How To Take Your Group Christmas Caroling And Actually Sound Good

If your choir, praise team or other group has never gone Christmas caroling you absolutely must. Our church choir has done this for several years now, and I can’t even begin to put into words here what a rewarding, absolutely wonderful feeling it is to go out and do this once a year. We have arrangements with about 4 or 5 locations who expect us to come out once a year and have scheduled our visit. (It’s very important, by the way, that you call ahead and get permission from the locations you’d like to visit ahead of time.)

We simply pile into our cars and follow each other from location to location, visiting  nursing homes and other chosen locations that have been arranged in advance. If your ministry has a small bus or van, that would be even better. But I can’t tell you what it’s like to see the faces of people in Wal-mart when we begin to sing and the sound starts to carry throughout the store. Or the smile on the faces of the residents at the nursing homes when we finish singing and begin talking and visiting with them. Often we have trouble leaving a particular location because people keep asking us to come to their section or department and sing.

One main reason, I believe, that it touches people so much is because we actually sing songs that lend themselves well to being sung a cappella. the nursing homes actually get a lot of people coming by to sing, as you can imagine. But it’s very common for both residents and staff members to comment to us about how much better we sound than most who come through. The secret? I carefully chose the songs we sing every year to insure that they are songs that actually sound good a cappella. Then we just learn pretty basic 3 part harmony and actually rehearse for our caroling outing. I note which keys we do each song and then at the location I put us in the right key using a simple pitch pipe.

The mistake many groups make when going out to sing is that they simply choose Christmas songs from their Sunday morning song list, or songs written to be sung with music. These songs were written around heavy musical arrangements, so they don’t often transfer well to being sung a cappella.

The worse thing when you’re singing a cappella is to have large spaces where nothing’s really happening except this awkward clapping and stomping where music would normally be playing. So the key to going out caroling and actually sounding good is to choose standard Christmas carols that have constant lyrical movement and no dead spaces or required leaders. With minimal effort I was able to find a handful of these and easily create simple 3 part harmony arrangements for them.

Here are my top 5 Christmas Carols that sound great A Cappella.

1. Joy To The World

2. Oh Come All Ye Faithful

3. Hark The Harold Angels Sing

4. Angels We Have Heard On High

5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

 

Now, here’s how to go out caroling with these songs and sound so good they’ll want you back every year. The first 3 tips definitely need to be done by the musician and/or parts instructor/director.

1. Assign a key to each song.

Keep these keys as close in proximity to each other as the vocal arrangement will allow. This way it’s easy to quickly identify the key with a pitch pipe or even the little piano app on your I-Phone

2. Create a simple 3 part vocal arrangement for each song, soprano alto and tenor.

Do SATB if you have that luxury. Writing the arrangements should be as simple as taking the well-known melody line from each song, assigning it to Soprano or Alto and then writing harmony around that. We just use SAT every year and it sounds just fine for caroling.

3. Dedicate one rehearsal to learning the vocal harmony.

The entire rehearsal should be done a cappella with only a pitch pipe or your piano app to give the key.

4. Use lyric sheets!

This is the one time it’s perfectly acceptable and even expected for the choir or group to sing with lyric sheets in front of them. It makes everything that much easier to perfect, and it actually looks more christmas-y, lol . One of our administrators usually puts our lyric sheets into nice red or green folders so it looks good as we stand and sing.

5. Coordinate your colors.

It never hurts to look good out there, and when you’re all wearing similar colors it’s very easy to identify you as a group. We usually simply wear red tops and denim bottoms.

If you guys can put this together this year- even as few as 3 songs- try going out caroling this year. This is an annual event for our church choir. Attendance is not “mandatory”, per se, so we usually have a small group of 10 people or less. But with the right songs and just basic 3 part harmony, it really makes an impact every year. You really haven’t understood the true meaning of music ministry until you take it outside the walls and do something like this. It’s an amazing feeling, and once you do it you’ll be hooked.

 

How To Plan Engaging Christmas Worship Services

I found this article on ChurchLeaderInsights.com. It’s one of several sites I’ll be telling you about in a future blog post that I believe can be really beneficial to you as you strive to grow and improve your worship team. What I love about this article is that while the title suggests it will include content specific only to Christmas, the content really covers the one thing most worship teams struggle with all year ’round; getting our audiences engaged in worship. I’ve never seen someone explain WHY they aren’t engaged as well as Jason does in this article:

 

…the congregation doesn’t experience the worship set the way you and I do.

They aren’t hearing what we hear (or should I say feeling what we feel).

We’re actually playing the music, feeling the connection with other musicians, onstage and amplified.  In short . . . we’re fully invested.  Whereas the congregation can oftentimes feel like bystanders, simply observing what’s happening onstage.

