Transitions are the moments that seem insignificant, but can make or break your set. Here at The Worship Initiative, one of our core principles is to “remove distractions.” We want there to be nothing distracting us from our worship of Jesus. As we all know from personal experience, it only takes one musical blunder to derail our attention! In a worship set, transitions are where most problems occur. Most of our weekly preparation is focused on executing the songs, not connecting them. The key, tempo, and time signature can all shift instantaneously. That’s a lot of things that could go wrong! But when all those things go right, the entire set seems to feel better and more connected. Here are a few tips to use in your weekly preparation, and rehearsal.
When songs are in the same or relative key, melodic instruments can cover the gaps in between songs and make the transition seamless. If you can end a song on the 1, 4, or 5 chord, and be in the key of the next song, you’ll be in good shape. If each song is in a different key, one half step off, there’s not a whole lot you can do. The more you can avoid clashy key changes, the better. Now I’m not saying you have to do every song in your set in the same key! Keep this in mind as you plan songs to help set yourself up for success.
I’ve even altered the vocal melody at the end of a song, by ending on a shared note with the next key. Holding out the same note while the band modulated into a new key was a little tricky, but felt like magic when we pulled it off!
Sometimes, a tough key change is unavoidable. Some of my favorite moments have been when we planned a drum intro to cover the melodic dissonance. Once I even programmed out the drum part and added it to Planning Center so it would be super clear to the band. While the drum intro starts, the rest of the band fades out the previous key, and eventually comes back in with the new key. It's a fun way to be creative and add something new to your set, while making it more cohesive.
You and your band should come prepared knowing the songs, and being ready to execute them. Take time during rehearsal to give your band a clear plan for every transition in the set, and practice them separately from the songs. This has been incredibly helpful for me. It’s one thing to work on a transition on the fly while practicing songs, but I found those subtle plans were easy to forget. By running through them separately, you help your band remember each transition, and make it easier to get right during the service.
You have a lot of tools at your disposal to help tighten transitions. Whether it’s a drum intro, pad, or even your voice, there’s plenty of options to help those moments go smoothly. The main thing to have when approaching your set is intention. Every moment is important. Most of us worship leaders only have a limited amount of time each Sunday. Every second is paramount in creating a distraction-free environment entirely centered on glorifying Jesus. Do the extra work during the week to prepare. Take the extra time during rehearsal to identify potential problems and work on them. The end goal isn’t professionalism, impressing your musician friends, or even perfection. The goal is for nothing to get in the way of your people’s worship of King Jesus. Prepare to your best ability. Be faithful to steward your set with intention, care, and ultimately, submission to whatever the Lord has in store for His people.