Let’s talk about songs we’d love to be able to sing, but can’t:
• “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston)
• “Unchained Melody” (The Righteous Brothers)
• “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Dorothy)
• And of course there’s our national anthem
Thank you, President Wilson.

In our corner of the world, Matt Maher’s “Lord I Need You” comes to mind. The big part of the song hangs out up near Chris Tomlin’s morning voice, while first verse and chorus are in the key of Crash Test Dummies. Lord, I need…someone else to sing this.

I call these songs “basement/rooftop” songs. Part of the song is in the sonic cellar, and the other part climbs several stories to resonate from the roof.

A few months ago, Paul Herman from CCLI made this observation: “Working at CCLI, we see a lot of new worship songs come in. And it’s pretty easy to spot the two current trends in worship songwriting. First is the “octave jump,” and that one probably deserves its own separate article…” (WM September 2017)

I was excited to see someone else was commenting on this trend, so I reached out to Paul and asked if we could collaborate on this article. And he emailed back, “Jon who?” After slipping him a $25 Chick-Fil-A gift card through Doug Doppler, he was onboard.

Here’s Paul’s take on these wide-range songs:
“The songwriter’s obvious intent is some added punch at a key point in the song. Clearly, it’s hard for worship leaders and teams to create that same impact if they have more limited vocal range.” But they aren’t keeping churches from singing them. Paul pointed out that “Cornerstone” (currently #8 on the CCLI chart) has a similar octave jump as “Lord I Need You”, which is trailing right behind at #9.

And that’s the problem—many of these songs are soooo good, but they can be soooo tough to sing.

With where my team was at when “Lord I Need You” first came out, I made the painful decision not to use it. A few of my team members even sent me hate-mail. (OK, not really. It was actually hate-email.) So, is that the only option if we don’t have a killer vocalist—just not use these songs?

Paul and I would agree that these songs can have a place for the average worship team with the right approach. He and I came up with a 4 ways to help you tackle these
octave-jump songs.

1. Just don’t jump.
Simply put the song in a comfortable key and sing the verse and chorus in the same register. The benefit of this approach is that it solves the dilemma of where to key the song.

If we key it comfortable enough for the average tenor to sing the low notes, the chorus will be screaming high. And if we keep the chorus in a congregational range, the tenor worship leader will be grunting a bad Johnny Cash impression. Keeping it in the same register makes it easy to sing, but removing the octave jump is like putting a Honda Fit engine in a Corvette. It’s still a ‘Vette, right? But not really.

Before you choose to do this sonic neutering, let’s explore a few other ideas. You may decide that a combination of a few these approaches is right for you.

2. Schedule it around the right leader.
There are songs that I only plan when I have certain vocalists scheduled. I (Jon) have a vocalist on my team who made it to the blind auditions for The Voice last season. She can handle whatever I throw at her. But if I’m the primary leader, we’re keeping things within 1.25 octaves. I know how to stay in my lane, thank you very much.

Now, this approach lets us have some basement/rooftop songs in our repertoire without pressuring the average vocalist to try to nail them. But the drawback? What if you don’t have someone who can qualify for The Voice? And then there’s the big drawback—the ability of the congregation to sing it. The next two approaches seek to serve the congregation better.

3. Double the melody 8vb.
The average dude in the pew is a baritone. The average male worship leader is Adam Levine (or thinks he is). Do your men a favor and keep someone on the melody “8vb” (an octave below) when you jump. The pro to this approach—your guys might keep singing. The con—it’s not “proper” vocal arranging. But we’re serving the congregation, not trying to win Grammys.

And the fourth one is all about serving the congregation:

4. Just don’t do the song.
Save it for a special music piece or just don’t do it. If it’s musically too big for your team or congregation, there are plenty of other killer worship songs that will fit your church better. Remember, we have a dual role on the platform to both worship God and serve the congregation. But we can’t always have the dual role of serving our church family and our own musical tastes.

Speaking of taste, Paul and I are heading out to grab a chicken sandwich and some waffle fries. He’s buying.

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Jon Nicol The founder of WorshipTeamCoach.com, a resource that helps worship leaders build strong teams and lead engaging worship. He lives in Lexington, Ohio with his wife Shannon and their four kids.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Love it! It’s “all about serving the congregation”. Keep saying it. It’s “all about serving the congregation”. Use it as a mantra during rehearsal. Repeat it during the service (in your head!)

  2. Great article with some awesome points. Another tip is to throw in a key change to build instead of the octave. Did this to Cornerstone and Lord I Need You. Tried to put 2 key changes into Touch the Sky, but it was a train wreck. We didn’t introduce that song to our church. Agree that the octave worship song is an increasing trend in worship music, and they need to be carefully transposed, arranged and tested before unleashing as a new song. Great work Jon

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