Ever heard it explained that way? Me either, but that makes so much sense doesn’t it? So anyway, check out the rest of the article here. I think it’ll bless you!

Do We Have To “Urbanize” Everything We Sing?

I’ve often pondered this privately because it’s one of those things that can easily spark a bunch of debate, and I’m really not too fond of that. Especially regarding faith and the things of God. But a blog is a different story. You almost NEED a little controversy now and then on a blog, or it’s just boring. Sooo, let me ask a very frank question here. Do we have to “Urbanize” everything we sing?”

First of all let me say that I realize and greatly appreciate the fact that I have readers and followers from several countries, nationalities and ethnicities.  If you all would be so kind, please talk among yourselves for a moment.  I need to chat with my Gospel groups, praise teams and churches for a bit.

I often say if you’re a Gospel praise team and you’re not doing any of the wonderfully beautiful praise and worship songs being written in the Contemporary Christian Music genre you’re doing your team and your congregation a great disservice. Some of the most beautiful worship songs can be found down the dial a bit. Ditto for praise songs. Great up-beat, up-lifting songs.

There are indeed a growing number of Gospel music ministries that have figured this out and are adding CCM praise and worship songs to their roster. But what I see quite often is that when they do they feel the need to somehow “make it more black”. They change chord progressions, add vamps and fancy bridges, etc.

I think this is rather unfortunate, actually. And really, unnecessary. I suppose the general thought is “if we do this song just like it is our congregation won’t like it or won’t receive it because it will sound “too white” or “too plain”. I definitely understand the concern, but I think it’s perhaps a bit of over thinking.  So I’d like to offer two thoughts for you to ponder the next time you’re considering “doctoring up” a CCM song to make it sound more “gospel-y”.

1. Your concern about whether or not your congregation will accept the song done the original way is probably misplaced. Many, many people who grew up listening to Gospel music actually love the fresh, clean sound and pure message of CCM praise and worship songs. Not only would many of them embrace these songs, many of them would think it a welcome change.

2. The fact is, if you’ve been eating, sleeping and drinking Gospel music all your life, anything you sing is going to have that flavor. The same goes with the musicians. So even if you do a CCM worship song as is with no changes, it will take on a Gospel feel just because a Gospel group is doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these modifications don’t work. Many of them go on to be big hits. But Contemporary Christian praise songs have a sincerity and purity that frankly is sometimes lacking in Gospel. The focus with CCM writers is  on pure, authentic worship and praise. The musical arrangement is often understated so that it’s not the focus. The song arrangements are kept simple (we can get pretty complex sometimes, making it more about the musicianship than the message).

I could go on here, but the point I’m making is that adding CCM songs to your roster and just doing them straightforward could be just the thing to help your ministry widen it’s appeal, add depth, variety and balance. So don’t always feel that the only way you can do CCM songs at your church is to somehow make them blacker and more gospel. A great worship song is a great worship song, just the way it is. Going out of your way to add stuff to make it sound more like a Gospel song can actually detract from it if you’re not careful.

Just one more point of view.

Best Easter Songs For Gospel Choir

A while back I was searching the internet for something related to Gospel Choir and I stumbled upon this Squiddoo page. The author, Joan Hall, goes by the name of Joan The Choir Lady. Her Squiddoo page was full of tons of great information for choirs. I got to know her on Facebook, and she recently told me that Squiddoo no longer exists! But Joan has transferred all of her awesome articles and lists for Choirs to her website, ChoirParts.com.

But the one I want to share with you today absolutely blew me away. Joan  has put together one of the most exhaustive, complete references I have ever seen on Gospel Choir songs for Easter. You have got to see this thing!

Not only did Joan put together an amazing list, but she also included YouTube videos where available, song keys and even level of difficulty! I was amazed. I’m not even going to post any of it here because I want absolutely no credit whatsoever for the work this young lady has put into this.

So please, please go right now to Joan’s website and check out  Best Easter Songs For Gospel Choir . I need you guys to do me a favor when you get there though. When you go to Joan’s page, please leave her a comment thanking her for this awesome page. And when you do, tell her that you learned about her from The Music Ministry Coach.com!

Seriously, if you don’t find an Easter song for your Gospel choir on this page, something’s wrong!

How To Get Your Youth Choir Excited About Their Ministry

Grumpy MaryLet’s face it, dealing with a young choir can be very challenging. Sometimes it seems like they’d rather be anywhere, doing anything but this. Helping them past this stage often means stepping back from your own frustration with it and seeking to understand them where they are a little better.

