By Abram Kielsmeier-Jones
This morning I had the privilege of teaching our worshiping community a new song. Because I had guessed it would be new to the majority of our congregation, I decided to teach the song before we sang it all the way through. There are at least six things I like to try to do when teaching a new song:
1. Split it into pieces. I had the chorus for All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises on two Powerpoint slides. So I sang through the first half of the chorus (one PPT slide), stopped, and invited the congregation to sing that same part with me. Then I repeated that same process for the second half of the chorus. This way the congregation had heard the chorus once and sung it once.
2. Teach it not in order. This helps me and hopefully others remember that we’re actually working on learning the song. It also keeps us attentive to what part of the song we’re working on. We’ll piece it all together only once we’ve learned the component parts.
3. Highlight the lyrical content. If the tune is new, the lyrics likely are, too. At least they were in this case. So because this song speaks of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, I took the opportunity to highlight that. I actually read some of the song lyrics before teaching it, and connected them to something my church says in our weekly worship: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I mentioned that like 1 Corinthians 15 and Luke 24 this is one of the great summaries of our faith that can unite us across multiple denominations and Christian backgrounds.
4. Teach it with a conversational tone. I can’t think of any other way to teach a song than by actually talking with the congregation about it, what we’re doing, what we’re about to do, etc. I find a friendly, inviting, conversational tone works best. At least it feels right to me when I am teaching a song!
5. Affirm the congregation. Our worshiping community picked this song up so fast today (some knew it already, I think) that this was easy to do. I actually cut short the process of teaching the song so that we could begin from the beginning singing it all the way through. This was due to the fact that as I began teaching the verse (i.e., “I’ll sing so you can hear it”), I could already hear folks singing along. It would certainly not be out of place to sincerely say something like, “You all are good singers!” (Provided it’s true.)
6. Have them hear the song even before I teach it. For example, I had All the Earth will Sing Your Praises played over the speakers as they were leaving worship Monday, knowing we’d be learning it today. It’s a little thing, but it helps. Other options could have been playing it as the prelude today, emailing a Web link to the tune, etc. The bottom line for me is: if we’re doing a song that I think will be new to most in the room, we highlight it as such and carve out time to work to learn it together. Then singing the new song from start to finish is not only easier, but feels like something we have worked at together in a way that draws us closer as we worship.
I am the director of worship at a Christian undergraduate school, husband and father, seminarian, and follower of Jesus. In my current capacity as worship director, I help plan and lead chapel services twice a week, and have the privilege of coaching student worship leaders. In my current capacity as father of two boys and one girl, I change a lot of diapers, read a lot of books, and have a lot of fun. My wife does all that and more. I love her. My B.A. is in Philosophy; I’m currently working on an M.Div. with an urban ministry focus. As you’ll see at Words on the Word, I am particularly enjoying studying the Bible as transmitted in Hebrew and Greek. I read a good amount, too, and write about it here. I have spent more than a decade in youth ministry, working at small, mid-sized, and large churches in Illinois, Virginia, and Massachusetts. I have also led in other church ministry capacities, including leading worship music, preaching, and consulting. I wrote Sustainable Youth Ministry: The Study Guide, which is available for purchase and download here. You can contact me throughTwitter, Facebook, or by using the contact form here.