Critical Moments

Many song leaders look down from the audience at exactly the wrong time—at the times when the congregation needs them the most. These are what we will call the “critical moments.” The truth is, while the hymn is moving, there is little that can go wrong, even if your hands are off. But there are three times in every hymn when your job is essential:

  1. When the hymn starts.
  2. In between verses.
  3. When the hymn stops.

The first thing—and this is true at all three critical moments—is that you look at the congregation, not at your hymnal. It is especially easy to drop your head between verses–you want to know what the next verse is! But if you are looking down when the verse changes, it’s hard for the congregation to tell if you have decided to roll straight through or to stop at the end of the verse. Because of this, it is very common to hear only part of the congregation sing at the beginning of the verse, and for the others to gradually straggle in once they are sure what the song leader is doing. This is mostly averted by simply looking up at the critical moments.

Second, breathe with them. Your breath, as we discussed in Video 4, is your most powerful signal. If the congregation sees you breathe, they know you are about to sing, and they will sing with you. This applies to all of the critical moments, except of course, stopping the song. No need to breathe then.

Third, make a large gesture before the action. This applies in all three situations. Even if we don’t stop between verses, we still increase the size of the gesture as we breathe. These two things together guarantee the congregation will stay with us. This large gesture always happens exactly one beat before what you are trying to accomplish—whether that is starting the singing or stopping the singing.

Fourth, keep your hands visible. Sometimes, we let our hands drop toward our guts at the most important points of the song, and the congregation loses sight of what we are doing. Keep your hands above the plane as we discussed in video 2.

So, the four things you should do at critical moments are:

  1. Look up.
  2. Breathe with them.
  3. Make a large gesture before the action.
  4. Keep your hands visible.