Everybody Cheats: Changing the Key

Everybody Cheats, Changing the Key

I can’t believe they sing the song in that key. The octave jump on the bridge is insane — especially if you are leading at the early service.

When I first started leading worship, I always thought that I had to sing the song in the same key as the original artist. I am not sure if was not knowing how to transpose, my or the bands inability to play the guitar riff in another position or just plain pride, but I was going to scream (quite literally at times) my way through every high note.

Unless you are waking up four hours early, 5:00AM anyone, to naturally awaken your vocal cords or doing calesthenics before your vocal warm-ups (this works, but seriously who wants to do jumping jacks on a Sunday morning) — the truth is the recorded key of many worship songs is just too high for most of us. If its too high for us then it is probably too high for congregational singing.

So here is the thing — everybody cheats and you should too. If you are like me, when you go to a concert or conference you probably look over to the instrumentalist of your same persuasion to see how they are getting that sound. As a guitar player, I have quite often spotted a guitar capo where none should be. After pulling up the chromatic tuning app on my iPhone (yep, I’m that kind of nerd), I have often found that they are anywhere from a half-step to a step and a half lower than the recorded key.

Oh, but you were in the arena when they recorded that new electric-folk worship anthem and you know he was playing an open C shape on his guitar; the real question is — were you in the studio when they overdubbed the lead vocal track? That’s right most live albums aren’t quite as “live” as we would like to believe. While I am certain there are exceptions to the rule, there are very few one-take wonders out there. In addition, the acoustic challenges of live venues, such as drum bleed into microphones, make it almost certain that some if not all of the vocal track is overdubbed later in a studio. People have been doing things in studio for years that are impossible or impractical to do live.

So it’s ok to “cheat.” Change the key. Make the song easier for you and especially your congregation to sing. Do this and I think you will see two immediate benefits: First, you will feel less pressure to perform and more freedom to lead. Second, your congregation will begin to sing out with more confidence.

Overwhelmed By Feedback

Overwhelmed by Feedback

Feedback can be your best friend and your worst enemy. I am not talking about the screeching noise caused by a vocalist pointing an open microphone directly into a floor monitor or the glorious tone of humbuckers inches from the grill of a tube amp, but rather others opinions or comments about how you do what you do.

We need more fast songs. It’s too loud. Too quiet. I love that song. I am sick of hearing that song. You should give her/him more solos…

Yes, when we lead worship it is for God, but unless you are singing and playing in the privacy of your own bedroom (which we all need more of in our lives) what other people think matters. We all need the perspective of other people.

Why? Because as worship leaders it is our responsibility to take people on a journey with us. That is very difficult to do if our performance isn’t making them want to join us. Yes, we can say people should be mature enough to worship God despite circumstance, but not everyone is there and if we are honest we are not alway there either. Also, we should desire to offer God our best. One the best ways to get better is to listen to feedback.

This is difficult because everyone has an opinion about music. Often those opinions can be extreme opposites. So how do you know which feedback is beneficial? You have to process it.

I find it best to run any feedback I receive through the filters below to determine if it is fair critique or unfair criticism. Use these questions not just for feedback about music, but any area of life.

What are they trying to communicate?
This may not be the same thing as what they are saying. Non-specific feedback is basically useless. Please understand, this doesn’t mean that someone’s opinion is invalid; it means that it will be difficult to fix a problem or implement something new based on non-specific feedback.

Let’s look at perhaps the most ubiquitous example of non-specific feedback in the realm of worship leading — ‘the music is TOO loud!’ I could and probably will write an entire post on this, but loudness is relative. There are lots of things you need to know to make this feeback useful. Where were they sitting? Right next to the speaker? Try to get them to use more descriptive words: piercing, sharp, muddy, booming, harsh, etc. As many of us have experienced the music may not be too loud; they may be sitting in the wrong place (trying to explain that to them – once again another blog post) or the mix may be poor or it could really just be too loud. The more information you have the better you can understand and fix the problem.

