Leadership training - Lesson 9

By Stafford North

Leading Singing


To inform the class about singing and the principles of effective song leading so they can develop their skills in song leading.


  1. In our services we spend more time in singing than in any other type of worship, except listening to the sermon.
  2. Yet, in our singing we often fail to achieve a real worship experience.
    1. We often ignore the meaning of the words
    2. When we do think about word meanings, we often fail to respond with any feeling. Subject Sentence: The song leader, then, must do his work well so that the singing is meaningful worship, not merely a “community sing.”


  1. The Song Leader Must Understand the Meaning of His Songs.
    1. There are three general types of songs:
      1. Songs of praise-Holy, Holy, Holy; Praise the Lord; Jesus We Love You.
      2. Songs of prayer-Purer in Heart, O God; Lord, We Come Before Thee Now; Make Me a Servant.
      3. Songs of exhortation-Send the Light; Rescue the Perishing, Trust and Obey.
    2. Most songs will fit into one of these three patterns, thus being directed to God as prayer or praise, or being directed to others as exhortation; but some songs (Worthy Art Thou) may have all three ideas.
    3. We must know the meaning of every word in the songs we sing.
      1. Do you understand “visions of rapture” in Blessed Assurance?
      2. Do you understand “seraph song” in The Great Physician?
      3. Do you understand “base denial” and “darker semblance” in In The Hour of Trial?
      4. Do you understand “sweetest frame”: in My Hope is Built on Nothing Less?
      5. Do you understand “Pierce My Ear?”
      6. Do you understand “Is He Calling Me?”
    4. The words of songs are in poetic form and are, therefore, filled with figures of speech that must be understood in order to grasp the meaning:
      1. “Eden’s bowers” in He Leadeth Me
      2. The underlying comparison in Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
      3. “On the portals” in Softly and Tenderly
      4. The reference to “Zion” in Marching to Zion.
      5. “Cleft of the rock” in A Wonderful Savior
      6. “Be still” in Be Still and Know.
      7. “The Lord is my portion” in Steadfast Love of the Lord
    5. We must know how to “phrase” songs so that words which belong in the same thought unit remain together in our minds, even if a breath comes between them.
      1. What does it mean when we sing “Jesus calls us from the worship” in Jesus Calls Us?
      2. We must connect, at least in thought, over two breath stops in the following phrase “Fill with Thy spirit—Till all shall see-Christ only, always, living in me.” —Have Thine Own Way.
  2. The Song Leader Must Select the Songs Carefully.
    1. Of course, he should choose his songs in advance of the service, just as the preacher should prepare his sermon in advance.
    2. He should keep a proper balance in the song selection between old and new; fast and slow; praise, prayer, and exhortation.
    3. He should be certain that the songs chosen contain only scriptural ideas. (Study: There Shall Be Showers of Blessing; Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior.)
    4. The songs should be musically satisfactory.
    5. Do not begin a service with a song not familiar to the audience and do not use more than one unfamiliar song at a service.
    6. It is much easier to move from fast to slow than to move from slow to fast.
    7. When possible, select songs around a theme or the sermon topic, or songs to fit the occasion.
    8. Don’t get in a rut by using the same songs too often; check frequently to find good songs that have not been used recently.
  3. The Song Leader Must Pitch the Song Accurately.
    1. Starting on the right pitch is very important so that the various parts are within the range of the singers.
    2. If you change the pitch, you will change the key, which the composer probably selected to fit the mood of the song.
    3. The pitch should be determined with as little attention as possible.
    4. There are various ways to determine the pitch:
      1. Memory-just starting to sing the song at the pitch which seems to come to mind.
        1. This is not a reliable method.
        2. Yet, all of us do it when we sing to ourselves or a mother starts a lullaby or we sing “Happy Birthday.” Some song leaders can choose the pitch very well this way.
      2. Fixed pitch-by practice, one who is musically inclined can learn to sing or hum a certain note anytime he wishes; he can then move to the note he desires from this fixed pitch.
        1. While this is more reliable than the memory method, it requires the ability to read music and one can easily make a mistake.
        2. Even for those who use a pitch pipe or tuning fork, this method is a good standby when these devices are not available.
        3. Tuning fork-some tuning forks make a single pitch while others can be adjusted to several pitches; with practice the tuning fork can be used without attracting much attention.
        4. Pitch pipe-there are various kinds of pitch pipes available, but all of them give various pitches as the leader blows into them; this is probably the most reliable method. Blow the sound as softly as possible and not into the mike. Learn to be unobtrusive as you do this.
    5. Once the pitch is determined, be sure to start the song with sufficient volume and confidence.
  4. The Song Leader Must Set the Proper Speed.
    1. Basically, the mood of the song should determine the speed to be used.
    2. Do not sing all songs at the same speed for they differ in meaning and mood.
    3. Start the song at the best speed or tempo for the song and then hold that speed without letting the congregation drag you down; you are more likely to be too slow than too fast.
    4. Keep the rhythm constant; do not chop off the end of phrases or start a new verse too soon or too late-a constant rhythm will help maintain the proper tempo.
  5. The Song Leader Must Keep the Congregation Singing Together.
    1. When the congregation does not sing together, worship ceases while everyone struggles to get back together.
    2. The song leader must show from the beginning that the audience will have to accept his speed; he will not conform to theirs.
    3. In a smaller congregation, a song leader can often keep the group together by singing loudly enough to control.
    4. Using proper hand movements can be of important benefit if it is done well:
      1. Feel the pulse or beat of the song. Practice just by tapping your finger or foot on the beat.
      2. Use the simplest hand motion possible
      3. For two beats to the measure (2/4 or 2/2 time), use a down and up motion. Put a little outward curl at the bottom to make an outward “J;” with the first beat at the bottom and the second beat at the dip on the way back.
      4. For three beats to the measure (3/4) use a down, out, up motion with the first beat down, the second beat out away from the body, and the third beat up.
      5. For four beats to the measure (4/4) use a down, across, out, up motion.
      6. If 6/8 time is fast, beat like 2/4 while if it is slow, beat like 3/4 twice in one measure.
  6. The Song Leader Should Follow these General Suggestions:
    1. The most important job of the song leader is to choose satisfactory songs, start them well and at the right tempo, and to keep the audience together so they can concentrate on the meaning.
    2. By all means, avoid distracting hand movements, swaying, and unusual facial expressions. Be as unobtrusive as possible. The less the audience thinks of you, the more they can think of the song’s meaning. And that is your goal.
    3. Avoid lengthy comments, though a brief comment about the significance or important meaning of a song may help the audience to consider its meaning more carefully.


  1. The song leader has a most important part in the worship for he is often the one who sets the tone and mood for a large part of the service.
  2. Mistakes in song leading are easy to make—wrong pitch, missing melody, singing wrong words—so the song leader must stay alert and keep his mind on his work.
  3. A congregation is blessed to have several song leaders who can do a satisfactory job and new song leaders should be trained continually so they will be ready when needed.

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