Florence Benton from Alaska emailed to ask for advice on leading worship from keyboards for the first time.
It’s a big jump to go from playing keys as part of a band to leading (and singing) as well. Not only are you leading the congregation in their worship, but you will be needing to lead and communicate with the band, all at the same time as watching your vocal tuning, remembering the words, keeping the rhythm and playing all your notes correctly!
So, how to prepare? The first skill to master is playing and singing at the same time. So we’d suggest that as well as practicing this at home, its something you try to get familiar with while you are playing with the band as part of your normal week to week activities. You don’t need to be miced up – just remember to sing throughout and get your brain used to that level of multi-tasking.
What you’ll immediately notice is that you will struggle to play with the same level of complexity when you are also singing. That’s fine – its quite all right to strip back our playing a little when we’re also leading. Do remember to keep with the groove that the rest of the band are playing though.
When it comes to your first time of leading, I’d make a few suggestions. Firstly, choose simple songs that you can already play with confidence. Secondly, if you can, have a competent guitarist with you who can cover if you need. Likewise, if you have the luxury of other talented musicians, this is perhaps the week to ask a few favours and have your stronger players available. Rehearsing is going to be important. The band need to get to understand your communication signals and start to “feel” the way you will lead. And remember to lead – don’t just get lost in the music and forget to signal to the band where you are going next. In rehearsal you’ll find that once you get going with a song you’ll be fine – it’s the starts, stops and junctions that may challenge you. So how about just rehearsing the starts, stops and junctions between parts of the song, as well as moving seamlessly from one song to another.
Lastly, let’s think about vocals. I’m assuming that you are going to be the main lead singer. Remember to do your vocals warm up exercises first. If you’re a strong singer then you should be fairly comfortable with leading and cueing new songs, repeats and shifts to new sections of the song. If you’re not that strong vocally, then feel free to speak the line that you are next going to. Your band and congregation won’t mind – they would far rather know where you are going next than be left wondering.
Remember too that although you are the worship “leader”, you need to see yourself as a servant both to the band and the congregation. So get your set list out in advance and provide copies of the music to those who need it. If you are a female worship leader and the band is normally led by a male singer, you may find that some of the songs are not so comfortable for your range. Don’t wait until the Sunday morning to discover this. Run through the songs in advance and change them into different keys if you need to. I would typically take songs down a tone or two for comfort (women’s natural range works well with keys like B and men with D). As a guide try to ensure that you aren’t singing any notes above top D.