“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
-Dr. Seuss

Musical cues that give direction to both your team and congregation are paramount to active and effective worship leading. Knowing where you plan to go and then implementing that plan is your job and should be done with forethought. We will discuss both how you can prepare your team musically and then ways to give your congregation musical cues that make the worship set easy to follow.

First, before you ever make it to your worship rehearsal you ought to have spent time planning out dynamic cues for your band. Each song’s arrangement given special attention and then the set as a whole. Think through if your intros ought to be full band or light. Should the bridge be brought down or should the band remain strong? Doing this type of planning brings continuity to the whole set. If you do not give forethought to a set’s dynamics then each song may have the same dynamic arrangement and throw of the balance of the set.

During your rehearsal, please make sure to go over your plan before you dive into practicing your songs. Make sure that each band member has a pen (or digital pen for iPads). Let everyone make notes from your given directions. Once everyone is on the same page, begin your rehearsal. As you go along, test your initial dynamic plan and be sure that you’ve made the right decisions. There is no harm in asking the band to alter from the original course. It’s better to do this during rehearsal than during the worship set.

You may still need to alter your original plan during service if you find you need a different response from the congregation that you originally intended. It’s very important that you have some sort of agreed upon cues that your band knows how to respond to. Those may be discrete hand signals. Be careful that those hand signals are not distracting. If your motions look like your asking a runner to steal second base then that’s too much. Simple is better in this case. Some teams have a special band-only talk back microphone that is on stage. The leader may use it or the band leader. In that case, the microphone is only heard by the band. Similar to hand motion directions, be discrete when using this mic. Don’t use paragraph form with your cues. Short words like “band up, band down, build, one more time” is all you really need. Since these cues are given during the worship set, you need to be concise and clear.

The other type of cue to the band is one the congregation will hear. Make sure that these cues are given not only for the band’s benefit, but also give the congregation hints as to where you’d like to musically lead them. Phrases like “once again, let’s bring a little more, bring it down” are all excellent cues that work for both purposes. The important thing is that you aren’t using technical language that would encourage your band, but confuse your congregation.

The other type of cue is for the congregation only. Giving a few of the upcoming words before the chorus for example would help everyone know where you’d like to go. This is especially helpful if you just came from singing a bridge on repeat multiple times. You may also want to use inviting words as cues for how you’d like to see your church to respond. Phrases like “let’s sing together, lift your head and your hands, let’s bow” are excellent leadership cues that help those in attendance join as one. Please be sparing with all of these cues however. I recommend only using these when they are truly necessary. Otherwise they can become distracting and overdone. Remember, these cues are supposed to be supporting and helpful, but they are not essential. Sometimes a song will not need any additional cues.

The most important thing to remember when developing a worship service is where you’d like to end up: in the presence of Almighty God. Let your band cues and audience cues help facilitate the end result. Being intentional is key. Your band will be more cohesive. Your congregation will follow you.

How does your team perform when you are sure about your direction? Do you notice how you may want to add more or less cues? Are there ways you could implement more forethought into your band rehearsals? What cues do you use during worship for your band? What are some of your favorite cues for your congregation? I’d love to hear! Comment or private message…

-Micah Brooks