Over the past several months, we have been looking for better tempos in some of our songs.  Like all worship leaders, we are under pressure from those who want everything "up-tempo" (whatever that means).  I've always been a rambunctious sort of player, set in my ways (53 years as worship leader) about tempo; but we have a younger man, a drummer, who likes to use the tempi from live worship, or from CCLI, if not available.  Many of these seem dirgelike to me (Hillsong Hosanna at 76, really?  Dragging the Palm Branches, trudging into Jerusalem?); but as a Band and Singers we've been looking at tempos that really get the music saying what it should, both textwise and emotionally -- no part of it should sound like a 33 played at 45 rpm (chipmunks, Mickey Mouse).  We've been learning to put 16ths and creative riffs in between the beats to generate a rich rhythm -- and you know what?  It works.

I titled this discussion Slower = Faster because there is an understanding among musicians that a solid, confident beat catches up the listener, who then perceives it as "faster."  A beat you are not happy with as players or singers, which makes conflict with the ideas of the song, brings forth anxiety -- and when a person is anxious, no tempo is fast enough (I've experienced this principle in action many times).

We've also been varying the tempo within a set.  This makes the faster songs seem faster against the slow ones (that's why symphonies alternate fast and slow movements, and movies change the pace many times within the hour). 

It's not our aim to get compliments, but some of the pressurizers have been delighted with the music recently, and are actually beginning to enter in and sing!

What's been your experience with tempo / pacing and other ideas from this Slower/Faster discussion.

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If I understand what you're saying... if you have a song you do at 140 bpm and you slow it down to 80 bpm half time, then, yes it will seem faster to the people who are singing it.  One thing that drives me nuts is when somebody thinks they are speeding up a song by having the guitar players play really fast (I call it hot-rodding the song) but the people who are singing are actually singing slower than they would if the band would take it easy and drive the tempo.  We don't always do a great job with the tempos, but I do try to use the singing as the thing that says how fast a song should go, not the guitar playing...

Most contemporary praise songs have a lot of "space" in the melody, but some have space in the chorus, and the bridge or the verse are all jammed full of words.  On the theory that the true tempo of the music is to be found in the section where the words are the most jammed-together, and the other sections will fend for themselves, then I select a tempo that brings out the character, meaning and musicality of the 'word-crowded' section.

Instrumentalists in general like to play fast (big generalization!), and if the song starts with a lot of space and room to sing the words, they'll take that section (usually the chorus) as fast as it will go -- then at the bridge or verse, they run into trouble with the singers.

Actually, I have in mind not half-timing or cut-timing (that's only like splitting stock on the Exchange), but actually slowing the pulse of the whole thing, so you can find the true groove of the music.

There will come a time, probably not too long from now, when the evangelical church will begin embracing penitential Psalms, angry Psalms, songs of sadness, because they've finally realized that being happy ain't everything.  I suggest this not because I am a prophet or desire this type of shift, but because I keep reading more on the subject through articles on worship (Worship Leader magazine, Christianity Today, etc.)  I think it will be good for worship bands to learn to be flexible to be able to play through the whole gamut of human emotions.

One of the things I struggle with is that in a pub, poetry cafe  and at a festival I can sing songs that tackle life, work, play  and death.   It is only in the few times I've played my songs in a church there's some nicely put criticism that we shouldn't do song about that issue.   such as:

depression

https://youtu.be/R2dgJtaOXJE

Consumerism

https://youtu.be/IVGhgwRO1jE

Sex and using the word naked

https://youtu.be/mkymf2G8aGs

Thanks for this post - and the privilege of seeing you and hearing your music "in action."  With you, I believe that songs should be sung that speak to the difficult issues (in church we rarely read the Psalms, let alone sin them, yet in a convent or monastery they sing all 150 during the course of any year).  My "Elijah" song, the story of 2 Kings 19, dealt with stark depression.  There was no negative commentary, but... no comments at all, other than the usual claps for good singing.  Yet perhaps these are the sort of songs that don't beg for comments of appreciation, since their message is meant to nestle deep inside the listener; as a result, only those who emerge puzzled or offended will voice themselves.  Yet I encourage you to keep salting the earth with your songs.  You are well named, brother!

Speed is an interesting thing. I recall listening to a Noel Richards album (quite) some time back, and thinking about how difficult it would be to play those songs that slowly. And likewise there have been some songs where the rhythm and feel want one speed to hang together well, while the lyrics want quite another for the words to get in line without jostling.

A big part of sorting out speed seems to be in the phrasing, and when done well, words slip by comfortably at the chosen rate. Non-musicians don't seem so comfy sorting out phrasing to work at a given pace, and often seem to need a little help.

