Have you discovered the Passion translation of the Psalms? In it, Psalm 33:2-3 says, “Sing and make music with all you’ve got inside. Compose new melodies that release new praises to the Lord. Play his praises on instruments with the anointing and skill he gives you. Sing and shout with passion; make a spectacular sound of joy…”

In many translations of the Psalms, you see the word “selah” here and there. Where other translations use the word “selah”, The Passion translation says, “Pause in his presence.” I wonder how often you and I explore the power of the pause.

Check out some of the synonyms for “pause” that show up in Word: silence, gap, break, suspension, breather, stop, rest.

Compare that to synonyms for “busy”: full, hard, hectic, tiring.

Interesting how some of the words in both groups relate directly to musical concepts. Silence could refer to using long note values. Stop could mean you stop playing lots of activity. Hectic could mean that your part is busy, filled with constant movement.

That said, use the following bullet points as a checklist to evaluate how well what you’re playing fits within your worship team, and whether it might be time for a pause.

Do you tend to fill each measure with lots of activity?

Look at this list of note values found within a measure of music in 4/4:

They range from the whole note, which fills the entire bar, to the 16th note, which fills a fourth of one beat. One of the most common things we piano players do is play too much activity, using too many shorter notes. Challenge yourself to build in some whole notes and half notes. The piano’s entrance in “What A Beautiful Name”, for example, features whole notes and half notes. Very little activity.

The piano is only heard when chords change. If you think perhaps your part’s too busy, make an effort to play only when chords change. That’s an excellent way to learn restraint as a player.

Are you a good listener?

Just as it’s awkward when you’re with someone who dominates conversations, be a player who notices what other instruments or vocalists are “saying” at all times. Is the melody of the song filled with lots of activity? Is a guitarist or drummer playing lots of shorter note values? Don’t duplicate what others are already doing. Build some pauses into your part. Opt for less activity rather than busyness. Less activity is often just what the arrangement needs from you.

Is there variety in your part?

Part of the power of the pause is that it can help your song have clearly defined sections. Where a verse, for example, only featured whole notes, heard only once per measure, a chorus following it could use quarter notes, where activity is heard on each beat. Evaluate your playing. If you’re playing a sparse part throughout the song or playing a more active part throughout, consider where you might build some pauses, or longer note values, into what you play.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

Where are you now? Middle register of instrument? High up on the keyboard? Are you playing loudly? Softly? Have you been playing lots of activity on the verse? Where will you go for the upcoming chorus? If you’re playing at full volume on a chorus, what can you do to give the next verse some contrast?

Give yourself permission to pause and really consider what you’re contributing to your team. It’s a great thing for all players and singers to do too. The result for everyone involved might just be a powerful encounter with the One who invites us at every moment to “pause in His presence”.

1 COMMENT

  1. Ed, interesting article. I would extend the “listening” to listening to the congregation as a priority and to respond to them, rather than to the up-front team. The congregation has historically been the lead in singing, but today are often treated as the followers. It’s the wrong way round. It seems that its now a radical thought to suggest that the role of musicians is to support and encourage the congregation first – that the congregation influences the tempo and provides signals to the musician(s) as to how they should be playing. Difficult for a band, easier for the solo player, but in either case requires a different approach to playing.

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