Mark J Martin

Mark J Martin

New Arrangement for Congregational Singing

It’s one of my favorite songs.  Maybe one of yours too. “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

I arranged it for piano & strings for our Easter service this year.  I’m grateful for how it turned out.

You can jump over to the store to download it for free.  Whether you just have one violin or a full strings section, I think the strings parts will benefit your singing.

I pray that God will use it for His glory in your church.

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Suggestions for Playing Mixed Meter

Note: There is a link to a demo of Wednesday’s piano arrangement near the bottom of this post.

I posted an arrangement Wednesday with some mixed meter, and I wanted to offer a few thoughts about mixed meter and how to play it.

[This post is a bit technical.  If you don’t want the nitty gritty, skip to “Ways to Simplify” at the bottom.]

But first, what is mixed meter?

What is Mixed Meter?

Mixed Meter is simply changing back and forth between different time signatures.

For instance, it could be changing from 6/8 to 3/4,  or 3/8 to 5/8, or any combination of time signatures.

So, why use it a hymn arrangement.

Sense of Excitement, Movement

I was looking for a way to communicate the energy and excitement which accompanies the fact that Christ rose again.  Christ’s resurrection is pivotal to our faith and it should put in us an excitement and hope that fuels our faith.

But quite often, I think we take away rhythmic features of a song that communicate power for the sake of being conservative.  When we do, we rob the song of the potential of powerfully impacting emotion – emotion that can encourage God’s people.

Mixed Meter is often used to create a feeling of energy.  This energy can communicate a feeling of celebration (which is why I used it here) or urgency,

For urgency, think Mission Impossible theme song. It is in 5/4, but within each measure there is a 3/4 + 2/4 division; which can be further broken down to 3/8 + 3/8 + 2/8 + 2/8 feel.

mission impossible

(This post is not intended to be a full treatment of the subject of appropriateness. I’ll simply say that, as with anything, these elements can be abused. But it is my belief that we shouldn’t rid church music of certain elements completely. How much is appropriate for a church should be decided by church leadership.  Maybe that should be another post sometime. And I wouldn’t want a Mission Impossible feel in a service, just sayin’. )

But along with the energy it creates, it can be particularly challenging to play.

So, how do you learn to play a piece with mixed meter?

Break it down to the Constant

Music can almost always be boiled down to a basic feel of either 2 or 3.

When dealing with mixed meters, the best thing to do is boil the rhythm down to its most basic constant.

By that I mean determine what stays the same, even when the time signatures are changing.

In this piece, the eighth note is the constant.

When playing mixed meter, the best thing to do is to find out what the eighth note is doing.

The 6/8 time signature has 6 eighth notes divided into two sets of three.  The 3/4 time signature has 6 eighth notes, divided into three sets of two.

 

The 6/8 has this feel:  1-2-3 1-2-3, the ones being the beat of the measure.

mixed meter68

The 3/4 has feel a 1-2-3 feel, the quarter note being the beat.  The beat can be divided into eighth notes: 1-2 1-2 1-2.

mixed meter34

So, any time, if you are having trouble, you can think of the eighth note tick.

When playing mixed meter, the best thing to do is to find out what the eighth note is doing. Click To Tweet

Dominant Meter of the Section

In Christ the Lord is Risen Today, I didn’t change time signatures quickly, but chose the time signature of a section based on what the dominant rhythm was in that section.  Then, if there is a different division in that section, it is in contrast to the dominant feel.

Instead of changing meter every few bars (measures), I chose to divide it by phrase and name it by the dominant time signature.  So, you have the feel changing within those sections.

For instance, in the first section (the intro, bars 1-8), the rhythm alternates between groupings of 3 and groupings of 2.  The dominant feel is that of 1-2-3  4-5-6, with the 1-2  3-4  5-6 contrasting.

mixed meter68 contrast

But bars 9-16 have the 1-2-3 (quarter note) feel, with the dotted quarter rhythm contrasting the 3/4 feel.

mixed meter34contrast

If you keep in mind the eight note constant, and that the notation is simply there to show you where to place the emphasis, you’ll get it right.

R.H/ L.H. Two Against Three

This merits a post of its own, but there are some sections with a 2 feel in the R.H. and a 3 feel in the left hand. (See ways to simplify below).

If all this makes your head spin, here are a few ways to simplify.

Ways to Simplify

  1. Use the right hand rhythm in both hands. If you find it challenging to have the 3 against 2 feel, then you can choose one or the other and use it in both hands.  It would make sense to use whichever rhythm the melody line uses.
  2. Straighten out the left hand.  In Christ the Lord is Risen Today, in the last verse, soften or straighten out the L.H. octaves.
  3. Listen to a recording. If you want to tackle the rhythm, but are having trouble doing so from a written piece of sheet music, listen to a recording to hear how it feels. I posted a demo with the music to help with that.

Let me know any thoughts here.

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God Orchestrates Best

One of the great privileges of planning and leading worship in a church is to get a front row seat to how God is the great orchestrator of church life, specifically in using music to build up His church. Yesterday was another day that God put together two great services.
 
