When the Congregation Claps On the Wrong Beat

This past Sunday we closed our service with Tim Hughes’ song “Happy Day” celebrating the “empty cross, the empty grave” and “life eternal” that Jesus won for us.

I started the song off by playing four measures on my own, and then the rest of the band joined me. The problem? They were one beat behind.

Because my intro was just straight eighth-notes and I jumped into it after saying something to the congregation, my drummer (who is super gifted) couldn’t quite tell which beat was the downbeat. Hence the band coming in one beat behind.

I quickly realized that this meant the congregation was clapping on the wrong beat.

What should I do? Go the entire song with the congregation clapping on the wrong beat? Try to fight them and hope they figure it out? Or just stop the song and start over?

I chose the last option. I just motioned to the band to stop, told the congregation we were going to start over and why, and then we tried it again and got it right.

Here’s how it sounded:

I think this is the first time I’ve ever had to stop a song and re-start it. I don’t imagine it will happen that often. But sometimes, like this past Sunday morning, it’s the best option.

And I think it was the right call this time. It showed the congregation we don’t take ourselves too seriously, it helped the band get back on track, and allowed us to sing the rest of the song without a huge distraction. This kind of thing helps keep us humble. It’s also fun to look back on it (or listen back as the case may be) and laugh. And learn. But mostly laugh.

5 thoughts on “When the Congregation Claps On the Wrong Beat”

    1. I do it in the key of A. Yeah, the verses get pretty low, but the trade off is that the chorus and bridge are comfortable. Bb is good too. Tim Hughes’ original key of C feels too high.

  1. C definitely too high (especially first thing on a sunday morning!)- what are these guys thinking?

    Bb or B for us (with the femaale vocalists dropping to the alto part on the choruses and hoping the congregation picks it up by osmosis). Not ideal but what can you do?

  2. B major violates the TMS Rule — too many sharps. Theoretically, Ab major is compliant with the analogous TMF rule (too many flats), but alas, no contemporary worship songs are done in Ab major, my favorite key. Sigh.

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