It’s not always possible to nail down in rehearsal exactly how you’re going to do a song in a service. We might realize as we’re singing a song that we need to cut it short, extend it, go back to a previous verse, or repeat a section. We might sense that God is prompting us to do something we hadn’t planned at all. The worship leader needs to be able to clearly communicate these changes in direction with the worship team. Without using words.
Here are a few hand signals I’ve found helpful for communicating with the worship team non-verbally.
Raised clenched fist
We’re ending. Be sure you give the team a measure or two of notice – you can’t throw up your first on beat three and expect them to stop on four. Think ahead a few bars so you can come to a nice smooth landing.
Pointer finger swirling in the air in a circle
We’re going to repeat this section again. You don’t need to make this very dramatic. Subtle enough that the congregation doesn’t think you’re doing arm exercises but clearly enough that your team can see it.
Raise one finger
Go to verse one. Raise two fingers for verse two, and so on.
Hand curled in a “C” shape
Go to the chorus. Looks like you’re holding an invisible baseball.
Point at one musician
Everyone stop playing except this person. I’ll use this if we’re going into a chorus and I only want the drummer to play, or if I’m going to say something to the congregation and I only want the pianist to play. Don’t point at them like you’re accusing them of something – but so they get the point that you want them to keep playing. Accompany this with a slight nodding of your head so they get the point. Make sure you have eye contact with them.
Outstretched hand in a “hold it” position
Stop playing. If you’re playing guitar or the keyboard, lower your hand like you’re petting an imaginary dog slightly behind/to the side of you. If you’re sitting down at the piano, stretch the palm of your hand out to them. Again, not too dramatically.
A repeated downward pat
Quiet down. Don’t accompany with a scowl. Accompany with a smile to lessen the impact.
Upward fanning motion
Don’t hold back. Accompanied with an encouraging look on your face, this will help a shy musician know they have your permission to be a bit more bold.
Pat your heart with a closed fist
Thank you. Mouth the words “thank you” as you do this. Helpful for communicating your gratefulness to your volunteers if they’re all spread out on the platform and it’s noisy.
Point at an instrument and then point up or down
I need to hear more/less of them in my monitor. For communicating with your sound engineer. Try to do this sparingly as it can be distracting to the congregation. Make sure your sound engineer is looking at you.
There are many more hand signals that are effective, I’m sure. These are just a few examples. In your specific context, just take some time to talk with your team about what your hand signals mean so that they don’t have to guess. They might even have some good ideas and suggestions for how you can clearly communicate with them. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that my hand signals were confusing, so I’ve tried to make them clearer.
If you’re leading from the guitar and your hands and taken up, you can use the neck of the guitar to communicate basic signals such as: the song is ending, everyone drop out, and everyone come in. Point the guitar back and they’ll know something is up. Odds are they’ll be able to guess what you’re trying to communicate if you’re at least trying. Better to give a poor signal than no signal at all.
Feel free to share any other hand signals you’ve found helpful!