How To Get Your Choir Members To Sing Louder

One thing I love about the fan page is that I get to interact with so many people all over the world. I got a question the other day from one of the members, who asked:

Hey Coach Ron, I have a question. How do I get my choir to sing louder? They have great harmony but they have a hard time pushing out volume. What technique would work?

I decided to answer her question with a video. Watch it now!

One very important point I made in the video that everyone should remember, is that singing loudly can and will cause vocal damage over time. The only way to get the volume and fullness you want safely is to take vocal lessons. Get 5 free video vocal lessons when you join my mailing list below.

4 things every good choir director must do

If you’ve never walked down to the front of the church, centered yourself on that choir and felt the pressure of every person in the audience at your back and every member of that choir hanging on your every movement, you might think directing a choir is much easier than it really is. And yet, in churches all over the nation and even abroad, people are finding themselves being thrust into that position without really being prepared for what it takes to really be effective at it.

Being a great choir director is much more than just waving your arms to the beat and mouthing the words, as many first-time directors find out the hard way at that first rehearsal. However, there are a few things every great choir director has in common. These are things that will make almost anyone a powerful, confident, effective choir director if they simply take the time to learn and master them. In today’s article I’ll take a look at them one by one, in detail. Every great choir director must do the following:

1. Know The Material

As choir director, when you have a new song to direct with the choir, it’s imperative that you know that song inside and out. If you don’t, you can’t give clear direction. Now, the more you know the more effective you are. But at the very least the choir director absolutely HAS to know:

A) The format of the song. This is how the song flows. What happens first. What happens after that. How many repetitions is that sang? Where do we go after that? We’re speaking of course of the various parts of a song and how they are arranged. The most effective way to learn this is to sit down with the song and write it out. Make notes of the various parts of the song as they happen, and label them. Use notes or brackets or asterisks- whatever you relate to the most – to help you remember what happens when and how many times it happens before going to the next thing.

b) The choir’s lyrics. As the choir director you absolutely MUST know everything the choir has to say and exactly when they need to say it. If you can also know what the leader says, that’s great. But generally just knowing when the leader comes in and when the choir comes in is enough. The leader usually understands that learning his/her verses is his responsibility and as such, isn’t often looking at the director for words.

2. Communicate Clearly And Early

The choir director is called by that name because that’s exactly what that person is doing. Giving directions. It’s no different than when you ask someone to drive you some place they’ve never been. You must communicate ahead of time and in a clear manner when you want them to turn left or right, and where. In other words, you don’t wait unti the driver’s bumper is approaching the street you want and then yell “TURN HERE!!” . This is a common mistake most new directors make.

To be effective in leading your choir you must do with them the same thing you do when you’re giving someone directions in a car. You must think “down the road” a little musically. Just like you say to the driver “ok not this street, but the next street, turn right”. Or “get in the left lane, we’re going to be turning at that next light”. You can only do that because you’re thinking ahead of the car. In a similar way, effective directors think ahead of the music and give signals or gestures that clearly communicate to everyone what’s coming up next.

A good director makes sure he has the attention of everyone involved before he makes the gesture to start that next thing, whether it’s another verse or simply to come out of the vamp. He quickly scans the choir, the band and the leader looking for eye contact so he knows everyone is aware. His gestures and/or facial expressions tell everyone “we’re about to do something different, watch me”.

3. Understand How Music Is Measured, Or “Counted”

This one confuses a lot of new choir directors. Have you ever seen a choir director who clearly gave the direction to go to the next thing, gave it early enough, did everything right, but somehow it just didn’t happen right? It felt awkward, like you knew what to do but couldn’t do it right there? That happens a lot when a choir director gives the right command at the wrong time. Music is very repetitive. It repeats, usually in cycles or multiples of 2. For example if something is being repeated, it will repeat twice, 4, 6 or 8 times. Sometimes if you give the command to do something on an “odd beat” your musicians and choir will have a hard time carrying it out for you simply because the rhythm was thrown off.

Gaining a better understanding of this “count” or rhythmic flow and how it works can be as simple as listening to the song, counting and tapping your foot along with the beat. This could get pretty deep so I won’t go into much detail here. But a good director either has that sense of timing naturally or needs to learn it by learning just a little music notation. You don’t have to learn how to read music, just how to count it. Look up how to count “bars” or “measures” on the internet. In fact maybe I’ll do a YouTube video on that soon.

