When we approach worship from a musical standpoint, which I take some time developing in Worship Theory, we open a sort of Pandora’s Box. At first it looks simple and easy, but in reality there are far more complications that arrive at choosing this one box and opening it, than if we had chosen a different route.
One reason for this is that the facets of music are truly innumerable, and the depth to each is nearly unfathomable. For almost as long as man has walked the earth, he has striven to express himself through music. Over the course of milennia, this has served to both deepen and broaden what music is.
When we as worship leaders stop to ponder what we’ve walked into, it should both humble and frighten us. Unfortunately, it rarely has a chance to stir either emotion for us. We’re too busy doing what we do to stop and consider what other implications there might be as we throw our hats into the musical realm.
I had actually planned to avoid this line of thinking altogether. (This is evidenced by the fact that I’m still stalling.) What kind of limits, what sort of boundaries could exist because of this Law? Are they really tangible, or am I just imagining the implications because of my own history in music? My hope was that it didn’t really matter.
However, as I considered which of several concepts to write about next, following on the heels of The Conductor and The Audience, I realized that without understanding the Law of the Foundation my next thoughts might be lost to some readers.
The Law of the Foundation states this: A worship leader is subject to the extent of his/her musical foundation.
In the small group study of Worship Theory, we take a look at our two major sources of worship knowledge: example and experience. Worship isn’t much of a hot topic for Bible studies, and most pastors stay clear of it. The more troubling implication of this reality is that, not only are most participants in worship attempting it without study, but so are its leaders. The point of the Law of the Foundation is that, in addition to being Biblically ignorant, many worship leaders are musically ignorant as they make use of this complicated mode of expression.
Many worship leaders are placed in their position for two reasons: 1) they know the songs, and 2) they are considered “good” singers. If we’ve learned anything from American Idol, it’s that some people who think they are good, or are even told they are good, just plain aren’t. In her book “Extravagant Worship” Darlene Zschech (Hillsong) recounts her first lesson with a voice teacher, who found it obvious that she has spent a lot of time singing in church.
Now, the answer here is not for churches to fire/release their uneducated worship leaders in favor of replacing them all with Music Majors toting Masters Degrees. Nor is it to send these leaders out to acquire those degrees. I have said that the majority of music knowledge that I have came from being in the choir program Grades 5 through 12. I learned more in those seven years, that I have since learned to apply, than many worship leaders are exposed to in a lifetime. The solution is for the worship leaders to take the time to learn the art of music. Imagine if a man came to your church, applying for the position of senior pastor, and he didn’t know how to read.
Would you hire a pastor who couldn’t even read his own Bible, but thought he could use it to teach you how to live? (Okay, imagine that you can’t get the Bible in any other form, either.) But this is the attitude we have when it comes to worship leaders who, if handed the sheet music to Shout to the Lord, couldn’t tell what key it was in, what chords to use, how the melody of song went, or its rhythm, beyond how they learned it from someone else. A high school choir director once told me that he had to pass a piano proficiency test as part of the job application process. Most worship leaders couldn’t tell you the scale notes in the Key of C, much less be able to play them on a piano for you.
My goal here is not to discourage anyone from leading worship if they don’t have a lot of musical knowledge. Rather, it is to encourage you to grow in your knowledge, and through this be able to deepen your own personal worship, and that of your congregation. Isn’t this one reason pastors go away to Bible College or Seminary? Don’t we want them to have some knowledge of theology, church history and the Bible before inviting them to pour God’s Word into our lives?
Take it from another perspective. If I were to busy a hobby of building light aircraft and flying them, wouldn’t I also have to get a pilot’s license? Isn’t there more required to obtain that license than watching someone else fly, and then holding the stick on my own once in a while? The same should be true for worship leaders and music.
What are some helpful aspects of knowing music theory?
I’m going to start you off with just a couple of things for now. The next posts will help give you an idea of some others.
1) Key Signatures
I guarantee that one of the top frustrations of musicians is when a worship leader changes keys from song to song. A musician will typically desire the music to have a natural flow between songs. When you have to constantly change keys, you also tend to force a complete stop between songs. I should take the time to note, though, that some keys are easier to change between than others. But you need to know about key signatures and how they work before you can test it out.
2) Time Signatures / Rhythms
A lot of the time, even when we get the Keys right, we can do a lot of damage with rhythms and time signatures. (In fact, I ran into this myself the other night.) When we have an understanding of the rhythmic elements of music, we can better arrange our worship sets.
Where can I start learning about music theory?
You have to love (for the most part) living in the information age. The internet is full of sites and downloads that can help you out. Here are some highlights from my own quick search.
- Western Michigan University School of Music, Music Theory Help Site
- G Major Music Theory. Download free PDF music theory workbooks.
- Ricci Adams’ Musictheory.net. You can actually download the entire set for offline use of the material. Wow.
- “Music Theory For Dummies” by Michael Pilhofer and Holly Day
- “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory” by Michael Miller
- “Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory” by Andrew Surmani, Karen Farnum Surmani, Morton Manus