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Music Myth: It’s EASY

August 1, 2017

“Must be nice to get paid to waive your arms, sing your little songs, and pluck your bass guitar, eh?”

“I don’t know why they felt the need to hire you full time… I mean, you just get up there on Sundays, pick ’em and sing ’em, right?”

“What, exactly, do you do all week? I mean, it’s not that hard to sing songs and make noise…”

“I don’t understand why you need to get up early and practice to play 3 chords.”

“Anybody can lead worship music. It’s easy!”

These are just a few of the many comments I’ve heard in 20 years of worship ministry. Sometimes they were meant as a joke, sometimes they were a genuine misunderstanding, and sometimes they were espoused with malicious intent. No matter the intention of the person, the comments hurt just the same. Each one points to the gross misperception of the average western American churchgoer when it comes to understanding what it takes to put together and execute an excellent worship experience. For some reason, many folks seem to think what happens on the platform during worship services just happens. The MYTH is that what we do is easy. The TRUTH is far from it.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of what happens, it is important to look at what the Bible says about those who lead worship for the body.

Psalm 33:1-3 – Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”

1 Chronicles 15:16; 19-22 – David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals… 19 The musicians Heman, Asaph and Ethan were to sound the bronze cymbals;20 Zechariah, Jaaziel,[d] Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah and Benaiah were to play the lyres according to alamoth,21 and Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel and Azaziah were to play the harps, directing according to sheminith.[f] 22Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.

1 Chronicles 25:4-7 – As for Heman, from his sons: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shubael and Jerimoth; Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti and Romamti-Ezer; Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir and Mahazioth. (All these were sons of Heman the king’s seer. They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.) All these men were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288.

These are just a few examples, but do you see a trend here? Everyone who was in charge of music for the temple had to be skillful. They were all called to exhibit that skill in leadership of the people for the glory of the Lord. For those who think worship is easy, these biblical texts should begin to break that thought down. What we do is not easy. Rather, it is difficult. I have been an on-call musician for the better part of 25 years, but I couldn’t sit down at a drum set, keyboard, bass guitar, or vocal mic and do what I do now back when I started. I had to practice. My parents spent copious amounts of money over the years for me to obtain lessons and learn. All that learning translated into the ability to play and sing skillfully, and God has used in me to lead His people in worship. While might look easy on stage, it is most certainly not. The same can be said of those who serve faithfully on the technical side of worship as well. They do a great job of mixing, presenting, and lighting the elements on the stage in a way that hopefully means you don’t notice them at all.

To help nullify this myth, it is important to let you in on what happens “behind the curtain” in order to better understand how things appear that way.

1. Music Prep – When we prepare, we don’t just “pick ’em and sing ’em” on a Sunday morning. We begin preparation for each Sunday morning 5 weeks ahead of time. I spend the better part of each Monday in the office scheduling music, listening to new music, and prayerfully choosing music that fits where the message is taking the congregation that week. Our team utilizes a worship planning software program from which we schedule technical and stage team members, build the service flow, and add chosen songs. Those songs all have a sheet to show how the song goes, a chord chart to practice with, and a listening track for the team to familiarize themselves with the music. Each scheduled musician and vocalist has 5 weeks to work at home on that music, and have it ready to go. The Wednesday before the scheduled service, that team gets together for an initial rehearsal. This is where we iron out all the musical issues and rehearse transitions between songs. The team then comes in 90 minutes before the first service of the week to do a full run-through and sound check, putting the finishing touches on our musical offering to the Lord. Some folks from the outside have questioned the need for all this rehearsing, as they don’t personally need that much prep. The deal here is that it isn’t about the individual, but rather, about the team. We want to give God our best, so we work hard as a team to do so. We put our own preferences aside for His glory and the benefit of those who attend.

    2. Technical Prep – The technical aspect of worship experiences don’t just happen. There is much to be done on the backside in order to present and support the live stage elements with excellence and minimal distraction. Wednesday is when those elements are implemented so they    are ready to go for rehearsals, and it takes most of the afternoon. The technical systems for audio, video, and lighting are updated, and the software is tested to ensure it works properly. From there, the entire Sunday morning “script” for both our Classic and Modern worship experiences are built from scratch, including scrolling pre-service announcements, service start countdown, songs with still and motion backgrounds, sermon notes, communion cue, and pre-post service elements. Once that is complete, all the lighting is set for each element of each service. There are generally 8-10 lighting changes in the classic service, and 14-17 changes in the modern service. Each one has to be programmed individually and set to change manually when commanded by the lighting tech. Our lighting system controls the stage lights and the house lights individually, so it can be an involved process to build those lighting scripts each week.

    3. Maintenance – There is also a large portion of maintenance to be done each week. Drums have to be tuned, cables tested, software updated, stage elements and musical stations moved to fit the next week’s service needs, batteries changed out, camera and monitors tested, etc… We do this every week to ensure everything is in working order. Now, technology is a funny thing, and there are times when it is finicky during services, but we do our best to make sure it is working correctly before we get started.

In all honesty we want it to look easy, because when it looks easy, it means we’ve done all the work necessary for a relatively distraction-free worship experience. When the flow is seamless, the music is on point, and the technical aspects of audio, video, and lighting all come together to create an atmosphere of worship where folks can let go and give God glory in spirit and in truth, then we’ve done our job! It takes a ton of back-end preparation and planning, rehearsing, testing, checking, tweaking, and maintaining to pull off a seamless and distraction free worship experience. Even when all the prep is done correctly, sometimes things still go wrong! We are human, after all… Even so, our skillful team pulls together to get the job done and lead our congregation in worship. Just remember, when it looks easy, it really isn’t. With that in mind, why not take the time to thank your worship team and tech team? Better yet, if you are skilled, why not get involved?

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  1. Cory Zipperle permalink

    “I don’t understand why you need to get up early and practice to play 3 chords.”

    Is it just me, or are these always the musicians that struggle to do their “3 chords” well? Seems that some forget that there’s a difference between playing “3 chords” and making those “3 chords” into music.

    • I agree there’s a difference, which is why we have the music so far ahead of time. I have had some of the musical types you describe say something similar, but the unfortunate reality is that I’ve heard that comment from far more accomplished musicians who choose to think about “their time” as more precious than “looking to the interest of others” as Philippians 2 tells us to do.

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