This guest blog is written by my friend Mark Graham. Mark is Nottingham's first Certified Institute for Vocal Advancement Singing Teacher, and he provide singing lessons in Nottingham and worldwide via Skype. His clients range from absolute beginners to seasoned gigging and recording professionals. He is known as someone who is able to quickly fix issues in voices faster than any other singing teacher in the Nottingham area. Join those in the know by booking in at www.markjwgraham.co.uk/booking or calling 0115 871 7660.
Crash Course in Singing for Worship Leaders
Prompted by a discussion on Twitter with some worship leaders, I wanted to put together a short primer on WHY it’s so common for worship leaders to lose their voices, and how to avoid that… as well as making songs easier to sing for the congregation. Here are the top 3 tips to follow if you are a worship leader:
TIP #1: PUT SONGS IN HELPFUL KEYS
Don’t automatically go with the original key. Instead, do the following:
1 – Find the highest note of the song.
2 – Does the song hit that high note repeatedly / require you to sustain the note?
IF YES - Then I want you to change the key of the song so that the highest note you found is no higher than a C4 or C#4 (that’s C or C# above middle C). Note, women would be singing the octave above (i.e. C5)
IF NO – Is that high note just ONE singular high note that you touch just once, then go nowhere near again?
If so, it’s OK to put the highest note you found as high a D4.
Why? The reason for this is because of something called ‘vocal bridges’. These are passageways in the voice that singers need to learn to navigate to pass through to higher parts of their range. They are different for men and women. No matter how skilled a singer is, it is ALWAYS more difficult to sing a song right on or around a vocal bridge than it is to sing away from a bridge. Worship leaders often put songs in keys that are NOT in helpful places relative to singers’ bridges. Therefore, to put a song in a helpful key means changing key so as to place the highest note comfortably from a vocal bridge (or bridges).
Because the location of bridges are different for men and women, there’s not really an ideal key for congregational singing of a given song. Instead, all I’ve done with the above is give some guidelines that can help you find the optimal key for a) everyone to sing in b) not strain your voice.
If you observe these rules, your congregation will love you, and your voice will feel all the better for it.
NOTE: Men, if you are thinking ‘THAT’S TOO LOW!’ – no, it’s not. If you want put songs higher than that, they need to be MUCH higher to look after male and female voices equally. So if you want it to be higher, get some lessons and improve your own voice first.
ANOTHER NOTE: Women, if you are thinking ‘THAT’S TOO HIGH!’ – no, it’s not. Women’s voices are built to sing high, and if you are struggling to hit C5/D5, you NEED to see a good voice teacher.
TIP #2: SING IN A MANNER MORE COMPARABLE TO YOUR NORMAL SPEAKING VOICE
The way you speak on a day to day basis reflects the natural calibration of your voice. No need to be ashamed of it, but recognise that this is the natural state of your voice.
Yet, many singers try to bend their voices so far away from their natural calibration that they damage their voices. For example, there are many worship leaders who sing too loud or are intentionally breathy, or sing more nasally or incredibly light relative to the natural balance of their voice. It’s not that these are stylistically wrong, but excessive singing in a fashion that is out of kilter to the natural calibration of your voice can lead to strain, fatigue, voice loss, and in extreme cases, long term vocal damage.
It’s really hard to identify this by yourself, so my suggestion is to see a voice teacher that can help with this. Alternatively, record yourself speaking the lines of a song then singing them, and listen to volume and tonal differences between the two, and perhaps ask a friend or fellow musician to comment on the differences as well. Even then it’s hard to hear it, so my final tip is….
TIP #3: REALLY, GET SOME VOICE LESSONS…
Whatever you see yourself as – singer, guitarist, keyboardist, worship leader – if you’re using your voice, it’s a tool that you need to keep in shape to be used effectively. I’m not saying that the ONLY element to being a worship leader is being a great singer, or that you even need to BE a great singer, but you ONLY stand to better your own musicality, your team’s musicality, and musical options for supporting congregational worship by improving your voice with lessons. Put a little more bluntly, how many of you advocate that your team pursue excellence, practice, get better gear, etc, yet you rarely practice or seek to fix issues in your own voice? I know I was always very quick to get another guitar or bit of gear to ‘lead worship better’, even dropping a lot of cash on equipment, but somehow I would never see the same value in getting lessons… that was a while ago and a lot has changed since then!
Even one or two can help… You don’t even need to have loads of lessons with a teacher, but even a handful with a good teacher can REALLY help fix ongoing issues with your voice and help you to better understand this instrument you no doubt use regularly to lead worship.
I’d strongly recommend seeking out an IVA teacher in your area. A number of us are Christians and on our own worship teams, so we really do understand the pressures facing worship leaders and backing singers out there, so know that you are not alone. Feel free to post a comment on here or drop me an email and I can point you in the direction of those I’m in touch with.
Feedback welcome! Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll happily chip in!