His praises resound in us – the new temple!

“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous.” (Psalm 118:14-15)

The New Testament doesn’t talk a great deal about the use of music in the gathering of God’s people – but what it does say is very clear. Singing the Word of Christ together is designed to build up, teach and encourage one another, while declaring the praises of Him who loves us. In fact our praises are a really important part of God’s plan for the new temple. Let me explain.

Psalm 118 (and so many more) describes the Temple of God as the place from which our praises and blessings towards God should come. But when Jesus turns up to this earthy temple (Mark 11:1-12:12) there is no praise coming from this place. Herod’s fancy bricks and mortar monstrosity is the seat of money making and exploitation. This place is wrong; this temple building in Jerusalem is not functioning as the house of God. So where is the true temple? How can such a place of praise be established to the Glory of God?

The answer is Jesus.
Jesus went through suffering, pain, rejection – the Cross. In doing this he established the true temple, where true worshippers will praise his holy name. Where is this true temple? Well, it is found in us! We are God’s holy temple (1 Peter 1:5-6,9 1 Peter 1:4-5, 9-10)
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…. you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Worship happens not in one tiny location in far off Israel to the exclusion of all other people. Now under new Management, Jesus’ temple is wherever his people are. His people will bring a prayer for the nations and praise for God’s holy name. We are His people, God’s true temple. What a privilege to be part of the true house of our holy God. He lives within and among us; he inspires us to prayer and praise. When we praise Him together we fulfil Psalm 118: People from all nations praying for the nations. We are to be people who pray without ceasing, people who praise his wonderful name. Pray and praise must sound and resound from our Christian communities and individuals. Does that describe you? does that describe us?

“Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (NLT)

In 1 Corinthians 3:16 the Corinthian church needed Paul to remind them many times about the danger of division amongst God’s people. Paul speaks boldly here, explaining that as a Body of believers, WE ARE the temple of God where He dwells. He lives in us! He no longer chooses to reveal himself and meet with people in an earthly building (as he had done in the past, in Solomon’s temple, God’s house). Now he LIVES in us together. He reveals Himself in us. He has put His Spirit in us, collectively. This echoes the words of Peter (1 Peter 2:5): “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Peter sees that genuine resounding praise can only come from this new spiritual temple – us! So how important it is for God’s people to major on authentic, true, fresh and relevant praise in our gatherings.

For more on this:


The conundrum of keys, capos and congregational singing


Most of the songs we now use to gather Christ’s body together in praise and worship are not written for that specific purpose – for singing together. Rather, they are written to be performed and recorded (for God’s glory), while satisfying the vocal range of an experienced soloist, who most often has a fairly high male (tenor) voice. The melodies are therefore shaped and situated in a vocal range that few of us can manage. Sure, we can sing along with the best of them on our iPods, but unconsciously we do a lot of octave jumping, or harmonising, so that we can sing along. This doesn’t work too well when the congregation is singing together.

Choosing the right key is quite tricky. The default or original key on SongSelect rarely works well. It can end up with a really high melody section in the chorus that no one can sing (bar the tenors) or else the whole thing is too low when you jump down an octave. This low singing equates to really quiet singing, and when we can’t hear each other we are discouraged from singing at all.

You also have to consider the musicians: is this great key the guitarists are happy to play in one which will induce a mild psychosis in the keyboard player, as they scamper around playing on only the black notes?

Here are just four rules of thumb that I find work well when selecting singable and playable keys for church singing (on SongSelect (CCLI) or a similar website).

1. Keep the vocal range between A (below middle C) and D (8 notes above middle C). Remember that D signals Distress for many people, so ensure the transposed melody only has a few passing notes of the high D (and the low A as well, for that matter). If the song ends up with a low G as the anacrusis note in the melody of the verse then teach it as a B instead (it should fit the chord, and won’t really be noticed).

2. Try to maintain the original shape and development of the song, starting with low verse notes and moving to higher chorus notes. If you sabotage the ‘chorus lift’ by a poorly chosen key, or by forcing people to jump down an octave, it can all fall seriously flat.

3. Don’t choose keys that have too many sharps or flats. Stick to maximum of four sharps (E major) and max 3 flats (Eb major). There are a few major keys that work well for both guitar and keys: C, D, E, G and A major. Keyboard players generally don’t mind keys with flats (one flat F major, two flats Bb major), but these will probably make your guitarists unhappy. This leads to my next point.

4. Understand Capos and get your guitarists to understand and use them. The keyboard and the guitarists can play in different keys quite effectively. A guitar capo effectively shortens the guitar strings and produces a higher sound. This enables the guitarists to play in comfortable keys (mostly ones with sharps) while the pianist can play in a key with flats that may mean a better vocal range for the congregation.