4. Be Consistent; Use The Same Gestures All The Time

The word “gestures” here refers to the actual hand and/or arm movements you use to tell the choir what you want them to do. Every director is different and has their own style. However I always recommend that directors use as much as possible, gestures that have become somewhat “universal” among Gospel Choir directors. Placing your hand over the top of your head to signify “Go back to the top of the song”, or pointing your thumb over your shoulder to signify “Go to the vamp” are just two examples I can think of.

The most important thing is to make your gestures easy to understand and as obvious as possible. If you find at rehearsal that people are constantly missing the cue even when you give the direction in plenty of time, you may need to explain to everyone what is expected when you use a certain gesture. For example “when I make this circular motion with my finger it means I want you to repeat”. Just holding up a peace sign could mean “go to the verse” or it could mean “two repetitions left”. See what I mean? So don’t be afraid to explain what your gestures mean. Your choir will appreciate this because it helps them understand and execute what you want.

The most important thing you can do though, is be consistent. Use the same gestures for the same things all the time. This way everyone in the music department becomes familiar with them and knows exactly what you want when they see one of them.

There are so many things we could discuss about being a great choir director. This is by no means meant to be a complete study of the subject. These 4 steps however, will take you a long way towards becoming an effective choir director. If you’re new to the position of choir director and would like some one-on-one coaching/mentoring, you can either book Ron Cross or Book Shena Crane for private coaching any time. We can help you get ready for your first song or just become a better director in general.

Be blessed!

Video blog: How to measure your vocal range (and how much you really need)

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Talent/Skill vs. Anointing; Does God Really Care If It Sounds Good Or Not?

Balanced debateI don’t expect that everyone who reads this article will be happy with it’s content. Because today I’m going to challenge one of those old sayings that people have heard recited and repeated for so many years that nobody ever questions it or even bothers to look for any biblical proof, one way or the other. But the bible is exactly where we’re going today to get some answers.

“God doesn’t care what it sounds like, as long as my heart is in the right place”. It may have been said slightly different one way or another when you heard it, but no doubt you’ve heard people make this statement many times.
But is that really true? How does God really feel about the quality of the music we offer up to Him? Does He care about skill or talent? Is it really even necessary to perfect it? Rehearse and polish our harmony and sound? Is it really worth it to train your voice and perfect your gift? Or is this all just vanity for the sake of our own egos?

Many don’t think He cares at all. In fact some believe as long as you’re singing for, to or about God pretty-much anything is ok. Often you see this argument come up when people are being pushed past what they can comfortably do with a minimal amount of effort and/or rehearsal.
For some reason people really resent any extra work, training, effort or rehearsing to perfect music done for God. Let’s set aside for a minute the curious change of attitude you find in the same people if they were, for example, rehearsing for a secular music performance. Perhaps we’ll discuss that in another blog.

Today though, let’s see if we can get some idea from the Word of God how He really feels about musicians and singers and what they offer in His service. We’re talking specifically about talent and skill, and what scripture has to say about it.

When you start to really study scripture relating to music ministry; in particular, musicians and singers; one of the first things you notice is that almost every time scripture speaks specifically about a singer or musician, it goes out of the way to point out that singer or musician’s high level of skill. Take a look at a few examples here:

Often when a musician is summoned, it is made very clear in the request that the musician be highly skilled:

I Samuel 16:17 “And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.”

Psalms 33:3 “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.”

Only the most highly skilled were appointed as song leaders and instructors:

I Chronicles 15:22 “And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was for song: he instructed about the song, because he was skillful.”

David had a choir of 288 voices, and all of them were skilled singers:

I Chronicles 25:7 “So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of the LORD, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight.”

I could go on here, but clearly when you really search the scriptures you see skill and cunning given high regard in music ministry. But you also see that skill alone is not enough. David was famous not only because of his high level of skill, but because of the anointing on his music.
In fact most of the time in scripture you see anointing mentioned in direct coloration to skill ( I Samuel 16:14-23, II Kings 3:15).

And yet even though we have scriptural proof that skilled playing and singing is clearly highly regarded in scripture, we’ve all seen that little choir singing in unison or that little mother stand up and sing a song and tear the church up- even though neither of them were necessarily “highly skilled” singers. The anointing definitely makes the difference, and breaks the yoke (I Samuel 16:18) .

