Some people have told me I have a nice singing voice. Actually, I always wanted to be a singer. It all started when I was much younger and my parents would leave the house. I would get out their Tom Jones albums (It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat, Delilah, etc.) grab a spoon for a mic, and sing along. Anyway…I began singing in choir in Jr. High, and then in High School. I had my first duet my freshman year for a Christmas concert singing alongside a senior named Nancy. I can’t remember her last name but I do remember she was gorgeous and had a beautiful voice. We sat on two stools with an orchestra backing us up and a few hundred people out in the audience. Next, I landed the role of Conrad Birdie in our high school musical ‘Bye, Bye, Birdie.’ I had the largest costume budget of anyone in the show. Imagine Elvis performing and then imagine me wearing his on-stage attire. Now pray to God to remove that image from your mind.
At the beginning of my sophomore year I was asked if I was interested in touring with our school’s jazz band the next summer as their crooner. I thought about it for about two seconds and said yes! This was going to be my big break. But a few months later, at school, while walking into the music department, (Oh, I forgot to mention that the summer of my sophomore year I became a Christian) I heard a voice say, “You’re not going to go into entertainment. You’re going to pastor my people.” That brought to an end my brief rise to stardom.
One of my first church ministries was leading worship for an evening service at the church I was attending. I must have been 17 or 18. I didn’t play an instrument so I sat on a stool (this time without Nancy next to me) a led a-cappella. A few years later Ellen and I would be church planters in Southern California. There was no one to lead worship so I taught myself five chords on the guitar and forced every song we sang to fit into those five cords. Luckily the Lord brought me some good musicians and worship leaders who would rescue me, and the church. I led worship for our second church plant. In our third church plant we were blessed with a great worship leader and band, so my career as a worship leader was over.
I’ve said all this to show that I have some experience as both a vocalist and a worship leader. Since then, as you can imagine, I’ve listened to many worship leaders. I’ve listened to them in churches where I am the guest speaker. I’ve listened to them on the radio while driving. The other night I was watching a station on television that featured worship services from different churches across the nation. And, of course, every Sunday I listen to the talented worship leaders at our home church.
There is a universal problem. I see this problem everywhere. I believe this problem can cause the worship dynamic to drop by 50%.
The one thing worship leaders need to stop doing is (worship drum-roll please) singing songs in keys that most men and women cannot possibly sing in. The songs are just too high for a normal human. The result? People don’t sing. The result? Worship dynamic drops.
I have an unusual vocal range for a man. I can sing pretty low and I can sing pretty high. Because of my background in music I know how to harmonize or drop down into a lower range order to sing a song more comfortably, but I still find it a bit distracting when I need to do this. Most people don’t know how to do this.
Dear worship leader, might I offer some advice that could increase the dynamic of your worship by 50%? Learn to transpose your songs down into a range that people can comfortably sing in. Just because a song was written in a certain key does not mean you have to sing it in that key. It seems that many worship song-writers today, with their typical tenor voices, miss this. They can hit those notes, you might be able to hit those notes…but those you are attempting to lead into the presence of God can’t hit those notes. People need to be able to sing the songs you’ve selected for your worship set.
Bottom line: transpose your songs down and your worship dynamic will go up. Trust me, this comes from a man who learned to sing from Tom Jones.