For example, if I want to use Matt Redman’s Ten Thousand Reasons in a flat key (Eb major, with three flats), then the guitarists can play in D (with their music in key of D) and capo on the first fret. (Each fret raises the guitar’s pitch by a semitone. So, the guitarists playing in D major want it to sound Eb major. Placing the capo on fret one moves the sound up by a semitone. Success! It sounds in Eb major but they don’t have to play in a key with flats.)

Another example would be Trevor Hodge’s No Other Name (Listen below!) in Bb, which has two flats. The guitarists can play in G major, but sound Bb by placing the capo on fret 3. There are 3 semitone steps to get from G to Bb (go check a keyboard) which is why the guitar must use capo three.

Remember that the guitarist needs to be playing in a key slightly lower than the keyboard player, so that the capo will bring their sound up to pitch, and they will only need to use capo 1, 2 or 3.

Next time: let’s look at a case study and decide what to do with Tomlin’s ‘Jesus, Son of God’ which has a huge vocal range! I’m still working on this one myself.

Violin design – sonic power

How a Renaissance design doubles a violin’s sonic power

Scientists have discovered that the distinctive “f-hole” (so-called because it resembles a written “f”) in a violin is not just a pretty shape. It is perfectly designed to maximise the sound issued from the instrument.

The shape is twice as efficient at transmitting sound as a round hole researchers found.

MIT accoustics expert Nicholas Makris studied the development of the holes. he found that the the more elongated the sound hole, the more sound can escape from the violin, and set about to prove it mathematically.

He says that, while it is unclear whether the instrument makers understood the mathematics behind the efficiency of the f-hole, it developed in an “evolutionary” way.

He and his team analysed 470 instruments made between 1560 and 1750 and found that the change from round hole to the f-hole was gradual but consistent.

Whatever they knew about the maths, instrument makers “definitely knew what was a better instrument to replicate,” says Makris.

As Jennifer Chu writes in MIT News:

The more elongated these are, the more sound a violin can produce. What’s more, an elongated sound hole takes up little space on the violin, while still producing a full sound — a design that the researchers found to be more power-efficient than the rounder sound holes of the violin’s ancestors, such as medieval fiddles, lyres, and rebecs.

Makris didn’t set out to study violin acoustics, Chu reports, but arose when he took up a new hobby – playing the lute.

“I’m an acoustics expert, but promised myself I wouldn’t think about the acoustics of the instrument, I’m just going to play the thing,” Makris told Chu.

That thinking didn’t last long, as he began trying to understand his instrument better.

How the shape developed

How the shape developed

Play each day like Jazz.

This will make sense to some of you . . just a little musical humour to brighten your day. Blessings!jazz

Not the first generation to be addicted to bass

If you have ever wondered about the love of pipe organs in church music, and the intense love for ‘good old hymns’ which have been played on this grand instrument, the following research may help explain these strong connections:

Church organ Does organ music ‘instil religious feelings’?

According to an experiment people who experience a sense of spirituality in church may be reacting to the extreme bass sound produced by some organ pipes.

Many churches and cathedrals have organ pipes that are so long they emit infrasound which at a frequency lower than 20 Hertz is largely inaudible to the human ear. In a controlled experiment in which infrasound was pumped into a concert hall, UK scientists found they could instil strange feelings in the audience at will. These included an extreme sense of sorrow, coldness, anxiety and even shivers down the spine.

To test the impact of extreme bass notes from an organ pipe on an audience, researchers constructed a seven-metre-long “infrasonic cannon” which they placed at the back of the Purcell Room, a concert hall in South London. They then invited 750 people to report their feelings after listening to pieces of contemporary music intermittently laced with sound from the “cannon”.

The results showed that odd sensations in the audience increased by an average of 22% when the extreme bass was present. Some of the experiences were described as, ‘shivering on my wrist’, ‘an odd feeling in my stomach’, ‘increased heart rate’, ‘feeling very anxious’, and ‘a sudden memory loss’. This was an experiment done under controlled conditions and it shows infrasound does have an impact, and that has implications in a religious context and some of the unusual experiences people may be having in certain churches.”

Sarah Angliss, an engineer and composer in charge of the project, added: “Organ players have been adding infrasound to the mix for 500 years so maybe we’re not the first generation to be ‘addicted to bass’.”

The article “Organ music ‘instils religious feelings‘” was first reported by the BBC in 2003.


The Gift (and Curse) of Musical Time Travel

Such is the power of music….

The Artistic Christian

Wallace Monument and Me

A picture of me standing on top of the William Wallace Memorial in Stirling, Scotland, overlooking one of the battlefields where Wallace fought for freedom.

So it turns out time machines do exist…

Any musician will tell you that music offers the ability to transport its listeners to another place and time, allowing you to relive old memories in a powerful and moving way. Have you ever wondered why this is?

