Follow The Leader: How To Surrender To The Holy Spirit During Your Choir Performances

One thing I tend to stress often with you guys is the importance of really knowing your songs. I mean moving past that “I know it well enough to follow the director” stage we’re all content with. I mean really knowing the song. I’m talking about having the lyrics memorized, not this thing where we’re nervously depending on the director to feed us every line. I’m talking about really understanding the format of the song and how it moves from one section to another one.

But perhaps I haven’t really made a strong enough case for why that’s important and how it benefits your ministry as a whole. Quite simply, the more thoroughly you know a song the more powerfully you’ll minister that song. Something happens when everyone in the group is absolutely certain about every part of a song they’re about to sing.

There is this cohesiveness there. This sense of unity. Everyone is with one accord. And we know the Holy Spirit moves when we’re with one accord. So in moments like these powerful, anointed, spirit-led moments of music ministry tends to happen. But they only happen because we’ve eliminated all mental distractions that normally hinder our spirits from really surrendering completely to God.

When we’re unsure we’re really too distracted with the task of getting through the song without mistakes. So nobody can really follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The director can’t, the song leader can’t, the group members can’t. Because we’re all too busy nervously getting through one section after another.

We become locked into predefined repetitions and formats that we can’t deviate from because everyone is so unsure that if we do there will be some kind of mistake. But when everyone is absolutely on point with every part of the song, there is a freedom that takes place spiritually. In moments like these the Holy Spirit often takes over and leads the director or the song leader.

We did a song Sunday morning that we’ve done many times, called God Is Able. One of those churchy, hand-clapping, foot-stomping songs. So we know it very well. I was directing the choir. We came up to this one part in the song where we would normally repeat it a couple of times and go back to the chorus.

But this time the Holy Spirit started dealing with me and I just didn’t feel led to move from that spot. . So I just kept having them repeat that same two lines, right where we were:

“He’ll be there when you call Him/
He’ll be there when you need Him”

I just kept repeating it and it seemed like the more we repeated that phrase the higher the spirit got in the sanctuary, until everyone was just going in. Well, the whole format changed from there, because at that point everyone was following me, but I was following the leader. We never went to the real vamp of the song. That became the vamp and I just let God have His way right there; with me, the band, the leader and the choir.

We didn’t do anything that morning the way the song normally goes or the way we rehearsed it. But I had the freedom to allow God to just guide me in the direction He wanted the song to go because I know the choir and musicians knew it well enough to follow. I also knew the leader was skilled enough to just flow in the spirit right there, and would have no problem ad-libing as long as the Holy Spirit needed us to. So we all followed the leader. The ultimate leader.

Have a great week!
Ron
Ps. What if you were leading the spirit took over? Could you keep going as long as the spirit needed you to? Would you run out of words, or become anxious or irritated that the director got happy and won’t stop? If so, I have something I’d like you to see. Take a look here.

75 Great Altar Call Songs

Someone sent me an e-mail recently asking me to give her some suggestions for Altar Call songs. Every music ministry needs altar call songs. Well, the Fan Page family loves making song lists, so I took it straight to them. And as usual, they delivered in a big way. There were over 80 comments in this thread at this writing. I chose 75 to allow for some possible duplication. The actual thread is below. Allow a couple of seconds for it to load if you don’t see it. It may not work in Chrome.

Just click the comment button below to be taken straight to the live post. If you haven’t already, please click the “Like” button in the top right corner and join the family!

5 steps to effective, productive rehearsals

5Nothing is more frustrating than having a rehearsal and not getting anything done. Over the years I’ve come to understand that there are some very common things that almost always quickly derail rehearsals. I’ve had the pleasure of spending just about all of my over 30 years in music ministry at one church, working with the same music ministry. We’ve tweaked our process over the years, and several of the suggestions I’ll offer here are things that God just showed me were the causes of our own struggles.

Every music department has it’s own challenges and it’s own unique circumstances, but there are some things you find in common in almost all ministries who are having trouble having productive rehearsals. Here are, I believe, the top 5 things every choir, praise team or other group should be doing to help insure they have effective, productive rehearsals.

