instrumental

Thoughts On Instrumental Breaks In Worship

Bob Kauflin has seen instrumental portions of worship songs actually have an adverse effect:

A few years ago I attended the Sunday gathering of a church that primarily sang traditional hymns. The voices carried the songs and there were few, if any, instrumental breaks between verses. The congregation sang robustly and the sound was beautiful.

But at the end of the meeting I was exhausted. Not only were the hymns in higher keys than I was used to, my voice never got to rest. I knew my experience was partly due to the inherent differences between singing hymns and contemporary songs. But because there were no musical interludes, I also had less time to reflect on the truths we were singing. I was reminded that instrumental turns (or “links” as my UK friends would say) in congregational singing can be refreshing and provide an opportunity to think more deeply about the lyrics.

But as the title of this post suggests, one good turn doesn’t always deserve another. I used to think this was a minor topic, but due to the influence of popular music on the way the church sings, it’s become more significant.

Too many times I’ve seen instrumental portions of worship songs actually have an adverse effect. Congregations don’t know how to respond when the singing stops and the musicians keep playing. People who were singing their hearts out to the Lord in one moment are suddenly standing around wondering what to do. They’re transformed from participators into spectators. Some strike a “worshipful pose” and wait for the next cue. Emotions subside. Minds drift.

But this isn’t a rant against instrumental breaks. It’s an appeal to use them more intentionally and pastorally. Here are a few things I’ve found helpful to remember.

1. The turns I use don’t have to match the ones on the album.

Albums are generally recorded to be listened to, which means instrumental breaks can be creative. They can be as long or as short as we want, depending on the song, where it’s at on the album, or how it fits into the overall sound. But the 24 bar intro a band plays on the recording might not be as meaningful to the people I lead on Sundays. It’s becoming increasingly common to augment your band with tracks available from sites like Multitracks.com or Loop Community. If you do that, the structure is usually determined for you in advance. But in many cases you can edit the tracks to better suit your setting.

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