How to Teach a New Song to a Congregation

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A vital aspect of most church services is congregational singing, a centuries-old tradition. In order for new songs to be added to a church’s order of service, church members need to learn the songs to sing. One hurdle that contemporary church settings have in teaching new songs is the lack of a musical score from which church members can read (i.e., a hymnal). Because of this, song leaders must be creative in effectively teaching new songs to the congregation. When teaching a new song, consider the following principles:

  1. Acquaintability: Before attempting to have the congregation sing a new song, provide familiarity by first introducing the song as a solo or choir special. This will allow the congregation to become acquainted with the melody before attempting to sing it. The congregation will be more likely to participate after they have first heard the song. Other ways to provide familiarity include using the new song as a part of a pre-service playlist for several weeks, or emailing an audio/video link of the new song to church members as an announcement of an upcoming new song.
  2. Audibility: When introducing a new congregational song for the first time, make sure the melody is audible to the congregation and that the melodic line is sung without improvisation. Church members learning a new song rely on the song leader to present a clear melody from which they can follow. Without a clear melodic line provided, church members will struggle to learn the melody, much less sing it with confidence.
  3. Accessibility: When singing a congregational song, choose a key that makes the melody line accessible to the congregation, not necessarily what is most comfortable for the music leader or praise team. The song key should be determined by the melodic range. Strive to keep the melody line within the voice range overlap of all voice types. Based on the vocal ranges given in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music voice categories, a strict voice range overlap, based on octave equivalence, is C4-C5. A more flexible voice range overlap would increase each limit by a tone to Bb3-D5.
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After introducing a new song to the congregation, repetition becomes essential. This means singing the same song multiple weeks in a row, maybe as a new “song of the month.” This strategy will help church members gain a solid understanding of the melody line, and provide opportunity for those church members that may not attend service every week to learn the song as well. Think about it, while song leaders and praise team members rehearse a song multiple times a week, the congregation often only hear the song on Sunday morning. Hearing the song several weeks in a row will greatly benefit them.

Finally, do not overload the congregation with new songs. Part of the joy of corporate singing is being confident in knowing the songs sung in order to participate. This only happens with repeated singing. By introducing new songs too frequently, church members will have a harder time remembering all the new songs, and they will not have the same confidence in singing these new songs. A good rule of thumb is to teach one new song per month, which provides twelve new songs per year.

By implementing these principles, you will be more effective in teaching new songs in a way that promotes congregational participation.

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