my notes on song selection and setlist formation
i’ve been helping to facilitate a worship leader’s class at Newsong Irvine which takes place every 2 weeks on Tuesday nights. (Worship leaders, for you non-church folk, are generally people who are the “lead singers” for the musical band at a church.)
it’s been incredible fun and I love the people who make up this group! the first 5 weeks were spent on building theological backing for why we do what we do and the final couple sessions will be focused on practical, hands-on type of learning.
here’re my notes for song selection and setlist formation. these lists are obviously not exhaustive and could use your input as well! please feel free to ask for clarification or add your own thoughts in the comments field below! hope this could be a resource to some of you. thanks!
Song Choice – It Really Matters
Some things I consider when choosing songs:
- Do I (or will I) know this song well to lead it confidently? Can I sing and play it without worrying too much about hitting the notes or playing sour chords?
- Does this song resonate with my heart, mind, and soul? (Or is it merely “trendy” and therefore deserves a spot in my setlist? Ouch.)
- Is this song congregational (can people follow?) or will it end up being a solo?
- Is the key too high/low? Change it!
- Is the melody too confusing/new? Teach the chorus first, repeat the song, etc.
- If after the 2nd or 3rd week of leading the song the people still don’t seem to “get it”, it may mean that it’s time to let this song go…
- Can I “see/hear” the song playing out in the context of the setlist and “imagine” the corporate response? Will this song move the people toward a greater response or distract them?
- Does this song contribute to the theme/focus for the day/setting? Does this song “flow” in the greater context of the setlist?
- Does this song express truth and depth in our view and response to God? (or is it cliché, “bubble-gummy”, “shallow”?) Is there a God-revelation waiting to happen or are we simply going to rock out, jump and get our exercise for the week?
- Is there any part of this song that seems confusing or even potentially distracting lyrically or musically? Adapt, explain or don’t choose it!
- Do I know the people I’m leading? Is this song going to be “relevant” to the group? (remix the old, strip down the new, explain/invite into the unknown…)
- What else?
Forming your Setlist
Some things I consider when finalizing my setlist:
- For this portion of the corporate worship gathering, what is the theme/focus/direction I’m trying to lead the people into?
- Is my setlist merely a best-of-DK’s favorites or is there intentionality behind each song choice?
- Are there any songs that seem “out of place” in the greater setlist context? Why? Am I intentional enough with this song choice to be able to transition into and out of it so that it “makes sense” to the group I’m leading?
- Have I played through each song to make sure that transitions have been thought out and overall “flow” feels good? Is there some degree of continuity and unity with the songs?
- Can I “imagine” what will happen as I lead each song? We should have a vision for the kind of revelation (from God) and response (from the people to God) we will receive through the setlist.
- Am I leading the people through a worship journey or a selection of Christian Karaoke Hits?!
- Consider musical/thematic “peaks and valleys” in extended setlists.
- Consider the speed and feel of all the songs. Do you have an extremely “boring” or depressing set? Or is it turbo-charged to the point of no return?
- Consider similar themes you can link/medley.
- Is my setlist panning out to be a tribute to one particular song-writer/band? Why not just invite him/her to come lead worship then? J
- Can I tighten up my transitions by linking (medleying, combining, directly starting) songs of similar theme and same key?
- Is there space in this set to linger, call people to prayer, be still, share a passage or thought-out word? Does the day or setting call for this type of space to be created?
- Is there something I can do to lead people in a fresh experience? (new arrangement, unexpected element, etc?)
- Does my setlist contain too many new songs? Or does it have too many “over-played” or “tired” songs?
- What else?