Critical Listening – A Tip for Unprepared Worship Teams

The manner in which a team member prepares for worship practice is immensely important. If members come to practice unfamiliar with the songs, the time together can easily get frustrating.

The best way to get the most out of your practice time is if you group will engage in critical listening. This is best if they do this on their own, but the process can also be done as a group.

I send out scheduling requests for our musicians at least ten days out from the Sunday they would serve. This allows ample time for preparation. In addition to getting chord sheets and lyric sheets, they also have access to listen to the songs we are going to lead.

While they have ample time to prepare, sometimes it is easy for any of us to get slack on prepartion. It is normal for any of us to resort to passive listening. Passive listening is when the music is going on in the background of the house while you are doing other things. Passive listening is when you just hear sections of the song or get distracted by one element in the song that you forget to really think about what is transpiring. Passive listening leads to unprepared musicians.

There is another way.

Critical listening means you are diagramming the song so that you grasp your individual part and how your contribution fits as a part within the whole song.

While I expect all members to employ this model, sometimes I can tell when everyone is not bringing the most prepared to the table.

When the need arises, I incorporate a listening guide for our band to fill out using critical listening. The diagram below shows a simple way to diagram a chart like this. As we play a recording of the specific song, I get team members to fill out their part for that song. If we were listening to a certain song the rhythm guitarist might not realize that the recording has them not playing during the 2nd verse to allow some sonic space and provide a momentum builder. This critical listening and charting our parts really makes each musician think about their contribution.

To take it even a step further, I will often play the song a second time and give each musician a different instrument for which to script the parts. I will have the vocalist listen to what the drummer does. I will have the guitarist listen to the keyboard parts. I will have the bass player listen for the background vocals. What this step provides is a way for each of your group members to study and appreciate the roles of the other musicians. It also provides an opportunity for a band member to remind another that they don’t need to be too busy or they need to wait for the proper moment to contribute the song.

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.

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1 Comment

  1. Phil Jones

    Travis,
    I agree with the content of your post, and I think your approach is right on. If one takes musical performance seriously, one must be prepared to engage the experience by the consistent honing of one’s skills in order to approach a level of profeciency that will do justice to the composition, and be prepared and willng to perform with an opem mind and big ears. How much more so when we use music to praise and glorify our Lord!

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