What to do with ‘Jesus, Son of God’

Following on my recent conundrum about keys, capos and congregations I’d like to explore the dilemma I am having with this great Chris Tomlin song, and the best key to sing it in at church. Firstly, have a listen and read the words (on the video, or scroll to the end):

In this version, it is played with Capo 4 in G, which means that, at pitch, they are singing in key of B (which has five sharps – the reason they are using a capo).

Since the lyrics of this song are just too good to pass up, we found the best way around the issue of the range, is to sing it in D. This means the range of the melody falls between D and A, which most people can manage! Unfortunately, it also means that the melody in the chorus ends up lower than it is in the verse – but in order for the greatest number of people to sing it well together (which is the point), we decided to go this way. It seems to be working well!

A few other thoughts about this Key choice:
1. If you are into adding harmonies with backing singers, you can easily add some harmonies above the melody in the chorus (a third or 5th above). You could even teach some to your congregation.
2. Some male singers could jump up the octave to help build a crescendo in part of a verse or chorus. This could be modeled by your male song-leader.

Let me know how you go. Here are the lyrics again:

Jesus Son Of God

Verse 1

You came down from Heaven’s throne
This earth You formed was not Your home
A love like this the world had never known
A crown of thorns to mock Your name
Forgiveness fell upon Your face
A love like this the world had never known

Chorus

On the altar of our praise
Let there be no higher name
Jesus Son of God
You laid down Your perfect life
You are the sacrifice
Jesus Son of God
(You are Jesus Son of God)

Verse 2

You took our sin You bore our shame
You rose to life You defeated the grave
And a love like this the world has never known
‘Cause You took our sin You bore our shame
You rose to life You defeated the grave
A love like this the world has never known

Bridge

Be lifted higher than all You’ve overcome
Your name be louder than any other song
There is no power that can come against Your love
The cross was enough
The cross was enough
(The cross was enough)
(The cross was enough)

Ending

The cross was enough
The cross was enough

Faith in our strong God magnifies Grace

father holding hands with daughter walking in shallow water at beachToday’s post comes from John Piper, but his childhood story struck a chord with me. I can faintly remember a similar moment when my dad rescued a mini-me  from under a freak wave at the beach (in his good shoes). I trust you will find this an encouragement:

I do not nullify the grace of God. (Galatians 2:21)

“When I lost my footing as a little boy in the undertow at the beach, I felt as if I were going to be dragged to the middle of the ocean in an instant.

It was a terrifying thing. I tried to get my bearings and figure out which way was up. But I couldn’t get my feet on the ground and the current was too strong to swim. I wasn’t a good swimmer anyway.

In my panic I thought of only one thing: Could someone help me? But I couldn’t even call out from under the water.

When I felt my father’s hand take hold of my upper arm like a mighty vice grip, it was the sweetest feeling in the world. I yielded entirely to being overpowered by his strength. I reveled in being picked up at his will. I did not resist.

The thought did not enter my mind that I should try to show that things aren’t so bad; or that I should add my strength to my dad’s arm. All I thought was, Yes! I need you! I thank you! I love your strength! I love your initiative! I love your grip! You are great!

In that spirit of yielded affection, one cannot boast. I call that yielded affection “faith.” And my father was the embodiment of the future grace that I craved under the water. This is the faith that magnifies grace.

As we ponder how to live the Christian life, the uppermost thought should be: How can I magnify rather than nullify the grace of God? Paul answers this question in Galatians 2:20–21, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God.”

Why does his life not nullify the grace of God? Because he lives by faith in the Son of God. Faith calls all attention to grace and magnifies it, rather than nullifying it.”

http://www.desiringgod.org/books/future-grace

The conundrum of keys, capos and congregational singing

capoarticle_1_1

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.