Not everyone who likes to sing, or contributes to the efforts in a church music ministry, has the time or interest to focus seriously on vocal technique and improvement. And, while singing better involves a myriad of techniques, training, and time, there are certain non-negotiables that can help groups of singers be more effective on the platform regardless of ability, age, level of interest, time spent practicing, etc.
The following non-exhaustive list represents what I believe are the key elements to making the most out of your time on the platform as a worship team singer. Each of the following can go into much greater detail, but hopefully, this brief list will provide a framework for helping you become a better worship team singer. A few grand assumptions here are that you know how to sing, have a pleasant-sounding voice, and love using your talent to honor the LORD.
1. Cut the Vibrato and Focus on Blend. As a group singer vibrato must be controlled or it sticks out. Varying vibratos on stage in a small group can compete for dominance. The aim for all groups of singers (large and small) is a smooth sound that blends tightly with the other vocalists. Uncontrolled vibrato can stick out like a sore thumb and is hard to mix in the overall sound.
2. You Don’t Need to Sing All the Time. Your voice is your instrument. Voices must blend, move in and out correctly on musical phrases, layout for extended periods, then come back in tastefully – just like instruments. The key is to apply your “instrument” at the right time. There may be opportunities to not sing every phrase/word, pull the mic away from your mouth for effect, or sing an “oo” or “ah” rather than the words. Work with the other singers to accomplish continuity with these techniques.
3. Begin & End Phrases Tightly with the Song Leader. This is about concentration and practice. It is important to pay attention to the exact rhythm and phrasing of the song leader and match the leader. A worship team of singers is a group, and should not stand out, one over the other.
4. Blend with The Other Singers. Similar to #1 above, to acquire a crisp, pleasant blend from the vocalists on the platform, they must work at blending with one another. This is easier said than done. Everyone likes to hear themselves and typically don’t have a lot of experience knowing how to blend, nor what it really means. Blend involves, volume, tone, dynamic, and pitch. Singers must be aware they are not fighting for prominence in the blend, but aiming to achieve coherence (integrating together all the elements of a good blend with one another). Ultimately, the song leader or soloist is the only one who should stand out above the blend of the other vocalists.
The more vocalists there are on the team, the harder it is for singers to blend with one another. However, blending is accomplished by listening to one another. If singers are positioned close enough together, listening to one another is easier. However, that is not always the case. Singers should always be able to hear themselves in their head, not merely through the monitors. Ever wonder why some singers need significantly less of themselves in the monitor than others? It is because they are listening for themselves in their head, not in the monitor. For this reason, one of the most functional things a singing team can do at the beginning of a rehearsal is to work off mics, and off monitors. This will encourage a focus on blending.
QUICK TIP: To hear yourself in your head, plug one ear with your finger while you sing, leaving the other ear open. As you remove your finger can you still hear yourself in your head or moreso through the monitor? This might be an indication your monitor is too loud. A good monitor mix should allow you to hear yourself both ways. As a singer, you should aim to hear yourself primarily through your head. Hearing your voice solely in the monitor should not be your aim.
5. Establishing Effective (Floor) Monitor Mixes. Setting monitors first, before establishing a house volume, is not the correct way to begin a sound check because it bases the house mix on the volume and mix coming from the monitors. If a sound check begins with setting the monitors first it will invariably raise the monitor levels more than what they should be when the mains are active. In addition to mix, sound personnel are dealing with overall room loudness and on-stage monitors will impact this. There are two directions a mix can take:
A Singer/Musician-Centric Mix. This type of mix is one where adding volume to the monitors happens first. The problem with this approach is its immediate impact on the overall loudness of the house sound. The house sound must be driven by the mains, not the monitors. Monitor levels can easily bleed off the stage negatively impacting the house mix and especially the audience in the first few rows.
An Audience-Centric Mix. This type of mix is one where the general house levels are set first to get a baseline read on volume for the room without having to deal with any existing stage volume. In this scenario, floor monitor levels are gradually added into the mix to the point where their impact on the house can be minimized. At this point, the sound tech can work with the musicians to modify their monitor mixes so they get the sounds they need, all while maintaining the house mix and overall loudness as a priority.
ONE IMPORTANT NOTE: Sound personnel have the responsibility to mix the best sound for the audience. When a mix has issues, a sound person’s job is to find the source and fix it or eliminate it.
6. Aim for A Vocal Oneness Between Vocalists. We’ve already established that blending with other singers is imperative, yet not easy to accomplish. Here is one suggestion to help reinforce blending early in every rehearsal.
All the singers should gather very closely together in a circle. With the goal of sounding like one voice, not many, each singer is to listen to themselves in their head and to the sound of the other singers around them. It is important to try to shed vibratos and listen closely to match pitch, tone, and volume. The leader should sing a phrase for others to sing, working to match his tone, volume, and pitch. Focus on hushed sounds, breath support, long notes, louder volumes, etc., all with the goal of unity in sound. Because every voice carries a different timbre (tone color or tone quality), and some voices don’t mix as well as others, this is a valuable exercise for worship teams to practice regularly.
Next, apply this same technique by gathering around a floor monitor and using microphones. The microphone accentuates what you have already begun to create. Here, focus also on how to properly hold and position the microphone (typically an inch or so away from the mouth, slightly lower than the bottom lip, at a 45-degree angle). This gives the best opportunity for the microphone to not pick up plosive sounds and hard consonants while giving as much dynamic response and crispness to the voice as possible. Microphones held too close to the lips and at improper angles muddy the sound and give no opportunity for the singer to avoid “popping” or “essing” the mic. A good mic cannot make a bad technique sound better.
NOTE: When dynamics get big, vocals often get out of control, trying to add to the energy of the band. That’s when “vocal oneness” starts to fall apart and uncontrolled vibratos re-appear, pitch falters, and dynamics go out the window. Resist the urge to let go, and (even if you can’t hear well in your monitor) retain control of the instrument that is your voice. The whole will sound much better.
7. Lower Your Music Stand, Or Get Rid of It. We can all memorize the songs. Music stands to communicate a message to the congregation. It should never be in front of your face, between you and a wedge monitor. It’s a basic sound principle – if an object is between you and the sound, it will block it. So --- lower the stand, and move it to the side. If you must use it, don’t fiddle with the music or other objects on the stand because they cause distractions that aren’t necessary. Watch a favorite music video – where are their music stands?
8. Keep Pleasantry on Your Face as You Sing. Take this one mildly. It’s not a hard and fast guideline, but I’ve seen the truth in it over 30 years. If you have some soft, gentle, pleasant expression on your face up front, people think you want to be there. Then they want to be there. It’s psychological math. Super-smiles and superficial smiles feel disingenuous. Sing to people, don’t look above their heads. Don’t sing to the screen, the words, or the back of the room at a spot on the wall. Watch how often you close your eyes. This “closes” off an audience from a singer who is helping lead them in singing. As a team, be as unified as possible in demeanor. Even if one person is postured funny, in face or body, it distracts and detracts from the overall sense of worship.
Implementing at least some of these tips will make an immediate impact and improvement to worship team rehearsals and personal experiences of serving in music ministry. Practical tips like this also help set the stage for new singers joining the team, allowing them to know what to expect, and what is expected of them. In my years of singing, coaching voice, and leading choirs, ensembles, and worship teams, I have never heard anyone say “stop with the instruction all ready!” Most hunger for it and will certainly grow as a vocalist as a result of focusing on things like this list to help them improve and serve the LORD with as much excellence as possible.
© Clint Holden. All rights reserved.