5 steps to effective, productive rehearsals

5Nothing is more frustrating than having a rehearsal and not getting anything done. Over the years I’ve come to understand that there are some very common things that almost always quickly derail rehearsals. I’ve had the pleasure of spending just about all of my over 30 years in music ministry at one church, working with the same music ministry. We’ve tweaked our process over the years, and several of the suggestions I’ll offer here are things that God just showed me were the causes of our own struggles.

Every music department has it’s own challenges and it’s own unique circumstances, but there are some things you find in common in almost all ministries who are having trouble having productive rehearsals. Here are, I believe, the top 5 things every choir, praise team or other group should be doing to help insure they have effective, productive rehearsals.

1. Know in advance what songs you will be learning and/or going over at the next rehearsal

Make a list of those songs and insure all musicians, directors and song leaders involved have that list several days before rehearsal. Never come to rehearsal with no itinerary or goal, then simply brainstorm about what to go over once you get there. You will get NOWHERE.

2. Insure that all musicians, directors and lead vocalists have the material in advance and expect them to be prepared to play, sing, teach, or direct it by rehearsal time.

*In order to have productive rehearsals there must be studying, practicing and preparation made before the rehearsal for everyone involved with teaching it to the choir or group. The musicians should not come to rehearsal and begin learning the song then. The leader should not be hearing the song for the first time at rehearsal. The director/minister of music/parts instructor must be prepared in advance to teach or take the group over the material that will be covered.

3. Do NOT play recordings of the song(s) you’re going over or learning at your rehearsals.

This is something God had to reveal to me years ago. When we wanted to learn something new we would bring the tape and play it at the rehearsal. Then we’d spend the next hour arguing about every single little detail of the song and how we’re not doing it like they did it on the record. When we stopped listening to the original at rehearsal and instead started teaching the songs live with the musicians playing the material, we literally cut hours off the time by eliminating all the bickering and comparing everything to the record.

If you’re an organization that depends heavily on playing the cd at rehearsal to learn the song you might be wondering how you’re going to switch to not doing it. For the answer, re-read number 2. ūüôā Seriously, take this step and you won’t believe the difference it will make and the amount of time you’ll save.

4. Assign one person to be in charge of conducting rehearsals and make sure everyone understands and respects that person’s position and authority as such.

That means one person is in charge of taking the group over all familiar material and one person is in charge of teaching all new material. This is usually the same person but it doesn’t have to be. For example, our choir director takes us over old material that we already know. Even though I also direct, I’m more of a back-up or assistant in that capacity. My primary job is teaching new material or correcting harmony/parts on old material.

But when one of us is up, that person has the floor and everyone’s attention. If this is not currently the way things are set in your ministry that person may need to be assigned publicly by the choir president or pastor and given that authority in such a way that it is publicly understood. ¬†But I will say this: Authority must be earned. When I get up to teach now, I have the full and absolute attention of whatever group I’m teaching at the time. There is no debating about what I’m teaching.

But I’ve earned that respect by coming into rehearsals fully prepared and ready for over 30 years now. In short, the members know when I get up that I’m ready and I know my stuff. It’s hard to see you as an authority if I feel like I know as much as you do. That will always be the case when you are consistently unprepared to teach or direct without a lot of fumbling or mistakes.

For that reason the person in charge needs to be prepared for every rehearsal, period. He or she needs to have that list of songs and know them well enough to take the group through them with certainty and authority. Yes, this means you must spend more of your personal time preparing for rehearsal. But believe me when I tell you, you will absolutely get that time back in the form of shorter, more productive rehearsals.

5. Whenever possible, avoid using lyric sheets.

I get a lot of push-back on this, honestly. It’s not a popular idea because people use lyric sheets as crutches and are very reluctant to give them up. But again, this is another concept I’m absolutely certain God revealed to me years ago, and yet another one that resulted in much more effective rehearsals once we implemented it. I cover this in great detail in my blog “why you should STOP using lyric sheets to learn songs asap“. But unless you’re learning 5 or 6 new songs in one night, lyric sheets will actually slow the song learning process, not speed it up. Again, read Why you should STOP using lyric sheets to learn songs asap for a detailed discussion about the subject.

