Here’s how it happens for me. I hear the most AMAZING new song and I can’t wait to put it in the rotation for worship. The words are moving, the music is tugging at my soul…this song is PERFECT!
Then I start to sing along.
It’s too low for me. *sigh* (Can I get an Amen, ladies?)
I’m just going to go ahead and say it. The majority of worship songs are sung by men. And I completely get it. The majority of worship leaders ARE men. (Don’t’ worry, I’m totally not mad about this.)
But that just makes things a little bit trickier for us lady leaders sometimes.
To change the key or not to change the key? That is the question. How do we know when changing the key is the right answer?
When it makes the song or worship set better.
Let’s look at a few deciding factors:
1. Do you have someone on your team who can sing it better than you?
Honestly, we should ask ourselves this for every song, but this is definitely where my mind goes first if I feel like my new worship song doesn’t fit my voice well. Think through your singers. Do you have a super low, alto singing girl who can totally get those low notes on the verses? Or a strong male vocalist? Then give the song to her or him and don’t change the key. Just because we have the “Leader” title does not mean we need to sing the lead on every single song.
2. What is the skill level of your musicians and singers?
At my church, I am on staff as the Worship Leader. Every singer and musician under me is a volunteer. We do not pay our band members. We do audition everyone who is interested, but we still have a wide skill set. Since this is my situation, I don’t like to change the keys of songs frequently. So I try to really evaluate if changing the key will make the song better. If so, I give my musicians extra notice so they can put in the practice time needed.
3. Can you lead the song with another singer of the opposite gender?
We just introduced Rush of Fools’ “Lay Me Down” (Bb). This is one of those jump the octave songs. Now, the verse is way to low for me to sing (and I knew I needed to be the one to lead this song the first couple of times). And then the chorus jumps up an octave. This makes it difficult for me to just sing the whole song one octave higher. By the time I get to the chorus, it’s too high for the congregation.
The solution? I sang the verse an octave up (still very comfortable for the congregation) and then I went ahead and jumped up the octave for the chorus BUT I had a male singer come in strong on the chorus with the melody in it’s original location. That way we still got the lift feeling that a big jump gives, and the congregation had two options of melody to follow. Everyone LOVED the song.
4.Is it a one-time change or a permanent change?
If you go for the key change then keep it that way. If you move “Lay Me Down” to E, then the next time it comes up in the rotation, play it in E. Keep the change so your band members have consistency. Consistency brings excellence, right? The more we play a particular song, the better we get. We can let go more and truly worship instead of worrying about the notes and wondering what words come next. Plus, your team will love you more.
When you do go for the key change, bring some donuts on Sunday morning for your team to show appreciation for their hard work. And if you are REALLY fancy, Starbucks too.
What about you? How often are you changing keys? How do you decide when? I’d love to hear how my fellow worship leaders navigate the bumpy key changing waters.