Transitions, Flow & U2

Andrew Stanley —  June 20, 2013 — 1 Comment

bono header

Their main set was over.  Any one of the over 50,000 people in the Rogers Center would have said they got their money’s worth.  But the show went on … 1st encore, expected … 2nd encore, wow! … 3rd encore, only U2!

And for those of you expecting me to say I was at the Taylor Swift concert the other night, you’re way off.

Anyways, my point … the band walks out for one of the encores to the voice of Desmond Tutu preaching about love and unity, and Bono begins to belt out Amazing Grace.  Just him and a guitar.  Sure enough, in a matter of seconds the entire stadium has joined in. Who knew this many people knew the words to Amazing Grace!? Who knew people could sing this loud!? (no reference to Sunday mornings intended …)

As the song rang on, and people continued to “sing” out this classic, out of nowhere, a thick but subtle pad begins to add even more to the already booming sound encouraging people to sing out even more.  Then it came … that world famous, massively delayed, “The Edge” phenomenon — the intro of Where the Streets Have No Name.  I get goosebumps just remembering that feeling of “WOW!  That was seamless, purposeful, thematic, and powerful!  Powerful because it brought us from one moment into the next without even realizing it!

How often do we intentionally try to craft our transitions as creatively as this one? I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with leaders who are terrified at the thought of having to say anything between songs. I’m with you all on that one. I sleep better on Saturday night when I know I have a set that requires nothing more than a “Hey, let’s stand up and worship our God through music together!”  Yes, there are times when saying things are very important, which is why I don’t avoid them, but sometimes our only purpose of saying something is to bridge the gap between songs.  This should never be the case (if that’s the sole purpose of saying something)!

In fact, a transition like that of Amazing Grace into Streets is probably more powerful than anything I could say in that moment.

We need to understand that our set lists do not need to contain a certain number of songs in their entirety.

How do we avoid that awkward silence between songs? More importantly than anything, we need to understand that our setlists do not need to contain a certain number of songs in their entirety.  If you feel the pressure or the need to take 4 songs, and just butt them up to each other and hope for flow, you might be missing an opportunity to bridge intentional thematic and musical themes between the songs you’re leading.

Sometimes the best transition isn’t from the outro of one song into the intro of the next, but instead, maybe it’s from the chorus of one into the bridge of the next.  Or maybe verse 1 of the first into the chorus of the next.  No one is stopping you from chopping up the songs like this — especially if it’s creating a thematic flow that might be lost if you expect people to remember what you sang in the previous song as you play through an intro.

That sounds good, right?  But, it’s MUCH easier said than done. Creating a transition that makes people think, “Whoa, wait, when did we start singing THIS song?” takes a LOT of sweat and tears (maybe not tears … or sweat … but you get the point).

Creating a transition that makes people think, “Whoa, wait, when did we start singing THIS song?” takes a LOT of sweat and tears!

Here are some things to think about when trying to bridge the gaps between songs:

  • Be intentional with the keys that you’re choosing the songs in.  Sometimes I’ll throw a completely different key at a band that has played one song in one key 100 times just because it flows better into the song that we’re heading into.
  • Hopefully you’re choosing songs to communicate an overall message. When you’re sitting at home playing through the set, what does your heart want to sing when you’re finishing up one song — is there a line in the next song that lines up with this?  If so, start there!
  • Understand that there will be songs that will never seamlessly flow together — sometimes a stop and start is your best and only option.

The pieces that will make or break your transitions are the keys of the songs and the chords that are contained within the song.  Here’s a list of practical things to watch out for to make your transitions seamless:

  • Same key and same tempo: Easy!  Don’t stop, keep flowing through from one song to the next.  It’s just like you’re singing another verse of the same song.
  • Same key, different tempo: This transition between Amazing Grace and Where the Streets Have No Name is this. It’s not hard to pull this one off — sometimes it just takes someone to hang on the root chord (key of the song) and someone else to jump into the new tempo — or the leader to just start singing and skipping the intro altogether.
  • Relative Major/Minor, any tempo: Here is where an understanding of theory comes in handy.  In any key, if you’re playing the root (eg. in the key of G, the root chord is G), the relative minor is easy to go to and sounds smooth (the relative minor is the minor 6 of the scale — in the case of G, it’s Em.  Or just count down 3 semitones from the root and make it a minor).  Same thing in reverse, if you’re on the minor 6 (Em, for example), it’s easy to jump to the root (G).
  • Key of the Next Song is Up a 4th or 5th: Another transition that sounds smooth.  If you’re hanging out on the root of the last song (let’s continue to call it G), going to the 4th not of the scale (C) or the 5th (D) is easy and sounds seamless
  • Key of the Next Song is Up a 2nd: It’s not as smooth as the other ones, but still works.  1st song, playing the root (G), moving into the next song that is a 2nd on the scale higher (A) — Important to note, even though the 2nd in the major scale is typically a minor chord (Am), because you’re moving into a new key, it’s not bad to jump into the Major 2nd.

It’s also important to note that when you’re trying to match two songs together, don’t just look at the key the 1st song is in.  Sometimes, your transition chord is another chord within the song.  You don’t have to land on the root of the song to get to the next song.  If there’s a song that has a chord progression (key of G) of   C     G     Am     D   — hang out on the D without resolving to the G.  The longer you’re hanging on the D, the more people’s ears will be tuned into that chord and soon enough, they’ll feel like D is the key the song is in.  Pretty handy if you’re going into a song in D, hey? Or, maybe now that you’re in D, that 2nd step up will get you easily into E — not bad, as the Major 6th is not an easy transition.

There are lots of different approaches and lots of chords that work together, so really, the best rule: Think outside the box and DO WHAT SOUNDS GOOD! Hopefully these tips help you find what sounds best.

Andrew Stanley


One response to Transitions, Flow & U2

  1. Ray Liem from Richmond Hill June 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Great content, Andrew. If U2 transitioned as hard as Taylor Swift, they would suffer a gut busting heartbreak between each hit song.

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