So there it is! These are powerful changes we made at our choir rehearsals that really helped us go to another level. But I use the same approach with the praise team, the youth choir and any other group that will sing at church. I pray they’ll work for your ministry as well. Don’t forget to let me know how it goes!

How To Deal With Music Ministry Burn-out And Discouragement

WorriedIf you’re a regular reader of my blog you know they go out every Monday and Thursday. And, as life would have it, I usually end up getting around to writing it the night before. Thursday’s blog is particularly challenging for me because I’m usually coming home late after a rehearsal. Such was the case last night, when I found myself driving home at almost 11:00 wondering what in the world I would write about for today’s blog. As I continued to turn thoughts over in my mind, I thought about the task of writing the blog itself.

I thought about how, if I didn’t have this meeting to choose songs for the up-coming annual Family & Friends musical I wouldn’t be getting home so late. Then I started thinking about all the work that lay ahead of not only me, but the entire music department as we begin preparations for this annual event. Six songs to learn in about 2 weeks, and we don’t even have them all yet. And that’s just what we have to do to be prepared for the rehearsals themselves. So of course, one thought leads to another when you start allowing yourself to mentally go down that road, and before I knew it my mind was all over the place. The sheer volume of it all swirling in my head just made me tired. It was around then, as I was pulling up to my place after the 30 minute commute from my church, that God reminded me of a scripture: “Don’t grow weary in well doing”, I heard in my head. I knew there was more to the scripture, but that part is what stuck with me. I knew then what God wanted me to write about.

Because you see, even though I’m this big time “music ministry coach” now, with readers and followers from all over the country and even in other countries- and even though I coach and encourage and teach and train people from all walks of life and all nationalities- the fact is, I get weary sometimes. I get tired. I get discouraged. Sometimes I just don’t feel like it. I love music ministry with all my heart and soul. I know with everything that is in me, that it’s what I was placed here to do. But it’s a job, isn’t it? And we do get tired. And we do feel burned out.

This scripture- Galations 6:9 – comes to mind often, though I don’t think I realized until just now how often it does. And when I think about scriptures like this; scriptures that tell us not do do something : don’t get weary, don’t fret, don’t worry, don’t be afraid- I often reflect on how often I hear people referring to them as a “command”. In other words what they’re trying to say is that because the bible tells us so clearly not to do these things, if we do we’re committing a sin.

But to me, these are not “commands” as much as they are loving advice from a loving Father. I have two sons that I spend time with and talk to all the time. I love them and I want to teach them how to live life as easily as possible. How to be happy and avoid struggle, anger, bitterness and depression. Often in these conversations I tell them to avoid certain things or not to do certain things. If they don’t follow my advice, they won’t be punished by me. They’ll simply experience things that they didn’t have to experience.

Just in the process of gathering my own thoughts before writing this blog I knew that God wanted me to just speak a word of encouragement to you today, even as I encourage myself.

I believe scriptures like Galatians 6:9 come to us from a father who loves His child and simply wants to encourage us. It’s not a “command” that you’ll go to hell if you don’t do. It’s loving advice from a Father who loves you and doesn’t want to see you hurt. I can almost hear Him saying to me in a loving voice “I know this gets hard sometimes, Ron. I know you get tired. I know it gets frustrating. But don’t get weary in your well doing. If you hang in there, He’s saying, it’s going to get better. In due season you’ll reap a harvest of blessings if you don’t give up.

That’s what I’m saying to you today. I don’t know the state of your ministry or how you feel today about it. But I’ve been working in music ministry long enough to know that nobody escapes feeling this way eventually. God placed it on my heart to encourage you today. You hang in there, ok? God knows and He cares. It’s going to get better, even if He has to move you. But if you ever do move, make sure HE’s the one moving you. Not frustration or discouragement or burn-out or anything else. Because the hard truth is, none of those things are any indication you’re not exactly where you’re supposed to be.

 

How to ad-lib like pro overnight

How to ad-lib like pro overnight

Doug Todd adlibsAd-libbing, by definition, is the art of making it up as you go. In Gospel music it’s often referred to as “pressing”. Many would-be lead vocalists, in fact, avoid leading songs at all simply because of they don’t think they’re good enough at ad-libbing to “carry” the song .

