How Song Keys Can Help Your Worship Service

Sometimes when I visit famous megachurches, I expect to be wowed by their expertise—that doesn’t necessarily happen.

On several occasions, I’ve sat in a congregation of thousands, only to see the worship leader and band sing a song, come to a complete, dead stop, then start another random song, come to another complete stop, sing another random song, etc. What?!

Don’t think megachurches have the corner on the music excellence. With planning and leadership, any church, no matter the size, can create a meaningful worship experience that will touch people’s hearts and lead them into God’s presence. The principles of worship flow apply to everyone, whether you have a full orchestra, a rocking band or just a piano and acoustic guitar. Quality is what counts, not quantity.

I was talking to a worship leader recently about his praise set. He had a song in Db and followed it with a song in G. I asked him why he didn’t do the Db song in D. His reply was that Db is the original key.

You don’t have to do songs in the original key! In fact, I would advise not doing songs in the original key. In this artist-driven world of contemporary worship, the artist, typically a tenor worship leader, will record the song in a key that best fits his voice. That key is usually not a good congregational key.

As for the Db song, the flow would improve greatly by changing it to D since D and G are related keys. And do you know any guitarists who like playing in Db?

“Related keys” at Wikipedia.

Here’s a set list from another church:

“Marvelous Light” in B
“Awesome Is the Lord Most High” in G
“Made to Worship” in A

Tomlin originally recorded Made to Worship” in C. Somehow their chart made it to A. The worship leader has a nice tenor voice and can sing the song with no problem, but I suggested they do it in G. It’s a friendlier key for the average person, the worship leader still sounds great on it as it’s only a step lower, plus worship flow is helped because they can now flow smoothly from “Awesome” in G to “Made to Worship” in G.

This week, take a look at your praise set. Can better flow be achieved by changing the keys of the songs? Balance these three things:

Playability – Is it in a hard key for guitarists to play?

Range – Can the average person in the congregation sing it?

Flow – Are the songs in the same or related keys to help smooth transitions?  

What can you do to make sure the song keys help your service flow? 

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Don Chapman
Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.