Even if you don’t read music, you can print off the music before the rehearsal to get the lyrics and the form.
1. Review the form.
“Form” describes the various sections (verse, chorus, bridge, tag, etc.) that make-up the song. A song’s form can be very flexible or it can be very specific. Listen to the recording for the form or use the chart to see how it all fits together. Most of the charts have the sections of a song labeled, but if they don’t then use your brain to figure out what the sections are and in what order those sections come.
2. Use a guitar or piano to find the key.
If you have access to any kind of instrument that can give you a starting pitch then always use it when you are practicing a song. You may not think that you have perfect pitch, but I think most singers have something like it in a subconscious form. So, if you practice the song in the key of C then the next time you sing it, you will probably sing it in C again. This can create a problem if the band plays it in the key of D. If you don’t have access to these tools its ok; it’s worth it to practice even if you don’t have a starting pitch. Also, at any music store you can buy a “pitch pipe.” This is like a little harmonica that can play all 12 notes of the chromatic scale; you’ve probably seen people using them and you might feel a little cheesy playing one. But, there’s nothing un-cool about pitch pipes and if you are really embarrassed about it then just lock yourself in a closet to practice.
3. Spend a few minutes reviewing special languages pronunciation.
Just a little bit of pronunciation work can go a long way. African tribal languages are actually the easiest to pronounce because they are spelled phonetically. Swahili and Lingala, which are the most common in our church, have only long vowel sounds (like Spanish). For example: Swahili is pronounced Swah-Hee-Lee not Sway-hill-leh. French is by far the most difficult that we use in our church (haven’t sung in Mandarin in a while). Do your best to figure it out and then ask a French-speaking friend to help you later. You could probably do some kind of Google search to find free info on French pronunciation (Normally, I would do all that work for you and then just give you a link, but I’m feeling lazy today.)
4. Spend time mediating on the lyrics and what they mean.
There’s a funny scene in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” where Ron’s competitive co-anchor changes the words on the teleprompter that he is reading to include insults and profanity about their viewers. Ron mindlessly reads the words on the teleprompter and is completely unaware of what he is saying. We can sometimes be just like that as worship leaders, singing words with no thought about their meaning. I’ve even sung lyrics that included non-sense typos and only realized it when it was too late. The point is, read the lyrics and review what they mean so that you sing them from your heart with sincerity.
5. Sing the melody through at least once.
Before you dive into figuring out your harmony part, start with the melody. Work on singing it clearly and confidently. The congregation you are leading will be singing the melody and sometimes you might serve them better by not harmonizing.
6. Determine your harmony part, and sing through it at least once.
Unless you are a descent sight singer, you might need a piano or guitar for this. If you can, try singing your part and playing the melody with it. It really helps you to remember your part, if you can hear how it relates to the melody.
7. Sing every verse (especially, if you have to sing a hymn with six stanzas that’s full of King James English).
Don’t assume that if you can sing verse 1 then you can sing all the other verses. Practice all of them and look for trouble spots or spots of confusion. Being ready with questions is always helpful in rehearsals.
8. Practice vocal fills and cues.
Vocal fills are those little things that lead singers add into a song that give it a little spice. They always seem so casual and spontaneous, but they are usually planned out in advance. Seasoned singers improvise those fills by using their bag of tricks and clichés, but the origin of those fills was in practicing them.
Cues: As a song leader, it is your responsibility to serve the congregation by being their tour guide through the song. The congregation wants to have clear signals about when to stop and when to start. No one likes to have a surprise solo. Don’t assume that they will have no difficulty following an old classic. They still need help, and besides, visitors need you help on those classics just as much as the new stuff. Just like vocal fills these are not spontaneously improvised at first. As you get more comfortable with giving the congregation cues, you can do it more freely in the moment, but if you have never done it before, you need to plan these in advance.
9. Be prepared to ask questions.
Your preparation before the rehearsal might leave you feeling more confused than when you started. However, if you come to rehearsal ready to ask specific questions and aware of the spots where you need help, you will be prepared to hit the ground running.
10. Save your charts and take notes.
Take time in rehearsal to take notes on a song and then save those notes for the next time we sing it. I rotate songs about every three months. That might seem like a long time, but if you plan to be in the same church for more than a year then you will probably be singing some songs quite a lot.
Be active in the role you play on the music team; you are a part of the team to serve, not to be served. Practicing is a way to serve your teammates and the congregation.
How to Practice Before a Worship Rehearsal (Part 2)