It is one of the most feared tasks many singers face in all generes of music, not just Gospel. But it doesn’t have to be! What if I told you you could become almost instantly better at doing ad-libs without taking a single lesson or doing any studying beyond what you’re about to read here?
What I’m about to share with you is one of those “well guarded industry secrets” that, once you know it, you go….”that’s it???” It’ll seem painfully obvious once you read it.

I don’t have to tell you that what scares people about ad-libbing is having to make things up on the fly, in the middle of a performance, in real time, right in front of everybody! That’s a lot of opportunities to stumble or get tongue-tied, freeze up, go blank, etc. That’s exactly why most professionals don’t, and you shouldn’t either.

If you’re a regular follower of my blogs, you’ve seen me talk about the importance of being prepared and well-rehearsed. Knowing as much as possible in advance. Nowhere is this more important than in ad-libbing. The “skill” is a nice one to have, but it’s importance is way over-rated. It’s way more important to nail that song without any mistakes, than it is to be really good at making stuff up on the fly. At the end of the day nobody knows or cares if you’re making it up or if you wrote it all down a week ago.

So the secret to great ad-libbing is to do the exact opposiite of it’s meaning. Write your ad-libs in advance! Yes, I know that’s a direct contradiction of the very meaning of ad-lib. But consider this. If you’re doing a song where you know you’re going to need to ad-lib, and you know you simply don’t have have the mental quickness and confidence yet to make it up as you go (and the thought of trying scares the crap out of you ) then what makes more sense than writing some stuff out in advance?!

First of all, as I always say, the more you know in advance the better you’re going to perform. You’re going to be less nervous, more polished, more comfortable.

Secondly, nobody in the audience will know (or care) that you wrote your stuff out in advance. They’ll think you’re awesome.

So the next time you’re faced with singing a song where you’ll have to ad-lib a lot, sit down with a pen and pad, and write down as many lines as you can think of that would fit the subject matter you’re singing about.

Rehearse these lines and get familiar with how you want to sing them in the song. There’s no need to rehearse and memorize them in any certain order. It’s really about having a pool of material to pull from that you’ve come up with in advance so you don’t have to come up with it live in front of an audience. Not about memorizing a complicated sequence of lines in a certain order. That’ll just make you more nervous.

In fact the more random the better, in my opinion. I personally don’t like to hear a person rhyming in their ad-libs. It sounds too rehearsed and to me, makes it really obvious they wrote them in advance. Stay away from that and you’ll sound like you’re making it up as you go.

The cool thing about this is that over time you’ll build up a sort of “mental rolodex” of material you can draw from at any time. it’s a lot like scripture in the sense that what you hide in your heart is there for the Holy Spirit to bring back to your memory when you need it. So in time you’ll be able to truly make it up on the fly, right out of your spirit.

But until then, if you want to be instantly better at ad-libbing, don’t try to make it up live,¬†writing some things down will definitely help at least alleviate some of the fear you have of ever stepping out there to sing. If you’re someone who has tried that before and were unsuccessful, you may be wondering what else you could do in the meantime to help you get to that place I mentioned above. After all, just writing stuff down and memorizing it doesn’t work well when you’re new to ad-libbing and leading songs.

You’re already afraid and nervous. You’re bound to go blank sometimes just because you’re nervous. I’ve actually thought a lot about this over the years, and I’ve seen so many people that have this same fear. ¬†So I wanted to do something to help people get past that initial stage, overcome their fear and get started. So with the help of the Lord I created a step-by-step, paint-by-the-numbers system. I explain the details in this 5 minute video you can view here:¬†ad-lib banner

 

 

 

Vocal Ministry Breakthrough is now LIVE!

