I sat down with Zach Hicks for a Q&A about his new book The Worship Pastor and how we can all become better worship pastors in our own congregation.
There are a ton of digital chord charts for you to choose from, but the OnSong and Music Stand apps are the two best options for worship leaders. In this article, I'll weigh some of the pros and cons of using each one so that you can make the best decision for your ministry team.
The Music Stand app is an add-on to your Planning Center Services subscription which makes it really easy to stay in their ecosystem.
I've been using them for a very long time to:
Plan out my worship gatherings every single weekend
Resource my musicians with charts as well as MP3 files
Build out my song library
Music Stand Features
Sync with Planning Center
Since this app was developed with Planning Center, it automatically syncs with your Planning Center account. You'll be able to view your weekly set list, plans and click on a song to pull up the chord charts.
2. Play MP3 files while using your digital chord chart
In Planning Center, you can link the MP3 file of the song to the chord chart and play it while you go through, and it’s a great way for your other musicians to practice the songs at home.
3. Annotate songs
There are lots of great annotation features built into this app.
Highlight sections of the song with different colors
Jot down notes
Save all your annotations and access them whenever
Planning Center is a subscription-based software and you can select the plans and services that fits your church.
I’ve included some of the pricing breakdowns below:
Free: If you only have five members, then this will work for you.
Just Music Stand App: $5 a month.
Planning Center + Music Stand: $16
There are a lot of similarities between OnSong and Music Stand, but I think OnSong has an edge over Music Stand because creating a chord chart is its main thing. Not just an add-on feature.
Organize your songs
You can get to a greater level of organizing your song assets by arranging them into sets and books.
Import set lists
If you create a grouping of songs on Planning Center, you can sync it with OnSong.
Select Planning Center > Select what service I want > Import > Update
Reformat your chord chart for easy readability
This is where I think OnSong starts to shine brighter than Music Stand. You can turn the font size and brightness, bold the chords and change the text color.
Send messages to your band through the app
It also has a really strong communication feature for talking to the rest of your band members. If you’re on the same wifi network, you can send them commands like “Start” and “Stop.” I think this is a great way to communicate with them in the middle of a service.
5. Add midi functions
OnSong has some cool features when it comes to being able to use midi communication to change the song that you're seeing in your app. Using Ableton Live, you could put a midi queue at the beginning of each song that then maps to the appropriate song within OnSong.
Musicians would never have to touch their iPad throughout worship
The app would automatically flip to the right song
You could even get it to scroll to the right section of a song.
This is a really powerful feature, and I think it gets a little crazy. Personally, I think that instead of setting up the midi automation, you could just memorize the chords and lyrics to your music.
At the end of the day, both are great apps..
If you’re just looking for a simple cord chart, go with Music Stand (like I do)
If you’re interested in an app with more technical capabilities, try out Onstage.
If you need some more training for how to use apps like Planning Center, how to prepare chord charts and other practice resources for your worship ministry, then check out Worship Leader School.
We've got a large set of online courses library to teach you:
✅How to create efficient systems and processes
✅How to resource your band well
✅How to improve in your pastoral responsibilities
✅You’ll even get access to my team for real time support and coaching
We have the resources, classes and community to help you reach your fullest potential as a worship leader. So check out Worship Leader School so you can grow yourself and your ministry.
My goal in this is to give you and your keyboardist a common terminology so that you can communicate more effectively, identify what sounds you want and produce a well designed performance that evokes powerful emotions and connections in your church community.
The first word I want to address is the word “warm.” Stuff is called warm all the time but it's hard to quantify what that means.
A warm sound is a pad that has this nice low-mid energy. It's not getting in the way, it's not sitting on top of what the electric guitars, vocals, bass or the kick drum might be doing. It's serving as a foundation underneath everything.
It doesn't have any of that bright sizzle on top that can distract from quieter moments. Instead, it adds a feeling of connectedness and intimacy.
