Graham Kendrick’s Guide to Psalm Surfing

Graham Kendrick’s Guide to Psalm Surfing


We’ve been looking recently at ideas for spontaneous worship, inspired almost entirely by a seminar I attended by Graham Kendrick. In the last post I described how Graham uses a basic groove and perhaps a chord sequence to provide a foundation for singing in an improvised style from the Psalms. I’ve done a bit more digging at and found some more fabulous material from him on the subject of “Psalm surfing” which he describes as worshipping God with an “open agenda”. Catching the waves as word and spirit combine in the improvised singing of Scripture – especially the Psalms. Seeking sacred space where creative adventures in prayer, praise and ministry can be inspired. Arts and voices together in Scripture-driven worship.

Using the Psalms in this way can refresh personal devotions as well as small group and public settings. Not only that, singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, poets, painters and dancers can find themselves riding new waves of inspiration.

Psalm Surfing rides 100% on the Word of God but responding to the inspiration of the moment and is a respite from predictable patterns. It also gives us a well earned break from the song list.

What is it good for?

  • Personal devotion
  • Small group worship
  • Music Team/Choir rehearsals
  • Prayer meetings
  • Going places songs rarely visit
  • Dedicated worship times
  • Arts + voices in Scripture-driven worship

What does it require?

  • Faith
  • Courage
  • Vulnerability
  • Humility and reverence of God

It needs a few skills including:

  • listening & repetition
  • melody making
  • evaluation decision communication
  • surviving public embarrassment!

Getting started

  • Practice in private/in your core music team
    (the best preparation for worship is worship)
  • Wait on God for direction
  • Manage peoples’ expectations
    A briefing flyer on arrival can allay confusion
  • Simple demonstrative explanation
  • Assess the situation pitch an appropriate level
  • Choose a key / set the tempo/ “imagine” the first line
  • Just do it!

Things to consider

  • Lining out (call and response)
  • Reading until the words “sing”
  • Identifying a refrain
  • Clear verbal cues i.e. “listen” “repeat” “sing after me”
  • Musical “selahs” and silences
  • Making space for instrumental improvisation “moments”, the poetic, artistic, expressive movement, etc
  • Inviting appropriate input from the larger group
  • Reinforcing an emerging theme

Make sure that you review, evaluate, remember and learn from your mistakes

Musical leadership options:

  • Solo voice / voice and percussion / self-accompanied voice / I sing – you play / follow my fingers / follow a standard chord cycle

Scripture versions:

  • The most lyrical versions work the best (Graham prefers the Contemporary English Version).
  • Scripture on screen is helpful, but a Bible-in-Hand approach enables all gathered to browse, explore and cross-reference.

Things to avoid

  • Boring repetition, dead ends and “wipe-outs”
  • U.R.I. (Unreal Religious Intensity)
  • Jam-fests for the “cut loose” musician
  • Scripture taken out of context
  • The “dark side” of the Psalms – knowing the Psalms and reading ahead is recommended!
  • Pride / presumption
  • Microphone muggers

Photo credit – Andy Pressdee (used with permission) and thanks to Graham Kendrick and Cross Ryhthms for the most of the content above.