Yesterday morning my church held one 11:00am service for those able to make it out of their houses. We had about two and a half feet of snow dumped on us over the weekend, and most streets were either impassable or dangerous. Instead of canceling all services like we did back in December, we decided to have one service for anyone who could come. About 200 people ended up braving the icy and snowy roads, and I led a handful of songs from the piano with my sister-in-law singing with me. It was a simple communion service and we sang mostly familiar hymns and a couple newer songs too.
When it came time for communion, we sang three songs in a row: “Here is Love Vast as the Ocean”, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, and “Alleluia Sing to Jesus”. I picked these songs for this spot in the service because they were familiar and they flowed well with each other.
One of the reasons, besides their theme, that they flowed well together was that they were all in the key of E major. This makes things easy since you can just slide from once song to the next without having to think about how to get from one key to the next. I’ll often do two songs back-to-back in the same key for this reason.
But doing too many songs in a row that are in the same key can be a bad idea sometimes. After singing in the same key for five or ten minutes, it can start to feel like we’re stuck on one really long song. By the end of the second song, whether people realize it or not, they’re a bit tired of hitting the same notes and hanging out in the same range, and they’re ready to move somewhere else. And unfortunately, when people get tired of singing in a certain range, they can become disengaged with the words they’re singing.
So instead of doing all three songs in the key of E, we did “Here is Love Vast as the Ocean” in the key of E, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” in D, and “Alleluia Sing to Jesus” in E, modulating to F on the fourth verse. This kept all three songs in singable keys, but varied their ranges just enough so that there was distinction between them.
It took some maneuvering between songs to get from one key to the other, but I’m fairly comfortable doing that, so it didn’t feel awfully jolty. I try to avoid stopping and starting between songs if at all possible. If you’re not comfortable doing this, I would recommend you practice, practice, practice, and listen to how other worship leaders and musicians transition between keys. You’ll get better at it, and someday it will come naturally to you.
There’s a lot to think about when choosing and leading songs. What keys you’re singing your songs in should be up towards the top of the list. Keeping your keys in comfortable congregational ranges (i.e. not too high and not too low) is important, and not singing a bunch of songs in a row in the same key also helps keep things from feeling tired.