I do recognise the issue of 'fitting extra stuff in'. For a rhythm instrument, sometimes a useful device for decreasing speed in a song with over-busy vocals is to play a more complicated rhythm pattern because it fills in otherwise dead space (not hot space) and give some body to an otherwise very gappy backing. Take out the fancy rhythm and everything naturally gets quicker and flows smoother, but may challenge the vocals.

Greg N - yes, I recognise the need for groove, but very often the seed most appropriate for vocals is not where the groove lies, sadly.

As a songwriter, I would add that what makes a song feel slow or fast is not so much the rhythm as the phrasing of the lyrics. 

A song can be 150 bpm and not feel "rushed", as in "Let Creation Sing" by Hillsong, because that song uses short lyric phrases with plenty of space between them.  In fact, if you sing LCS much slower than 150 bpm it tends to feel like it's "dragging" because suddenly you have too much space between the lyrics.

On the other hand, in this song I wrote (https://soundcloud.com/theoldatrain/graceandknowledge?in=theoldatra...) the tempo is 80 bpm, but since the lyric phrases are longer it would feel rushed if anyone sang it much above 80 bpm.

So if I'm trying to settle on a tempo for a song the main thing I pay attention to is how it sings.  Sometimes there can be a little bit of room to speed something up or slow it down, but I suspect that most songwriters craft their lyrics with a specific tempo in mind.

In studying organ I spent a lot of time with the "Chorale Preludes" of Bach.  By his time, hymns had lost their Reformation vitality (and the rhythmic vigor of the 1500's and 1600's which we learn of through hearing Renaissance groups sing secular music).  He infused these ponderous, slow quarter-note melodies, many of which were almost identical in character, even for different seasons of the church year, with cascades of 16th-notes, rhythmic riffs and delicate chromatics.  These pieces would precede the hymn, like a full-length Intro; then everyone would sing while the organist continued to provide an improvised background along similar lines as the prelude.  I've heard recordings of people doing this today, and they are wonderful (though the records of the day mostly contain the gripes of the gripers about the music getting in the way of the singing - nothing's really changed!)

Toni said:

Speed is an interesting thing. I recall listening to a Noel Richards album (quite) some time back, and thinking about how difficult it would be to play those songs that slowly. And likewise there have been some songs where the rhythm and feel want one speed to hang together well, while the lyrics want quite another for the words to get in line without jostling.

A big part of sorting out speed seems to be in the phrasing, and when done well, words slip by comfortably at the chosen rate. Non-musicians don't seem so comfy sorting out phrasing to work at a given pace, and often seem to need a little help.

I do recognise the issue of 'fitting extra stuff in'. For a rhythm instrument, sometimes a useful device for decreasing speed in a song with over-busy vocals is to play a more complicated rhythm pattern because it fills in otherwise dead space (not hot space) and give some body to an otherwise very gappy backing. Take out the fancy rhythm and everything naturally gets quicker and flows smoother, but may challenge the vocals.

Greg N - yes, I recognise the need for groove, but very often the seed most appropriate for vocals is not where the groove lies, sadly.

When thinking of bpm (beats per minute), one can sing a song slowly (say, "Havah Nagilah", which speeds up on its own) and gradually increase tempo.  At first, the 8th note is the basic beat, with 16th's in the guitars or drums or even double-claps providing rhythm.  (Ha - clapclap -- aaa - clap --- (rest)  Na - gi - lah being the 8 beats).  As you increase tempo, it soon becomes 4 beats, with snaps on 2 and 4.  At a certain point, it becomes more satisfactory to make it cut-time, with just two single claps a measure.  If it gets going really furiously, the entire word "Havah" goes within one beat for one measure (just as a fast waltz has one beat per measure, not three).  In general, a musician should be aware of three or more levels of beat -- the basic pulse that people tap their toe to, the subdivided beat, and the larger beat (the half-notes in 4/4 time).  Even slower tempos benefit from feeling the half-note as an optional pulse - you might even slip from 4/4 to 2/2 without even knowing it, but feeling it, when the music gets slidy and smooth.  There is even a grand pulse, the length of the entire phrase, by which you should feel satisfied that the timing came out at that point, hardly even knowing why.  It's as if a big wheel keeps turning (really, that's why "Proud Mary" is wonderful, because it evokes the feeling of that big time-wheel) and coming back to point A.  That's why musical phrases tend to group into 4 measures, why the blues pattern has groups of 4, and the pattern is two measures long.

The beautiful hymn you wrote does indeed work best at your tempo, and has absolutely no need to be anything except itself in the tempo department. 



Alex Morris said:

As a songwriter, I would add that what makes a song feel slow or fast is not so much the rhythm as the phrasing of the lyrics. 

A song can be 150 bpm and not feel "rushed", as in "Let Creation Sing" by Hillsong, because that song uses short lyric phrases with plenty of space between them.  In fact, if you sing LCS much slower than 150 bpm it tends to feel like it's "dragging" because suddenly you have too much space between the lyrics.

