Music reading is a science within itself. There are many successful worship leaders who read very little or no music at all. However, they do know how to read the song. Much of singing has to do with phrasing and dynamics. Leaders who can emphasize the right parts of the song help congregations focus on the message better than those who do not.

We’ve talked about mood and the importance of using it to set the tone of a worship assembly. Proper phrasing is every bit as important as determining mood. Notice the following phrase, read it and emphasize the bold text and see what it does to the meaning of the sentence.

A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.
A mighty fortress is our God.

In contemporary artist Chris Tomlin’s song “How Great is our God” he means for us to emphasize this phrase differently each time we sing it in the tag.

How great is our God, sing with me.
How great is our God and all will see,
How great, how great is our God.

The power in the song often comes in the subtle nuances of emphasizing a word or phrase. Reading a song means determining where to get louder, softer, broader, quicker or where to insert a lift or a pause. These things will go a long way into making a song live and bringing the meaning to life in the hearts of worshipers.

Many recording artists never do the stanzas of a song the same and vary the emphasis of the chorus each time they sing through it. Although we are not going to be able to be as fancy in our execution of a song we can punch up the style in every song we lead.

One of my favorite songs is “Low in the Grave”. As an exercise in reading a song let’s go through and mark the parts of the song that should be emphasized.

Low in the grave He lay, This is dark, sorrow filled.
Jesus my Savior,
Waiting the coming day, Here is a glimmer of hope.
Jesus my Lord!

Vainly they watch His bed, I would skip the refrain and go
Jesus my Savior; right to this stanza
Vainly they seal the dead, This time is brighter with hope
Jesus my Lord! Emphasis on Vainly

Up from the grave He arose, There is a stark contrast from the
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes, stanzas. This is bright and lively.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Death cannot keep its Prey, This is the most important
Jesus my Savior; part of the song!
He tore the bars away, Don’t lead this stanza slow
Jesus my Lord! Emphasis with broadening

–Robert Lowry, 1826-1899

The last time through the Refrain needs to be a joyous, powerful, almost out of control celebration. Get bigger every time you exclaim “He Arose!”

Much of reading a song is relative. However, some topics and themes lead us to joy, sorrow, anger, doubt, determination and many emotions. Look for those themes and phrases. Help your congregation see your interpretation by big facial and body movements that demonstrate the appropriate expression.

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