1. Know in advance what songs you will be learning and/or going over at the next rehearsal

Make a list of those songs and insure all musicians, directors and song leaders involved have that list several days before rehearsal. Never come to rehearsal with no itinerary or goal, then simply brainstorm about what to go over once you get there. You will get NOWHERE.

2. Insure that all musicians, directors and lead vocalists have the material in advance and expect them to be prepared to play, sing, teach, or direct it by rehearsal time.

*In order to have productive rehearsals there must be studying, practicing and preparation made before the rehearsal for everyone involved with teaching it to the choir or group. The musicians should not come to rehearsal and begin learning the song then. The leader should not be hearing the song for the first time at rehearsal. The director/minister of music/parts instructor must be prepared in advance to teach or take the group over the material that will be covered.

3. Do NOT play recordings of the song(s) you’re going over or learning at your rehearsals.

This is something God had to reveal to me years ago. When we wanted to learn something new we would bring the tape and play it at the rehearsal. Then we’d spend the next hour arguing about every single little detail of the song and how we’re not doing it like they did it on the record. When we stopped listening to the original at rehearsal and instead started teaching the songs live with the musicians playing the material, we literally cut hours off the time by eliminating all the bickering and comparing everything to the record.

If you’re an organization that depends heavily on playing the cd at rehearsal to learn the song you might be wondering how you’re going to switch to not doing it. For the answer, re-read number 2. 🙂 Seriously, take this step and you won’t believe the difference it will make and the amount of time you’ll save.

4. Assign one person to be in charge of conducting rehearsals and make sure everyone understands and respects that person’s position and authority as such.

That means one person is in charge of taking the group over all familiar material and one person is in charge of teaching all new material. This is usually the same person but it doesn’t have to be. For example, our choir director takes us over old material that we already know. Even though I also direct, I’m more of a back-up or assistant in that capacity. My primary job is teaching new material or correcting harmony/parts on old material.

But when one of us is up, that person has the floor and everyone’s attention. If this is not currently the way things are set in your ministry that person may need to be assigned publicly by the choir president or pastor and given that authority in such a way that it is publicly understood.  But I will say this: Authority must be earned. When I get up to teach now, I have the full and absolute attention of whatever group I’m teaching at the time. There is no debating about what I’m teaching.

But I’ve earned that respect by coming into rehearsals fully prepared and ready for over 30 years now. In short, the members know when I get up that I’m ready and I know my stuff. It’s hard to see you as an authority if I feel like I know as much as you do. That will always be the case when you are consistently unprepared to teach or direct without a lot of fumbling or mistakes.

For that reason the person in charge needs to be prepared for every rehearsal, period. He or she needs to have that list of songs and know them well enough to take the group through them with certainty and authority. Yes, this means you must spend more of your personal time preparing for rehearsal. But believe me when I tell you, you will absolutely get that time back in the form of shorter, more productive rehearsals.

5. Whenever possible, avoid using lyric sheets.

I get a lot of push-back on this, honestly. It’s not a popular idea because people use lyric sheets as crutches and are very reluctant to give them up. But again, this is another concept I’m absolutely certain God revealed to me years ago, and yet another one that resulted in much more effective rehearsals once we implemented it. I cover this in great detail in my blog “why you should STOP using lyric sheets to learn songs asap“. But unless you’re learning 5 or 6 new songs in one night, lyric sheets will actually slow the song learning process, not speed it up. Again, read Why you should STOP using lyric sheets to learn songs asap for a detailed discussion about the subject.

So there it is! These are powerful changes we made at our choir rehearsals that really helped us go to another level. But I use the same approach with the praise team, the youth choir and any other group that will sing at church. I pray they’ll work for your ministry as well. Don’t forget to let me know how it goes!

