When I was a newbie worship leader, I remember Googling for ideas on how to transition between worship songs. At the time, the web was no help to me and I was pretty much on my own, learning by trial and error. Now, there are all kinds of articles, books, CDs, and even software to help. If you have the time to do the searching, you will certainly be rewarded and find something. Regardless of the transitions that you use, I think it’s important to remember that a worship leader’s job is not to manipulate people’s emotions or to make them feel spiritually connected to God or to the Body of Christ. Really, a worship leader’s job is to create opportunity for the Body of Christ (including the worship leader him or herself) to meet with God and grow in relationship with Him. That said, here’s a few ideas on transitioning between worship songs to get the creative juices flowing.
Spoken transition. I did a lot of this in the early days. You know, stop song. Say something like, “And now we’re going to sing….” Start next song. It’s a little bit choppy if you do this between each and every song, but the silence in between the songs is a great place to draw attention to spoken words, such as Scripture verses, meaningful stories, or even a warm welcome.
Chord progression transition. These are really fun, if you know your circle of fifths. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths for more information if you don’t know your circle of fifths yet.) Basically, what you do is find a common chord between the song that you are finishing and the song that you are starting. You can use that as a pivot point to go from one song to the next. Or, better yet, move through the circle of fifths from your ending chord until you get to the starting chord of the next song. So if your first song ends on a D chord, and your next song starts on a C chord, just play the D chord as you end the song, and then turn it into a D7, then play a G, then a G7, and that will set the stage for you to begin the next song in the key of C. If they are both soft slow songs, you can gently move through the chords while someone talks of prays over top. You can even simply it by ending the song, then playing the Five chord of the next song and go right into it. So if the first song ends on a D chord, and you are going into the key of C, just play a G7 chord and you are ready to start the new song in the key of C. It’s a simpler transition, but it still prepares everyone’s ears for the change.
Single note transition. This is a pretty cool effect if you have just the right place to use it. Let’s say you end a pretty song in the key of G. At the end of the song, the strings player or keyboard player using a pad sound can sustain the G (not the chord, just the note) allow the note to sustain for a measure or so, and then the new song begins, using the G as the Fifth of the next song, meaning the next song would begin in the key of C. This can be sort of a soft and sweet or mysterious sounding transition.
A Drum Fill Transition. If you are moving from a soft slow song into a fast, uptempo song, you can let the last chord ring out, and then have your drummer lead into the next song with a great drum fill. You’ll most likely need at least one measure of drum fill to get things going, but if you do more than four measures the congregation (and potentially the whole worship team) is likely to get lost along the way. Often times a simple measure of quarter note rim shots or bass hits will do the trick in paving the way for the new song.
Vocal transition. A beautiful way to change from one song to the next in worship is to have the vocals begin singing without the instruments. As soon as the first song concludes, a vocalist or group of vocalist begin singing the next song in the right key. This can be tricky and probably needs a bit of practice to help your singers come in on the right note, so if the next song can be in the same key or in a related key it helps a lot. Usually, the singers will begin the song at the chorus or refrain, and then the rest of the crew will jump in and begin the introduction or first verse. This works especially well when moving from a quick metered song with a definite ending to a softer, slower song. End the fast tempo song with a ‘stinger,’ and allow a few beats of rest in the new tempo before the vocalists come in. This allows a chance for the congregation to cleanse their musical palette, so to speak, before getting the taste of a new song.
Just the Same transition. This is the easiest transition there is. If the song you are moving from in the same key and a similar tempo to the song your are moving to, you can just do it because it’s basically, well, just the same! Finish the first song, and just keep going right into the next. Just make sure all your musicians know how long to hold the last note of the first song or you may end up with a train wreck.
If you are new to transitioning between songs, you probably will end up with a train wreck or two, but that’s ok. Mistakes are the way we learn, and our worst mishaps usually help us discover a more creative way of doing things. Think, pray, and practice, and you’ll find work out really great ways to move from one song to the next. And most of all, remember that it doesn’t matter if our transitions are smooth or bumpy or if they completely fall apart. Our purpose is to worship the Lord.