Put the Music Stand Away

music_standI have a confession to make. This past weekend I came to the sad realization that I have become addicted to the music stand. I’ve become more and more dependent on it, not merely using it as a back-up, but using it as a crutch.

While leading “And Can it Be” on Saturday night I stumbled for the right chords, forgot the lyrics, and was too distracted to lead it confidently – all because I didn’t have the chord chart on the music stand in front of me. Usually if I don’t know the words I can look up at the screen, but I was too busy trying to figure out which chord came next to remember to do that!

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a complete train wreck, and since I wasn’t leading all by myself, I was able to hide my blunders for the most part. But as I’ve thought more about it, I’ve realized that it was the result of a growing dependence on always having the music in front of me, leading me to become a bit lazy and unprepared. While I’m sure many people didn’t notice, some did, and they were too distracted at times by my lack of practice to focus on the amazing love of the Savior that the song talks about.

My guess is that most worship leaders struggle with this “addiction” to the music stand as well. It seems unrealistic to be able to memorize so many different songs’ music and lyrics, and risky to lead without both in front of you at all times. But what ends up happening is what happened to me on Saturday night – we sing songs off of a page, not out of our hearts. This is a problem.

It probably isn’t realistic to memorize every single song’s music and lyrics. Your brain can play funny tricks on you sometimes, and you can completely forget how a verse starts, what the chord progression is on the bridge, etc. Because of this, it probably is a good idea to have the chord charts close by.

But having said that, it should be a goal of worship leaders to lead songs from their hearts, not from a piece of paper. We will lead more effectively if we have spent time not only getting familiar with the songs we’re going to sing, but allowing the truth in them to effect our hearts. We can all tell the difference between when someone reads a speech from a piece of paper or teleprompter, and when someone speaks from their heart with conviction. It shows a genuine belief in what they’re saying. The same applies to worship leaders.

If I’m standing before a congregation, I don’t want to send the message that I’m just caught up in a piece of paper. Instead, I want to send the message that I am caught up in a beautiful Savior. To do this, I need to prayerfully and humbly seek God’s help, and devote time and energy to memorizing the songs I’m leading as best I can.

This week I’m going to try:

  • Devoting an hour or more to singing and playing through the entire service’s song list once it’s finalized.
  • During the services, only have the chord charts in front me for songs that I don’t yet know by heart. This way I won’t be tempted to look at them out of habit, even when it’s not needed.
  • Prioritizing memorizing the lyrics to all the songs. The music is less important.
  • Going through rehearsal without looking at the chord charts at all. This will show me what songs I need to work on harder.

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16 to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Memorizing the songs we lead is one great way to do that.

4 thoughts on “Put the Music Stand Away”

  1. Jamie–I’ve struggled with this, too, especially since family and work demands often leave me with less practice time than I’d like. In this situation, I’ve committed to memorizing more complex songs first. By “complex” I mean either the lyrics or the music, either of which might cause me to focus more on the page than worship. So I spent the time I had memorizing Matt Maher’s “Love Has Come” (key and time signature changes always get me!) and didn’t feel so bad about having to glance down for a moment to recall the bridge progression of a much more straightforward song. I’ve got a long way to go, but this prioritization has helped me manage my time better. Peace, Mike

  2. Oh, so many thoughts… I was in the room and saw your chart fall. At one point I wondered whether I should walk up front and pick it up for you, or whether that would be more distracting. Perhaps you could comment at some point on when or whether that kind of thing may or may not even be appropriate. I just made sure our projectionist was aware you had lost your music, and in the end, I thought it turned out fine. You didn’t even have a panicked look on your face, and I did not detect any so-called blunders. YOU may have been personally distracted and unable to focus, but you did not “hinder the Spirit” or the congregation’s focus. As C.J. would say, “This is MINOR.”

    As a practical matter, you may want to consider putting charts (the ones you WILL be using) into a small binder. Loose sheets just don’t really like to stay on music stands, and it’s even worse with the music rack on a piano or organ.

    One perhaps interesting side benefit of losing the chart, I discovered one time when I had to play a song I had NOT memorized: I found it freed me to play much more creatively and melodically. I think when I’m staring at the chord changes sometimes I feel bound to play them, so my playing is more chord-driven and rhythmic. However, while when I have to play completely by ear, I more naturally start playing with non-chord passing tones and such, finding new counter melodies I would not have otherwise thought of. This kind of thing may not be true for everyone, or may not be beneficial at all times, but I found it interesting.

  3. Thank you for this post! I too struggle with this…both in worship and in my “other band” playing weddings, private parties, etc. “The Stand” can become “The crutch”

    I’ve found especially when leading worship, you can’t engage with the body (ie. Making EYE contact) if you are looking down locked like a laser sight on your charts. I have tried to do the old “look down once in a while, and grab a line full of chords” then come back up for air, and also practicing is ESSENTIAL by yourself. We as leaders, have to know the song better than anyone on that stage with us – know where we are “going” so that we can effectively “lead” others. 🙂

    All that to say, the better you know the song, the more natural the song will be to do the mechanicals of the song – and thus concentrate on the message and the words of the song – which will (hopefully) communicate Biblical truths drenched in the Gospel to our body and thus magnify the name of the Lord Jesus together for the Fathers Glory.

    FIRED UP NOW!! Need Sunday to get here sooner. 🙂


  4. The guy who organises the worship team at my Church has an interesting technique for learning chord progressions.

    He has a little music theory behind him which helps, but basically he has learnt chord progressions based on the key he is playing in. So when the song is in G, he knows automatically that chord 1 is G, 3 is B, 5 is D and so on.

    As a result he can write an entire song out as simply the key and a string of chord numbers. This has the advantage of making transposing really easy, and he also finds it much easier to memorise the chord sequences this way.

    Obviously this approach takes a lot of practice, as would any other method of memorising music. I guess my main point is that learning music off by heart doesn’t always mean the same thing!

    It might also be possible to reduce a song down to a handful of memory joggers, perhaps the first few words of each verse, or just the few chords in the bridge you can’t remember. Then you don’t have to rely on the complete music, but it’s still there for the bits you stuggle with.

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