How To Deal With Music Ministry Burn-out And Discouragement

WorriedIf you’re a regular reader of my blog you know they go out every Monday and Thursday. And, as life would have it, I usually end up getting around to writing it the night before. Thursday’s blog is particularly challenging for me because I’m usually coming home late after a rehearsal. Such was the case last night, when I found myself driving home at almost 11:00 wondering what in the world I would write about for today’s blog. As I continued to turn thoughts over in my mind, I thought about the task of writing the blog itself.

I thought about how, if I didn’t have this meeting to choose songs for the up-coming annual Family & Friends musical I wouldn’t be getting home so late. Then I started thinking about all the work that lay ahead of not only me, but the entire music department as we begin preparations for this annual event. Six songs to learn in about 2 weeks, and we don’t even have them all yet. And that’s just what we have to do to be prepared for the rehearsals themselves. So of course, one thought leads to another when you start allowing yourself to mentally go down that road, and before I knew it my mind was all over the place. The sheer volume of it all swirling in my head just made me tired. It was around then, as I was pulling up to my place after the 30 minute commute from my church, that God reminded me of a scripture: “Don’t grow weary in well doing”, I heard in my head. I knew there was more to the scripture, but that part is what stuck with me. I knew then what God wanted me to write about.

Because you see, even though I’m this big time “music ministry coach” now, with readers and followers from all over the country and even in other countries- and even though I coach and encourage and teach and train people from all walks of life and all nationalities- the fact is, I get weary sometimes. I get tired. I get discouraged. Sometimes I just don’t feel like it. I love music ministry with all my heart and soul. I know with everything that is in me, that it’s what I was placed here to do. But it’s a job, isn’t it? And we do get tired. And we do feel burned out.

This scripture- Galations 6:9 – comes to mind often, though I don’t think I realized until just now how often it does. And when I think about scriptures like this; scriptures that tell us not do do something : don’t get weary, don’t fret, don’t worry, don’t be afraid- I often reflect on how often I hear people referring to them as a “command”. In other words what they’re trying to say is that because the bible tells us so clearly not to do these things, if we do we’re committing a sin.

But to me, these are not “commands” as much as they are loving advice from a loving Father. I have two sons that I spend time with and talk to all the time. I love them and I want to teach them how to live life as easily as possible. How to be happy and avoid struggle, anger, bitterness and depression. Often in these conversations I tell them to avoid certain things or not to do certain things. If they don’t follow my advice, they won’t be punished by me. They’ll simply experience things that they didn’t have to experience.

Just in the process of gathering my own thoughts before writing this blog I knew that God wanted me to just speak a word of encouragement to you today, even as I encourage myself.

I believe scriptures like Galatians 6:9 come to us from a father who loves His child and simply wants to encourage us. It’s not a “command” that you’ll go to hell if you don’t do. It’s loving advice from a Father who loves you and doesn’t want to see you hurt. I can almost hear Him saying to me in a loving voice “I know this gets hard sometimes, Ron. I know you get tired. I know it gets frustrating. But don’t get weary in your well doing. If you hang in there, He’s saying, it’s going to get better. In due season you’ll reap a harvest of blessings if you don’t give up.

That’s what I’m saying to you today. I don’t know the state of your ministry or how you feel today about it. But I’ve been working in music ministry long enough to know that nobody escapes feeling this way eventually. God placed it on my heart to encourage you today. You hang in there, ok? God knows and He cares. It’s going to get better, even if He has to move you. But if you ever do move, make sure HE’s the one moving you. Not frustration or discouragement or burn-out or anything else. Because the hard truth is, none of those things are any indication you’re not exactly where you’re supposed to be.

 

How to ad-lib like pro overnight

Doug Todd adlibsAd-libbing, by definition, is the art of making it up as you go. In Gospel music it’s often referred to as “pressing”. Many would-be lead vocalists, in fact, avoid leading songs at all simply because of they don’t think they’re good enough at ad-libbing to “carry” the song .

It is one of the most feared tasks many singers face in all generes of music, not just Gospel. But it doesn’t have to be! What if I told you you could become almost instantly better at doing ad-libs without taking a single lesson or doing any studying beyond what you’re about to read here?
What I’m about to share with you is one of those “well guarded industry secrets” that, once you know it, you go….”that’s it???” It’ll seem painfully obvious once you read it.

