Creating Musical Transitions in Worship
Creating Musical Transitions in Worship
As Worship Pastors/Leaders transitions can be a scary subject. Musical transitions could seem daunting if we do not have a large knowledge of music theory—and who isn’t intimidated by spoken transitions? We can be tempted to bypass concentrating on transitions all-together but without great transitions excellence cannot be achieved. Good and smooth transitions can be the difference between a decent worship experience and an amazing one.
Achieving great transitions can be easy if we just take the time to prepare them, are intentional with the song, do our research, learn a few music theory concepts, and work them. In this blog I am gonna give you some pointers on how I personally go about this. The “go to” techniques that allow my transitions to flow better and run smoothly. In this article I will talk mostly about musical transitions. We will discuss spoken transitions in another article.
The first piece of advise I can give you is to learn the Circle of Fifths. This will make knowing where to transitions and what keys to plan easier. The Circle of Fifths is a music theory concept that isn’t too hard to grasp if you know chords. Simply stated; it is a wheel of keys moving to the next by going up by the interval of a fifth. When reading the circle clockwise all of the notes are a fifth apart, when reading counter-clockwise all of the notes are a fourth apart. The fourth and fifth are the strongest chords to move to because there are many shared notes between the one, fourth, and fifth chords. By learning the Circle of Fifths you learn the best keys to transition into while planning for Worship. (Below here is a picture of the Circle of Fifths.)
Closely Related Keys
First off, I want to introduce you to the easiest way to transition keys in my opinion. That would be going to keys that are closely related to each other. These are keys that share a lot of the same notes together so there isn’t that terrible cringe moment we all experience when someone transitions into a key that doesn’t seem to fit. These keys are the Major Four and it’s relative minor, the Major Five and it’s relative minor, and the Minor Six. (the relative minor of your parent key.) If you do not have a lot of musical knowledge than you will never go wrong with going into these keys. They will feel natural, won’t have tension, and you don’t need to stop in between songs because they will flow right into each other. If you are in C then F major/D minor, G major/E minor, and A minor are the best keys to transition into. How do I figure out what these are? The Circle of Fifths, let me explain.
Circle of Fifths
The Circle of Fifths is a music theory concept taught early on in music education. It teaches you concepts like Key Signatures and shows the relationships between keys. It is called the Circle of Fifths because if you read it clockwise the wheel will show you the note that is a fifth away. Similarly, it is sometimes called the Circle of Fourths because when read counter clockwise the wheel shows you the fourth of each key. Using this tool you can easily learn what the fifth and fourth notes/chords of each key are. In this picture you see that if you move clockwise the notes move in intervals of a fifth and if you move counter clockwise you get intervals of a fourth. So, if you are in the key of C major ,for example, you can see that G major and F major are the closest keys. G major being the five and F major the four. Since they are closer on the circle of fifths they share many common notes, making them the easiest to transition to. You can do that with any key with this chart. It will teach you the strongest chords to transition into while you are picking keys. Stick with the four and five and you can’t go wrong.
Another thing to note is you can go to what is called the Relative Minor. What is the relative minor you ask? The relative minor is the minor scale that has the same key signature as your major key. A pair of major and minor scales sharing the same key signature are said to be in a relative relationship. This means that the keys feel almost identical because it shares all the same notes as its Relative Major but its scale starts and ends on a different note. If you look at the diagram of the Circle of Fifths again then you will see small letters inside the circle. That is relative minor for each key. The Relative Minor is always built on the sixth note of a major scale. Don’t be afraid to use the relative minor of the one, four, and five chords as you transition. If you are in G this gives you the options of going to A minor and B minor as well. Minors can add tension, a sadder mood, and are good for slower keys. A lot of songs use the minor six as their starting note for that very reason. (Go listen for All the Poor and Powerless by All Sons and Daughters or God With Us by Bryan and Katie Torwalt for examples.) So, if you want to get creative in transitioning why not play a little in E minor before jumping to G from C next time?
Other Ways to Musically Transition
What happens if I am really feeling led to do two songs back to back but there is no way to use closely related keys? There are cool and creative ways to do this as well. I’ll give you some that I regularly use.
A good way to do this, if the song fits the style, is to start your song out with a drum solo. (Think of Reckless Love or Only King Forever.) If the key you want to do a song in just doesn’t transition well from the previous song and the song has an upbeat feel then you can use this. A drum solo will eliminate the key of the previous songs from the congregations ear. It’s like a pallet cleanser for the ear. It can also be a fun challenge for your drummer. It’s a great way to not cause the cringeworthy tension commonly associated with transitioning between uncommon keys.
Try doing a chorus without music at the end of a song. It will allow for a pretty unison of voices from the congregation and give your band a moment to get into the next key. Just as voices sing the chorus or bridge again at the end and let it ring out. Let that sit for a minute and then go into the next song. There might be some of the key left over in the congregations ears but I promise it will not be as bad as just going right into the next song if the keys aren’t related. (P.s. If your congregation isn’t known for singing or if the song is new this technique probably shouldn’t be used.)
Don’t Be Afraid of Silence
Many times we, as Worship Leaders, can fear silence. We have been programmed to utilize every second of our time and we’ve been taught that “dead air” is bad. However, silence can be a great tool to use for transitions, not just musically but spiritually too. It can give your people a chance to mediate on what they just sang, read scripture you put on the screens, pray, or just worship silently in God’s presence. In 1 Kings 19 God spoke to Elijah in still small voice. Sometimes letting the congregation tune into God through silence could minister to their souls more than the best of worship songs. Silence, leading them in prayer, congregational readings, etc. can help eliminate the key as well. It gives the song space and room to breath so that when it’s time to start on the next song it’s smooth and sounds great.
Lastly, you can use media to help with transitions. Short 45 second videos can help build momentum, if used right, and substitute in place of a hard key change. Make sure that these videos add to your theme. Be intentional in them. I would argue that this isn’t an every week solution to use but to tastefully use videos in place of transitions can be a wise choice, especially for special events like Easter. If utilized correctly you can add power to your worship theme and when the video is done you can safely go into the song without a fear of it sounding awkward or bad.