Protip: One of the really important things about finding a warm a pad is to make sure it's not too static. You want there to still be some motion and energy–what we call a little bit of modulation.
Check out the example below to hear what I’m talking about.
Next, let's talk about the bright sound. This is the opposite side of the warm sound.
When I think of bright, we're talking about stuff in the higher frequency spectrum that's actually maybe above or right alongside what the guitars are doing. That has a lot of energy on the top end that's perceived as more aggressive, more powerful and it's more complex harmonically. You might still be playing in the same range on the keyboard but there are harmonic frequencies on top of it that add a little bit of extra energy.
Oftentimes with these bright synth pad sounds, you're still serving as the foundation to the mix, holding everything else together, but you're able to dynamically lift as your drummer switches to the high hat or starts washing out cymbals and as your electric guitarists start playing with more intensity. This increase in brightness from the pad goes right along with that; still serving as the foundation but rising as everyone does too.
Lastly, let's talk about the most overused buzzword right now in the worship space–the shimmer pad.
You can have a shimmery texture or quality to your pad sounds which does something really specific in the mix, but it's really easy to overuse this kind of effect and overwhelm what your vocalist or your guitarist is doing.
It’s still worth using, but you have to make sure that you clarify why you're using this type of sound and where this type of pad sound actually sits in the mix.
Check out the example below to hear the proper balance that doesn’t overwhelm everything else.
Now let’s talk about how a couple simple effects from software like Mainstage or Ableton can greatly increase the quality of your music and make them sound more like today's top worship songs.
First off, I want to talk about reverb. If you're a guitarist, I'm sure you're probably familiar with the effect that reverb can have. You can use it on keys in the same way.
Reverb adds a sense of size, depth and space to your sound. It can soften up the initial impression of what you're playing, create some room and increase the hang time of your chord.
Now, let's talk about delay. All the guitarists discovered delay in 2002, and keyboard players are just getting around to it now.
In the same way that you can change the character and the rhythmic complexity of an electric guitar with delay, you can achieve a lot of the same cool effects with piano.
This is commonly used on some slow songs where you'll hit a chord on the one, and let the delay trail sort of add that extra oomph to it. You can also use it when you're playing the piano as a lead instrument, to give you an extra bit of memorability to a bridge or something like that.
In really powerful worship moments, it can also add more texture and make the piano sound a little bit more interesting.
Lastly, I want to return to shimmer. We already talked about shimmer when it comes to a pad, but you can also apply shimmer as an effect to any sound that you have.
When I’m playing the piano all I have to do is turn on the shimmer reverb. The shimmer will swell in behind what I'm doing and then swell back down. If I'm moving through chords, it's never overwhelming the initial playing, and it feels really organic and natural.
It's a really great effect to give your keys players because it's got a nice production value element to it, it adds an ethereal ambience and it doesn't require a lot of theory knowledge to use. As long as you're not overplaying, it's going to make you sound like you know what you're doing.
So those are six fundamental terms for you and your keyboardist. My hope is that it empowers both of you to create a powerful experience for the people you’re leading.
If you want to take the next step with this training and dive deep into equipping and empowering the keyboardist in your worship band, then check out Worship Leader School. David has created an entire masterclass exclusively for members that will:
✅Give you a deep dive into the effects that we touched on today.
✅ Show you an in-depth tour of all the gear and software for this setup.
✅Explain how to communicate and work alongside your keyboard player so you have smooth transitions in worship
I’d love to chat about how this class can help you grow as a worship leader.
Feel free to setup a call here.
I’ve wrestled with the idea and practice of “spontaneous worship.” As a worship leader, I’ve had a lot of questions about whether or not it’s good and how I should lead it responsibly. To get more clarity, I sat down with my friend Zac Hicks–the author of "The Worship Pastor”–to gain some more clarity.
As worship leaders, we talk a lot about energizing people to worship on Sunday mornings through lyrics, sound, lights and other forms of production.
