The Problem with Upbeat Worship Songs

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There’s seems to be one issue that plagues every Worship Leader I talk to.  “Why is it so hard to find good upbeat worship songs?”  Do you listen to the latest album openers thinking;

  • “I’m not in an arena so this song will feel out of place”
  • “I don’t have a 15 member team so this song won’t have the same energy”
  • “I’m not trying to be Mumford & Sons with that 140BPM Irish Jig”
  • “These lyrics aren’t saying anything substantial”

Fast Rock style songs can feel dated, Folk style songs can feel forced and for a lot of us Gospel style songs are simply unaccessible.

In a good way this has made me think very deliberately about the purpose of the first song or two in our worship gathering.  Do they have to be fast?  What purpose do upbeat songs serve?  I’ve concluded that these songs have a very important place in our worship time.

  • We should have a desire to CELEBRATE Jesus.  Celebrations aren’t marked by slow tempos and minor keys. 
  • Singing loudly, clapping our hands, and shouting with joy are all Biblical responses to our God.
  • It’s good to have fun with the people of God in the Presence of God.

 

I used to be discouraged by the lyrical simplicity of most upbeat worship songs but I’ve come to enjoy and embrace this simplicity.  When people are first making their way into the Sanctuary singing lyrics that call us to worship and to praise God are often best.  A good upbeat song begins the process of drawing minds and hearts to the Lord without trying to complete it.  A good upbeat song is in a style that your Church enjoys and your team is comfortable playing.

What are some upbeat songs you’re leading?

Any you’re thinking about leading?

Share in the comments below!

 

Brenton Collyer is the Worship Pastor & Creative Director at Calvary Monterey in Monterey, CA. For an extended version of this post & many more, visit BentonCollyer.com

 

 

 

What are some upbeat songs you’re leading?

Any you’re thinking about leading?

Share in the comments below!

  • Kent Caperton

    I’ve Found Jesus (Smith), Jesus You Alone (Hughes), Great is Your Love (King), Meet With Me (Hiebert), Holy is the Lord (Tomlin), Your Grace is Enough (Maher), Everyday (Houston)

    • Thank you for your reply. Though, I don’t think it was your intent, but you just confirmed the problem. These are GREAT songs… & we wore all of them out 7 to 10 years ago at our church. When we schedule any of these songs it’s like turning on an “classic rock” station – everyone loves them, but in the same way that they love “I saw the Light”. Personally, I wish the average worship album currently released had more than the first two tracks being upbeat, you know? I feel like the church is deficient in songs of PRAISE.

  • Great post – also, I find that when I think I’ve “found” an upbeat song, the reality is, it’s still a mid-tempo 4-on-the-floor power push, and as my wife says “it’s not upbeat unless I can jump up and down and dance” song. So, for example, I love doing @SaintLewis:disqus “Your Mighty Hand” because it’s got a lot of push and energy, and is a great opener, but in reality, from a BPM perspective, I dont’ consider it an upbeat or fast song … there are just not many out there. We NEED them.

    • I hadn’t thought much about it, but agree. I’m going to consciously make a point of writing a few “jump-up-and-down-and-dance” songs! And I should admit that I usually push most mid-tempo songs forward about 2 to 3 BPM when I lead them, so that may be why I consider them uptempo.

  • If we started saying “it doesn’t count unless it’s allegro — over 120 bpm. Even most of the songs that @kentcaperton:disqus lists below (which are great) are more moderate, push songs …

    How many praise songs do you know that fall into these tempo markings (from Wikipedia)
    Moderato – moderately (108–120 bpm)
    Allegretto – by the mid 19th century, moderately fast (112–120 bpm); see paragraph above for earlier usage
    Allegro moderato – close to but not quite allegro (116–120 bpm)
    Allegro – fast, quickly, and bright (120–168 bpm) (molto allegro is slightly faster than allegro, but always in its range)
    Vivace – lively and fast (168–176 bpm)

  • You know a great one we did a few times, that was upbeat, driving, was Matt Redman’s “We Are The Free” … that’s a celebration fast song right there … would love more like this.

    After being a part of leading worship for 30 years, I don’t get wrapped up into the “it’s too repetitive” nonsense anymore. I mean “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come” is being repeated over and over, for all eternity, right?

    • Mike on Bass

      Done this one several times. In the verses I usually throw in some guitar licks after each line and in the bridge. We had youth kids and a sax player (horns) that would play the keyboard riff. If they weren’t on I would play it on guitar. We played it a bit slower, too. Worked good- especially once we changed up that cheesy sounding keyboard part.