According to Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, the memory centers in your brain light up any time music is played. This close connection between music and memory is why the information attached to songs is what children tend to remember for a lifetime (think of how you learned to write… the ABC Song). This is also why Alzheimer’s patients can forget the faces of their own spouse and…

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Drawing back the curtains on Christ – the role of Song Leaders

worship-band-chapel-sept-08A week ago I began a discussion on what makes a good song leader and promptly got distracted by the case for “song leaders” rather than worship leaders. (You can read it here: Why I prefer Song leader to Worship Leader.) Whether or not you are happy with my choice of terminology please come with me to consider 12 things that make an effective song leader.

Allow me to preface this list with a few comments. I’ve been working with song leaders and church bands (and serving as a song leader) for about 25 years now. I’ve seen the best and worst examples of what song leading can look like, and I’ve worked through plenty of issues. From what I’ve observed (in myself and others) I know that song leading can lead to all kinds of flattery, self-deceit and bad attitudes about your own importance and Christian life. (These must be confronted as soon as they raise their ugly heads, so be honest with someone you trust.)

To be an effective song leader requires discipline of both the mind and voice. It takes a balancing act of several important elements – especially humility, a desire to serve, vocal ability and confidence. And this does not just apply to when you are on stage! Song leaders must be genuine Christians who see their role as one of service, teaching and encouragement. They must think things through and prepare well. One of the most helpful and guiding pieces of advice I have found for song leaders was given by Charles Spurgeon! Though originally aimed at preachers, he said the challenge was to “draw back the curtains on Christ and get lost in the folds.” What a brilliant reminder that we are not up front for self-glorification, but for Christ!

Bob Kauflin defines the role of the song (‘corporate worship’) leader in a single sentence, like this:
“An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, skillfully combines biblical truth with music to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.” (

That’s a pretty good definition, so I’m not going to tamper with it!

But for those wanting a longer list of things that make for effective song leading, here are my 12 points regarding the PERSPECTIVE, PRESENCE and PRACTICAL matters that can help song leaders serve more effectively:

1. See yourself as a “servant leader” who is doing a job to help others, to enable the gathered body of Christ to sing together, to praise God and encourage each other. You are serving the congregation with your voice, with clear and well-tuned singing that is easy to follow (just as you might serve with your hands in vacuuming the auditorium).
2. Keep serving in other ways. Don’t think song leading should be the full extent of your service to God. Be willing to take a break from it if it becomes all-consuming, or totally taking you from other gospel opportunities. (Vacuum the auditorium now and then! And speak the gospel to a friend!)
3. Don’t see yourself as the star of the show, and don’t take your musicians or sound crew for granted. Talk to them and express genuine appreciation! (On the other hand, don’t be blasé about your role. It is important to serve people in this role! And it is important for people to sing together to God and to encourage one another.)

4. Your body language and facial expressions are pretty important, because they will be reflected to you by the congregation. If you are looking awkward or nervous or disinterested, they will feel that way too. A smile, particularly with your eyes, while you sing is something you can practice. Mirrors provide useful feedback. Stand evenly on your balls of feet, relax your knees, one foot slightly in front of the other. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Be a good example of an engaged and joyful participant in corporate praise to our great God!
5. Clothing choice is a question of not drawing attention to yourself and modesty. (Do I need to elaborate here? Is what your wearing causing some to focus their eyes on the shape of some particular part of you? Or not? Are you trying to show off your good taste and style, your brand names, or get attention? Consider modesty of dress and being less conspicuous than you might otherwise choose.)

6. Be well practiced, so that you arent missing cues, or stuffing up words and doing things that will draw attention to yourself.
7. Be realistic about your abilities and keep tuning your instrument – get vocal lessons to help iron out any issues. Breathing technique is all important. Learn good technique! If you know you are forcing your voice to sound the way you do, seek some help or you could do damage!
8. Learn basic music theory so you can follow a melody and sing the right rhythms, or hold on to notes for the appropriate length. Learn how to follow repeats, first time endings, 2nd time endings, what ‘D.S al Coda means’ – and more.
9. Sing in a way that is easy to follow – avoiding “opera voice” or solo performer voice, with lots of trills and grace notes and vibrato. This makes it difficult for groups to follow. Use harmonies sparingly as these can get people off track when they are following you. Make sure the dominant voice is not the one doing the harmonies, and keep the harmony under the melody. (Descant lines can be especially distracting, unless it is a known part that many in the church know too – or one you want them to learn.)
10. Hold the microphone close enough so that the sound technician can get good levels (about 2 inches/5cm).  It’s easy to turn you down if too loud, but no way to boost a weak/distant signal. Pull it further away on high notes so you don’t blast the congregation!  If microphones are really new to you, get some time along in your church auditorium and sing, with foldback, to get used to sound of your own voice – because sometimes it can frighten you into singing more quietly (not great for a song leader to do!)
11. Give clear instructions if you are leading the band (both during practice and in the service). Use cues to keep everyone together. Make sure the structure of the song is clear for everyone. Listen to the members of the band, what they are saying in practice, as well as what they are playing.
12. Be on time for band practices – and organise them well ahead of time if that is something you as the singer has to do. Sing the song enough times on your own so that the melody is fully entrenched in your mind. Know the structure of the song as it will be sung at church, which may differ from the recorded version. Be willing to pray for your team and with your team, for their role as musicians in the gathering.

