61 thoughts on “Songleading Styles”

  1. Oh. Dear. How is any of that an improvement over “Open your hymn books to page 218. . .” and taking your chances with the leaderless congregation and a piano?

  2. I get great laughter knowing that Steve Anderson leads the music as well. I assume he is unwilling to trust anyone else even if they had someone around who was capable. πŸ™‚

    1. since you never get to see the congregation in any of his videos, i guess it’s safe to assume that there’s less than, say, 10 people present for any given sermon?

      1. Because I like a good show, or a good train-wreck, I was in Phoenix a couple years ago and stopped in to visit Stevie’s church. LOL. What a hoot. There were 28 people including all of the babies and kids. The nice man in my row made sure to share his Bible with me during the reading of scripture. It was nice but it was cliche’d at the same time. I hustled out of the room after it was over. I would have loved for Stevie to come say hi but I didn’t want to chit chat with the congregation and I had to catch a flight.

        1. Wow! A whole 28 people! The last fundy church I was in had 10 people, including kids, on a GOOD Sunday!

  3. Can anyone tell me what the purpose of the hand-waving actually is. I went to fundy churches for years, and I know that it is meant to relay the timing, with one sort of metronome motion for one 3/4 timing and another for 4/4 timing. But best I could tell, no one ever used it for that and anyone who needed to know the timing (and I can’t imagine who would other than the pianist) could just look at the hymn book where it was clearly noted.

    1. Christine, the purpose of the hand-waving is to indicate the tempo-the speed at which the hymn moves. The note values are written in the hymnal (eights, quarters, halfs, etc), but there is no precise indication of the exact tempo to sing at. The leader tries to indicate how fast the song is moving as a whole.

    2. In actual choir singing, or in an orchestral setting, conducting is very important to keep everyone together… however in most smaller churches like these, the pianist (or organist) is actually the one setting the tempo, and actually leading, while the hand waving is most likely done by someone who actually doesn’t know a whole lot about conducting and/or music but is following the “traditional way of doing things”.

        1. our choir director growing up notoriously could not conduct to save his life.

          I come home from college one weekend in the midst of one of my two semesters of choral conducting in college, and the music director is not there, so I get asked to lead the choir. I start in in a quick rehearsal that morning and find out no one in the choir could follow real conducting. I get told “just mouth the words to us.” So I get stuck my first time conducting in “real life” breaking my professor’s first rule of choral conducting – which is NEVER mouth the words because the choir will follow that and not your conducting…

          But conducting is necessary for a choir of any size – a small ensemble can get away with some one leading some of the cut offs or ritardandos from one end, but in a choir, its next to impossible to not end up with everyone cutting off at different times (ending up with the chorus of snakes any time you have a word ending with an s sound) or just getting into all kinds of weird tempo problems.

          But given that the congregation generally DOESN’T understand conducting or such, I’ve never really understood why you would conduct during the congregational singing, unless you’re conducting the choir to try and make everything sound a little less messy =D lol

    3. if you ever get the chance to sing in a large choir with a competent songleader, you’ll see how incredibly helpful it is. you definitely couldn’t keep everyone together without him/her in a situation like that.

    4. I know this is sacreligous…or blasphemous…or both, but if you have drums you don’t need someone to wave their hand to keep the beat. I’ve never seen drums in a fundy church.

  4. Silly fundies…will they EVER learn that congregations sing the best WITHOUT a songleader, but rather with a choir and a pipe organ both located in a rear gallery….this is the way it’s been done on the Continent for ages and there are a variety of reasons that it’s superior:

    1. The Choir provides voice-to-voice leadership (eg SATB to SATB), as opposed to the one voice of the songleader
    2. The sound comes from behind, resulting in a feeling of support, rather than blasting.
    3. This leaves the congregation free to look at their hymnals and not having to keep one eye on the leader and one in the page.
    4. A good acoustical environment will help the sound to blend harmoniously and encourage singing….

    1. 4. A good acoustical environment will help the sound to blend harmoniously and encourage singingÒ€¦.

      That’s tought to get in a converted Piggly Wiggly or low ceiling IFB cookie cutter church building.

    2. Our local Catholic church is set up like this, though, sadly, they don’t have a real, uh, that is, pipe organ. I never thought through why it would be arranged like that, but it makes a lot of sense to support congregational worship in that way.

      1. The church my husband and I used to attend was like this, too. I made sure to get him out of bed just so we could attend the Mass with the full choir. πŸ™‚

    3. As an Anglican, I’ve worshipped for the last 16 years with people who’ve never even heard of a songleader. Choir in the back, choir in the front, praise band in the back, praise band in the front, all kinds of ositioning, but no song leader.

      1. It also grieves me to no end to hear former fundies degrade hymnody. Many of them simply never had the chance to experience the real thing and threw the baby out with the bathwater….

        Much new CCM has better words than the gospel songs of the IFB movement, which strangely pass for hymns, yet both are so anthropocentric that they left my soul emptier than the church’s real heritage of praise does….and don’t forget-I’m 17.

  5. Our church building was built originally as an opera hall, it’s a floating parabola and the acoustics are unbelievable. We cannot, however, alter the architecture to get a loft in the back, so that can cause problems, particularly when we have a seasonal choir.

    Our congregation sings parts, in harmony, for every song where it’s appropriate (sometimes we’re in unison) and we don’t have a “song leader” (aka “hand-waver”). The congregation is about 250+ and we have one grand piano. And we all follow just fine.

    The hand-waving might be intended to indicate tempo, but I’ve seen lots of times in IFB churches where the piano is turned so the pianist can’t see the hand-waver. Hilarity ensues. And I’ve seen situations where the song was unfamiliar to the song leader (Talk about preparation. Wait, but if you prepare, you’ll “quench the Spirit!”) and everything fell apart. I think I’ve encountered more cases of the church giggles from song leaders who didn’t know the songs and thought it was funny than from kids whose snarfing got out of hand.

  6. I wonder if any modern churches steal the Anglican/Lutheran idea and put the worship band in the back? πŸ˜›

    You could probably pull off a similar effect in a large church by putting a lot of the speakers in the back, though that might be weird to have people speaking in front of you and hear them from behind. Who knows?

  7. I’ve been both a song leader and a choir director at different churches, and there is definitely a difference. I’ve worked in churches where the choir was in the back, but mostly where they’ve been in the front.

    When I’m leading congregational singing, I don’t flap my arms around like a chicken (or like those in the video) unless it’s an unfamiliar hymn. I let my voice and the organ lead the singing. For the choir, it’s different. I conduct a choir, keeping time and giving cues as appropriate.

    I had a cousin who always directed our annual camp meeting. He had the same hand motions regardless of the music’s meter. 3/4 was the same as 4/4 to him.

  8. My father was a music pastor and choir director in at least 10 or so GARBC churches for 50 years until he retired a couple years back. But I distinctly remember that his style was a more laid back version of “petting the kitten.” However, I remember when the congregation would sing the Hymn “Saved” or John W. Peterson’s “Coming Again” He would wave his entire arms like he was Bird flapping his wings. I wish I could have had that on video…….

  9. We had the hardest time last summer because there were some renovations going on in the Gymnatorium/Fellowship Hall, so we moved some of the chairs into the choir loft of the New Building’s Sanctuary. It was so difficult to keep everyone together (choir, congregation, song leader, organist, trumpet) because we were all spread out. I’m don’t usually move a lot when I play the piano because I don’t want it interpreted as dancing. So, you can imagine my distress when the Music Minister announced that it was Favorite Songs Night. I thought about pretending to pass out just to avoid it. But that would be lying. And I couldn’t think of a way to modestly fall off the piano bench.
    I think it’s important to remember too that the Old Paths demand that music be directed as though you are directing people who read music and know how to hold notes out. And the song leader has to remember to hold up his fingers to indicate the verse. Otherwise, we just keep singing and I never know when the last verse is to so I can do a big finish.

    1. Aww, CMG, it seems you sneaked this one in under the radar. Your comments usually produce such enlightened and edifying discussion; it just seems a shame nobody seemed to notice this gem.

  10. I know this is irreverent, and maybe it’s even slightly over-the-line…

    But all I could think of for that last entry was this should be called “The Grope” method of songleading…

    :mrgreen:

  11. My dad learned proper songleading and choir directing when I was about 13. I began playing piano for church at 15 and he drilled me to follow his direction. Often with tears on my part! The piano was NEVER to lead! We worked as a team for decades, so I am not only accustomed to following a director and seeing a clear downbeat and a precise pattern, but I depend on it. I really hate to play piano when there is a songleader like these fellows! In my WY church the song leader had been taught the basic “dribble the basketball” method at BJU. He took courses in the trades or something and had some basic Bible and ministry classes. He has gotten better and is easier to follow. On Sunday evenings, though, he wouldn’t even do that because he felt it was a more informal service, so why wave his arms. Drove me nuts when it was my turn at the piano! It’s not about being formal, it’s about communication with the accompanist. I really hate being stared at like it’s my fault when I started another verse and everyone else stopped…because I couldn’t hear him.

    1. When I was a teen, I played for our church, and our songleader was a former drummer who got saved and discovered drumming was a “sin.” Anyway, he understood music and taught me to follow his lead. I prefer to follow the conductor, but I can lead from the piano if I have to!!!

      I know what you mean about not being able to hear the songleader too! His voice is directed out toward the congregation, the speakers may even be placed past the piano, and the piano itself is loud, so it’s REALLY hard hearing little comments like “On the last.” Sometimes I’d be playing a verse and wonder, “Is this the third or the final verse?” A competent song leader is a tremendous asset.

  12. That made my day.

    Of course there are many more styles. The “jumper” comes to mind…the over enthusiastic person who is all over the place.

    There is also the instrumentalist. Usually a trumpet or trombone or any other instrument with the capability of piercing your eardrums while still conducting a 4/4 pattern when played for this use. Mike Shrock was in a video doing this just recently.

    Oh and then there were all the funny ones at BJU with the various music faculty. Oh those were good old memories, but not universals.

    1. Don’t forget the One-Finger! I remember Mr. Buchanan at BJU, in one of my Church Music classes, cautioning us never to use the One-Finger; and he demonstrated what would happen on the last note if you used that method to lead, “When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be THERE.”

  13. Our “worship team” never seems to decide ahead of time how many choruses of “I’ve Been Singing This Song Forever” to sing. Then they never quite agree when they’re done. So someone starts another chorus, and there they go…

  14. The organ and choir loft in back is a result of the medieval church’s ambivalence toward all music in general. Since music was considered more secular than sacred, the loft was constructed outside of the ‘holy’ sanctuary portion of the church. It’s really a catholic thing not an acoustic thing.

  15. The main purpose for a fundy songleader is to signal when to hold those extra-special long notes on certain songs like “For I’m SAVED – SAVED – SAVED!!!” You could always tell the neophytes: they didn’t know where the pauses went like those of us who were there every time the doors were open.

  16. In all fairness to the “Just Shoot Me” example, that is how one leads a song in 2/2 time or the waltz kind of 6/8 time, as in “Saved”.
    And as an antique song leader who just resigned his church…I resemble that remark! πŸ™‚

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