Building a church music department from scratch can be difficult and be a bit overwhelming at times!
I know, because I’ve done it a couple times….and I’m currently starting from square one in a brand new church plant in downtown Seattle!
Right now, I’m the music director, worship leader, only musician (keyboard), and only vocalist (unless you count my husband and two of our sweet saints who sing loudly in order to help fill the room with the sound of praise. I guess they are my unofficial praise team….)
So where do you start? Where do you go from square one?
I was recently reminded at a local music workshop that having a small church mentality is a big NO, NO!
This is one of the reasons that we don’t call our church plant a small church, but instead, we call it a new, growing church!
The same idea should be applied to the music department! So, I’m the only person currently in our music department…. It’s still not small! It’s growing!
So, how would I do things in a thriving music department with a full band and six singers on the praise team?
First, I would be organized!
I would make sure all my music is easily accessible and organized! Whether you are using a reader on your tablet, OnSong on your iPad, Dropbox, or a binder full of paper chord charts, keep your music organized from day one!
If you make organization a part of your routine now, as your department grows, you will be on top of your game!
Organization should also extend to your time, which leads me to my next couple of points…
Set aside some time during the week to work on music.
Prepare for the Sunday service on Thursday (or if you’re REALLY organized and like a ninja music director, knock out those worship sets a couple of weeks in advance…. Or for the whole month…. Or…you know… just a few days before the service.)
When you know that you’re the only person that’s going to be singing or playing, it can be easy to pick out 3-4 songs the night before (and sometimes the morning of…) and just go with it, but resist that spirit of procrastination!
The last thing you want to do is make your music department a last minute project.
If you truly want to see your team grow and God bless your department, show God that it is a priority to you!
Put time and effort into preparing and being the best worship leader, musician, etc. that you can be! Music and worship plays such a vital role in our lives and in our services, so if God calls us to be a part of that, let’s go all the way!
And that means practice, too…
Practice! Practice! Practice!
You would expect your musicians, praise singers, and soloists to practice (if you had them) so make sure you are spending time practicing whatever it is you do!
I will admit, this can be a tough one! I have to remind myself to do this!
More than likely, you aren’t getting paid to be a music director. You’re probably working a secular job, and you may have a family to take care of as well! AND… if you’re in a growing church, you’re probably involved in just about every other ministry your church offers!
Remember, as your music department grows, so will your responsibilities! There will be even more demands on your time and more practicing in order to play well with your band and singers will become a must!
If you make personal practice time a part of your routine now, you’ll not only be offering God your very best every service, but you’ll be preparing for the day when you have a full-blown music department!
Practice before the service, too!
Every music department that I have ever been a part of has a practice time prior to the service. This means that I need to have a practice time before church, even if it’s just me!
It’s easy to wing it when you’re comfortable playing your instrument or singing certain worship songs, go the extra mile!
This will also be a beneficial practice to have in place as you recruit others to join your team. A practice before the service to touch base and smooth over any rough spots needs to be a requirement as your music department grows. Your new members should know that when they join the team, they are committing to practice and rehearsal times in order to offer their best to God and the congregation you lead into worship.
How often do you learn a new song and add it to your worship sets?
Another thing that most music directors do, is introduce new music to the team and congregation. This can be anywhere from 2-4 songs a month!
Challenge yourself to learn new songs (or songs that are new to you or your church) and include them in your worship sets.
When we first launched the Refuge Church of Seattle, I thought…. This is awesome! All songs are going to be new, so I can feel free to really be creative! Unfortunately, I still find myself getting stuck in a rut and returning to some of the same songs over and over……and over!
This goes back to that scheduling and organizing thing….
Plan to learn 1-2 new songs every month. Make a list of songs that you’d like to learn and use for the next 2-3 months and then start crossing them off your list. (I’m preaching to the choir, right now!)
Alright. Here’s where it starts to get good…
Utilize tools, programs, software, etc.!
