Mark’s ‘magic’ chords… and worship leader insights

1 Oct

By definition, leaders lead.  Therefore, it is the worship leader’s highest objective to lead the people into a meaningful encounter with our Lord’s presence… for their sakes… and for His.  As a worshiper, getting my body to come to attention is just the beginning of the journey.  Another important ‘ingredient’ is getting my brain and mind engaged in a theologically correct direction… both of which help me reach my goal.  But ultimately, it’s not my body or my soul that I want ‘driving’ my worship experience… rather, I want my heart / ‘spirit man’ fully engaged and ‘driving’ my worship expressions.

Our body responds very well to strong beat and faster tempo… (think mindless/involuntary tapping of your foot to the beat of the music).  And my brain responds very favorably to harmonies, super-fine musical ‘gymnastics’ and intricacies… and highly stylish leadership.  But my heart needs a peaceful, relaxing, spacious, gentle and safe internal condition and surrounding atmosphere, in order for it be fully engaged and released in full capacity.

Here are a few things that may hinder full heart engagement with worship:

1) Stopping the music between songs

I realize that it is trendy to stop between songs.  But since the CDs are selling well then we must do the songs just like they’re done on the CD.  And of course, that gives everyone an opportunity to ‘give it up’ for the band between songs… (maybe a little sarcasm there).

But here’s the truth: each time the music stops, the worshiper’s heart is interrupted by their head, which is now called upon to evaluate components of the silence… I wonder what’s coming next…  I don’t want to disengage my worship posture… but does the worship leader know what he’s/she’s doing… Jesus, I’m trying to stay engaged with You… has someone forgotten what to do… look at the band members signaling between themselves… oops, somebody dropped their chord chart… sorry Jesus, I’m trying… wonder who’s going to start the next song… this new song has a completely different feel from the previous song and I was just beginning to get into it… sure would have been nice to segue less obtrusively… etc.

2) Songs are too wordy or too new

As long as I’m having to read the words in order to know what to sing, that means my brain is in process mode… and all my available CPU bandwidth is being hogged by my mind.  Good theology, even wordy Biblical songs are good as a beginning place in our overall worship experience.  And in order to not get bored or boring, we must introduce new songs from time to time…. but the heart needs a significant level of non-mind-demanding familiarity with a song.  More important than the words, my heart needs the conditions and space to process the sentiments of the song, in order to fully engage in an encounter.

3) Melody notes are pitched too high to sing

Many times vocally talented worship leaders have the ability to sing beyond the range of the average worshiper.  This relegates the worshipers to spectators, unless they have enough skill to be able to find a harmony part or sing an octave lower.  Keyboard w Average Singers RangeA good rule of thumb is this:  the average worshiper has about a 13 half-step range – and that is usually between an A below middle C and D just over one octave above middle C.  (Note the green shaded area in this graphic)  Even though it may be exhilarating for the worship leader, if there are any song melody notes outside this range, then the worshipers become spectators… wishing they could join in the fun.  The worship leader has ceased being a leader… and is now just a performer.  If this happens very often we may end up wondering why people just don’t seem to ‘enter in’.    

4) PA is too loud… or not clear… or has feedback

Having to cover our ears can’t be good anyway you look at it.  It’s embarrassing to put your hands over your ears.  It’s embarrassing to find your earplugs and insert them.  The fact is, there are easy-to-obtain proven levels and durations of decibels at which ear damage occurs.  Churches may actually be legally liable for violating these acceptable OSHA standards.  But more important than all of that, is the fact that we’ve created an environment where the worshiper’s heart is distracted from being engaged… the very thing that should be our ultimate goal.

5) Obtrusive instruments vying for my attention

As a team members blend smoothly… or as one member shines in their appropriate time, the heart can move in sync with the ‘rhythm’ of the flow of sounds.  But if one or more instruments are obtrusive or attracting undue attention, the brain is sorely tempted to analyze and maybe criticize… which hogs the bandwidth of a heart’s ability to engage… which was our goal.


All of the previously mentioned trouble areas scream for my brain’s CPU processing bandwidth.  And as long as my brain is in the ‘driver’s seat’, then my heart is trying to patiently wait for the opportunity to engage and take over.  So if these are truly problems areas, then worship leaders must try to reduce the frequency of these ‘robbers’ of true heart worship.

A few personal tips to destroy the ‘robbers’

Since starting and stopping activates the mind and disengages the heart, I try to make one song flow into another.  And if my next song is in another key then I try to modulate the current song (raise to another key), thus giving that song ‘a new lease on life’ and putting me in a better key for the next song.  This requires more forethought and planning but gives the hearts of our followers a better opportunity to go where our ultimate objective is… a deep and meaningful experience where our spirit man has had an uninterrupted encounter with His Spirit.

A method some worship leaders use is to ask the keyboardist to hold a chord… or at least a warm-pad note through the transition time.  Or some worship leaders have a effect pedal which they activate to hold a preprogrammed sound between songs; e.g DigiTech JamMan Solo xt.  But in any case, the idea is to avoid whatever disengages the heart. 

So if can we agree that it’s all about the heart, then we need to give the heart ample time to express its own sentiments.  But if the worship leader monopolizes the worshipers with computer projected words only, then our hearts may never get the opportunity to exercise in finding personally unique words and expressions to communicate our own sentiments.  Without this heart-time, we may be creating ‘bottle-fed’ or ‘binky-only’ worshipers who have never been weaned from the projection screen.  Hmmmm.  At least four times Scripture rather pointedly implores… and maybe even charges us, “O sing unto the Lord a new song” (Ps 96:1; Ps 98:1; Ps 149:1; Isa 42:10).  In light of this, we may want to explore more hang-time spontaneous worship.

I ask people which they prefer; day-old cold pancakes out of the refrigerator… or steaming hot pancakes right off the griddle with melted butter and warm maple syrup slathered over top?  Which do you prefer?  Which do you think Jesus prefers from you… songs projected up on a screen that were written by someone else… or the ones that are fresh and current right off the altar of your heart?  Ok, I think we get the point.

So if you want to create the opportunity to ‘sing a new song’, add ‘magic’ chords to the end of the song.  “Ok, this song is really so good that I don’t want it to end, but I’ve already sung the verses and chorus several times… so how do I keep the ‘ball in motion’?”  Here are a couple ways: 1) repeat the chords of the last line… or 2) use one of the ‘magic’ chord progressions from ‘Chord Progressions for Spontaneous Worship’ (below).  Using these options, the worshipers now have a chance to offer their own fresh ‘pancakes’ to the One who knows them best and loves them most.

I’ve used repetitive chord progressions all my life.  But one time a good friend who is a worship leader was in our meeting.  He always played his songs as written… ended the song, then began another one.  After our meeting, he exclaimed, “Mark, what are those magic chords?”  I showed him what they were and how simple they were to use.  From then on I’ve been calling them my ‘magic’ chords.

These progressions can be tailored easily to fit any tempo, any key and any time signature… whatever your song-feel determines. Every 4-bar staff is a complete progression in itself.  Just repeat it as many times as you like.  Experiment with them until they become second nature to you.  I’ve left a few open staffs to create and write your own ‘magic’ chords.  To download (click here)

Enjoy the ‘magic’!


Spontaneous worship chords - magic chords


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