I wrote a post a long time ago called “Just Because That’s the Key They’re Recorded In” which encouraged worship leaders to feel free (!) to change the keys of songs to make them more singable for the average person in the congregation.
This post, “Just Because That’s the Way They Recorded It” has to do with something else, and that’s to encourage worship leaders to feel free to not do the songs the same exact way they’re recorded.
Intro. First verse, second verse, chorus. Then the interlude with the cool electric guitar thing. Then the second verse and chorus. Then half of the interlude. Then the bridge once with just the drums, then the bridge again with the band building on 8th notes, and then the final chorus two times before ending with the bridge three times.
Every single time you do the song.
But what if instead of going back to the second verse after the chorus you want to do the first verse?
Or what if you want to start the song on the chorus instead of the first verse?
Or what if you want to leave out the bridge altogether (gasp)?
What if you only want to sing the chorus?
The arrangements songs are recorded in are usually pretty good arrangements. They were settled on by gifted musicians and/or producers, and I’m not suggesting we ignore them. Sometimes these arrangements need no adapting at all.
But sometimes they do need adapting, and too many worship leaders either don’t know how to adapt them, or are just afraid to mess with “perfection”.
Just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s (does that joke translate cross-culturally?), there’s no wrong way to do a song. Unless, of course, that way is singing all the backwards while being led by a bagpipe band accompanied by a ukelele. That, in every instance, would be a wrong way.
Want to start on the chorus? Want to skip the bridge? Would it serve the needs of the service better if you just sang a chorus from a song? What about if you want to just sing the first verse and chorus? Has the song gotten a bit too predictable and it would freshen it up to do it slow instead of fast?
I suppose the only time you should not alter a song would be if you’re skipping over bad theology. In that case, it might just be better to skip the whole song.
But just because you heard a song a certain way on the recording, or just because your sheet music is written out a certain way, or just because you’ve always done it a certain way, you shouldn’t feel like your hands are tied.
When you lead a song, you need to own the song. You might not own the copyright, but you need to own the structure of it. Take ownership of it.
Where is it going? Where is it building towards? What is being emphasized? If the answers to these questions are different every time, then maybe your arrangements should be as well?