I saw this topic being discussed among some of my peers on Twitter and thought it would be a good one to discuss here. What is good singing? Or, what makes a good singer? First of all I should start out by saying I understand quite well that what’s considered “good” is very subjective. There are as many opinions of what’s good as there are people. So let’s get clear about what I mean when I talk about good singing in the context of this blog.
The bible speaks of building your house on solid ground. A true foundation. No matter how beautiful the house is, it will eventually fall if the foundation is not solid and built to support it for many years to come. It’s that kind of “foundation” we’re discussing here. Let’s strip away all the vocal acrobatics, riffs and runs, looooong notes, power-house strength; everything that makes the “house” desirable. Let’s for a minute also remove from the conversation everything that has anything to do with the actual “performance” (some believers don’t like that word, but that’s the subject of another blog) of the song.
All of those things are important, don’t get me wrong. You need conviction. Power. A commanding stage presence. But all of those things are brick and mortar; the “house”, as it were. Without a solid foundation though, none of the other stuff is as effective. The basic foundation of all good singing, and in my opinion what every singer should be working on more than anything else, includes 2 elements:
1. Ease Of Range
Most people, by default, have about one octave that they can access with relative ease. They have another 3 notes or so they can “push” themselves to, and another 2 or 3 that they access with pure screaming. This age-old method of Gospel singing has been handed down through the years and is widely accepted as the norm. In fact many people have become so accustomed to listening to singing this way that it has actually become preferred.
There are two problems with this kind of singing, however. First, and most obvious (at least it should be) is the fact that it’s just not healthy for your voice. In fact it’s really bad for your voice. It would be different if we only visited those top 5 or 6 notes of our range occasionally to make an impact in a song. But that’s not the nature of Gospel music, is it? No, Gospel music makes you go there and hang out for 5 to 7 minutes. This causes a huge amount of strain and stress on the vocal chords, which is why many Gospel singers spend most of their time hoarse.
The second problem with uncomfortable singing is how the tonal quality and pitch suffers the longer you do it. The more you sing at the top of your range in an uncomfortable, strained way, the more the actual tone and quality of your sound suffers. Many singers are simply “screaming on pitch”, by the time they’re 2 minutes into that vamp; and depending on the song, some have already been screaming on pitch several minutes before they got there. The irony of that is the fact that- well, when you sing that way, most of the time you AREN’T on pitch. Which brings us to the 2nd foundation of good singing;
2. Accuracy Of Pitch.
Nothing, in my opinion, is more important to good singing than simple accuracy of pitch. The fact is, if you sang into a machine that measures such things you’d be surprised to learn that most of us sing off pitch. But it’s undetectable without sophisticated measuring devices. However, a great many singers in Gospel are way off pitch, and way too often. I suspect the genre itself can again take some of the blame. Gospel music, like every other style of music, has it’s signatures. Big, powerful, raspy voices. Riffs, runs and trills. Really high choruses and vamps.
Most singers desire these style elements so much that they don’t have a problem at all sacrificing accuracy of pitch to get them. And many do just that. But even if you’re a well-loved, sought-after singer who is busy all the time and constantly receiving kudos for your singing, if you’re uncomfortable most of the time and off-pitch most of the time because of it, you’ve built your “house” on a foundation that will soon start to fail you.
What’s great about this whole thing is that when you fix number one, number 2 tends to fix itself. After all, if you’re straining and pushing for most of the song, then you’re literally pushing yourself off-pitch. And it’s hard to be on pitch very long if you’re not actually singing, but yelling.
What to do:
1. Start today making the tonal quality of your voice the most important thing. Don’t spend too much time working on runs or riffs. Work on singing the song on pitch, period. Even if you have to simplify things a little, don’t sacrifice pitch for anything; not power, not runs, not a super high note.
2. Don’t sing way out of your range. If the song has one or two notes that are high for you, there’s no need for you to pass on it. There are easy ways around that simply by approaching the melody in that place differently. But if a song requires you to be in a strained place or way out of your range for long periods of time, you should have the musicians drop the key. If that’s not possible, pass on it. Don’t let people insist that you do songs that aren’t right for you. You are not doing anyone any favors by singing a song that’s out of your range. Not the ministry, not the song, not yourself, and not God.
3. Every serious singer in music ministry should get some vocal training. Now we get to the sure foundation our house is built on. We’re a people that were bessed with natural musical ability, many of us. As such, most people in music ministry are just naturally gifted singers. It’s often hard for a person who has always been naturally gifted at singing to understand why they’d need vocal training or how it would benefit them. Simply put, vocal training doesn’t teach you how to sing. Often it’s the people who were born gifted singers who benefit the most from vocal lessons. Why? Because taking vocal lessons teaches you how to eliminate the common physical limitations that hinder us from taking our ministry to the next level. We’re talking about things that distract you while you’re tryng to minister and give yourself completely to that moment.
More importantly though, vocal training is the fastest, most effective way to dramatically improve points one and two above; ease of range and accuracy of pitch. You really don’t need a 3 or 4 octave range to sing most songs. A 2 octave range is plenty for most songs. The thing is though, while you don’t really need to concentrate a lot on increasing your vocal range, becoming a better singer has EVERYTHING to do with mastering the range you already have. Just getting to a place where you can sing all the notes in your current range comfortably would make a huge difference in your overall toneal quality and pitch.
I believe very strongly in the power of vocal training and it’s ability to transform your ministry. And I think it’s something every Christian singer should experience. That’s why I created a free 5 day video vocal training course to give as many people as possible a chance to see what it’s like to try real vocal training BEFORE making an investment in my full length home study course. . You can get yours by joining my mailing list below.
So remember, how good of a singer you are is a lot less about opinion and more about the foundation you build your musical house on. Concentrating on the basics; ease of range and accuracy of pitch. They’ll take you a long way.
Until next time!