Well gang, I’m very proud and excited to announce that my first official coaching product has launched and is available for sign-up. Vocal Ministry Breakthrough is the first home vocal training course of it’s kind and I’m excited for you to see it. Today I’m offering a free 7 day trial for everyone who joins. Your credit card won’t be charged for a full 7 days. Join and take a look around. Inside you’ll find the first lesson active and ready to go. But you’ll also find all 5 lessons from the free 5 day vocal training course.¬†So go check it out, get signed up and tell me what you think. Oh, and if you’re going to look at this at work, be aware that I have a video on the site that starts automatically with music playing. ¬†So watch the volume!¬†Http://www.themusicministrycoach.com/vocal-ministry-breakthrough¬†

Image courtesy of “Stuart Miles”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 things in Vocal Ministry Breakthrough not found in any other home study vocal training course

This past Saturday, as I’ve done for several weeks now, I got up at about 7am, made myself some coffee and went to work creating and editing the content for my soon-to-be-released home study vocal training course, Vocal Ministry Breakthrough. This particular Saturday was all about editing videos lessons I’d already completed- a long, tedious process that I spent about 10 hours of my Saturday doing. As I worked on the course content I thought about how important it is to me that the course have something unique and different to offer my customers, followers and friends who have been supporting me since I came on-line.

I started thinking about all of the nice things people have said to me about the free 5 day vocal training course (which I still give away for joining my mailing list), and I noticed a few comments that seem to come up over and over. Sunday morning as I did a real-time review of all 7 videos I’d spent all day Saturday editing, I could finally see from their eyes what they’ve been telling me in the many comments I get at the bottom of the videos.
I have to say guys, I’m pretty proud of the product that is developing here, and I think people will really, really be blessed by it. As I told a friend just the other day, I don’t want this to be just another home study vocal training course with a Christian name slapped on it, but nothing really different or decidedly Christian about it’s content. And I think I’m well on my way to achieving that. So I thought today I’d just share with you 3 things you’ll find in the course that you don’t typically find in any other home study vocal training course.

 

1. Mistakes!

 

One thing I’ve always done is be very real and very candid in everything I do. So in my training videos I made the decision a while ago that I would just turn it on, shoot and be myself. I edit things where I’m over-explaining or being redundant, but otherwise you see it all. In this course you’ll see me have trouble and crack and sound horrible in some exercises! Now, most vocal coaches would never show you that. They would be good and warmed up before they start, then if they have any trouble with an exercise, they’d edit that out. They would then practice it until it’s perfect and then film that.

But I want my students in the course to feel comfortable, not inferior. It’s kinda like those exercise dvd’s you buy where everybody in the video has these amazing bodies and you think “OMG ¬†I’m never gonna look like that!”¬† You’d feel better if you saw at least a couple of people a little out of shape, in the back sucking wind like you, lol! I don’t want anyone feeling that way as they move through my course, so I leave my own cracks and flips and breaks right in, and then we laugh about it together! That way when it happens to you, you know it’s normal and it’s ok, because you just saw the vocal coach have the same problem with the same thing!

 

2. Plain English.

 

One thing I’m complemented on more than anything else is the fact that my instruction is simple and easy to understand. That’s because I’ve always avoided using most of the industry terms and complex anatomy names that many coaches use. I speak in a language that’s much like the language I use every day talking to my friends. So my training videos tend to feel like that for people who watch them.

 

3. Prayer and scriptural teaching

 

make no mistake, this is a vocal training course. As such the lion’s share of what you get in this course will be vocal training, heavily focused on proper technique. But as I said, I wanted to be sure that this course had something specific to offer people who work specifically in music ministry. People who are believers and want to improve not only their singing, but their ministry. In other words, I don’t want this to be just a vocal training course with a Christian name. I want it to be a vocal MINISTRY course. As such, subscribers to this course will see things not likely found in any other home study vocal training course. Like videos where I teach on music ministry-related scriptures and concepts that help you transform your music ministry mindset. Gospel singers will hear references to popular songs that many of us have trouble with. It is in every sense of the word, a Vocal Ministry course.

Subscribers to the course will find it easy, funny, engaging and inspiring. I can’t wait for you to see what God has given me to give to you! Vocal Ministry Breakthrough is available now on my website. Take the step now to invest in the most fertile ground you can invest in. Your own ministry.

I’m looking forward to working with you!

