[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series. Find other, related posts through this link.]
Some discoveries are more significant than others. Three years ago, I wrote about a more important one — Jim Woodroof’s, actually — that philosophically and practically places the gospels at the center of Christian understanding and practice. But other discoveries merit a bit of attention now and then, too.
Again and again this simply poetic truth comes to my consciousness, from author/musician Bruce Adolphe:
A good tempo is a discovery.
Adolphe writes rather inclusively of music and life, but I suppose he is read and quoted more by musicians than by philosophers or sociologists. For my part, in re-appropriating the above quotation, I would like merely to suggest that music in Christian gatherings should be considered in the light of tempo. There is no one perfect tempo for a song; tempi for each scenario and venue should be discovered individually. As an example, let me take the relatively contemporary song “10,000 Reasons” by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman.
The metronome markings below, semi-paradoxically offered as predetermined, acceptable ranges, are by no means to be taken as absolutes.
- on original Redman recording: 70-74 bpm
- in an average, medium sized contemporary church with worship band: 74-78 bpm
- in small group in a home: 76-84 bpm
- in an a cappella congregation: 76-96 bpm
Brief explanations of the above:
- The original “is what it is” (In this case, I’d say it’s a bit on the slow side, but it works fine for Redman, with all the originally planned sonic trappings.) Unless all the tracks are recorded in the studio with a click track, you can expect some human tempo variation; here, there is just a small range.
- Given relatively slow originally performed tempos — i.e., slower than average walking pace, for sake of discussion — I would typically recommend a slight tempo increase for non-professionals. If any big-name “artists” ever read this, don’t get all high and mighty and say your specific tempo should absolutely be used. Remember, “a good tempo is a discovery.”
- In a living room or family room with a small group of less practiced singers, the pacing will generally be better, for these types of songs, if it’s yet a bit faster than in a #2-type group. (In a larger hall, the tones have time and space to dissipate, but in a small room, music that’s too slow can seem dry, if not dead.)
- When the slower, contemporary songs originally had a good number of rests and/or sustained tone in the vocal line, as a rule, the tempo should be boosted fairly substantially, in order to avoid too much discomfort with the waiting.
It’s not important that our sensitivities to tempo grow a) because of musical accuracy or even because of aesthetics. It’s not b) because this or that tempo is right or wrong. It’s c) because pacing matters in the human experience of so many things — including, but not limited to, automobile travel, conversation, reading, life in general, and music in church gatherings. Sometimes, giving thought to discovering the right tempo for your group, in your setting, may just enhance worship.
Speaking of worship, I’ve shared the song “10,000 Reasons” with friends on several occasions recently, and it is clear to me that it touches many hearts. In fact, it is currently #1 on CCLI’s most requested list. I’ll close with a few of the lyrics.
You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger.
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing —
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.
Excerpt from chorus:
Sing like never before, O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name
Words and Music by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman
© 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing).