Through my involvement in church music since I was a young teenager, I have learned quite a bit about getting a music group started in a church setting. I've been a singer, instrumentalist, and director of various groups, and I have loved the opportunities that I've had to share music with my fellow church musicians and ultimately with the entire congregation. There are a few things that I have noticed that have helped some church music ensembles to work together better. Here are a few basic tips for starting (or improving) a music group at your church.
Tip #1 -- Get the Proper Permission
If you are not the music director at your church, talk to your music director before starting a group of any kind. Most of the time, your music leader will be happy to have someone volunteering to do something! Also, the music director may be very helpful in giving you ideas about what will work (and not work) with the service program of the church. Do not try to go around the leadership of the church music ministry when forming a group, as this will only lead to problems.
If you are the music director, then you may want to run the idea that you have by some of the other church leaders like the pastor or your music committee. It's far better to have everyone on the same page with what is happening than to try to explain your actions later. Communication is good!
Tip #2 -- Gather Your Group Members
Finding the right people to fit your new group may be a challenge or you may already know who you want to collaborate with. Either way, you will need to assemble the group at some point for your first meeting. If you don't have all the group members that you need yet, ask around and find your missing parts first. Then, when you have all your pieces, communicate with everyone about a time to gather so you can share your ideas with them. Again, clear communication is necessary so that everyone understands what the group is trying to accomplish, and what each member's role will be.
Tip #3 -- Start with a Handful of Songs
At your first session together, have at least three to four songs that you have selected for the group to begin to learn. As you start to work with the voices or instrumental parts of your group you will begin to get a feel for what the capabilities of each member are, and can then tailor your music selections accordingly. Having too many music selections to work on at the beginning may cause the group to lose focus and never complete practice on one of the selections. Only having one or two pieces of music can be limiting. If the initial music doesn't fit well with your group's ability level, it's nice to have some options.
It's better to err on the side of music that is "too easy" to start out with, rather than music that is "too hard." Seeing success early on will give your new group confidence to try more challenging things later. For example, when I recently started a men's quartet group, the first couple of music selections we worked on were in two part harmony. It was easier for the singers to get their parts with someone else singing along. The next step was to introduce music with full four-part harmony which felt much easier after the group had gotten a little experience together.
Tip #4 -- Schedule Your Practice Time Wisely
Everyone is busy these days. Picking a time for practice can seem like a real challenge when you have to deal with group members who have various work and family responsibilities. Something that has been helpful for church groups that I have worked with is scheduling practices around regular church meeting times. When everyone is already gathered for church, it seems to be much less of a hassle to just extend the time at church for some music rehearsal. In my experience, trying to meet at other times has not often worked well with every group member's schedule.
Many churches have meetings on Sunday mornings, evenings, and a mid-week service. Particular times that have worked well for my groups have included after Sunday morning service (before lunch), before or after the Sunday evening service, or before or after the mid-week service. It is often more convenient for group members to not have to make another trip to church, but just extend one trip and get multiple things done at one time. However, every group is different. You will need to coordinate (and clearly communicate -- again) with your group members to figure out the best time to meet with your ensemble.
Tip #5 -- Be Consistent and Organized
Once your time for practice is established, stick to it as much as possible. When times change or exceptions are made there is a much greater chance that things will start to slip and the group may not get back together nearly as well. We are creatures of habit. The more habitual you can make your groups practice sessions, the better it will be for everyone involved.
Getting your materials organized is also highly beneficial for keeping your rehearsals efficient and smooth. When sheet music is sloppy or disorganized, it causes less time to be spent practicing and more time spent trying to get your act together during rehearsal. There are two methods of music organization that I have found to be neat and efficient. I will talk about these simple methods in the next blog post.
What has worked in groups that you have been a part of? Leave comments and let us know what has helped you and your church music group.
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