Handling Awkward Moments: When Someone Misses a Modulation (Or Plays in the Wrong Key)

trainwreckA few months ago, one of the pianists on our worship team (let’s call him Steven Hill) forgot to modulate on the last chorus of Keith and Kristyn Getty’s “There is a Higher Throne”. This was awkward for three reasons: First, everyone else modulated but he didn’t. Second, not only did he not modulate from F to G, but he remained in F with a flourish. And third, we had practiced this modulation several times during rehearsal and made jokes about how this particular pianist had missed a modulation with a flourish previously.

This pianist, Steven (as we’re calling him), is an excellent musician. He could probably play most pieces of music put in front of him. But at this particular moment, his attention drifted just long enough to create what can only be described as a cacophony of noise.

What do you do when someone misses a modulation or plays in the wrong key?

If, like in this instance, only one member of the team forgets, then the rest of the team just has to keep plowing ahead until the renegade realizes the errors of his ways. Hopefully after a few unharmonious measures he’ll realize that the strange sounds are coming from him.

If you’re the one who forgets, and you’re in the middle of a song, you can’t stop. Just smile, switch to the right key when you remember, and keep going. If you start a song in the wrong key, you’ll probably just need to (1) stop, (2) laugh and say “oops,  I’m sorry about that. Let’s try again”, and (3) move on. Don’t make a huge deal of it.

See a great demonstration of how to handle this awkward moment here.

The main thing to remember if you or someone else misses a modulation or plays in the wrong key is to not take it too seriously. Relax and laugh about it. Odds are that the person didn’t do it on purpose! (If they did, that’s called sabotage.)

After the service was over and I was able to talk with “Steven” about his missed modulation, we just laughed and made a joke about it. When we played it at the next service he nailed it and I was sure to give him a grin when we arrived at that point in the song. Good humor will go a long way towards helping you handle awkward moments like this.

Ultimately, moments like this are good and necessary reminders that we’re not leading worship to impress the congregation or display our musical genius. We’re offering our gifts, as well as we can, to serve the church for the glory of God.

2 thoughts on “Handling Awkward Moments: When Someone Misses a Modulation (Or Plays in the Wrong Key)

  1. Josh October 8, 2009 / 9:37 pm

    Happened to me at the weekend. Was meant to start the first song with a CAPO on but forgot to put it on – needless to say it sounded awful next to our piano. Was a brief moment of panic between the pianist and myself figuring out what had happened. Much embarrassed and chagrined I simply stopped – attached the CAPO and started again with brief apology. The cries of “AMEN for the CAPO” in the congregation were brief but amusing…

  2. Matt Blick October 11, 2009 / 10:23 am

    Great post Jamie – Bob did handle it well didn’t he?

    I’ve seen some horrific trainwrecks in, and out of, the church.

    Being in a worship time when the drummer (and only the drummer) was playing a 3/4 song in 4/4 was pretty painful. I wrote about some of the others here.

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