Common denominators for super congregational singing #4 — Hugh Wetmore

Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.

In our search for those factors that encourage the ordinary people in the ordinary congregation to sing with easy enthusiasm, I have already listed the following:

  • Enthusiasm for the message of the song;
  • Songs can be sung spontaneously — even without instruments;
  • A steady rhythm;
  • The words fit the notes. Don’t crush too many words into too few notes;
  • Simplicity; and
  • Songs written for congregational singing (not for performance).

Now let’s add two more criteria that make for the singability of a song: hummability and strummability.

These continue to be drawn from a study of crowd-singing outside of the Church.

There was a time when someone would hum a tune while busy with household chores. She was in a good mood, and music would be floating around in her head, and without thinking it would escape with an unconscious humming through her lips. Or, as he walked down the street, a popular song may prompt him to whistle the tune.

A catchy tune, that is easily hummable, helps the congregation to sing.

Those spontaneous hums don’t happen anymore. You are more likely to see him with ear-phones plugged into the mobile in his pocket. He enjoys listening to the song. But does he hum or whistle along with it? No. Why not? It’s a nice song, but it is too complicated to hum. It is not hummable.

This is a warning sign — the tune is not easy to sing. He enjoys listening, but he could not sing it. It is not singable. So it would never go down well in the congregation. The people would prefer listen to the song sung from the platform, rather than sing it together in the pews.

So — test the singability of the songs you choose for the congregation, by whether it is easy to hum the tune on your own, unassisted by instrumental accompaniment.

Here’s another easy test. Using your fingers, your feet or your body — can you easily move to the beat of the song? Do you feel the strong beats coming through? If you’re comfortable with a guitar in your hands, is the song strummable?

The more regular and simple the rhythm, the easier it is for the congregation to sing the song. A congregation of non-professional musicians will stumble and trip over an irregular rhythm … unable to really sing the song as they want to.

If there is more than one stanza, then the same regular strummable rhythm should carry over to each stanza. Strum the tune to the words of each stanza — if they fit, then the song is likely to be singable by the congregation.

So, use every means at your disposal to “get the congregation singing”! Make sure the tune is hummable, and the rhythm is strummable. Then you will encourage singability!

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