listen and learn worship music

I’ve got to be honest with you. This is not some brilliant idea I came up with one day. It was sort of an accidental discovery.

I set out to become a songwriter (and I knew absolutely nothing) so I began listening to music in a different way. My intention was to figure out how to write good lyrics and discover what made up a decent chord progression.

The result? I became a better Worship Leader.
Hopefully I’m becoming a better songwriter too. But I was so surprised by the benefits to my worship leading that I’d like to share what I was listening to, what I was listening for, and how it impacted me as a musician and leader.
1. I listened for chord progression and memorizing my music became easier.
I went really nerdy here, okay? I turn on K-Love or scroll through some worship music on Spotify. While the song is playing I try to identify each chord. Let’s use “Phil Whickam’s “This Is Amazing Grace” as an example.  I let the first few seconds go by so my ear can get a feel for the I chord.  By the time he hits the chorus, I can tell that the first chord in the chorus is the I (tonic, home, 1, whatever you want to call it). The next chord jumps to the IV. Then VI minor and V. I do this for the whole song and write out the progression. My thought was, this process would help me see what chord progressions songwriters were using. Which it did. And I did this exercise frequently.
But then I began noticing how I was memorizing my music (I play keys) for church differently. Instead of thinking in my head “Bb, Eb, Gm, F, I began to think I, IV, VI, V. My ear was hearing what the next chord should sound like while my brain was quickly saying, “I hear a IV coming up”. Then boom, I knew the chord. How cool is that?
2. I listened for syllable count and rhyme scheme and I became a better song selector for worship sets.

You know the whole syllable matching puzzle songwriters go through to make the song balanced? Let’s continue with the same song for an example. Line 1 of Verse 1 has 10 syllables. Line 1 of Verse 2 also has 10 syllables. This is done on purpose. Why? So that listeners have an easier time remembering the song. This helps the song become familiar and easier to sing. The same goes for the rhyming scheme. It will stay consistent throughout so that us listeners can catch on quick to the lyrics.
I pay so much more attention to the lyrics of possible worship songs before deciding to throw them on the set.
I ask myself, “Will the congregation pick up these lyrics quickly?” “Is this song conversational AND balanced?”
As a Worship Leader, we should be looking for songs that meet these criteria so our congregation can sing along more quickly.
3. I listened for melodic steps and jumps and teaching vocalists their parts became simple.

I put some serious time into listening to melodies. While listening to a song, I would sit at my piano and plunk out the melody. Then I could easily see the movement. What I found was that there are typically smaller melodic movements in verses and larger jumps in the chorus. Since I put the time into this process, my ear improved and it became easier to teach singers their parts. When I go to play through a worship song we are doing at church, I can see and hear the melody steps and jumps much faster. Being able to say to a singer, “It jumps a fifth here” is a great visual for them.

Basically, taking time to really dig into the inner workings of music is only going to make you a smarter musician. AND it will make you a more discerning Worship Leader.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!