That’s the quote you hear most often when people start making the argument that God doesn’t care if it sounds good. But let’s take a closer look at the real motivations behind this argument.

You see, often it’s not a passion or even a genuine concern for doing right by God that causes people to begin protesting against the work that goes into perfecting music ministry. It is the disdain for the work itself.
The truth is, to play or sing skillfully in music ministry does take a lot of work. Anointed Gospel choirs don’t just walk into the choir stand and automatically sing like that. Exceptionally gifted musicians don’t just wake up playing that way one Sunday morning. It takes work and hours of practice. It takes higher levels of training and study. It takes going over parts over and over. And quite honestly, there are many who would much rather phone it in every Sunday than to do that work.

Not everyone has the same level of natural ability, that’s true. But many people who don’t could certainly get there with some extra work. Or some training to hone their craft. But rather than do that work they would rather give themselves a pass by making the argument that “God doesn’t care about all that”, or it’s not about being perfect, it’s about what’s in your heart”. The problems often arise when these people want to be elevated to leadership positions often reserved for those with the highest levels of skill (I Chronicles 15:22) without having to put forth any extra effort to perhaps tweak or improve their offering.

Ironically that statement about how God really cares more about what’s in your heart couldn’t be more true. God doesn’t care if your gift is perfect. What He does care about though, is whether or not what you’re giving Him is your best. That explains why those singers and musicians and groups and choirs who train and practice and perfect their musical gifts and ministries are often bestowed higher levels of anointing.

It also explains why that little old lady singing off-key and that little choir singing in unison can also minister under the anointing. The anointing makes the difference but the anointing only comes when you’re giving God your best.
Sadly though, rather than give God their best, many people opt instead for Giving God their best excuse. (Gen. 4, 2-7).

Ease tension and improve vocal tone with one simple adjustment.

In Everyday UseMost people don’t realize it, but the vowels in the words we sing play an absolutely critical role in just about everything we feel and hear from our singing voices. How easy or difficult a particular word is to sing has everything to do with the vowel in that word and how it’s being pronounced by the singer.

Not only is strain and tension affected by vowels and the way they’re pronounced, but the actual tonal quality is affected as well. If pronounced incorrectly, certain vowels can cause your tone to take on a harsh quality that is a lot less melodic, lacking warmth and richness. Vocal coaches generally place vowels into two categories. We refer to those categories a couple of different ways. The first two should sound familiar to you from school:

1. Long vowels
2. Short vowels.

We refer to them more commonly in vocal training sessions as:

1. Wide vowels
2. Narrow vowels.

Most of us, especially in Gospel, have a tendency to pronounce almost all vowels-even narrow ones- in a very wide position. The position worsens as we sing higher and higher notes.
Pretty soon even narrow vowels like the “O” in God become something closer to “GAD” when sung on a high note.

Vowels like the “A” in Grace, Faith and Wait are all examples of a wide vowel. The vowel “E” is another example of a “Wide” or “Long” vowel. E is the hardest vowel to sing because of all the tension it causes in words like “me”.

This tension comes from the wide position of our mouth when we sing words like these that contain wide vowels. We often refer to them as “smiley” vowels for this reason.

To alleviate some of this strain and tension I teach students a simple technique called “narrowing” or “shortening” the vowel.
Here’s an example:

If we were singing Hezikiah’s song “Grateful”, at the vamp where the song gets really high and you have to keep singing that long, wide “A” in the word grateful, we would just “shorten” that vowel by pronouncing it differently.

So instead of a pronunciation that sounds more like this:

“Graayt-ful”

We shorten that long “A” by pronouncing it like a short “e”, so we end up with a pronunciation that sounds more like this:

“Greytful”.

That looks weird, I know. And your first thought is that it would sound weird too. But to the audience it sounds pretty-much like the first pronunciation.

Doing this however, does a couple of very cool things. First, it takes a great deal of tension off your vocal cords. A wide mouth causes the larynx to raise, which causes a great deal of strain and tension.
Shortening the vowel puts your mouth in a much more oval, narrow position so you larynx drops and you feel less tension and strain.
You also use less air because there is a smaller space for you to push it through.

But here’s the really cool thing. Shortening or narrowing these wide vowels has a dramatic affect on the tonal quality of the singer. It’s especially dramatic in choirs and other large groups, but it works the same way for everyone.