Two more offenders in the non-specific category: ‘I really didn’t like it’ or ‘that was awesome.’ What didn’t you like about it? What about it was awesome? If someone feels comfortable enough giving you feedback, they should feel comfortable enough engaging in a conversation with you about it. Which leads me to our next question.

Who is giving the feedback?
Is it your boss? The key leader? Better listen up. That doesn’t alway mean you implement their suggestion, but it most certainly means you need to give it top consideration. It is always the right thing to do to honor your leaders; this doesn’t mean they are automatically right, but I would like to believe that they have right intent. I am fortunate to be at a place where discussion is encouraged and very rarely am I given a directive. If you find more often than not you and your leader cannot come to an agreement, you likely need to do one of two things. Check your pride or resign.

Is the person a friend or collegue? Your spouse? Listen to them. Learn from them. Remember relationships are often more important than being right. These people know you best and will likely give you the most honest feedback in the most gracious way.

Is it someone under you? A band member or vocalist? Nothing frustrates someone working for you more than feeling like they do not have input. Listen to their suggestions. Create a culture where feedback and ideas are welcome. During rehearsals, I will often turn to the band to ask them how they feel about my guitar tone or if what I am playing complements the song. Ask how they feel about the direction of a song. Find little ways to invite their feedback.

Also, try out their ideas. Sometimes a band member will offer an idea that I really don’t like. In most rehearsals, we have the time to take a few detours so I will usually let the band experiment. Often times hearing their suggestion will change my mind or hearing their own suggestion will cause them to rethink the idea. Honestly, getting things to sound 90% the way I want them and having a happy band is better than sounding studio perfect with the band feeling as if they are being creatively oppressed.

Is it someone whose authority you trust? This means two different things to me. Musically, it can mean do they have a musical ear making them able to actually offer helpful advice. Spiritually, this is even more important. I have seen some crazy people tell people crazy things in the name of God. God does speak through people; however, I have often found those who really want you to know that God told them something to tell you are the ones you to whom you probably shouldn’t be listening. Never let anyone speak into your life unless you can trust their spiritual authority.

Are they a part of the group of people you are trying to impact? ‘Target audience’ sounds too worldly for church, but hear me out. I not only lead on Sunday mornings, but I also lead worship at our Wednesday evening student ministry. Sometimes adults will give me feedback. While I am blessed that they are able to enter into worship and hate that the music may be too loud for some of them (we keep ear plugs in the back) – their opinion does not influence how I lead students at student ministry events. The impact that I have on the group I am currently leading or trying to reach is always most important — even if it doesn’t align with my own personal preference.

Was it anonymous feedback? This is the worst. 99.9% of anonymous feedback is useless. Ok, the number may not actually be that high, but nothing makes me walk in the flesh more than a note that was passed through the offering plate. As a rule, we discount most anonymous feedback because it often fails to answer the first question: What are they trying to communicate? You cannot know for sure, because there is no way to have a dialogue. If they were able to articulate clearly and you can see their point then great; however, if it is a vague criticism or complement, let it go. Yes, even the compliments. A vague complement like “I loved worship this morning” isn’t helpful in evaluating what will make you a better worship leader. Feel good that you are impacting people, but seek out feedback from other sources so that you can continue to improve.

Anonymous feedback isn‘t always that anonymous. Have you ever had someone come up to you saying something like “people are saying _______________” or “a lot of people don’t like _______________.” Don’t follow that rabbit trail. This is often done by two types of people: the passive aggresive complainer or the sky-is-falling worrier. Even if you think the messenger is well intentioned, always respond with “Who is saying that?” If the complaint is a serious accusation, then you should press that this needs to be done according to Matthew 18:15–18. If it is not serious, I would still mention handling this according to Matthew 18, but let it go.

Remember, if someone is giving you feedback engage with them respectfully. It can be very difficult to express your opinion to another person. Yes, some people are just complainers, but don‘t automatically default to defensive mode. You do not want to shut people down. We do not want to create a culture where people are afraid to offer feedback. Feedback is important for our growth. We should treasure it.