Being a song leader is a great privilege and it can be a great blessing to others as you help Christ’s visible body gather together in songs of praise to our great God. If you are a song leader, keep working at it! I hope these points have been helpful!

You may also like these earlier posts on similar topics:

Sharing the rich, indwelling word (Colossians 3:16)

How to encourage your music team even when you’re not the leader

Working for those moments of Joy

You are a Theologian

My Congregation Barely Sings; How Can I Help?

This article from 9Marks singing congreghas so many great points about helping your congregation sing better together, especially #7 and #16. I think I’m ready to start up a church choir again next year!

My Congregation Barely Sings; How Can I Help?


Frozen instruments…..who knew?

TimLinhartIceMusic1iceviolinHere is an amazing post I found – testimony to the endless and surprising creativity of musical people:

“Many artists these days are finding brilliant ways to create with ice. In the past, we’ve seen incredibly complex maze-like castles, ice hotels, and colorful ice forts. Yet in that long list of creations, we have yet to see musical instruments—until now. Located in Luleå, Sweden, Ice Music is a chilly new art form where musicians dress warmly in winter coats and hats and play instruments carved out of ice.

Paying great attention to the delicate details of each piece, Ice Music founder and ice artist Tim Linhart builds, by hand, instruments including violin, viola, cello, contrabass, banjo, mandolin, guitar, drum kit and xylophone. Due to the fragile nature of the sculpted objects, some of the instruments are secured to the ceiling with rope while the musicians play. This prevents any accidental damage if the instrument slips out of a musician’s hand during a performance.

The concerts take place in a wintery igloo with glowing lights cast all around. Within the enclosed, rounded space, the elegant music consumes the audience in an explosion of sound. The igloo maintains a constant temperature of 23ºF so it is recommended that any attendees wear at least three layers of clothing plus gloves and a hat. The beautiful sounds and the enchanting light show make up for the chilly temperatures, creating a wonderful atmosphere that celebrates what the website describes as the “winter spirit of Swedish Lapland.” Click on the link below to LISTEN to the music!


The benefits of singing in the dark – together

Power of WordsOnce I was at a teacher’s conference with around 1000 people, about to sing the hymn WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS, when the power went off. You might assume this was a disaster. Yet we all sang, even though there were no projected words to follow. And what a difference it made! It forced you to think more about what you were singing, of how the words connected logically together, from one thought to another, from verse to verse, to see the whole gospel message being presented. It was an amazing exercise of where things go “wrong” to the glory of God.

Why am I recalling this unusual event?

Today I read over at CHONGS WORSHIP that their church is intentionally singing without projected or written words (though not all the time). Here is their story, which I must say is quite inspiring!

“Some of you know that at our church we’ve started a year-long project of memorising 10 hymns of the faith. I spent a few weeks getting the music and the hymn books together in preparation. We started our first one (In Christ Alone) at the beginning of March, and on Sunday (while I was worship leading), we sang the entire hymn without the projected words. At the back of my mind I wondered what proportion of the church had been actively trying to memorise each hymn, or if it would be of much benefit.

So I was really encouraged to get this feedback from someone at church (the person has asked to remain anonymous):

“I have to admit – I used to not like In Christ Alone that much. It had become monotonous for me. Well, I would like to let you know that memorising the whole song has brought about a remarkable change. For the first time, I no longer heard the tune, but visually saw the whole song. I can’t quite articulate what I mean, but it was as if I saw the song only in its various parts with the first and last verse being the most obvious. But by memorising the song, I finally saw the whole song and would visualise the song in my mind when singing it.

It made a big difference to the way I sang the song too, whereby I no longer heard the tune, but saw the whole gospel story.

Look forward to memorising the next song.”

Reading between the lines, it sounds like they actually printed and gave out the song words to learn ahead of singing them in church. And I suppose that for visitors you would need to have some printed sheets available. But what an interesting challenge. I might try this! How much better would people “get” the gospel in song if they committed to learning it to sing together, to one another, for the good of one another, as the gathered Body of Christ.