5 tips for transitioning and flowing between songs

5 tips for transitioning and flowing between songs

Transitioning and flowing between songs

In formal church traditions, where the service is often of the ‘hymn sandwich’ variety, there is obviously no need to consider how to transition between songs. However, with the rise of less formal, contemporary worship (due in large part to the charismatic renewal of the 1960’s and 70’s), there has been a shift towards having a ‘worship time’ in services and meetings – a longer period where there is time to reflect on God in a deeper way and sing several songs together. While musicians may be comfortable playing through song arrangements that have been rehearsed, there can often be uncertainty about how to link songs and maintain a sense of ‘flow’ through the worship time. Having an awkward gap at the end of a song while the musicians fumble through sheet music etc can be a real distraction for the congregation who were engaged but now feel like they’re in limbo waiting for something to happen.

So here are a few tips to help with the flow of a worship time:

  1. Make sure you are secure on your intros and endings as well as the main ‘body’ of the song (verses & choruses etc). Rehearse those vulnerable moments – especially as that’s often the time when the congregation aren’t singing and will be particularly aware of the musicians. Having a strong start, rather than strumming uncertainly while other musicians drift in will establish a song much more positively. Likewise, know how you’re going to end each song to avoid the distraction/embarrassment of just petering out!
  2. If you’re moving out of an up-tempo song, try and give it a big ending; a worked out outro or a grand end chorus – perhaps with a rall and the musicians holding a big final chord for at least a couple of bars before stopping together.  Then immediately count in to the next song (usually the drummers job with a metronome) to help correctly nail the new tempo. Keeping the gap short is key, and this should work well whatever the tempo of the next song.
  3. Moving between gentler songs is often where a sense of continuity is most important. When you reach the end of the worship song, don’t just stop playing! It can be very effective for a keyboard pad to continue to hold the tonic chord, perhaps with one or two other instruments gently picking. If the worship leader is wanting to linger there for a while (or there is another contribution happening in the meeting), you will want to change the chord after a while to avoid monotony. Finding a four or eight chord sequence that can be repeated – possibly using chords from a section of the song you’ve just ended – can be very effective. E.g. after the song ‘10,000 Reasons’ try going into a repeating sequence of C, D, Em7, G/B (2 or 4 beats on each chord).
  4. Having a simple repeating sequence gives lots of options; it can go on for as long or short a time as necessary, can rise and fall dynamically as different instruments join with varying intensity, and it’s easy for the worship leader to jump back into the song at any time. If your church leaders are okay with it, keep playing gently in the background while others pray out or bring a scripture etc.
  5. If your next song is in the same key, then it will again be easy just to jump in without any gap, but make sure you’re working at the new tempo before starting the song if it’s different (or at least start decisively at the new tempo). If the new song is in a different key, then try playing the repeating sequence right up to the point where the new song needs to start, then click in the intro and begin as soon as possible. Alternatively, it’s smoother to adapt the chord sequence so that you’re in the new key before the song starts.  E.g. if you’ve been playing round your C, D, Em7, G/B sequence but you need to get to Bb for the next song, try going to C, Bb/D, Eb, Fsus4 on the final time to set you up for the new key.

Given the fluid nature of many worship times, you cannot always predict exactly how and when the transition will take place, but it’s good to be as prepared as possible. It may be best to let just one musician (probably the keyboard player) take care of it and the others be ready to join at the start of the next song.

Silence is a wonderful thing so I’m not suggesting having music constantly, but there are many occasions when sensitively ‘filling the gap’ will make for a richer worship time and help the congregation engage.

Mike Sandeman is the keyboard player for popular band ‘Phatfish’ and has over twenty years experience of working alongside many of the UK’s best known worship leaders. Mike has recently setup the ‘Worship Band Advice’ service; he can come and work with your worship team in your venue; listening to you play and offering advice about how you might serve the congregation better. More details at www.worshipbandadvice.co.uk.

Photo credit FirstHattiesburg Flickr Creative Commons.