expressive worship

Giving the Stand the Boot

Okay. We HEAR you out there! You worship teams who are stuck behind the music stand and can’t get free!

I know – I’m one who likes the music there to rely on too, and typically when teams have only one rehearsal a week, it’s tough to give up those lyrics.

Someone wrote in recently that they were pretty much stuck behind a stand, because they do six songs for their worship set – some are repeats – with only one rehearsal. It’s tough to do much of anything with that stand there, but there’s not time to memorize that much music.

From our perspective at Expressive Worship, a music stand can be a barrier between you and the congregation, and a bit of a crutch that keeps you glued to a chart instead of present with the people. So what to do?

Let’s talk. Six different songs every week? I know you said some are repeats, but if you have different players every week, it could be that it IS six NEW songs.

First off, what about cutting that to four? I know you may have a certain amount of time to fill. If that’s the case you can obviously repeat choruses. But change it up! Try doing a breakdown chorus near the end and build it back up. Or add an acapella chorus. In the right song, doing this can create some great worship moments!

Consider lengthening a song by inserting a great guitar solo or keyboard passage. Personally, I can be transported by an instrumental that is melodic and played well.

Stop singing at some point in the song for the leader to say something – encourage the congregation or have them meditate on a passage of scripture while the band plays.

If you only have one rehearsal a week, everyone obviously needs to do some memorizing during the week. This will free everyone up to be ‘present’ during worship and be able to focus on the people and get them engaged. I know it’s tough, but until you push yourself to do it, you’ll always rely on those charts.

One way to give the vocalists a break on memorization is to give the congregation permission to ‘just listen’ while one of the singers for example, sings the 1st verse. Sometimes we get more out of worship when we’re just listening anyway.

And lastly, if you rotate in two songs from the week before that everyone already knows, then everyone will, hopefully, already know two out of the four. Also, the congregation will appreciate not having too many new songs to learn as well. Many people like the familiar… it’s easier for us to worship when we don’t have to learn something new. By the same token, you just have to know when a song is worn out and needs to be dropped for awhile.

I realize these ideas are not new to many of you and you may have more ideas on this stuff. We’d like to hear from YOUR teams and leaders…what are YOU doing to help get rid of the music stands and get some freedom?

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Amy Wolter

Amy has vast and varied experience in music, from keyboardist to lead singer, from songwriter to producer. She fronted a nationally touring Christian rock band that garnered some top 10 CCM hits. Playing in a variety of venues and churches gave her a real understanding of what audiences and congregations connect with. As a member of her church’s worship team, Amy understands the challenges that come with this, and enjoys helping Christian artists and Worship Teams create freedom in the room to truly express their worship.

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  1. Denny Russell says:

    Just because you have six songs for the week doesn’t mean you have to do all the songs without the stands. There’s nothing that says you can’t memorize just one of the songs and have your stand for the other five. Or maybe memorize two songs and use the stands for the other four. Tom talks about moments and change of pressure. If you’re always behind a stand, just think of the moment it will create when those stands are put aside for that song for the first time and you’re just free to Rock the House or Worship with the people, whatever the song and moment dictates…

    Having said all that we have the lyrics projected on the back wall where the audience doesn’t see them. The audience has their own screens up front. If you can do that, problem solved. This however creates a new problem – and that is, learning not to Stare At The Back Wall and only use it to reference when necessary.

  2. Scott says:

    I know this isn’t feasible for every worship team, but we use monitors on the floor next to the congregation with the words on it. It’s tied into our overhead screens the congregation reads from, so we see what they see. It certainly cuts down on the amount of memorization necessary.

    One drawback here is you have to have a techie who’s plugged into the worship too. When you rely on the almighty screen for words, and they don’t get transitioned to the next verse quickly enough, it can definitely interrupt worship.

  3. David Hurd says:

    Great article! It really does make a huge difference for the congregation when the team has the songs memorized. Here’s what I’m doing to help my team make that transition:

    - Tuesday evening rehearsals. Giving the team 4-5 days to memorize AFTER rehearsal means they have time to solidify what they know. Then they still get the quick run-through on Sunday morning.

    - Get songs, recordings, and chord sheets to the team the week prior to the Tuesday rehearsal. This gives everyone time to learn the songs before rehearsal, even beginning their memorization.

