Powerpoint Lyric Layout
Increasingly, churches—even those that do not sing many contemporary songs—are using PowerPoint or some other computer presentation program for projection of music on a screen or wall. Like many other practices and trends, this one is inherently neutral.
Benefits include getting people’s heads up so there is more sound and “life” in the room, better flow from activity to activity, the opportunity to employ a greater variety of worship material (e.g., devotional readings and pictorial images as aids to worship), and greater efficiency in terms of paper, cost, and transition time.
Potentially detrimental is the greater drain of planners’ and leaders’ energy, greater initial cost, and distraction, at least for a while, by technological features over spiritual content.
Incidentally, the issue of not providing music for the musically literate is a topic that crops up quite often. Music should be provided in some form, period. As was said to me recently, not displaying music because “most people probably know the music” is no different from not displaying the words because “most people probably know most of the words.” My point in this brief essay is not primarily to advocate or “nay say” against PowerPoint, but rather to encourage attention to lyric layout when lyrics-only must be the mode.
When possible, do think about the way lines end and begin on the slides. For example,
Shout to the Lord, all
The earth, let us sing power and
Majesty, praise to the
It might look aesthetically pleasing on the screen. It does have a nice shape to it there. But it doesn’t make sense. This is one better way to lay out the words:
Shout to the Lord, all the earth,
Let us sing
Power and majesty,
Praise to the King
Consider both the musical phrasing and the sense of flow of the language used. A specific suggestion I would make is to keep all the words of each prepositional phrase together, e.g., “to the Lord” and “to the King.” Other phrases such as “all the earth”—which happen to be well set musically, in this case, as a thought-unit—are better kept together on the same line.
Give attention, also, to the slide-change points. You wouldn’t want to flash to the next slide between “Power and majesty, praise” and “to the King.” Sometimes it makes sense to cram more words onto one slide in order to keep thoughts together. The change point may also be used to helpful dramatic effect: the lyrics “mountains bow down” might be laid out on a fresh slide that has either a mountain scene in the background or maybe a faint “watermark” image of a worshipper bowing down.
This probably goes without saying, but do give attention to the point size of your PowerPoint lyrics. The words must often be bigger than you think, if you want to avoid distracting people whose eyes must strain to see the words. In most rooms, displaying the lyrics at anything less than 20-point is ill-advised. Check for yourself, from the back of the room. And listen to comments from your back-row people.
One other word—and this one is more for the people in the background doing the technical work than for the visible leaders: when changing slides during a song, make sure you change early enough. It is common among the less musically literate to assume that the change should occur precisely at the moment the first note of the next slide is to be sung. In actuality, that is much too late. Change to the next slide well in advance, so that those who are reading (and we all read ahead, subconsciously) have time to see what’s on the next slide before the moment the words and notes are sung.
A good way to ensure good timing is to entrust the PowerPoint computer to someone who will actually be singing and worshipping, real-time! Knowing that the computer operator is personally involved in the congregation’s worship is also one good way to encourage the worship leader!