To illustrate that, let me ask you something. Have you ever rented a car and then spent a couple of hours detailing it inside and out? Putting Armor-All on the tires? Filling the car with gas before you brought it back? Of course not. Nobody does. Why? Because it’s not yours. You have no emotional bond or connection with it. It’s someone else’s thing, you’re just “in it”.

There’s a certain pride that comes with ownership. It makes you see a thing differently. It changes your attitude towards a thing. I feel that same sense of ownership about the church band I play in as well as the sancuary choir. I don’t “own” the choir, but ask me about them and I’ll refer to them as “my choir”.

This sense of ownership is often missing in young people when it comes to how they feel about the choir they’re participating in. That’s true because of several different reasons that would make this blog way too long to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say though-and excuse me for stating the obvious here- young people are young.

Many of them, even though they may want to be there, are simply very shy or very turned off by the thought of being in front of people singing and clapping and jumping around and being excited for Jesus.

But a lack of enthusiasm can also stem from a lack of pride or ownership. A lack of connection with the ministry as their own. So when I first started working with our youth department that’s one of the first things I sought to begin instilling in them.

Aside from constant dialog and verbal reinforcement with them, simply telling them that this is their choir; their ministry, and something they can and should be proud of and dedicated to. Something they should want to be as good as it can be; we seek to reinforce that sense of pride and personal ownership by asking and encouraging even the youngest of members to step forward and take on leadership roles.

That may be directing, playing an instrument or taking lead vocals on a song. Our young people were instrumental in choosing the songs for this year’s musical, which I think is extremely important. Because the act of doing so makes this year’s selections “their” songs, rather than songs they were given and forced to sing.

If there’s one thing young people care about it’s their image. What’s cool and what isn’t. They don’t want to look bad and they certainly don’t want to sound bad in front of people. This, for me, is often a powerful motivator to get them to go the extra step to learn parts, or loosen up and move.

But when it comes to moving and displaying energy, having fun and being themselves, young people have to be absolutely certain it’s ok. Not only that it’s ok, but it’s actually what the audience wants; and more importantly, what God wants. Even with all that in place though, they will hesitate to do it if the environment they’re in isn’t one that makes such behavior “the norm”. The cool thing. If they feel it’s something that’s being forced on them they’ll certainly resist it.

But again, without a deeper connection to the ministry itself, young people will often lack the kind of passion and excitement teens start to display as they get older. What do we, the adults do in the meantime? We continue to coach, teach, encourage, and stay positive in front of them. And more importantly, to be what we’re asking them to be.

Be energetic, be positive, have fun. But DON’T scold and fuss at them. I’ve been guilty of this, and if you want to completely shut a group of young people down, that’s the way to do it. We must be examples of what we’re asking them to be. And we must keep reinforcing the fact that it’s ok to have fun and smile and laugh and be their natural energetic selves while they sing for God. Not only is it ok, but God LOVES it and so does the audience.

I think though, the most important thing to remember when working with a youth choir is (again stating the obvious here) it’s a youth choir. Depending on the ages you’re dealing with, many of them have to be brought to rehearsal by their parents. So we can’t really be upset when they aren’t there; Not with them, not with their parents. We must keep in mind everything that parents have to do already.

Secondly, even with a group of kids who want to be there and want to be a part of the choir, it takes time for them to start to “get it”. And as my friend and I discussed the other day, it’s just not something you can rush. You just have to continue to encourage, teach, foster an environment of fun, make it ok for them to be themselves, and nurture that sense of ownership. Ownership brings about pride. Personal connection. A different level of belonging and caring. And trust me, as a few start to get it, they will strongly encourage their peers to “get it”. And nothing we adults can ever say will be more powerful than that.

Just ask Markus, age 16. Markus would barely make a sound, ever. That is, until his buddy told him at the last rehearsal “why you singing all weak like that? You need to come on with it!” After that the two of them proceeded to blow everything out of the water for the rest of the night. And that started a chain reaction that made everybody else step up their game too. Now both of them have a whole new sense of pride in being great, strong tenors that can handle their section.

So if we’re summarizing this whole thing down to a few bullet points, let’s call it:

  • Be what you’re asking them to be
  • Be patient and encouraging
  • Don’t fuss or scold at them. Teach and educate
  • Create a sense of ownership and pride by giving them assignments, leadership roles and involving them in decision-making

Young people have to get to a point where they “get it” on their own. Often that simply won’t happen until they’re ready. We can aid in getting them to that point by offering wisdom, guidance, encouragement and patience, while being more of a partner in the process rather than adopting the “drill-sergeant” approach. Or worse yet, giving up on them entirely.

20 Questions To Ask If The Audience Won’t Get With Your Praise Team

I’ve seen and even written about the subject of unresponsive audiences in regard to praise & worship or even just selections from the choir. If you’ve ever done any research on the subject, chances are your search led you to articles that list some of the common reasons audiences are unresponsive to the praise and worship music going forth. I think they are important things to consider when you’re trying to figure out why your audience is unresponsive, so I’m going to list some of the most common questions you should ask if you find this situation.

