What’s the solution? Training and education. If a church wants to keep singing alive as a vital experience for every believer, training in congregational singing for the entire church is essential. When I was young, my home church would bring in Ralph Casey to provide a training weekend for the purpose of equipping our entire church family on music basics, singing fundamentals and song leading. This happened more than once in my home church.
The need is greater than ever. Sharon and I travel with the Praise & Harmony congregational singing workshops for the purpose of equipping churches to establish a solid training program to keep a cappella singing alive. Our primary target audience is not the most gifted vocalists, who are already passionate about singing, but the beginners who either don’t participate or who have never tried to sing harmony before. We are finding the results can be amazing!
We encourage churches to establish “new song” classes in which every person is encouraged to sit by voice part with basses, altos, sopranos or tenors. Teaching new songs should be a regular and frequent objective of growing churches. Using training CDs on a daily basis (in cars, homes, etc.) to reinforce the new song class will greatly accelerate the learning process.
In order to coordinate everyone to your arrangements, we urge everyone to use projected musical notation. We urge them to incorporate real dynamic volume changes in their singing, which can easily be facilitated by singing verses softer and choruses louder, for example. Additionally, when the song leader dominates the volume for the duration of the song, it dwarfs the contribution of the congregation, and unintentionally moves the focal point on the worship leader. This is why we encourage the use of a hand held microphone so the leader can “mix himself out” of the overall sound, and only take charge when necessary to drive the tempo and facilitate changes.
In this video, “God Of Wonders,” notice how the congregation is sitting in sections by voice part; lower voices on the left and higher voices on the right. By being “immersed” in each section, beginners find it much easier to learn to sing harmony by ear. Secondly, notice how we are working to sing the chorus, “God of wonders beyond our galaxy” louder than the unison verses. I am using the microphone to take myself out of the mix so that the leader is only heard when necessary, and the bulk of the experience becomes a culmination of every voice present. One voice (or voices) should not consistently dominate the congregational experience.
For those interested in hosting a Praise & Harmony Workshop, find out more here. We strongly encourage churches to send their gifted song leaders to the annual advanced training “bootcamp” available at the Worship Leader Institute. If your church would like to participate in a professional worship recording, find out more here. The video below provides more information from the volunteers who participate in the recording process, which happens at least once a year.