What factors should you use when arranging music for worship?

How do you decide what songs to use and what order they go in?

Arranging music for worship doesn’t have to be difficult, but you should thoughtfully consider how they fit together to create a worship experience for your church.

One of the goals of worship is to help people recognize God’s presence. Whenever songs are put together haphazardly, it can cause people to lose their focus on God and disrupt their worship.

There are 3 things I consider when arranging music for worship.

1. Tempo

Typically, I begin with an upbeat song that encourages people to praise God. It gets our attention off of us and on to God where it belongs.

As we progress through the set, we try to plan a moment of worship that encourages people to hear from God. This is often a slower, more contemplative song.

Going from fast to slow and back to fast is not only hard for the band, it’s hard on the people too.

Keeping like tempo songs together will help the service flow more smoothly and help your people stay engaged when moving from song to song.

2. Key Relationship

Understanding how keys are related to each other is a crucial step for worship leaders in planning worship.

If you can stay in the same key, your transitions will be easy, but most of the time, that is not possible.

A typical worship song will use 4 chords. The I, IV, V and VI minor. (1, 4, 5 & 6 minor) Here’s more info on the Nashville number system.

When going from one key to another while changing songs, there are two main options based on key relationship.

A. Try to go to the 4 or 5 chord of the key you are in.

For example: if you are in the key of C Major, the 4 chord is F major and the 5 chord is G major. Doing this allows for a smooth transition instrumentally and vocally.It’s easy on the ears because those chords have already been played in the previous song.

In simple terms your ear is already used to hearing those chords so it’s easy to change to a 4 or 5 chord and that chord then becomes the 1 chord of the new song. 

B. Another option is to go up a half step or up a whole step.

For example: C to Db or C to D. This transition is easy for a keyboardist to make and doesn’t distract from the flow of worship.

Going to a key that is not a relative key (without an intentional transition) can be very disruptive because it’s difficult for the ear to make the adjustment. Example: Going from G major to E major sounds weird and doesn’t make sense musically.

Sometimes it’s just not possible to use one of the above methods to change from song to song. When that happens, be sure to use a transition element before changing keys. Prayer, silence, scripture, or a testimony will help to keep your service connected while changing from song to song.

3. Theme

Building a set around a theme is a great way to get people to focus on a specific attribute or promise from God. I like to start with a key element that I know I want to include (song, prayer, spoken word etc.). Then I build the rest of the set around that key element.

If your key element talks about the hope we have in Jesus, focus your other songs around the theme of hope. If your key element is a song about overcoming chains of bondange, sing about the freedom we have in Christ.

This doesn’t mean that all your songs have to include the word “grace” for instance. But you should be mindful of what the songs are communicating as a whole.

The Main Point?

Be intentional when planning your worship. It’s too important to just throw some songs together or randomly pick three hymns from the book. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you plan and He will answer your prayer.

Bonus Tip: While it’s fine to have big moments in worship, be intentional with the key moment of worship. Take people on a journey and then step out of the way to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. There’s no right or wrong way, just understand where you want your church to go, and be intentional about taking them there.

What factors do you consider when arranging music for worship? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.