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Song Tempos - The Setlist Checklist Series

Song Tempos - The Setlist Checklist Series

I'm pretty sure every song I've written starts at 75 beats per minute.  

That's my sweet spot. I'm the Goldilocks of tempo. 120 BMP is too fast. 60 BMP is too slow. 75 is juuuust right.  

We all have our natural tendencies when it comes to favoring songs in certain tempos. It takes concentrated effort to include songs at different speeds. But's it's so worth the work.  

There are three lenses to view tempo in a worship set. Biblically. Musically. Tonally.  

Biblically

The Psalms, the songbook of the Bible gives expression to every form of praise that mankind is capable of. The psalms give voice to the full range of human emotion. Form celebration to sorrow. From mourning to rejoicing.  

A strong, well-written song will enhance the lyrics with compatible music. So if we're singing about the joy of the Lord, it's only fitting that the music will be upbeat and celebratory.

If a song is reverential, coming to the Lord with fear and awe, it's fitting that the music would be softer, slower, and more thoughtful.

There's a good chance that if you use a variety of tempos you'll begin to scratch the surface of the range of expressions and emotions. All these honor God as biblically faithful forms of sung worship.  

Musically

It's possible to play a whole song with just one chord. It's possible, but why would you want to? We have a full range of harmonies and voicings and inversions at our disposal.  

You could also play a whole set list with songs that all sit around the same tempo. Whether it's feel the burn in your thighs - jump up and down fast.  Or put you to sleep slow. 

You could, but why would you want to?

God created music. He delights in it. We get to enjoy God's gift of music while God enjoys and receives our gift of singing. We honor Him all the more when we use a wide range of musical expression to magnify His wonder.  

Just as God is not one dimensional our expression of praise and affections toward Him should not be one dimensional. 

Tonally 

I've lead worship for early morning prayer meetings, mid-morning woman's Bible studies, lunchtime gatherings, mid-afternoon staff chapels, and evening worship services. You probably have too.  

Each gathering has a purpose.  And that purpose carries a tone or an emphasis. It may be a time to celebrate.  A time to seek. It may be a time to cry out to God.  Or a time to encourage one another.

Get a handle on the tone of the gathering you're leading. Try to compliment that tone with the songs you lead. How? Choose songs in an appropriate tempo.  

It's possible to blast people out of their seats with the fastest, biggest songs you know and it's also possible to lull people into lethargy with a slow monotonous slog.  

What's the Formula?

There isn't one. Different gatherings call for different things. 

Many leaders like to begin with a mid-tempo song and build into something upbeat. Then work their way down to a slower, worshipful song to close.  I do this quite a bit myself. 

But resist the urge to punch your setlist into a formulaic, paint-by-numbers box. Get creative. Try new things. Enjoy God's gift of music by exploring the full range of musical tempos.  


Want to watch a video recap of this article? Here you go!


Would you like the see the rest of the points in our set list checklist? Download your own checklist PDF or continue reading by visiting the Setlist Checklist webpage.


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