Balanced and Effective Music in Worship

Over the years I have observed four elements which must be in balance if a song is to be  effective in public (corporate) praise and worship:

  • Lyrics
  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Rhythm

The lyrics must be biblically sound. If they’re not, leave the song on the shelf. It could be a nice tune. a really nice tune, but the lyrics can disqualify it. The song needs to say something and say it well. (oh-could-I-preach-THIS-one!) Does it need to rhyme? Maybe – maybe not. Is it clear? Is it accurate? Is it good poetry? Could you stand at the foot of the throne and read it to God without Him getting bored or reaching for His red pencil? (He has perfect grammar, remember.) Don’t let melody, harmony and rhythm mask poor writing, OK? If you wouldn’t read the text aloud to God the Father, don’t bring it to the worship service and offer it to Him as one of your best.

The melody, the part you remember when you hum it back to yourself, can be more complicated when the song is performance-oriented, but when it’s intended for public worship or personal reflection, the more singable the better. That includes how high or low it is. And how complicated it gets rhythmically – unless you don’t mind if people sing it wrong everywhere but in the studio. 🙂

There’s a lot of lee-way with the harmony, and I’ve tipped my hand on this one, so I’ll just remind you that if the congregation finds itself thinking about the harmony more than God, (or maybe struggling with it), the song is out of balance, creating its own distraction. It could be the way it’s written, it might be something in the presentation. Adjust, either intuitively (by ear) or on the chart / score. Clear, in-tune, vibrant harmonies are very effective! You’ll find your congregation’s balance over time, be willing to spend the time and effort to find and maintain it.

Ah, Rhythm. Relax, now, Im not going to preach against back-beats or syncopation; they’re both effective in the right settings. Don’t forget, Jared’s a percussionist – we’ve rolled up our conversational sleeves and delved into this one. He’s a thinker. And soft-spoken as he’s influenced my thinking. (Love it when I can learn things from my kids). Jared made the point one time and I now like to remind people that we’re going to sing in Heaven. Which means there will be time. (think about it) And that includes pulse. God created an entire universe with a sense of rhythm, “strongers and weakers”. And nobody can tell me you’re going to have to check your rhythms at Heaven’s front gate if you’re from Ireland, Latin America, Africa, The Islands, Nashville, Branson or L.A.! No, the thing to remember here is that the song’s rhythm must support the other three elements, and enhance the general effect of the song. We need rhythm. There will be times we’ll call for more kick-drum, just as there will be times when the percussionists wait – and wait some more until that perfect moment approaches for soft-mallets on a suspended cymbal, a rolling crescendo that brings goosebumps right to the surface for EVERYone ” …then ….sings ….my …..soul……(!!) How Great Thou Art! ”

Balance is key:

  • Lyrics
  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Rhythm

…all four. When we write, and when we present our songs to the Lord in worship.

This is easier to write about than to do, believe me.



Your thoughts? There’s room to comment below.

2 Replies to “Balanced and Effective Music in Worship”

  1. Jonell

    Excellent article Phil. This might get read (by me) at our next Worship Team Practice. I’ll also put what you wrote to practice in my offertories and piano playing. 🙂


  2. Phil

    AWEsome! I think I scribbled my first-draft of these concepts in Western Nebraka almost thirty (shhh)years ago!

    It’s been great to be part-way through a rehearsal, sense something is out of kilter and stop: “We’re close – but not in balance. Let’s do this…” and smile at the progress.

    The text is sometimes out of balance if it can’t be heard, I didn’t make that point above – might need to go back and re-write that paragraph.

    Glad you like – Please use it freely for God’s glory!


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