View The Course

Image courtesy of Master isolated imagesFreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 compelling reasons to take vocal lessons with a coach who specializes in your genre

Before I even get to the list I’m going to present to you today I want to preface it by saying that I believe all trained vocal coaches can significantly improve the average singer’s voice. There are many methods and techniques out there, and quite often you’ll see vocal coaches touting theirs as superior to all others. Even worse is when they go on to point out other methods or techniques as bad or useless. That’s something I think really lacks professionalism and something I avoid doing. I don’t know a single professionally trained vocal coach that doesn’t have a long list of happy, glowing testimonials. Most methods based on solid technique have more similarities than differences.

The truth is, good technique is good technique, period. And there is something to be gained from just about all¬†disciplines¬†of professional vocal technique. I’m going out of my way to point that out because I believe any style of singer can benefit from vocal lessons with any vocal coach that has had some kind of professional training with benchmarks, certifications of some kind and levels of proficiency that must be met. When you get into people who have started teaching lessons based on nothing more than the fact that they’re a naturally good singer, that’s when you run the risk of possibly doing some harm to your voice.

All that said, I do believe there some very distinct benefits you get from studying with a vocal coach who specializes in your particular style or genre of music. A genre-specific vocal coach;

 1. Knows The Music

A vocal coach who specializes in your style of music will know most of the artists and popular songs of that genre. That’s a big help when you’re working on specific songs because the coach may have the song, know how to play it, or simply be familiar enough with the song that he understands better what your challenges are or what you’re trying to accomplish

 

2. Knows The Lingo

Every genre of music kinda comes with it’s own language. This goes beyond common terms like the verse, the chorus, etc. It’s the kind of language that centers around the very culture of a genre of music. Once I was taking a vocal lesson with a vocal coach who specialized in theater, for example. I was working on¬†Hezekiah Walker’s “Grateful”. Of course, the tough part was the last modulation (moda-what?) that happens in the vamp (the what now?)…you know, the press (hunh?).

But when it really dawned on me how different it can be working with someone not familiar with the kind of music you sing is when he got frustrated with the fact that the song was so high for a tenor. “Good God, why don’t you just change the key?” Again, a logical and fair question, but one you don’t have to ask if you know the culture of Gospel music.

3. Knows The Lifestyle

Every genre of music has a lifestyle. The people who dedicate their lives to it grew up listening to it. It shaped everything from the way they talk to their style of dress. Again, that’s something that has little to do with good technique. Bot often it’s the¬†intangibles like those that make one vocal coach a better fit simply because he understands it better and can thereby relate better. Another example of that comes to mind with the same vocal coach I mentioned earlier. I had the¬†privilege¬†of¬† watching him work with a few students that day. They were all little girls or young teen-age girls coming in with their moms. He specialized in theater so they were all doing these show tunes and talking about all the various venues and audition processes, other professionals in the industry, etc. Then she pulled out her sheet music for the song she wanted to sing. He took a quick glance over it and started to play it on-site. ¬†Again, we teach the same vocal technique! But she would have gotten so much less from me than she did him, simply because I just couldn’t relate to the culture, nor did I know the music or the artists.

Funny story, I sang a song for my vocal coach the first time I met him. I think it was Amazing Grace. Now, ¬†I thought I was singing it pretty straight-forward and rather non-descript. But when I finished he said “wow, you should really think about doing style coaching!” We went on to say how sooo many of his students who sing pop have great voices but lack any “soul”. And he couldn’t teach it to them. Just like I couldn’t teach them the in’s and outs of theater that must accompany the technique.

That’s really the whole premise behind my new vocal training course Vocal Ministry Breakthrough. As I said to one student just the other day, I really didn’t just want to do a typical vocal training course and slap a Christian title on it. I wanted it to be something that speaks to the whole person. That’s really what the name is all about, as is the name of my company. I’m not just trying to take your voice to another level. I’m trying to take your MINISTRY to another level. And that’s the special difference you’ll find in this home study course that you won’t find in any other one. The same is true when you study live with me, as many of my former students will attest.

So in summary, you can likely get good results studying with most any trained professional. But studying with someone who specializes in your genre or style of music gives you those little extras you can’t get anywhere else. So study with someone who “gets you”, and you’ll be rewarded with much more than just some good technique.

