Cold Turkey for Easter

This past weekend I decided it was time to break my addiction to chord charts. Yes, it was Easter weekend and I was leading the music at five services, but after the first service on Saturday night I realized that if I wanted to play the piano more creatively and lead the band and congregation more skillfully, it was the right time to do it.

So with the exception of a song we did that was Psalm 98 set to music, I led four Sunday services with no music in front of me.

I knew the chords. Once in a while I would forget how a certain chord progression was supposed to go, but since I wasn’t the only one playing, I just relied on the band in those moments until they jogged my memory.

I (mostly) knew the words. Every now and then I’d glance at the screen if I forget how the next verse of a song started, but most of the time I didn’t need to.

I knew which ones I didn’t know well. Like I said before, there was one song I didn’t know well enough to lead from memory, so I made sure I had music in front of me for that one. But as for the other songs, I didn’t need the music, so I went without. And I was fine.

I was able to play more creatively and sensitively because I wasn’t compulsively staring at a piece of paper the entire time. Being freed to play from my heart allowed me to try different things, play less, and enjoy it more.

And I was able to lead the band and congregation more skillfully because my attention wasn’t being directed towards a chord chart as often. I could look around, make eye contact with band members, and concentrate more on what we were singing and what God was doing.

I’m going to continue working on trying to break my addiction to chord charts. I’ll need to make sure I’m comfortable and familiar with the songs’ chords and lyrics, and be smart enough to know which songs I shouldn’t attempt to lead from memory. But I’ve gotten much too accustomed to not simply referring to chord charts occasionally – but staring at them mindlessly and unnecessarily. It’s a bad and unhealthy habit.

Of course it’s a good idea to rehearse with the music in front of you so you can learn it. And then once the service starts it’s probably smart to have it close by. But if at all possible, get comfortable enough with whatever songs you’re leading that you could get through them competently even if a gust of wind knocked your music stand down.

Now, if you’ll be less effective at leading your worship team and congregation, and play less skillfully if you don’t have music in front of you, then you should probably keep the music in front of you. But perhaps you can start by leading one song without music – or one verse or chorus – whatever you can do.

But if your affection for chord charts is limiting your effectiveness as a worship leader, then it’s probably a good idea to learn how to live without them.

5 thoughts on “Cold Turkey for Easter

  1. Rich April 6, 2010 / 10:29 am

    For our Maundy Thursday service we used candles to light the room which was beautiful, but as I began to lead with just voice and guitar I realized I couldn’t see any of the words, much less the chords. It was only by God’s grace that I was able to get through without everyone knowing the complete horror that flooded my mind while leading!

  2. sammydaviesjr April 6, 2010 / 10:30 am

    Didn’t you post something almost the exact opposite of this early in the life of WorthilyMagnify? or am I getting my wires crossed?

    In any case, knowing the lyrics and chords can also be massively helpful in terms of seeing the congregation. (or even the tech guys, perish the thought)

  3. Matt Blick April 8, 2010 / 3:24 pm

    Well done Jamie for making a good and courageous move.

    I’d just add that I think a lot of church musicians would be able to do without music more than they think. Sometimes it’s just like a comfort blanket.

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