Kyle wrote in to ask this question:
I am about to start leading a worship team that consists of a good number of talented people and a variety of instruments. To this point, the band has used printed sheet music for all of the songs they play; this means that someone has manually entered everything into a music writing program (Finale) and printed everything out. It also means that for any given song, A) Musicians have four to six pages of material to deal with, B) creativity and freedom of expression are squelched a bit, and C) introducing new songs to the band, and to the congregation, will be very difficult.I have been used to working from chord charts. I feel this creates structure but allows creativity and freedom, and logistically it makes much more sense, because it would take up a LOT less space, and would allow me to much more easily introduce new songs.My question is this: A) Is it a good idea to try to transition a group of people who are used to sheet music to a chord chart paradigm, and 2) if it IS a good idea, how should I go about making that transition?
From my limited experience, Kyle’s not the only leader asking this question. Before I attempt an answer, let me offer some advantages of sheet music. A) musicians can play songs without hearing them; B) rhythms can be written out precisely; C) vocalists can learn the melody and harmony immediately.
That being said, I think a church will benefit from having musicians that can read chord charts, for the reasons Kyle mentions above. In addition, an increasing number of excellent songs for congregational worship are only written in a chord chart format. Here’s are some thoughts on making the transition.
1. Talk to your pastor. Make sure that your pastor feels this is a change worth making. It may be that he’s completely fine with the limitations of written music. His support will be crucial if you encounter resistance from members of the team.
2. Assess your resources. Before you build a tower, figure out if you have enough money to finish it. (Lk. 14:28) Make sure there are musicians in the church, maybe already on the team, who can read chord charts. Otherwise, it might just be you leading worship on Sunday.
3. Encourage what’s already there. Go overboard in expressing appreciation for what God is already doing. Don’t make it sound like you’re surprised anyone is encountering God without using chord charts. Play along with the note readers for a few Sundays. Pointing out evidences of grace will give you a more balanced perspective and make people more eager to listen to you.
4. Prepare your team for change. Communicate why you’re making changes. Help people understand the benefits of “freedom within form.” This isn’t simply a musical preference. You want to serve the church more effectively by adding another “tool” to your toolbox. Let people know that they may not be able to serve as frequently on the team, but it will make room for others who currently aren’t serving.
5. Go slowly. Don’t expect everyone to conform to your ideas and expectations immediately. Spend a lot of time rehearsing before trying it out on a Sunday. Realize that notes and chord charts are two different “dialects” and take some time to adapt to.
6. Offer training. You might do this yourself or involve others. Obviously, it works best if a chart-reading keyboardist can teach a note-reading keyboardist, etc. Some helpful resources can be found at worshipmusic.com. We also did a seminar called Where are the Notes? for keyboardists.
7. Mix it up. Find ways to continue to involve those who only read music. You can write out parts for solo instruments, use instrumentalists for special music, alternate songs that use notes with songs that use charts, etc.
8. Focus on the glory of Christ, not the glory of music. Don’t make this an issue of what kind of music God really likes. While many congregations are moving towards a chord chart paradigm, it’s only one of the many ways music can be used to glorify God in the church. Let’s use as many as we can!
On a side note, Greg Scheer does a great job addressing similar issues in his chapter, “Setting the Stage,” from his book, The Art of Worship.
Finally, tell the folks who are notating music with Finale to check out Sibelius. I made the switch about six years ago and have never looked back. To top it off, Sibelius offers an inexpensive upgrade from any version of Finale. Read here about the differences.
Update: Ryan Dahl from PraiseCharts left an interesting comment below, indicating that they will soon be offering guitar charts. PraiseCharts is already a great source for lead sheets and arrangements for congregational worship songs.