As worship musicians, we should strive towards great transitions between songs. Your worship leader has chosen a flow of songs on purpose: to display the story of redemption and the gospel. All biblical concepts are interconnected, and we need to use every possible method to help the congregation mentally connect important biblical themes. This truly has more impact may than you may realize!
However, it can be difficult — and perhaps even daunting — to think about making your set seamless, especially when subsequent songs are in differing keys. Here are 3 very practical things for you as a musician to consider in helping with smooth transitions:
1. Know Your Theory
Remember how much you hated piano lessons when you were a kid? Yeah, me too. But they paid out dividends you never realized. Learning your scales, related notes, and passing chords are the single most important things you could know and employ when transitioning from one song to another. Learning the Circle of 5ths is really important!
A lot of times bands won’t even try a smooth transition between songs because of a seemingly drastic key change. While difficult key changes can certainly present challenges, knowing your theory helps to eliminate as much awkwardness as possible. And, truly, complete silence is the most awkward transition there is — it ejects the congregation from the natural flow of songs, like we mentioned a moment ago.
The trick to using theory well in your transitions is to be able to quickly know the related notes between different keys, and learn how to capitalize on those notes to make as smooth as transition as possible. For more difficult key changes, you may need to use a couple of passing chords to get there.
Although this may be a little bit technical, here are a couple of examples of more difficult key changes that may be helpful, just to get an idea of what I mean:
- If you’re transitioning from the key of A to the key of C, an E is the common note. Accent that note from the end of one song into the next; that common note will help tie them together. As a more chord-structured approach, you could do something like: A (old key) -> Asus4 (add a D note) -> Asus2/4 (add a D and a B note) -> G (transition chord) -> C (new key).
- Key of B to Key of A. Whole-step down key changes are tough to do without making the change sound bluesy. Consider that a B note is the 2nd note in the A major scale. Or that an E note is common to both scales — maybe a good option would be to see if it would work to end the first song on an E chord (the IV chord in B Major), then working your way into the Key of A (and E Chord is the V chord in A major).
- Key of E to Key of F. Half-step up key changes are perhaps the most difficult, because it kind of just sounds like hit a wrong chord when you get into the new key. There are no related notes between E and F chords, but there are if you think of the scale instead of just the chord notes. The E Major and F major scale have two notes in common: an E and an A. Accenting those notes, or passing chords with those notes, will help smooth out the transition as much as possible.
2. Know Your Gear
Once you know a good transition from one key to the next (be it accented notes or passing chords), think through what sounds you can use to help ease that transition. A new sound helps the listener feel like the band is going to a new place, and won’t feel as awkward as keeping the same sound as the previous song.
Knowing your gear means you’re prepared if the worship leader mentions last minute that he needs you to cover the transition between two songs. What sounds can be some “go-to” sounds for transitions that you’re comfortable with and the congregation won’t be distracted by your fumbling between transitional notes and chords?
Work with your band — if you need to make some pedal changes at the end of a song to help the band work into the next song, discuss whether or not a different band member can finish out the first song. Maybe the worship leader can finish with a down chorus on his acoustic while you switch, or maybe the keyboardist can play the outro by himself. This means that you’re discussing each set thoroughly, and not just assuming you’ll do the song like you always do!
I’ve found that volume swells and a good reverb help a lot. If I’m introducing a C note out of a song that was in the Key of A, because our next song is in the Key of F, swelling that note in will go a lot further than plucking it.
3. Know Your Leader
Finally, know your worship leader! Get to know their habits and their non-verbal cues. For example, if I’m mentally prepping to transition us from one song to the next, but Aaron starts playing his piano more forcefully and pushes the tempo a little ahead of the click, he’s saying, “we’re not done with this song quite yet!”
Ask beforehand — or better yet, practice — what other elements may be in the liturgy. If the worship leader is planning on reading Scripture or praying between two songs, there may be a natural moment to quickly transition between keys that will reinforce what he is doing. Or it may give you a few extra seconds to smoothly introduce some passing notes in a way that will feel natural to the listener.
Remember, your purpose is to serve the set that the worship leader has chosen in a way that does not distract from the truths about Jesus being sung. Both the musician and the non-musician in your congregation should feel like they’re being taken somewhere with the different themes being proclaimed, themes that are always biblically connected.