10 Tips to Create Great Worship Vocals
Making sure your "joyful noise" is actually joyful to listen to.
Recently, I wrote a blog post with 10 tips to improve your worship band. I didn’t want to leave out the 10 tips to improve your vocal team.
Most worship team vocal parts, like rhythm arrangements, are developed organically (with a little help from the original recording). I’ve been asked several times about how to develop great vocal arrangements. For me, it’s all about creating a beginning, a middle and end to a song, which then helps it to blossom all the way to the final note. The tendency for some is to have everyone jump-in, find a note, and sing everywhere.
The following are 10 tips on avoiding the trap of overcrowding your vocal arrangements. I have included both technical and musical hints to give a song a place to start, to develop and grow, and to become an even greater tool to help lead the congregation on the worship journey.
Of course, it’s important to correctly warm up before vocalizing (my friends Chris and Carole Beatty at Vocal Coach can elaborate on the finer details of warm-ups and proper singing techniques).
10 Tips for Creating Great Worship Vocals
1. Confidence. This is so important because a vocalist is a high-profile position on the worship team. They are the most visible people on stage, next to the worship leader. An individual’s confidence will set the congregation at ease as they help lead the singing. Confidence in one’s part, and comfort with one’s self, brings about positive and confident body language for the singer.
2. Find and stay on your part. Tenors usually gravitate toward the harmony right above the melody (following the major-third part of the chord progression); altos usually gravitate toward the harmony part above the tenor (following the fifth-note of the chord progression). Sometimes the melody will require the tenor and alto to “flip” parts, where the alto takes the major-third above the melody and the tenor takes the fifth, this time below the melody. Good harmony singers will be able to “flip” parts when needed. Avoid absolute parallel singing—it leads to an occasional gospel seventh and sixth, which may not be desirable for modern rock-styles of worship.
3. Unison, two-part and three-part harmony. Start songs with either a solo lead vocal or a unison group vocal to establish the melody for the congregation. Split off into either two- or three-part harmony in the chorus to create a bigger sound. A harmony part (tenor: third above melody) will make the second verse stand up a little more than the first verse, but leaves somewhere for the song to progress into chorus number two. Using this layering technique will help create differences between sections and will build musical interest. Some modern rock styles require less vocal harmony, so a simple harmony (third) above the melody in each chorus may be all that’s necessary.
4. Dynamics. It’s the lead singer’s job to set the pace for vocal dynamics. If the song requires a breathy vocal sound, the whole vocal group should follow suit, and the same when there’s a need for a more aggressive vocal styling. The goal is for the vocal team to sync with the lead vocalist. Sometimes dynamics can be achieved by having less or more people sing; sometimes it’s achieved through the varying of volume and vocal expressions.
5. Blend. Sing like a group, not as individuals. Eliminate excessive vibrato and other undesirable qualities that cause individual voices to jump out within the mix. A vocal section leader—which may be the worship leader or the overall music director—must take responsibility for mapping out the song for phrasing and blend. It’s so important for each vocalist to hear their part and the other singers. Therefore, a proper monitor mix is essential. When singers don’t hear themselves, they tend to oversing. Please sing on pitch!
6. Phrasing. Good phrasing is singing a musical line so that it sounds effortless, not rushed, easy and carefree. When a song’s melody and lyric are complex, it’s a good practice to map out which notes to hold, and those to cut short. It’s important to find appropriate places to breathe, where to pause and where to scoop or taper note endings. Good phrasing helps to tell the story of the song, and it emphasizes the emotion—if it’s soft and delicate or high-energy and aggressive. When vocalists sing together, they must sing as if they are one voice; they must also pay close attention to ending consonants like Ps, Ts and Ss.