“I’d do entire music videos in my bedroom, where I used to stand in front of my television memorizing the moves to Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It.'”
-Jimmy Fallon

The best worship teams in world come prepared for their rehearsal. Those teams aren’t learning their music when they get there. Instead they use that time to synchronize as a team. They ensure that their mission and purpose are being carried out more so than just performing a worship song. They use that time as a team to internalize their music.

Internalizing music is the key to proficient delivery of the craft of music. When a musician is “playing from the heart” he or she is not showing you their blood vessels, arteries and veins. No, they are presenting music that has been internalized and memorized. Thus the outcomes are most sincere and organic. You feel the music as opposed to just hearing it.

To get to the point where your entire team is utilizing your rehearsal time for greater things than just learning your songs you will need to set forth some expectations. As you send out your preparation materials be sure to always be reminding your team of their need to internalize the songs. Don’t let them show up week after week having not spent time learning the pieces. That type of behavior can’t be tolerated because that type of behavior only allows your team to get by week to week. You can’t grow and develop if that sort of mentality exists. Instead, give encouragement to those who are doing their homework beforehand. Do so publicly and explain to your group what those particular team members are doing that is making them so effective. Always use the encouragement of a single team member to edify the whole team toward those same intentions. Don’t berate those who aren’t doing what you want in a public setting. That is humiliation and it’s not effective (or Christ-like).

If the concept of internalizing worship music will be new to your team, let’s take a minute and walk through a few ways that you can send the appropriate materials to them ahead of time that will help them to memorize their music. Here’s how they can win.

  • Make sure than any charts or lyrics you send your team have been arranged the way you plan to perform the songs. DO NOT send out generic charts and plan to make lots of modifications at rehearsal. That is not only lazy it’s poor leadership. Instead, look over the set. Plan for transitions. Notice when you’d like the band to grow or shrink dynamically. Once you made all of those selections make them clear to your team so that they prepare in that manner.
  • Confirm that your charts are not so complicated that they are nearly impossible to internalize. It’s nice from time to time to put odd stingers in the middle of a tune or to add a different bass note to the beginning chord of each chorus, but those make memorization difficult. Especially while you are training your team to learn their music, make the arrangements simple. Don’t overcomplicate them for the sake of being cute. Your worship team doesn’t do the same songs each week like a performing artist would. Aim your arrangements at allowing your band to be most solid. Don’t worry about nuance yet.
  • If possible, send out audio versions of each song you plan to perform in the key and arrangement you plan to perform. This may not be possible every time, but when it is it gives your weakest member the best opportunity to succeed because they can practice with the recording exactly how you plan to perform the songs.
  • Audio (and video) record your rehearsals and make them available to your team after rehearsal but before the worship service. This gives them a demo to practice with that is in the correct key, tempo and with all dynamic cues. This may be the best tool you have when it comes to asking your team to memorize their music. They can play along with themselves!

The purpose for internalizing music is so that your team can focus on connecting their body language with your congregation. It frees the stage of music stands that literally stand in the way of being able to see your teammates on stage. Live music is incredibly visual. If you listen to a live recording but cannot see the performers you’ll hear more of the flaws and inconsistencies. On the other hand, if you attend that same show live, seeing and hearing, you’ll rarely notice pitchiness (unless it’s extremely apparent) because you have the visual element to deliver continuity just as much as the auditory.

Encourage your team to be worship leaders from stage, having internalized their music and interact with the congregation as you lift up Jesus. I’m most certain that God will honor that type of investment and time sacrifice. God is so good!

How does your team prepare for the stage? Do they come prepared for rehearsal or are they just acquiring their music? Could you employ some of the preparation materials that were suggested above? Do you go above and beyond what I’ve suggested? I would love to hear! Comment or private message…

-Micah Brooks