Do We Really Need to Practice?
Now, I’ve gone and done it! Now, I’ve spoken a word that sounds like too much work! “Can’t we just
‘wing it’? You can, but the quality of your music will diminish. You won’t grow or change with new music. You’ll get to where you sing the same old songs over and over and over. And you may miss everything God is wanting to do today.
God desires excellence from us. In order to minister through music, giving God our best, we prepare ourselves spiritually, by reading the Word and praying. We prepare ourselves musically by developing skill, through practice.
Besides, everybody does not want to just ‘wing it’. People, whether they want to admit it or not, want and need discipline. We must practice when we feel like it, and we must practice when we do not feel like it. We practice to perfect our skills. If our lack of skill turns someone off before the message is preached and before the Word is received, that person may never have another opportunity to hear about Jesus.
Time is valuable. We must consistently minister quality music to the people.
Who needs to practice? Everyone involved in music ministry, to include the Sound Technician who
manages the audio equipment and the Media Technician who manages the overhead display screens.
Beyond skills related to music, what does group practice really do for us?
First we pray. By praying, we ask for God’s direction and His purpose in our practice and our lives. We give all the glory to God for all He has done in our lives and for what He now wants to do through us in this time of ministry.
As we pray, we pray for one another, developing relationships between people. We cry together, rejoice together, and we trust God together for our lives, our families, our church, our community, and our world.
Practice brings us into one accord. We develop unity of purpose – to worship God, to serve God, to point
others to a saving knowledge of Jesus, and to encourage people to live, by faith, the abundant life God has promised.
Follow the Leader. Practice helps us to work together in unity. You may have sung a song for many years, but that does not mean you can sing it the way you know it. In this day and age, with so many individuals learning songs from listening to music, instead of reading written music, it is only natural that we all sing familiar songs a little differently. All must learn to listen and follow the Leader in order to have order. Change requires effort. God will help you. Later, you can sing that same song your way if you are doing a solo, but when people come together to worship in one accord, everyone needs to make a diligent effort to follow the Leader. Don’t revert back to “your way of singing the song” once the church service starts. You may think people don’t notice, but they do. I would like to think that when this happens, it is an accident or
mistake, otherwise it may be rebellion. I would not like to think that was anyone’s motive. Good listening to the Leader will help prevent this from happening.
Limit the amount of extra singing vocalizations. Example: You may like to add a little vocal curlicue at the end of many lines. Corporate worship time is not the time for that. You can do add all the embellishments you want when you sing solos, but too many people doing vocal gymnastics can be a distraction – and hard for anyone to sing with. Check your goal. Do I want to impress people or do I want people to focus on God?
How loudly should I sing? If you are singing with a group, you should be able to hear yourself and both people on either side of you. If you can’t hear them, you are too loud. If you can’t hear yourself, they are
too loud. Sometimes microphone adjustments can assist with this.
Practice is not just practice. We worship when we practice.
Some of my favorite things to do to encourage worship can also be practiced.
You can slow the tempo of the song. After you have sung the entire song, you can take a fast song and slow the chorus down so that people with be encouraged to think about what they are singing. Too many times people get caught up in the music, but slowing the pace is a very effective way to take people out of
the rhythm of the song and straight to the heart of the words they are singing.
You can silence the instruments. Singing a cappella is a great way to encourage worship. What will the
instrumentalists do while they are not playing the music? They will be adding their voices to worship the Lord.
You can slow the song and silence the instruments.
You can change He to You, when singing about God or Jesus. This moves the focus from singing about the Lord, to singing to the Lord.
Although you do not need to practice these suggestions every time, once all of the musicians get familiar with these strategies, it will be simple to incorporate them into the worship service, as the Lord leads.
What about personal practice time?
Worship is not just for Sundays and practice days. Worshiping God and developing your skill should be a part of your everyday life. Practice enough so that you can worship while you sing or play. Practice enough so that you can relax in your worship and let your love for Christ be seen on your face.
Practice songs that may be shared as solos, duets, etc. This way, when you are surprised that someone was sick and unable to be at church, you can be “instant in season and out of season.” Practice and be
Practice singing harmony with CD’s of your favorite Christian singers. Allow God to develop additional skills in you.
Practice your instrument, by playing songs in different keys. This helps to accommodate singers who need to sing in a lower or higher key. It may feel awkward at first, but God will help you learn to transpose your music. He will help you develop the skills you need.
What can distract us from God’s purpose during our practice?
Be on time.
What does being on time mean, anyway? On time, is the time practice starts. But you already knew
that. If you need to set up your instrument or make any other preparations, you need to arrive early.
This means you need to have an arrival/preparation time and then of course, the time practice starts.