    - If someone has tried but cannot get a song memorized before Sunday, use a cheat card that sits on the floor, their pedalboard, whatever (just someplace out of sight from the audience). The card will have only the tough parts of the song–they probably will have most of it memorized anyway. They can glance down and be reminded, but it doesn’t have so much info that they’ll become glued to it.

  4. Billy Cox says:

    Since LCD screens are dirt-cheap now, a worship team could replace their music stands with on-stage LCD monitors displaying the same slides that the congregation is seeing. You still have to know the songs well enough to lead, but at least you have the lyrics in front of you.

    I guess the only other practical consideration is that the LCD screens be far enough away that they are in the singers’ line of sight to the congregation, as opposed to the singers looking down at the stage floor.

  5. Randy says:

    Great article and has been the topic of much debate and concern in my worship ministry. Currently I’m trying to set the standard by memorizing everything and hoping it catches on after a talk we had about connectivity with the congregation. It seems to be working for myself, and about half of the band is doing great memorizing the songs. (6 people on stage: Me-acoustic guitar lead vocals, key/backup vox, drums, bass, rhtythm electric/back up vox, lead electric)
    so far those using stands now are bass, keys, rhtythm electric
    the problem is that my back up vocalists (playing keys and rhythm)sometimes lead a song or two and are completely glued to the charts. and unfortuantely those songs fall flat. You are thinking to yourself now…..”well just don’t let them lead songs until they have the song memorized.” but it’s not that easy, because i’m trying to build them up and give them as much lead time as possible so that the day I can’t be there, they have enough skill and confidence

  6. Randy says:

    Sorry so long….So i post all set lists on Planning Center Online at least 6-8 weeks ahead of time (allowing for a few last week changes) with full download and pdf’s. The band is scheduled at least a month out, so the time to learn and memorize the songs isn’t the issue, it’s the motivation to actually pull out a worship set that’s two weeks away and sitting down with it, that seems to be the problem.
    Any motivational speeches out there for my team?

    Striving for excellence hasn’t worked
    the connectivity illustration hasn’t worked
    the barrier to true worship speech hasn’t worked
    i’m at a loss….perhaps just time and maturity of my team will be the answer. Do not misunderstand my post. I’m thankful for the members I have and find them to be very talented musicians/worshipers with great attitudes and a love for our church.

    Just don’t know how to make the full transition.

  7. Amy says:

    All I know, is that if I know the song – and have it memorized it frees me up to worship a lot more and think about communicating with my team. Just think…if a pop music singer or band had music in front of them the whole time….the effect it would have on the audience. The only problem….some people have severe stage fright and even if they know the song for the life of them…words disappear. Luckily, at a church I’ve attended…the worship leaders could just look up to the congregation’s screen because it was at an angle….Implementing this may take a while but it freshens things up for the team.

  8. Amy Wolter says:

    Thanks everyone for your great comments. Yes, a screen on the back wall would be the best of both worlds – no stands to free you up, but a reference in case you need the lyrics. And I feel your frustration Randy, in trying to motivate the troops. I wish you could bring them all to hear Tom directly on the whys and hows at our next Expressive Worship 2-day event in May. Click here for more: And, we’ll try to keep the dialogue going on all these comments.

  9. Mary Blalock says:

    Not only would I encourage worship teams to give the stand the boot, I would encourage the vocalists to give hand microphones the boot, as well. When our team switched to wireless headsets, we were unsure what to do with our hands at first. It is amazing how even something as small as a microphone can become a barrier between you and the congregation. But having hands free to raise, clap, and gesture without wires is powerful. Then we really kicked it up a notch. One Sunday afternoon, we all watched Tom’s Expressive Worship DVD’s. We move freely about the platform now, and the difference in worship is nothing short of amazing. The congregation responded immediately to the difference in pressure and variety of placements for different songs. Just so you know–we are mostly a band of 40 somethings. We can’t bounce around the platform like teenagers, but we can play “tag your it,” work our angles, and really look at and love on our congregation. If we can do it, you can, too!

    • Jodi Marcum says:

      Mary, what an awesome story! I’ve seen again and again what a difference Tom’s concepts make on the people sitting in the congregation or audience – it simply makes sense! We want the congregation to be engaged in worship, and there is a way to do that. With a lot of work, a lot of passion, and a lot of prayer, Tom’s method makes it happen.
      And by the way, you youngsters are right… these principles are for everyone (no age discrimination here)!

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