Singing praises to God is one of the fundamental ways that we worship. But singing can be challenging for individuals with disabilities and the congregation around them. Acknowledging these is the first step in embracing all worshippers, including those who may sing differently than most of us.
Consider how hymns are printed. There is small type with words that are often tightly bunched or overly stretched and surrounded by busy music staves. Many words are unfamiliar, not part of our daily vocabulary. Distinguishing words from the music requires fine discrimination skills. Singing words with music requires three distinct complex tasks that occur simultaneously: reading the words, singing the tune, and keeping the correct tempo.
Motor planning is the coordinated mental ability to consider, plan, and execute a skill. Many friends with developmental delays or cognitive impairments have delayed motor planning skills. Since singing requires more time to read the words, they are likely to sing behind the rest of the congregation.
More effort is required to keep tempo, so they are likely to sing more slowly than the rest of the congregation. Memory skills are required to recall a tune and match pitch at an appropriate volume. Without these skills, they are likely to sing off-key.
Some accommodations for singing in worship include:
Separating words from the music. For children and teens who are not strong readers and for friends with cognitive impairments, it can significantly help buoy their ability to sing by simply typing the words on a separate handout. Increase the size and use 1.5 line spacing.
Using a handout even if you use a screen. Words projected on a screen can be a great way to utilize large print, but it still requires being able to focus across a distance for an extended period. You may have weak readers or people who are visually impaired. Others may have difficulty filtering distractions between themselves and the screen. They may be able to sing using a sheet of paper in their hands. Help them follow along by moving your finger across the words.
Using familiar tunes for new hymn text. When possible, use a familiar tune with unfamiliar text. This is a true boost to those who cannot read music. Hymn meter refers to the number of syllables for the line in each stanza of music. Searching for tunes by meter is an easy way to pair a less-familiar hymn text with a well-known hymn tune.
Sitting rather than standing. Many church services direct the congregation to stand, but standing is not a requirement for worship. Some people may not be physically able to stand for longer periods of time. Repeatedly standing and sitting requires the ability to transition easily. For some, this interferes with their ability to focus on reading, singing, and praying. Many people feel conspicuous and uncomfortable if they remain seated while everyone else stands. Add a note in the worship bulletin or a warm invitation from the pulpit to remain seated if that enables a person to best worship.
Choosing to encourage and love above singing. It can be distracting to hear someone singing loudly off-key, but we must remember that singing is about worship. Pitch does not matter to the Lord. It is the heart yielded to him in worship that brings him great delight. Some people may not be able to read, voice words properly, or sing in tune. Put off any feelings or irritation and be thankful that others are able to worship with the body at church. Reassure those around you who may be self-conscious about their singing by telling them how glad you are to be worshipping with them.
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