Transitions, Part 2: Musical Transitions
So, you want to lead two songs in a row – no talking, reading or anything else between them. How do you do it?
You could just stop one song and start the next. Occasionally, that’s the right way to go, but most often, it makes your congregation WATCH you. If at all possible, I want to avoid being watched as a worship leader.
Or, as you are fading out your instrument, you could cue another instrumentalist to come in with the next song. I’m a guitarist (usually), so I’ll speak from my vantage point. Sometimes, I’ll strum the final chord of an outro, and as everyone is holding that last chord, I look to the pianist and give them a count-off for the next song. They then start the song in the new key and we’re off. This works in some cases, but it takes a lot of rehearsal and sometimes it’s difficult for the instrumentalist to track the tempo and feel of the new song so quickly. And some keys don’t play well together.
So, 90% of the time, here’s how I do it:
On the final chord of the first song, I have everyone else in the band hit the chord and hold it. I, however, hit the chord and strum according to the tempo/meter of the next song. This takes practice, and I don’t always nail it – that’s why I have everyone else wait at least a couple measures to come in so that I can solidify the right tempo.
Okay, so I have the new tempo and meter in place. Now what about the key?
I follow a couple of practical musical rules to help me navigate from one key to another.
1) The suspended “5” chord is always the one that gives people a sense of the new key and makes them want to get to it. It holds a wonderful tension that readies the whole congregation for what’s coming. For instance, if I am wanting to transition to the key of G, I will want to get to a Dsus right before it. The “5” I referred to means the 5th note in the new scale. D is the fifth note in a G scale. If I’m trying to get to the key of C, what chord will I want to go to right before it? It’s the most spiritual chord out there. Gsus. Hardy har har.
2) Okay, so we know which chord to get to right before we actually hit the new key. How do you get to that chord? Another rule is that the minor “2” of the new key is a nice chord to go to right before the suspended “5.” If I’m heading to the key of G, I may want to hit an Am (the minor “2” chord) and then the Dsus. Going to the key of C, it would be a Dm.
3) The third musical rule is to be musical. If it sounds really funny to go from the previous song’s last chord to the minor “2” of the new key, don’t do it. Figure out a way to get to that suspended 5 that makes musical sense, but don’t be afraid of doing something that shifts more than you’re used to. It’s very difficult to go smoothly from the key of C to say, the key of F#. You may have to play with it a bit to see if there’s a way other than a complete stop and start. There may not be. And that’s okay.
Here’s a 30-second example of #1, since listening probably counts for 1,000 words of trying to explain it!
Next time: transitioning between different elements.