Singing with narrow vowels takes all the edgy, harshness from your vocal tone and replaces it with a warm, rich tone. Almost instantly!

Here’s a really neat way to try this easily. Put on a cd of a song you like that requires you to go pretty high. One where you find yourself straining a lot; screaming for the note.

Then sing that part with your hands pressed against your cheeks until your lips kinda pucker a little. You’ll sound funny and look even funnier (lol) but it’s a cool way to find the narrow pronunciation of a vowel quickly. It also helps you feel what it’s like to sing higher notes without all the tension or screaming. Chances are, if you do this correctly and keep your stomach relaxed, you’ll feel a pretty dramatic difference in those high notes.

So give it a try! To learn more about narrow vowels and get a “low larynx exercise you can do every day, sign up for my free 5 day vocal training course. Details at the bottom of the blog. Don’t forget to come to the Facebook page and tell me about it.

Want to learn even more vocal techniques free of charge? Sign up for my mailing list below and I’ll give you a 5 day video vocal training course. Just my way of saying thanks for reading and subscribing. See you in the course!

 

One simple mental adjustment that can change your whole attitude about singing

One simple mental adjustment that can change your whole attitude about singing

Most singers make a very distinct difference between what they do and what a piano player, saxophonist or guitarist does. ” I’m a singer, he’s a musician”. “I don’t play any instruments, I just sing”. However, the two are very much the same.

Let’s say I had two pieces of sheet music for “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. One is written for a saxophonist to play the melody line, the other for a vocalist to sing the melody. What would be the difference between the two pieces of music? Only one. The singer’s sheet music would have the words below the notes. Everything else would be exactly the same. The notes on the sax player’s music would look the same as the singer’s sheet music.
 
The difference is the instrument being used to create the notes. Why is that important for singers to understand? Very simple. If you as a vocalist can begin to really see your voice as a musical instrument, then it begins to change the way you think about what you do. Many singers are very passive about their craft. I suspect it’s because most singers are born with most of their talent. “I know how to sing, that’s all I need to know”.

A musician wasn’t born playing his instrument. Once he chooses one he likes he must begin studying his instrument. Soon he knows all of it’s parts and how they work. He knows how it produces tones and how to manipulate those tones. He knows how to take care of it, clean it, even take it apart and reassemble it in many cases.

He hones his craft constantly. The musicians who excel on their instruments ( over others who play the same instrument) are those who know the most about their instruments and have learned to master them by getting to know them inside and out. That and of course, lots of lessons and lots and lots of practice.

It should be the same with you if you’re a serious vocalist or hope to be someday. For example, you may be a soprano who leads that Yolanda Adams song with the church choir. But you really have to scream that high note to hit it, and once you’re done you’re wiped out. You’re hoarse for the rest of the day; sometimes several days.

Yet when Yolanda sings the same song she’s smiling the whole time. Then she goes on to sing for another 45 minutes straight after that! And that’s just that night. She has engagements every day for months lined up. Years for some artists when they’re out on tour.

How is this possible?! After all, you were both born with the gift to sing, right? There’s no denying different singers have different levels of God-given ability and range. And there are some people out there that defy logic. Some people are just flat-out anointed. But there is usually a much simpler explanation.

The simple answer is usually that these singers have learned some things about her voice, how it works and how to use it properly, that you don’t know. Recording artists are faced with a very stark reality once they get signed. They must either learn everything there is to know about their voice, how to master it, get the most out of it and most of all, protect it so it lasts them for many years- or be faced with a very short career.

So the big secret in the recording industry is that almost everybody takes lessons. Many don’t want the general public to know that, so you won’t often see the names of vocal coaches in the liner notes among the “thank-you’s”. But I digress (he says pouting).

So my “homework” for this week is to start thinking of yourself as a musician. You play an instrument, the instrument is your voice. Every musician should learn as much as they can about their instrument. Unless of course, your instrument is simply a hobby or something you do to relax.

If it’s more than that to you, stop accepting your limitations and start asking some questions about how to overcome them. You’ve seen people sing high notes effortlessly. You’ve seen recording artists sing for an hour straight. You know something’s going on, what is it? What do they know about their instrument that you don’t know about yours? What have they done to be able to do what they do, that you haven’t done?

As a singer, you are a musician. Every musician needs to study their instrument. My home study vocal training course will teach you how to use your voice properly. Get started free by signing up for my 5 day vocal training course below.