In More Than Music Mentor

Blog Small Musical Sadnesses sad kitten

Worshipping musicians! I believe that we must learn to accept several, small musical sadnesses. These will be necessary if we are to experience, what I call, the higher joy of music.

There are some small, yet significant, sacrifices that we – who are given the opportunity to lead our Church congregation to worship God through songs – will need to accept. If it truly is our goal and desire to lead the people – to help them find their own “voice” as they sing prayers, praises and reminders of Gospel truths together – we will need to make some selfless, congregation-serving, musical choices. Initially, we won’t like it.

We’ll need to make a clearer distinction between the choices we would make if, on the one hand we’re performing for an audience and, on the other hand we’re leading a congregation to sing as an expression of worship to God.

  1. SONG KEY: If we choose a key for a song with congregational sing-ability as the primary consideration, we will experience a certain amount of sadness. The song will probably feel less exciting to us. Vocalists especially will experience disappointment that the congregational key does not highlight their best register.
  2. VOCAL EMBELLISHMENT: Leading vocalists may feel a certain loss of personal joy as we resist the urge to sing songs in our individual performance style. Instead, we will present a straighter, simpler, guiding melody that the congregation will be more able to follow and sing with us.
  3. HARMONY VOCALS: Knowing that too much vocal harmony too often can turn a melody-singing congregation into a performance-listening audience, we will hold back, stick to the melody more often and use harmony vocals sparingly and only when we are sure the congregation is confident of the melody. It’ll sting, but just a little.
  4. DUAL MELODY: Knowing that something like half of our congregation is male and the other half female, and that they’ll all sing better if they hear the notes we’re asking them to sing, our default will be to present male and female leading, melody-only voices simultaneously. We’ll probably miss the joy of a solo voice. Another small sadness.
  5. GET OFF THE MIC: Leading vocalists will be looking for opportunities to move away from our microphones. When we sense that the congregation is singing well, we will realize that they don’t need the guidance of our amplified voices. As often as possible, we will allow the congregation’s “voice” to fill the room.
  6. SONG-SERVING DRUMS: Denying the urges of their inner stadium-rock star, drummers will refrain from playing those personally enjoyable drum fills that cut across the vocal melody. They’ll learn to play with solid timing, simple, more repetitive beats and with the necessary dynamic control. They’ll even play with hotrods or brushes if that’s what it takes! Did someone say djembe? Not as fun for the drummer perhaps, but a sadness that will need to be accepted.
  7. MELODY SUPPORTING INSTRUMENTATION: As the instrumentalists make musical choices that serve the vocal melody of each song above anything else, there may be some sadness. Playing more simply – never making sonic statements that over-complicate or cloud the vocal melody – will be more important than playing what and how we want. This may involve some sacrifice of personal, individual musical joy.

But the pay back! I have found that if we are willing to accept these small, necessary musical sadnesses, we are more than compensated. In fact, we can be lavishly rewarded. We will open the path ahead to a far greater joy from music. Namely, the privilege of being a musical servant who warmly invites our congregation to connect more deeply with God and with each other through songs. To hear the people sing – with heart-felt passion and volume – is a beautiful thing. 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)


Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24 (ESV)


Tellingly, the choices we make within the microcosm of music have undeniable parallels with core truths of being a disciple of Jesus the Christ.



Showing 10 comments
  • Tim

    Great insight Grant. Right on point

  • Damon Covert

    Great stuff as usual. I’ve experienced many of these sadnesses and need to take heed of your cautions, throughout. Wonderful admonitions for us all. Thanks, Grant.

    • Grant

      🙂 (Sorry for the slow reply)

  • Tom

    Good article, Grant!

    • Grant

      Thanks Tom. (Sorry for the slow reply)

    • Grant

      Thanks Tom. That means a lot coming from you.

  • Sterling

    Thanks for this guide, Grant! I’m curious if these truths apply across the board, or primarily in white, American churches. Although it’s not my own context, would you advocate for these principals in a Gospel-style oriented congregation, or are the should these rules for personal expression change, in your point of view? This might feel like a hot potato, but I’m wondering if you think these recommendations would apply across the board or not, or if there are other equally important factors to consider. Thanks again for encouraging us to serve the people of God above our own preferences. It’s a good reminder!

    • Grant

      Hi Sterling,

      So sorry that I missed your comment and that I’m just getting back to you now. Thanks for your question. Not a hot potato to me!

      I don’t think I’m making a comment about race at all. But I must admit that most (but by no means ALL) of my experience of Church gatherings has been rather white, western and protestant. My bias in this article is that I measure a congregations level of connection and involvement by how well they are singing. The “sadnesses” I describe are all aimed at crafting a sound from the platform that makes it as easy as possible for the congregation to sing along – especially the congregation that is reluctant to do so.

      My limited experience of the Black or, as you say “Gospel-style” congregations in America would suggest that many of those congregations are so excited about worshiping God together through songs that they’ll get fully involved, no matter what! They’re more willing to sing, no matter what’s coming from the platform! But I would also say that some predominantly white congregations can be like that too. Sadly, these types of congregation seem too few.

      But to me, there are other factors at play that go beyond race or creed. How excited about their faith is this congregation? How demonstrative and “free” are their personalities? How naturally are they moved by music? What’s the culture of this congregation? Where people land on the answers to these sorts of questions should guide those on the platform about how many – and how deeply – they must accept my musical sadnesses. Is the congregation singing with authenticity, passion and volume? Maybe none of my sadnesses need to be accepted.

      But I would say that being MORE excited and MORE demonstrative and MORE easily moved by music are not, in and of themselves, better than being LESS in any of those areas. People are different. Some are more “vibey” than others. Some people express their faith in Christ in a much more serene and devout way. One’s not better than the other necessarily. I actually think that both camps could probably learn a thing or two from the other!

      What I am convinced of, though, is that it is good to sing – sing prayers to God, praises to God and reminders of truth about God (Ephesians 5: 19-20, Colossians 3:16) – and it is good to gather and sing together. My hope for the article is that it would help that happen for more congregations than it is right now – no matter what their culture or creed.

      I must add though, that I love the choir with the vocal soloist (and backing band) style that I see from some Black church music in America. There’s the choir that’s singing lines really straight and together – and they’re modeling to the congregation what they are expected to sing – and there’s also the leader who is CARVING IT UP like a solo performer (mainly) in the gaps. The leader is often pre-empting choir/congregation lines but with a lot of ad-lib and self-expression that, I believe, can actually encourage the congregation to sing their straighter lines with more fervor. It’s a cool thing to be part of, but it takes the congregation knowing what their role is, knowing the song well and being willing to be drawn into that style of music. I’m not sure many white folk can go down that road musically, know what I mean?

      I hope that makes sense.



  • Justin Sturdee

    Great article Grant, as always.

    • Grant

      Thanks Justin. As always, you rock.

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