Teaching a new song
[First published in Mainstream magazine Summer 2003 under the title ‘Nitty Gritty’ issues II]
One of the questions I am often asked is ‘HOW DO WE INTRODUCE NEW MATERIAL’– songs, hymns etc, into the gatherings of which we are a part’?
I have discovered a number of different ways to approach this – I am sure there are others too.
Here then are a few observations I’ve made – I offer these to you.
Why do we need to learn new songs? – I talked in an earlier article about how we need to develop a vocabulary of song choice that reflects the myriad expressions of faith in our amazing God. His relationship with us, ours to him and to each other and to his world, [praise, adoration, coming together, intercession, saying sorry, commissioning to name a few!]
What are we doing when learning new songs?
An obvious question, but it needs a careful note.
• Take time to teach the song carefully [what you sow you will reap!].
• Remember too that for some of the songs in the contemporary category – even the composers will sing it differently to how it has been written down, so decide which version you will use [whether you are learning it from a CD or from manuscript] and stick to it.
• In my experience there are very few songs that people feel they have engaged in at the first learning session. This particularly applies to songs with complex melodies and rhythms.
SO – keep your expectations realistic [i.e. don’t expect everyone to immediately engage with the song and ‘touch heaven’ [or His world!!] on the very first sing through!
Remember it may take a while for some people to move to a place of ‘using’ the new hymn or song in their worship without having to concentrate so much on the learning process.
See the teaching time then, as a foundation that people can build on. As you use the song in subsequent weeks they will move naturally to a place of ownership of the songs – particularly when it is expressing a corporate story.
What material should we introduce?
Let me encourage you to become a song harvester! You can glean songs from anywhere – CD recordings, conferences, older hymnbooks, not forgetting the resource within your own congregations [songwriters, songs from around the world, from other Christian faith experiences e.g. gospel, Iona].
Do look back to the ‘Choosing the Songs’ article in a previous issue of ‘Worship File’ for other suggestions of song repertoire/vocabulary.
Also let me offer encouragement for you to discover, if you haven’t already, who are the songwriters in your fellowship! [Don’t forget the little people, children and youth too]
Songs from within the fellowship will reflect something of the journey the fellowship is making – this is to be strongly encouraged!!
Perhaps you can set aside an evening for any budding songwriters – space to hear songs and put songwriting into a bible context, time to critique other ‘well known’ songs and hymns, to learn together some essential songwriting principles [scanning of words, format, melody writing etc] and more…
When? [Some practical timing suggestions]
- Week I: Introducing the song –Introduce it before the gathering starts. This provides a good base to then use it later in the gathering.
- Arrange a ‘learning new songs’ evening. A place to learn carefully, new songs, and introduce them to the congregation.
- You could introduce the new song by having a choir or soloist sing it the week before, using it again for all to sing the following week. Try to re-visit it in subsequent weeks if you can – every little helps!
- A new song every week is obviously overload, but one new song every 6 months is perhaps the other extreme. The number of new songs that can be introduced and be given time to ‘bed in’ will be related to the amount of time you meet as a congregation, and sing in worship.
How do I teach a new song?
There are SO many different ways to teach a song. Here are a few:
- Sing the song [or a verse or chorus] through once so that people have an idea of the context.
- Then you [or the group of singers/choir with you] sing a line and ask the congregation to sing that line back to you.
- When you think they have learnt that line move on – if is it taking a long time for a line to be learnt – break it down to half lines or even individual words, remember this is the crucial stage of learning and if the goal is ‘to learn the song’ – don’t worry, it is not ‘interrupting the flow of the Spirit’!
- For some songs that have 3 sections [i.e. a verse, chorus and bridge section] you may want to learn just the verse and chorus during the first session and then add the bridge the following session/gathering.
Alternatively – you could have the group/congregation learn and sing the verse and chorus and you ask them to listen to you or the other singers to sing the bridge and then move back to the chorus [saying that the next time we sing this song –we’ll all learn the bridge section].
- If there are any sections that are particularly easy to pick up [a chorus or part of a verse] then you might want to start learning that first, so that people feel a sense of completion.
Who can teach the song? – YOU!
As long as you know the song well you can teach it.
Keep it within your confidence and skill ability. [If you are unsure about the melody or the words, that WILL be obvious as you teach the song].
If you know well the song you are teaching, it will make the whole process easier for learners and teachers alike!
19 March 2007