I don’t have to tell you that what scares people about ad-libbing is having to make things up on the fly, in the middle of a performance, in real time, right in front of everybody! That’s a lot of opportunities to stumble or get tongue-tied, freeze up, go blank, etc. That’s exactly why most professionals don’t, and you shouldn’t either.

If you’re a regular follower of my blogs, you’ve seen me talk about the importance of being prepared and well-rehearsed. Knowing as much as possible in advance. Nowhere is this more important than in ad-libbing. The “skill” is a nice one to have, but it’s importance is way over-rated. It’s way more important to nail that song without any mistakes, than it is to be really good at making stuff up on the fly. At the end of the day nobody knows or cares if you’re making it up or if you wrote it all down a week ago.

So the secret to great ad-libbing is to do the exact opposiite of it’s meaning. Write your ad-libs in advance! Yes, I know that’s a direct contradiction of the very meaning of ad-lib. But consider this. If you’re doing a song where you know you’re going to need to ad-lib, and you know you simply don’t have have the mental quickness and confidence yet to make it up as you go (and the thought of trying scares the crap out of you ) then what makes more sense than writing some stuff out in advance?!

First of all, as I always say, the more you know in advance the better you’re going to perform. You’re going to be less nervous, more polished, more comfortable.

Secondly, nobody in the audience will know (or care) that you wrote your stuff out in advance. They’ll think you’re awesome.

So the next time you’re faced with singing a song where you’ll have to ad-lib a lot, sit down with a pen and pad, and write down as many lines as you can think of that would fit the subject matter you’re singing about.

Rehearse these lines and get familiar with how you want to sing them in the song. There’s no need to rehearse and memorize them in any certain order. It’s really about having a pool of material to pull from that you’ve come up with in advance so you don’t have to come up with it live in front of an audience. Not about memorizing a complicated sequence of lines in a certain order. That’ll just make you more nervous.

In fact the more random the better, in my opinion. I personally don’t like to hear a person rhyming in their ad-libs. It sounds too rehearsed and to me, makes it really obvious they wrote them in advance. Stay away from that and you’ll sound like you’re making it up as you go.

The cool thing about this is that over time you’ll build up a sort of “mental rolodex” of material you can draw from at any time. it’s a lot like scripture in the sense that what you hide in your heart is there for the Holy Spirit to bring back to your memory when you need it. So in time you’ll be able to truly make it up on the fly, right out of your spirit.

But until then, if you want to be instantly better at ad-libbing, don’t try to make it up live, writing some things down will definitely help at least alleviate some of the fear you have of ever stepping out there to sing. If you’re someone who has tried that before and were unsuccessful, you may be wondering what else you could do in the meantime to help you get to that place I mentioned above. After all, just writing stuff down and memorizing it doesn’t work well when you’re new to ad-libbing and leading songs.

You’re already afraid and nervous. You’re bound to go blank sometimes just because you’re nervous. I’ve actually thought a lot about this over the years, and I’ve seen so many people that have this same fear.  So I wanted to do something to help people get past that initial stage, overcome their fear and get started. So with the help of the Lord I created a step-by-step, paint-by-the-numbers system. I explain the details in this 5 minute video you can view here: ad-lib banner

 

 

 

Vocal Ministry Breakthrough is now LIVE!

Well gang, I’m very proud and excited to announce that my first official coaching product has launched and is available for sign-up. Vocal Ministry Breakthrough is the first home vocal training course of it’s kind and I’m excited for you to see it. Today I’m offering a free 7 day trial for everyone who joins. Your credit card won’t be charged for a full 7 days. Join and take a look around. Inside you’ll find the first lesson active and ready to go. But you’ll also find all 5 lessons from the free 5 day vocal training course. So go check it out, get signed up and tell me what you think. Oh, and if you’re going to look at this at work, be aware that I have a video on the site that starts automatically with music playing.  So watch the volume! Http://www.themusicministrycoach.com/vocal-ministry-breakthrough 

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