The Art of the Transition

Question: Have you ever heard a “greatest hits” album that was as good as a real record? I stopped buying those a long time ago because the feel of an original project from start to finish is always such a great experience. We should take this approach to our worship services, thinking in terms of a cohesive unit from beginning to end.

The most overlooked components of a worship set, and in my opinion the glue that holds the whole thing together, are the transitions between songs.

As I continue to watch churches across the country I see a lack of attention to detail in this area. In our rehearsals it would not be out of the ordinary for us to spend up to 30% of our time figuring out how we get from one song to another.

Here are a few ideas that we use when constructing a weekend worship set:

STAY IN A SIMILAR KEY GROUPING

B, E, F#

C, F, G

D, G, A

It’s always jarring for the listener when you suddenly switch gears in regard to keys. Above is an example of keys that work well together, but they are by no means the only key groupings that work. Since most worship songs predominantly use the 1, 4 & 5 chords choosing one of those chords as the key for your next song will make your transition smoother.

LOOK FOR A COMMON MUSICAL THREAD

Try and find a common musical thread between songs - a keyboard line, guitar line, melody, etc. Many times we will change the keyboard pad or guitar tone from song 2 to match the opening sound of song 3. We have been known to restructure the chord progression of the song before to set up the song that is coming. This gives the set, and the worshipper, a sense that it’s all tied together.

THE HARD STOP

If you are sold on your song lineup but you cannot, after endless tries, find common ground between songs try using a hard stop. This is particularly useful after a big fun song that has the house rocking. A trashcan ending, a “crowd only” singalong, or a total stop can “break the tone” in the listener’s ear, giving you a chance to shift gears and head in a different direction. But beware, this trick can be easily overplayed in a set. Again, you don’t want your set to feel like a “greatest hits” album.

THE STORY ARC

Honestly, we very rarely talk lyrical content when we begin putting a set together. The first thing we consider is feel and mood. But the more we dive into the heart of what we want to accomplish through music the more the lyrics of the songs become important to the mood of the set. Having topics that cover a gamut of ideas can be distracting and non-cohesive. Stick with a theme (the greatness of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, etc.) as much as possible and your transitions may come a little easier.

HARD WORK

Don’t take the easy way out. It’s going to take work and a lot of trial and error to make your songs fit together in a seamless way. If none of the ways mentioned above work for your set then your going to have to get creative. We never, ever leave rehearsals until we have figured out all our transitions.

Again, take the time this week to work on your transitions to make your worship set feel less like a grouping of songs and more like a worship experience.

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Andy Chrisman
Worship Pastor
Andy came to Church on the Move in 2005, having been in the music industry for over 25 years. He's dedicated to raising up the next generation of worship leaders, and even though he spent many years with the group 4him, he says he's "having more fun now than I ever did on the road."
@AndyChrisman