Pitching Songs Right – Cornerstone

What’s the best practice for pitching congregational songs?  (This has a little to do with my post earlier on Singing Simply.)  I thought I would share a case study in which we are right in the midst of figuring it out, in case any of you can relate or have your own stories or input.  A worship song we’ve been singing lately is a Hillsong tune, Cornerstone.  This follows the format of a lot of newer songs, designed to start softly, contemplative, without much instrumentation and then build to a huge wall of sound coming from the stage.  As such, one of the elements of the arrangement is the leader going up an octave with the melody (you’ll notice he does this right at the end of the second verse [2:14] and then does the second chorus an octave up).

We’ve done the song this way about 3 or 4 times as kind of an experiment, keeping it in the same key as Hillsong (key of C).  I’ve noticed something interesting with our group when I make that octave jump.  Everyone is singing along just fine up to that point.  But when I jump up it has the opposite effect than what we would want –the congregation backs off a bit.  Theoretically everyone would still sing in the same octave they’ve been in, I would be just jumping up to join the women, but I can sense an insecurity in the group when I do just what he does on the recording.  So while the Hillsong arrangement sounds great, and adds drama and power to what’s coming from the stage, in our context, at least with our congregation, it doesn’t work.  It’s not singing simply.  The melody is simple enough, and phrasing of the song is easy for the group to follow.  It’s just the pitch issue and the group feeling confident in following the leader.  Now as I mentioned we’ve only done the song 3 or 4 times in Sun or Wed worship so if it were one of our standards that the group new really well, I might have a little more freedom as the song leader.  But for now I want to do what is going to best make it easy for our people to sing.

So we’re going to try it again this week in the key of E or F and just stay through the whole tune in that octave.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  (Tried this once already with some teen leaders and it seemed to work much better).  The only thing I don’t like is that the verse has higher notes than the chorus that way.  Anyway, I know so many of you are passionate about congregational singing and what will help our churches to engage in worship and I thought I’d keep the conversation going.


(original key)

C / C / F / G
Am / G / F G / C

F F/A / G C/E
F F/A / G C/E
F F/A / G
C (riff FF-EE-DDC)

key of F (better for general congregational singing)

F / F / Bb / C
Dm / C / Bb C / F

Bb Bb/D / C F/A
Bb Bb/D / C F/A
Bb Bb/D / C
F (riff Bb Bb – A A – GG F )

key of E (another option)

E / E / A / B
C#m / B / A B / E

A A/C# / B E/G#
A A/C# / B E/G#
A A/C# / B
E (riff A A – G#G# – F#F# E)

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