Image courtesy of “Danilo Rizzuti¬†FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

7 keys for success with a home study vocal training program

If you’re connected with me in any way you’ve heard by now that I¬†have a full length, 6 month¬†home study vocal training program¬†Vocal Ministry Breakthrough.¬†But even with all the financial, convenience and time saving benefits of studying home,¬†I’ve encountered a few people who are skeptical of taking lessons this way. In this article I’ll give you 7 keys to getting the most out of a home study vocal training program; or any home study course, for that matter.

1.  Self motivation is NOT EASY. Know that going in and be determined to stay the course.

One of the hardest things about doing pretty-much anything at home on your own- whether it’s taking a vocal training course like mine or working out at home, is making yourself do it. The number 1 reason people fail with home study courses is simply not doing the course work. In the comfort of your own home with all it’s distractions it’s all too easy to just decide to do it tomorrow. Only tomorrow often never comes. Go into a home study fully aware of this and resolve to be absolutely determined to do your course work daily.

2. Set aside a time for your course work and stick to it.

Assign a time of day or evening you will do your lessons, and stick to it. Doing so will help you adjust your schedule around that time slot so you’re more likely to do it every day. Don’t make the mistake of making your lessons the last thing you do after you’re done with everything else. You will be tired and more likely to blow off your lesson for the day.

3. Make the family aware and ask for their support and encouragement.

You may as well start wrapping your mind around the fact that you’re gonna have to make a bunch of really weird, funny,¬†embarrassing¬†sounds in front of your family, lol! Telling your family in advance that you’ll be doing this will help everyone acclimate quickly. Inform the family that you’ll be taking a home study vocal training course, and that you’re really serious about it. Tell them what time of day you’ll be doing the lessons and about how long, and ask them not to disturb you during that time. Having the family on board and aware of what you’re trying to accomplish makes it easier to stick to your¬†designated lesson time.

4. Choose a quiet, out of the way spot to do your lessons and practice time.

Again, designating a specific time and place for your lessons serves to quickly establish it as a regular part of your daily routine. You need that place to be as quiet and out of the way as possible not only so you don’t disturb anyone much, but so you are less likely to be disturbed yourself.

5. Take the course as seriously as you would face-to-face lessons

It’s a very common thing for some people to automatically take studying at home less seriously than studying at a studio. Of course everything I’ve listed above plays into that in it’s own way. But there’s something about a treadmill in your living room that just feels way more “optional” than the one at the gym, doesn’t it? The same holds true with vocal lessons at home via a home study course vs. going to a vocal studio and standing in front of a vocal coach for an hour.

Approach your home study course with the same determination and resolve you would for live face-to-face lessons. Remember you’re paying for the lessons so if you don’t take them you’re throwing hard-earned money away.

6. Don’t skip ahead before you’re ready

It’s very important that you’re honest with yourself when you’re studying at home. You may be tempted to move on to the next video if you get frustrated or just tired of doing the current one. If you do that however, you’re¬†sabotaging your own progress. Stay with the current exercise until you have it down before moving to the next one.

7. Incorporate a live session periodically.

One of the biggest drawbacks about studying vocal training at home is that you’re often just not sure if you’re doing it correctly. For that reason you should seriously consider scheduling a short Skype session with me about once a month, or any time you find yourself stuck. Live support/coaching is something seldom available with other home study courses, but it can be the key to getting you past a plateau and keeping you progressing.

So there you go! Follow these 7 tips when you sign up for Vocal Ministry Breakthrough¬†and you’ll see dramatic results in pretty-much every aspect of your singing; all of which will transfer to dramatic changes in your ministry. “I’m ready to take my music ministry to the next level!”

Introducing the Vocal Ministry Breakthrough home study vocal training program

¬†This is an exciting day for me everybody! Because what you’re about to see is the official introduction of my first ever home study course. This is a detailed video describing pretty-much everything you need to know about my new course. Once you watch the video, take a look at the bottom. I have another little secret for you. Enjoy, and post any questions or comments you have.

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Psst….Can You Keep A Secret??