  • Melanie Siewert

    We have the same dilemma in our church. We want to do upbeat praise songs but there are very few NEW songs we’re connecting with in a celebratory way. One option is becoming, if we can’t find one, write one! LOL! God is doing amazing things in our church (people being healed, lives being restored, etc), and we want to find songs that express that excitement! Thanks for the post! It has confirmed our sentiment in the need for celebratory songs (that don’t sound too cheesy). LOL! I’m following just in case others share some ideas.

  • We just need more oompah jams.

    Some of us remember the “I Will Celebrate/Sing Unto The Lord A New Song/Trees of the Field” type songs that had the Charismatic church jumping and dancing in the 80s/90s.

    All of those tunes were celebratory AND in minor keys.

    I’m not seriously considering a return to that style of music, but I do think those songs were fun and expressive and people enjoyed them.

  • Brenton Collyer

    It’s great to hear I’m not alone! I love to celebrate who God is and what He’s done but finding great songs for that is tough. Writing and leading these kinds of songs definitely isn’t my strength. Most of the songs I write are in the 70-85 BPM range.

  • Bradley Tucker

    I find it hard to believe that God’s people in the old testament said “we can’t sing these psalms because they seem dated”. Do we have first world worship problems maybe?

    • God’s people in the Old Testament DID say “Sing to the Lord a NEW SONG”, however. There’s nothing wrong with the old, per se, but God’s revelation is so big that would should never assume that we’ve sung all that we should about him, & just need to canonize the songs we have, & call it a night. I think the problem ISN’T “There aren’t any good upbeat worship songs” – it’s that “too few seem to be writing them NOW”, & God deserves them now, just as much as He did then.

  • Mike on Bass

    Sometimes I think we use ‘upbeat’ and ‘fast’ almost too interchangeably. ‘Upbeat’ doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘fast’ (120bpm stuff). Most of the staples of the Disco era were only in the 100-110 BPM range (Superstition, Get Down Tonight, Brick House, Mustang Sally, etc.) It might seem kind of cliche to cite disco, but think about it- these songs are ‘dance’ songs, put people in a good mood, and they weren’t all that fast. But they made up for it with a cool groove from the bass & drums and catchy musical hooks (think the Stevie Wonder clavinet riff- you recognize it instantly). To me, ‘upbeat’ is just as much about a fun, happy, celebratory attitude (for lack of better word) as speed.

    • Right on Mike. There is no such thing as groove anymore in most contemporary worship music. Pulsing 8th note bass line playing some variation of I – V – vii – IV.
      I went to a Billy Joel concert a couple of years ago and was just taken back by how incredibly creative and diverse the grooves were and the chord patterns. Not one was the same almost. It was refreshing.

      • Mike on Bass

        Billy Joel is an awesome musician. It seems that when we as a Christian music community try to do ‘get up and dance’ songs, it somehow comes out like “The Carlton”…

  • Jim Carling

    Good article with one minor correction (bit of a pun) – minor keys can be very upbeat – “He Is Jehovah”, Jehovah-Jireh”, “I Will Celebrate”, “We’re Gonna Run”, “Trees of the Field”. Hebrew style in particular can often be very upbeat in minor and they tend to be easier to pull together. I find myself and other worship leaders I know avoid upbeat songs for 2 reasons – they’re harder to get the sound and feel correct, and we just like the ballad tempo songs better so we tend to gravitate to them.

  • Kim Ritter

    I love All Sons and Daughters, “Oh Our Lord”!! Upbeat tempo, easy to follow, lyrics that point to Jesus, and a great chorus!

  • LetoMac

    Sorry I’m a little late to the party. Hopefully someone will read this and maybe be helped…..

    One thing the article said was “and for a lot of us Gospel style songs are simply unaccessible.” For lack of a better term the “black church” style gospel music is full of upbeat praise and worship songs. I could list many many songs here, but this would be too long.

    On a semi-related side note, I have seen many black gospel artists re-arranging traditionally contemporary songs. Darwin Hobbs has redone a version of Forever by Chris Tomlin, and he’s also done Your Grace Is Enough. Some black gospel artists have done some of the slower contemporary songs as well. Tasha Cobb has done Jesus Culture’s Break Every Chain. Kiki Sheard has done Indescribable. Darwin Hobbs has also done Better Is One Day. Micah Stampley has done Our God Is Greater. And I could go on. (All those arrangements can be found on YouTube.)

    Now, the reason I bring this up is to simply suggest that Gospel music doesn’t have to be unaccessable. If you take away all the complex extended and borrowed chording, the songs follow basic harmonic progression. And if you know how to and are willing to do some re-arranging, there can be a veritable treasure chest of upbeat praise and worship songs at your fingertips!

    If that interests anyone, I can point you in the direction of some songs that may be easy to re arrange or even do as is.

    God Bless!