Many in my state were disappointed with the results of their primary on Saturday. (This is not a political post.) I did not intentionally place the choir song yesterday because I was thinking of Saturdays event ahead of time. Yet God knew (regardless of the results) that we needed to hear these words yesterday:
 
“Every power on earth and in heaven is a shadow in his light.
No authority, law, or government challenges his sovereign might.
His reign and rule have no boundary. All that is his hands have wrought.
Nothing ever can, nothing ever will overcome the Lord our God.”

God is in control, and He is using events to accomplish His purposes. 

 Two weeks ago, I planned for the choir to sing an opener, but when we tried it in warmups, it wasn’t quite ready.  We post-poned it a week.  That following week, a lady attended our services who came up to me after the service.  Her mother was dying, and the song we had sung was one of her favorites.  She asked if she could have a copy of the music, thinking she may be able to use it in her mother’s funeral.

[Update: The song was Then Sings My Soul by Mary McDonald, a choral setting of “How Great Thou Art.”]

On a national level, rest in and pray to the God who is really in charge.  Trust in Him.

In the church music arena, plan well, and work hard, all while yielding to and trusting in the God who uses your plans – and changes to your plans – to build up His church.

Plan well, and work hard, all while yielding to and trusting in the God who uses your plans - and… Click To Tweet

 Have you experienced similar divine fingerprints in your church’s music?  I would love to hear your story!  Comment here.

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Worshiping Without Words

Just wanted to plant a little thought in your mind for this Sunday, for you pianists.

The piano is an awesome instrument from which to worship God without words.  

Ok, so really you are enhancing words – words that are familiar or projected on a screen.

The range of emotional expression at the piano gives it the ability to communicate powerfully.

And, especially if your congregation is familiar with the song you are playing, you have the opportunity to breathe fresh meaning into words that have been sung sometimes to the point over-familiarity.

The right expression at a point of rich meaning. A pause to emphasize a powerful phrase. A different chord that communicates that word (when playing alone).

But you get to do it without saying a word.

Consider how you can enhance the understanding of the words as you play this Sunday.

Consider how you can enhance the understanding of the words as you play this Sunday. Click To Tweet

Would love to hear your thoughts.  Comment here.

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3 Simple Steps You Can Take to Deepen Next Sunday’s Service

It’s clear in scripture that the purpose of music in the church is to 1) worship God (Psalm 150:3-4) and 2) teach God’s people (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

But when the worship pastor uses the flip-open-the-hymnal-and-point method (or the search-and-click method), just randomly picks songs, he is not adequately accomplishing those goals.

Been there. Done that.

Ok, so most worship pastors don’t just flip open a hymnal and point.  But we all could give more attention to the impact of a service as a whole.

You have probably been in a service where not much attention was given to the whole.  You probably have led one. And in those services, I’m sure the music impacted you.  The songs still have impact when not put together as a cohesive whole.

But, when we have not intentionally looked at the whole, we may have missed an opportunity.

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Out Before In

Clutter slows us down.

The progress of elimination is that when the table is dirty, you clean it off before you set it.

When the life is overloaded, you remove the excess before you move forward.

“Out with the old” before “in with the new.”

Do you have 3 goals that need to come off your goals list?

Do you have tasks that are sucking your time like a vacuum cleaner?

Do you have time wasters that don’t yield what you value?

What needs to be eliminated?

[Of course, what precedes elimination is knowing what you value.]

Have a profitable Monday!

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The Progress of Elimination

You have most likely come across at least 5 to 10 new years goal posts.  It’s that time of year – a time that naturally lends to reflecting on last year and making plans for the coming year.

There are a lot of great voices on new year plans.  My goal in this post is not to add to the voices talking about how to make goals and stick to them.  I simply want to offer you one thought.

It’s about “the progress of elimination.”

The productivity experts typically have an elimination step.  And rightfully so, because life tends toward clutter, and that includes our plans, goals, and schedules.

One of the best opportunities this season provides is the chance to decide what’s going to go.  It’s the “out with the old” part of the maxim.

What will you NOT do this year?  What has been taking away from the more important aspects of your life?

Is there a good goal that will conflict with a greater goal?  Does the lesser goal need to wait until another season of life?

Many times, we have good goals, but we aren’t progressing because we have overloaded life.

Before you move forward with your goals, what if you were to eliminate first?

Eliminate the excess. Then progress.

May you have a great new year!  And Happy 2016.

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Delaying the Editing for Later

Maybe some of my perfectionist friends can relate to this.

I was working on writing some music tonight, and I was struggling to get the juices flowing, and it occurred to me why.  See if you relate.

I realized, though not for the first time, that I don’t like the “draft.”

I don’t naturally do “rough draft.”

And that’s a problem.  It slows me down.

What do I mean?

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The Irony of Idolatry

Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. … My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. 6 He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved. 7 In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. – Psalm 62:1-2, 5-7

​​​The irony of idolatry is that it crushes the very thing we are worshiping. Nothing can live up to our worship except God. ​

God rebuked me last night and this morning with that phrase “He only is my rock and my salvation.” There is an exclusivity in that phrase. David is saying that only God is his hope. Nothing else.

We put our trust in things other than God, and that places a pressure on those things that nothing can take except God. He is the only One who can bear the weight of our hope, our trust, our confidence.

I wanted to pass along these verses to you. I hope they nurture your soul like they did mine.

Put your trust in God, not anything else.

Have a great week!

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