Those are great conversations to have, but we often miss talking about other aspects of being a worship pastor, like asking the question, what’s our role and responsibility when grief takes hold of our church? How do we lead our community through a season of mourning?
Is it just for pastors, counselors and other people more trained in these fields? How can we as worship leaders take a more active role during this time?
I recorded a podcast and video on this topic with Andrea Hamilton, the worship pastor at Inland Hills Church and what it was like for her to lead her church community through a prolonged season of grief.
What happened last August? For folks who are unfamiliar.
Before Pastor Dave got super sick and went to heaven, he passed the baton to his oldest son, Andrew. He had been on staff here a while, he has an amazing speaking gift, he was already leading a lot through Dave's sickness. It was a pretty seamless transition and they did it well. But Andrew didn't have a ton of time to just chill and grieve because he took over this big church and he was in his 20's.
He was our pastor for two and half years, but the last few months of that time was very hard for him because he started having a lot of physical manifestations of stress, he would get panic attacks. He had a panic attack right before our first Easter service and still came out and preached and people got saved. It was a lot on his shoulders so he had to take a step back.
He went on a sabbatical and he went to a psychiatrist. He got diagnosed with anxiety and depression and he was going to a naturopath as well, doing everything he could. When he came back, we had our highest attendance record ever because everyone was so excited that he was back.
He only was able to preach two Sundays. He was doing a series called Hot Mess, talking about mental illness, telling people about how to get through dark times, but he passed away from suicide on August 24, and it just surprised everybody. We were in shock.
Andrew, he passed on a Saturday, right?
Yeah, he was pronounced on a Saturday. We had church the next day and everyone was going to show up and hear the news.
So what did you do?
We had to tell them. The the feel from a worship standpoint was totally different. We scrapped all of our lighting and songs and people just walked in and there was some mellow music playing in the background, and two of our elders just came on stage and said, "Hey, we don't even know how to say this, but on Friday Andrew took his life." People were shocked, some people gasped in the AM and it was just heartbreaking.
I knew as soon as he was pronounced on Saturday, so I had some time to process, but I got up onstage and still didn’t know what to do. Our elders barely got this out of their mouths and then they walked off-stage and the band is there and everyone was staring at me.
A lot of times us worship leaders feel like we’re not equipped, but God recognizes that. He has been training us and He has been equipping us, and in that moment I realized these people looking at me, not all of them knew how to worship during hard times.
So I said, "Okay, guys here's what we're going to do. We're going to respond to God in our grief and in our pain right now, and if you can find your voice, just sing His name. Just sing to Him, because we're going to worship Him through this season."
That may seem obvious from a worship leader's point of view, but a lot of people were wondering, what are we doing here? So you have to vision cast and say:
Hey, this is the hardest thing we've ever been through as a church and no church should have to go through this, but God is with us and He's still good, and we're going to actually still expect to hear from Him, and for Him to move, and for Him to comfort us in our grief, and we're going to make space for that.
I felt a revival started breaking out that day, at this church. It was a huge breakthrough in our worship culture and we haven't turned back. We're five months later now and people are still humming and worshiping with everything they have and drawing near to God, and feeling the presence of God here, in the most unlikely of circumstances. That day, people gave their life to Jesus because they saw our response. One girl, she was there for the first time. She gave her life to the Lord.
Maybe you're just dealing with some drama or some unfairness that's happened in your own church or some moral failures of people you trusted.
Whatever you're walking through with your church, you need to hold onto that faith that God's actually going to show up in it, and He's always caring about the bride.
Let’s talk about songwriting within this process and the song that came out of this, Making Room. So what's the story?
So yeah, the first couple of weeks after Drew passed away, my staff and I prayed together and we cried together.
I had a co-write coming up and I thought about canceling it. I had never written with this guy before, he does a lot of country. I didn't know much about his writing, I just had it in the books. I thought about cancelling it, but for some reason I didn’t want to.