On the other hand, in this song I wrote (https://soundcloud.com/theoldatrain/graceandknowledge?in=theoldatra...) the tempo is 80 bpm, but since the lyric phrases are longer it would feel rushed if anyone sang it much above 80 bpm.

So if I'm trying to settle on a tempo for a song the main thing I pay attention to is how it sings.  Sometimes there can be a little bit of room to speed something up or slow it down, but I suspect that most songwriters craft their lyrics with a specific tempo in mind.

I hope these new insets are working properly -- I just made one comment to Toni and one to Alex, and I can only guess if you are seeing them where they belong!  It looks like an improvement, because theoretically you can be sure you are replying to whom you wish your reply to be replied to.  Let me know if it's working right!

Greg Moore said:

In studying organ I spent a lot of time with the "Chorale Preludes" of Bach.  By his time, hymns had lost their Reformation vitality (and the rhythmic vigor of the 1500's and 1600's which we learn of through hearing Renaissance groups sing secular music).  He infused these ponderous, slow quarter-note melodies, many of which were almost identical in character, even for different seasons of the church year, with cascades of 16th-notes, rhythmic riffs and delicate chromatics.  These pieces would precede the hymn, like a full-length Intro; then everyone would sing while the organist continued to provide an improvised background along similar lines as the prelude.  I've heard recordings of people doing this today, and they are wonderful (though the records of the day mostly contain the gripes of the gripers about the music getting in the way of the singing - nothing's really changed!)

Toni said:

Speed is an interesting thing. I recall listening to a Noel Richards album (quite) some time back, and thinking about how difficult it would be to play those songs that slowly. And likewise there have been some songs where the rhythm and feel want one speed to hang together well, while the lyrics want quite another for the words to get in line without jostling.

A big part of sorting out speed seems to be in the phrasing, and when done well, words slip by comfortably at the chosen rate. Non-musicians don't seem so comfy sorting out phrasing to work at a given pace, and often seem to need a little help.

I do recognise the issue of 'fitting extra stuff in'. For a rhythm instrument, sometimes a useful device for decreasing speed in a song with over-busy vocals is to play a more complicated rhythm pattern because it fills in otherwise dead space (not hot space) and give some body to an otherwise very gappy backing. Take out the fancy rhythm and everything naturally gets quicker and flows smoother, but may challenge the vocals.

Greg N - yes, I recognise the need for groove, but very often the seed most appropriate for vocals is not where the groove lies, sadly.

Greg Moore said:

I hope these new insets are working properly -- I just made one comment to Toni and one to Alex, and I can only guess if you are seeing them where they belong!  It looks like an improvement, because theoretically you can be sure you are replying to whom you wish your reply to be replied to.  Let me know if it's working right!

Possibly!

Back to the topic in hand, I think that most songs allow a fairly wide tempo range. Indeed, changing the tempo drastically can be a way of getting something fresh from a song that has become over familiar. For example, a few years ago, I discovered that "We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High", typically performed as an uptempo number, could also work much slower, when it came across as a statement of firm conviction and commitment. Just watch out for what the lyrics are saying - I think the most infamous example of a lyric / tempo mismatch is "I could sing of your love for ever". Very few people are dancing in the way suggested by the bridge at the standard, quite gentle pace.

As an aside, a good practise / rehearsal technique is to try a song much slower or faster than normal. Most of those extremes won't work in a congregational context but they are a fun way to explore the corners of a tune.

Wulf

When a song has a high "word density" (lots of words and little space to breathe), a simple guideline can be: "if you are foaming at the mouth during the bridge and there's no place to swallow, it's too fast."

Wulf Forrester-Barker said:

Greg Moore said:

I hope these new insets are working properly -- I just made one comment to Toni and one to Alex, and I can only guess if you are seeing them where they belong!  It looks like an improvement, because theoretically you can be sure you are replying to whom you wish your reply to be replied to.  Let me know if it's working right!

Possibly!

Back to the topic in hand, I think that most songs allow a fairly wide tempo range. Indeed, changing the tempo drastically can be a way of getting something fresh from a song that has become over familiar. For example, a few years ago, I discovered that "We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High", typically performed as an uptempo number, could also work much slower, when it came across as a statement of firm conviction and commitment. Just watch out for what the lyrics are saying - I think the most infamous example of a lyric / tempo mismatch is "I could sing of your love for ever". Very few people are dancing in the way suggested by the bridge at the standard, quite gentle pace.

As an aside, a good practise / rehearsal technique is to try a song much slower or faster than normal. Most of those extremes won't work in a congregational context but they are a fun way to explore the corners of a tune.

Wulf

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