want people to leave church on an upbeat, celebration tone or quiet and somber?

Asking yourself these questions will help determine how to plan your songs to achieve your destination.

Jimi Williams

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Jimi is VP of Worship Resources for Capitol CMG Publishing, overseeing all Worship Together initiatives and resources. He also leads worship at his home church and at various events and conferences.

11 responses to Creating A Dynamic Worship Set

  1. Thanks for the write up, and I definitely agree with most of it. My only rebuttal would be that I think, if done correctly, it’s okay to push the bottom register depending on what you’re going for. In my opinion slower, more reverent songs or slower songs of self reflection bring the mood out better if the push the lower end, not the higher end.

    • God gave us a vocal range and it seems like over the last few years people are forgetting there’s a low end to it.

  2. wow…this is interesting. Thanks to the writer.

  3. What about songs that contain an octave jump? Sometimes the range in those songs are and octave and a 3rd, or an octave and a 5th! Example, Forever Reign, Jesus Only Jesus, Burning in my soul

    Do I just teach a different melody? That would be confusing for my band.

    • Personally speaking, I will sometimes pull an octave jump out. I lead at a smaller Church (about 100 people) and often times octave jumps don’t go over as well as they do at bigger churches. If the song still works without the jump (Here For You being an example) I’ll just eliminate the octave jump. I can then move the entire song up a couple steps putting it in comfortable singing range.

      As worship leaders, I think it’s important for us to feel the freedom to alter songs as needed so they will work best with our Church, rather than trying to do them how they are recorded. With that said, each situation is definitely different and needs to be handled differently.

    • I completely agree with Jason’s reply. Our church uses that principle on “Lord I Need You.” We place it in Eb so that’s in a good range for men and women (Eb-Bb). On mics, we start with a solo guy. When it gets to the octave jump, we bring in a woman on mic so that you get the effect of the octave jump while keeping the song in a comfortable range for everyone! It has worked really well. We do something similar on “One Thing Remains” too among others.

  4. Good article. However, the section on keys propagates a few misunderstandings about range. The pop idiom combined with less and less vocal training for the population at large has most people singing exclusively in their chest voices. For basses, the the range is A3-D4. For tenors, C3-F4. For Altos, A4-Bb5. For Sopranos, C4-C5. SO, if you really want everyone to sing, men AND women, C-Bb is ideal. This brings in the idea of tessitura – comfortable range. It’s good to bring in the range extremes to a limited amount (low Bbs, high Bb-E [depending on male of female lead]), but the majority of the song should fall in a comfortable tessitura (C-A).

    So, if you want men and women to both sing, I would say C-A is the ideal tessitura. Throughout the set, have songs that cater to each voice range individually, but again, the majority of notes (tessitura) ideally are C-A. Remember, half or more of your congregation is made up of women…they’re often forgotten when it comes to keys and music in general.

    • The bass range should have read A2-D4, not A3-D4.

    • Studies have shown that if it’s in a range hard for a woman to sing, she generally adjust and keep singing while if it’s in a range hard for a male, he’ll stop singing.

      With that being said I like your thought process here! I can hit higher notes, but I don’t push my songs there because I know many men can’t. On the other end…my female vocalists have what I would consider the average female range and if it’s not comfortable for them to sing I usually adjust it accordingly. If done correctly a band can bring much energy to a song without it having to be at the peak vocal range.

      • Thanks for the reply, Jason! That’s a great point about women adjusting more readily than men. Now that I think about, I definitely find that to be true…especially on girl led songs. On girl led songs, maybe I’ll start having a guy sing the first few words of solo sections with the girl leader so that the men in the congregation know where to place the melody in their voice. Doing the same for women on guy led songs would probably be good too…so that women can have an example of when to start mixing and, ultimately, when to fully switch to head voice.

  5. Ewald van Huyssteen October 25, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    I like this statement and important for the group to be able to sing along; A good rule of thumb on keys for congregational singing is to keep the lowest note above a Bb and the highest note lower than an Eb.