So I drove to LA. I'm like, "Okay, I feel like I'm supposed to go write and maybe God's just letting me do something I love." It turns out that the guy I co-wrote with is not only a songwriter, he's a pastor, and he has dealt with depression and suicidal ideation, and now does counseling and care for people in LA that are going through this type of stuff.
So we talked a little bit and I just felt safe to express my desire to see our church worship through this season, because if someone at my church chooses to let this tragedy get to them and to stop drawing near to Jesus, it's not going to be good for them. While I wrote, I wondered:
How do I express this sadness and faith in a song? What is it that we can sing together since there aren't a ton of lament songs in our evangelical culture?
I just played on the piano there at his office and it felt like talking about miracles was really important because that's what it's going to take and it’s been a miracle to walk through this, I never would wish it on anyone, but this is miraculous. We have people in our church growing closer to Jesus and amazing things happening here despite what the enemy tried to do.
That phrase in the beginning of the chorus, "We're making room for miracles," unpack that a little more for us.
I feel like God has taught me that He's always ready and willing to show up and to be involved. It's sometimes just on my end that I don't make space for Him, I don't expect the goodness that He wants to give. So I'm learning to look at things in that light, to say,
"God, I don't want to just look at this from my own perspective. You can do things that nobody else can and You're more powerful. You can fix and solve and heal and change and transform, and You can turn everything upside down that it seems is bad, You can bring good out of it. I've seen you do this before."
So creating that idea or perspective change where we're looking for what God is doing. We're not just looking at this event that hurt us, we're also going, "Okay, God wants to move and that's part of it.”
Some final thoughts
I love Andrea’s story because it shows that we can take a more active role in helping people process suffering. We do not and should not have all the answers, but as worship leaders, we’re uniquely able to create a space for people to mourn and also feel God’s comfort and peace.
Andrea has also shown us that worship isn’t just about creating an emotional high or low. It’s a way to communicate with God and it has the potential to bring lasting, eternal change in people’s lives.
The story about the woman who went to Inland Hills for the first time on that Sunday proves that worship is more than just a feeling–she became a Christian because of the faithful worship she saw–not because of any answers the pastors gave or good feelings she felt.
As worship pastors, we need to create an appropriate space for people to feel safe, grieve and patiently expect Jesus to answer. We’re not called to make everything better or make people feel happy. As Andrea said, it’s on God to heal, transform, and respond. The most we can do is acknowledge what we’re feeling and posture our hearts to expect a response from God in His good time.
You know our sorrow, You lived our pain
You’ll bring us joy again
When all seems hopeless that’s when You’re closest
We hear You whispering
That Your love is stronger than our darkest fears
and You’re with us in the night
You can hold our hearts and catch our falling tears
Trade the darkness in for light
We are making room for miracles
Clearing up the ashes for beautiful
There is more to come oh
You’re not close to done so
We are making room for miracles
We are making room for miracles
We’ve come to worship
That’s what we do We’re crying out for You
Not in a hurry to say amen Our praise will never end
So we lift our hands and open up our hearts
Jesus pour Your healing out
Bring revival, bring revival
In this article, I'm going to give you a side by side comparison with Prime by Loop Community and Playback by Multitracks.com. I'm going to walk you through the pros and cons of each of these powerful and easy to use iOS apps. Soon you'll have a much clearer understanding of which one is the best fit for your worship ministry.
Being a well-rounded and effective worship leader requires a lot more than knowing how to play four chords on a guitar, having a decent voice, and wearing skinny jeans. A lot of aspiring worship leaders don’t have a firm grasp on the various facets of worship ministry. In this article, I’m going to share with you the five pillars of worship leading that are key for developing yourself as a worship leader and growing a healthy ministry.
In this article, I’m going to show you a worship keyboard setup that runs on Ableton Live. This setup works on Mac and PC, and I'll walk through everything you'll need including hardware, software, and Ableton templates. You'll also learn some advanced tips for automating patch changes in Ableton Live.