Achieving a smooth and non-distracting flow of worship can be tough, especially when it comes to transitions in between songs. As a worship leader, I know how awkward it feels when there is dead silence or a sloppy intro to a song. Whether we like it or not, our culture expects experiences like worship gatherings to have a smooth flow to them, and it can be distracting for people when the emotional atmosphere of worship is disrupted, or the band makes a rough transition into a song. Here are five techniques I regularly implement to ensure smooth transitions in worship.
1. Use a click and backing tracks
The first way to create a smooth transition is by using a click and backing tracks in worship. It is my absolute favorite way to execute a smooth transition in worship. There are a couple of reasons why this works so well. First, there is no need for you drummer to give an audible count-off to start the song because everyone can hear the click and cues count-off in their in-ear monitors. Second, using software like Ableton Live gives you the ability to crossfade songs. Let me show you how I set this up in Ableton Live. In this worship set, we played the songs Lion and the Lamb and Christ is Enough back-to-back. We happened to play these songs in the same key, which made the transition incredibly seamless and easy to crossfade. When we hit the final downbeat of Lion and the Lamb, the click and cues immediately counted off Christ is Enough and the lead guitarist knew exactly where his lead line came in for the introduction. This demonstration is one example of the many ways I use Ableton Live to create a perfect transition between worship songs.
2. Use a filler instrument like a pad to play softly in between songs
The next way to create a smooth transition between songs is to utilize a filler instrument like a pad, piano, or guitar swells in between songs. Ask whoever is playing one of these instruments to play softly. It’s easiest to do this on a pad. Rather than leaving silent space in between songs, the pad player can be the last one to fade out from a song and then slowly fade in the key of the next song. If the songs are in the same key or related keys, this instrumentalist can keep playing and transition to the root chord of the next song. From there the drummer or click track and count the band off. If you do not have a keyboardist to play these ambient pad sounds, I would recommend trying out pre-recorded pads like the ones you can find at worshiptutorials.com. They can show you everything you need to know about using their pads and how to play them from any device including your smart phone.
3. Choose keys that transition well into one another
Another consideration for creating smooth transitions is song key selection. If two songs are in the same key and you place them back-to-back, that will automatically lend itself to a smooth transition. Songs in related keys also transition well. Keys are related when they share common tones and chords. Sometimes a song can be a relative minor of another song, which means they have the same key signature. For example, although the song Oceans is in B minor, it’s relative major key is D. It would flow well into a song like “What a Beautiful Name.” That is because B minor and D have the same key signature. Keys can be related even with different key signatures, so long as those differences are less than one sharp or flat. For example, the key of C is related to the key of G and F because they differ by only one sharp or flat. Another example is the Key of G, which is related to the keys of C and D. Here’s an example of this in action. Let’s pretend I’m finishing up the song, Bless the Lord in the Key of G. I’m going to transition it to What a Beautiful Name in the Key of D. To do this, I will end Bless the Lord on a G chord, give it some space, and then transition to D. You’ll notice it does not sound jarring, since the D chord was a regular in the key of G. Sometimes you can help your vocalists transition keys by playing the one chord to the four chord a couple times.
4. Plan readings or prayers in between songs and have someone play underneath
The fourth way to create a smooth transition is by preparing something to say, read, or pray during this time. I have another article and video on how to prepare for the speaking linked below. There is still intentional musical preparation that needs to happen here. I prefer having the keyboardist play softly underneath me when I speak during a transition. It helps keep everything in the right mood as complete silence can be jarring to the atmosphere of worship. Imagine a meaningful part of a movie without the subtle background music. You do not notice it, but if the music were not there, it would be awkward. The same applies to the worship experience. Silence may be appropriate sometimes, but playing soft background music is the best way to maintain the emotional atmosphere in worship.
5. Practice your transitions
Finally, the most important step to creating smooth transitions is by practicing them! Transitions are critical for maintaining the momentum of the worship experience, and it only takes a minute or two to rehearse them with your band. I like to practice transitions, especially tricky ones, three to five times. I want my musicians to be 110% confident they can nail it. I also practice any speaking, praying, or readings during rehearsal. Transitions have the most potential for mess ups so invest the rehearsal time to get them right.
What is causing rough transitions in your worship context and what action steps will you take to address it? Do you have any other “tricks of the trade” the Churchfront Community can benefit from? Let us know in the comments!