When I worked as a music director, I’d wake up every Saturday and think, “will it go well today?”.  It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon run-through was done that I was able to relax.  A little.

Week to week, it’s hard to put good music on the stage.  I spent 11 years doing it, and I remember the pressure.  I learned a few things, though.  Here are some suggestions—things you can do right away, this week, to raise the quality of your music.  And remember—the goal should always be to present music that connects.

Do less songs

You just don’t have time enough to rehearse—we both know it.  Spread yourself and your band too thin, and they’ll start playing mechanically, just trying to get through the songs.  More isn’t always better, especially if the songs are strained because you had to do so many of them.

Can you cut one song from your set and still get the job done?  If you have a certain amount of time to fill, try stretching your introductions and endings out a little.  It really does make a song a little easier to sing, if you can kind of get in the mood for it.  Also, take just a few seconds to introduce one or two of the songs with a scripture verse or a short word of invitation to sing.  Remember—the audience is connecting with you as well as God.  They have to; they’re following you.

Simplify the material

Whatever energy you and the other musicians spend struggling with messy, hard-to-read music, that’s energy you’re not spending playing the music with passion and enthusiasm.  Time spent simplifying the music, making it easier to read, is time well spent.  This doesn’t have to be complicted—just make the music easier on the eye, and a little more intuitive.

  • Get rid of the slash chords.  Just cross out the right side of every slash chord and call it good.  The difference will be minimal, and everyone can breath a little easier.  Your guitarists and keyboard players will thank you.  So will the bass player, most likely.
  • Get rid of multiple chords per measure.  Whoever writes these charts is trying very hard to be ‘correct’, but they’re not doing you any favors.   Let your ear be your guide, and just cross some of them out.
  • Make every chord with a number ‘9’ or higher into a ‘7’ instead.  Just change the number to a 7 and leave everything else the same.  For example:  C9=C7, or Cma9=Cma7.
  • Consider rewriting the chart, especially if it’s a song you do a lot.  Here’s an example.  First a messy, difficult chart:

Ab   Ab/C  Eb  Ab  Ab/C  Db  Bbmi    Eb  Eb/G   Ab

And can    it     be  that    I                 should       gain

Seriously.  That’s just downright discouraging to read.  Instead, do this:

Ab                        Db  Eb        Ab

And can it be that I      should gain

  • Cut out that really hard-to-play bridge.  Just don’t play it.  Better to play a song with feeling and leave part of it out, than play the whole thing and just struggle through it.

I have a series of short videos that walks you through the above process in detail.  The first one is here:

and the rest will be lurking over on the right side of the page.  They’re numbered.


Next post: two more easy ways to make your music better.