But then I want to get into another aspect of unresponsive audiences that I don’t see covered very often at all. More about that a little later in the article. First though, let’s look at 20 possible reasons why your congregation may not be responding

 Song Selection

It’s important you know your audience well and what they respond to. This can sometimes be harder than it looks, because honestly most of us choose songs based not on whether or not we think our audience will be blessed by them, but by how much we like them ourselves. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the musical arrangement or the beat that we don’t pay as much attention to the message as we should. Sometimes it’s the style that’s losing your audience.

1.  Is it too contemporary?
2. Too dated or”old school?”
3. Too much of one or the other?
4. Are you doing too much new material (it’s hard for your audience to participate if you’re never doing anything they know)?
5. Are songs easy to catch on and sing?
6. Are the songs really praise and worship songs?

Musicianship

7. Is the music being played with a level of competence?
8. Can the audience recognize the song?
9. Is the volume too loud or too soft? (ok it’s never too soft, lol!)

Vocals

10. Is the harmony right?
11. Are the group members well-versed and learned on the material (do they know the song?)
12.Are you putting competent leaders up to lead songs?
13. Are your leaders and/or group members screaming?

Sound

14. Are the microphones too loud?
15. Are they feeding back?
16. Are the house speakers too loud?

Leadership

17. Is the leader actively exalting and leading the audience?
18. Is the leader reprimanding or scolding the audience for not participating? (don’t ever do this!)
19. Is the leader moving quickly between songs with little to no dead time?
20. Is the leader being led by the spirit and allowing for unscripted, organic worship and praise? (real praise and worship can’t always be scripted)

All of these issues and more are very common issues that audiences find very off-putting and distracting. It is very difficult for the audience to overcome those things and concentrate on praising and worshiping when these things are not being addressed regularly. And while it may seem almost unfair to some people that really haven’t fully grasped the importance of perfecting music ministry, the truth is it can be any one thing. Everything can be perfect, for example, and the microphones are way too loud or feeding back. Or everything is sounding great but the music was way too loud. Or the group sounded great but the leader didn’t really have the skill that the song required.

But let’s flip this coin for a minute and talk about something almost nobody touches on. Because you see, if we’re all being honest here, there are times when absolutely everything is the best it can be. The band is on point. the song selection is perfect. The group/choir sounds great. The leader is bringing it. And the audience is STILL unresponsive.

There are just days when despite your best efforts, the audience simply won’t be with you. Who knows what it is from one day to the next, but it does happen. It is on those days that worship leaders and song leaders make the worst mistake they can make. I touched on it in question number 18 but it’s important enough to elaborate on more here.

I’m speaking of the tendency many leaders have start reprimanding the audience to get them to participate. Understand what I’m referring to here. I’m not talking about the act of encouraging the audience to open up and feel free to worship. Encouraging them to lift their hands, stand, or sing along.

I’m talking about those who actually, in a sense, scold the audience for not being more engaged or participating more. Listen, nobody understands how frustrating an unresponsive audience is than I do. But scolding them will only cause them to resent you. which will only make them close off even more. Only now it may very well extend past the musical selections to the Pastor and the word of God itself.

That is why when you worship and praise God in song, your worship must be for real. It has to be about God, and NOT about the audience. I wrote in an article a while ago that it’s not a good idea to sing your entire selection with your eyes closed. That’s absolutely true. But much more importantly than that, you must never allow your worship or praise experience to depend on or be affected by the reactions of the audience.

When we sing, we should always sing to the glory and honor of God. As one speaker once told us at a choir banquet, we are to minister to Him, and He in turn ministers through us to His people. If you’re always looking for the audience’s reaction when you sing, you could find yourself very discouraged when you don’t get what you expected

It’s really not our job in music ministry to “make” the audience do anything. Any number of things could be the cause of unresponsiveness. I’ve seen times when, heck the people are just tired! The church has been in revival all week, or we’ve had back-to-back services, or a Saturday night service of some kind so everyone is kind of tired Sunday morning.

So yes, it is extremely important that we do everything we can to perfect, enhance, hone and polish every aspect of our music ministries. But at the end of the day every single minute we spend on any of that has to be for one reason and one reason only. That God be glorified. And when we stand before His people knowing that we’ve done everything we can to prepare ourselves to minister in excellence, even when they’re not responding we can then just worship Him from a pure, honest, deeply sincere place that has nothing to do with how many people stood up while we were singing. Or how many didn’t. For more praise team training check out my new e-book Praise Team 101