A Question of Melody vs. Harmony

I received an email this week from a fellow worship pastor wanting to dialogue about some comments I’ve made in the past concerning harmony and melody disbursements among singers. I thought I’d share it with you...

Hey Andy,

I wanted to ask you a quick question if I may. You’ve talked repetitively on the Seeds blog and at the conferences that you have your singers primarily sing melody with maybe one person adding a harmony in spots. I’m totally on board with that, and I really like how that sounds. But I get a good amount of push back from my female singers that it’s difficult for them to sing melody when the key is optimized for a male voice. I’m just curious how you address that with your team. Watching your services online, it appears you primarily have the females sing lower to match the pitch of the guys verses having the females sing higher to be an octave above the guys. Do you then primarily look to add altos to your team that can handle singing within that range? I’ve been telling my female singers to sing what notes you can, and drop out when it gets to high (or too low depending on the situation).

Thanks in advance for any direction you can provide!

-d

D,

Great questions. Here’s how I usually handle such issues.

  • First of all, if I have singers “push back” because they aren’t happy with the part they’re singing then it’s time to give them the diva test to find out if they are here to serve or to be served.

  • I do try and have an alto/soprano mix onstage. That way we have our bases covered. The soprano can take the harmony part, alto can sing with the guys.

  • If the melody is too low for the girls, then they don’t sing. Just because you’re onstage doesn’t mean you have to sing every note of every song.

  • Bottom line...find a sound that works for you and the unique blend of voices you have to work with. That’s something we do every week. In fact, I don’t choose the singer lineup until we have our set list finalized. I’d rather sing the songs we want than to squeeze vocals into a place they don’t fit.

Hope that helps...

Andy

Here’s another thought that I didn’t talk about in that email. Listen to any modern worship music project - Hillsong, Jesus Culture, Desperation Band, Bethel, Elevation, Gateway, etc. They do not write and produce songs that cater to every type of voice, nor do they make sure that everyone can sing their songs in comfortable keys. They write and produce songs that bring out a certain emotion without regard to vocal ranges.

I grow weary of the argument that every song we sing at church must be in a key that everyone can comfortably sing. That’s baloney. Go to any rock/pop/country/ccm concert - do you hear people singing at the top of their lungs regardless of the key? Of course you do! They are moved by the melody and passion of the performance and they want to be a part of it. I believe as worship leaders we should allow our song leaders to sing songs in a range that allows them to shine. It’s then that the congregation will feel compelled to join in.

Let me say this - I watch a LOT of services online each week. And many times the harmony drowns out the melody by a mile, and it’s harmony sung by female singers. We must get away from the idea of “every singer must sing the part that’s comfortable to them, at whatever volume they want”.

Again, as I’ve said in so many of my blogs, I believe it’s our responsibility as worship leaders to create an environment of excitement and authenticity in our worship services. And a big part of that is making the melody strong and discernible, and allowing our church to sing that melody with as much power as possible.

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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