We often look at these huge music departments with their fancy programs and loops and all that stuff and think, one of these days! When I have an awesome drummer, then we’ll be able to use loops, when I’m having to schedule a rotating praise team, then I’ll use Planning Center Online, when I need to share music with a full band, then I’ll sign up for Dropbox. (By the way, Facebook groups are also a great way to keep in touch with your singers and musicians and share chord charts, YouTube videos, etc.)
Some of these awesome tools can be MORE beneficial to us when we are starting from scratch!
I was recently introduced to a program called iDrum for creating and playing loops! Do I have a drummer? Nope! But, I would like to do more the slow-mid tempo songs, so why not use loops on their own? It totally works! AND the program is SO easy to use! (Don’t avoid checking a program out because you think it may be too difficult to use or understand. Give yourself a little credit and watch the tutorial videos! You will understand a lot more than you think!)
There’s another awesome program called Fly Worship that allows you to play with an entire band during your worship service (and yes, you can switch between verses, chorus, bridges etc.)
There are so many ways to make your music team sound full and professional! Even if there’s only one of you! You may have to do a little research, invest a little money, and spend some time learning and practicing with new software, but it’s well worth the investment!
OK! So you’re thinking about adding a new praise singer or musician to the mix.
You need to make sure you have some guidelines in place from the start!
Do you have a platform policy? (If not, talk to your pastor about it!)
What about a commitment form? People need to be aware of what you are expecting of them and what kind of commitments they will be required to make.
When are you planning on practicing? Hopefully, you’ve already been making yourself practice before the services, so that practice time is in place. Having a monthly practice (on a Thursday night or Saturday afternoon) to learn songs is also great!
What kind of vision or mission statement do you have for your music department?
It’s important to cast a vision for your team from the very beginning! You want your music team to understand that they aren’t just singers, musicians, sound men (or women), etc., but they’re a vital part of a ministry!
They are worship leaders! They are serving the congregation and ministering to the Lord is special way.
How do you gain or train new team members?
Probably the biggest difficulty in starting a music department from scratch is the lack of available team members. More than likely, you are starting solo or with just one or two others. So, how do you develop and grow a music department?
First of all, pray!
Pray for God to send you singers and musicians! Pray specifically for that bass player, drummer, or whatever it is you feel like your department is currently lacking.
Next, look around!
Who in the church is willing and has potential that needs to be developed? Is it a young person, child, adult? One of the responsibilities of a music director that is often overlooked is his or her investment in people and development of the future.
Lucky for us, there are a ton of great resources available due to technology! Even if you struggle with teaching parts or you don’t know how to train a drummer or bass player, you can find YouTube videos, blogs, and other online programs that will help you train your team.
Don’t shy away from investing a little money, either. It’s worth it to spend some money on lessons for a young person in order to invest in the future of your department and the life of a young person.
If you’re trying to teach your singers how to sing parts, then be consistent in getting them recordings of their parts in advance so they can listen. Even if your singers end up on a lead part during the service, don’t give up! Keep teaching and practicing the parts and have your singers practice finding a part other than lead when they are listening to music around their houses or in their cars.
At some point, that training and consistency will pay off and your singers will start to hear and sing their correct parts.
Starting with just two parts is ok, too! It may help to have a couple of people singing alto or tenor together instead of having just one person trying to stay on their part.
Again, there are so many resources available for training musicians and singers!
Here are two that will teach parts and specific instruments for songs.
Mark Condon iClub (Membership fee required, but it is well worth it!)
Here are two websites for musician lessons. Both require a membership.
BSharpTricks (Piano lessons from beginner to advanced. I’m personally signed up for this and I love it!)
Tune Bucket (And Tune Bucket Kids!)
This blog post barely scratches the surface when it comes to building a music department, but I hope it helps get you started!
If you have any questions or thoughts that you would add, please leave a comment or shoot me an email!