Being late. Some people are late all the time. They just can’t seem to get to practice on time. When people are consistently late, it sends a message that says what I am doing is more important than what you are doing. It places self, first. God expects us to put Him first. Part of excellence is being on time for practice.
Can’t I just catch up when I get there? Oh, you may think that you will catch up when you get to practice, but in your tardiness, other singers and musicians are missing your presence. We cannot really know what we fully sound like with individuals not present. Also, any new instructions or important changes will have to be repeated for your benefit. In order for us to work together effectively, please be on time.
Practice: If you were an entertainer, and got paid, you would practice. We are not entertainers. We are servants of the Most High God.
Everyone needs practice; not everyone likes it. It is a sacrifice, but it is worth the sacrifice.
Jesus certainly sacrificed for us. How much we owe Him.
Something to ponder:
There is an old saying -
The amateur practices until he gets it right.
The professional practices until he cannot do it wrong.
Now, let's bring that saying into the spiritual realm
The amateur practices until he gets it right.
The minister of music practices until it becomes part of his spirit and then prayerfully brings forth God's Word in power and authority, ministering life and hope to the people. - Mary Willock, D. Min.
There is always paperwork.
I love the electronic age we live in where there are options for communicating information. It is great to be able to display the words for the songs, eliminating the need for paper copies. This works, but not always.
I still use paper copies as well as the digital displays. I love being able to look up on the display and see the words, thus eliminating the need to look down at the music. However, I need a paper copy to remind
me of key changes and the first words of the next song. Paper copies are also good for instrumentalists to be able to take home and practice. The singers also need paper copies. Since only the lyrics appear on the digital screens, having the written music and the lyrics is important, too. OK, I confess, everyone gets paper copies at my church. I haven’t figured out how to avoid it.
All of the following suggestions are meant for everyone who attends practice.
The Leader/designee has the responsibility to prepare and distribute the copies as the practice session begins. Each person, however, needs to check and make sure music is organized and ready when the practice begins.
Bring and wear your glasses during practice.
Bring your own pen or pencil to make notations on your music.
Listen when directions for changes or additions are given. Write the changes down as they are given. Do not require the Leader to give you personal directions.
Eliminate excessive chatting and you will be better able to receive those changes as they are given.
Do not trust your mind to remember. By writing down changes now, you will still have them the next time you revisit this song.
Make sure your name is written at the top of your music so you will always get your copy returned to you. Take notes of your own. When you practice, make every attempt to sing and play the same way during the church service.
Let others help. Assign a copy person or two to make emergency copies. When an extra copy is needed, the Music Leader should not leave the practice session to go and make copies. The Leader should continue to practice, perhaps working on some section that needs a little extra attention. By having people skilled at using the copier and available to assist, no practice time is lost. Everyone stays focused.
What other helpful things can you do to make practice a more enjoyable experience for everyone present?
Turn off your cell phones and other distracting electronic devices. Make practice your priority.
Give your best effort, even at practice.
Be tactful with suggestions.
Keep a good attitude.
Respect the Leader. Respect each individual in the group.
Keep your murmuring and complaining to yourself.
Eliminate frivolous joking and jesting. First, I need to tell you that I don’t mind a little situational humor. Funny things do happen when people get together. Light humor – hopefully encouraging. However, I cannot tell you how many times someone has tried to tell me a crude joke before or during practice.
They want everyone to hear. I am in absolute horror when this happens. The focus of the worship team moves to this ghastly humor, obviously an attempt of the enemy to move the focus of people away from God and His purpose in our lives. The Bible tells us to not let the following be “named among you, as is fitting for saints – neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Ephesians 5:3-4. I have spoken out many times against this behavior. Some people may think that as long as it is funny, it is all right. Know this, foolish talking and coarse jesting destroy your witness. This is absolutely unacceptable for Christians, especially Christians in leadership.
Encourage one another. Be not easily offended. Everyone needs correction now and again.
Do not require lots of praise. When praise comes, give God the praise and the glory, for He is the one who enables you to do well.
Make a plan, but be sensitive to what God is doing. You may sing the chorus extra times or may even return to a verse. Some songs work together so well that I just move to the next song without requiring in introduction. Or sometimes, I move back to the former song. I try to flow with what God is speaking to my heart during worship, thus allowing Him control of the service.
What happens when things don’t go as planned?
Even when you have planned and practiced, remember that unexpected things do happen during the service. Trust God to cover mistakes. You will probably notice your own more than anyone else. Trust Him to “work things out for your good.” (Romans 8:28) Focus on pleasing God. He will take care of the rest.
Do we really need to practice? Yes!
© Mary Willock, 2014 - 2020 You have permission to print copies of this article for use in your personal or church related ministry.