Give Your Music Department A Summer Break!

For perhaps the first time in the over 30 years I’ve been serving in the music ministry at my current church we’ve begun talking about perhaps scaling back our rehearsal schedule for the Summer. I wanted to know if any other music ministries already did something similar, so I asked the members of my Fan Page community.

I got a mixture of answers, but by and large most of them told me that nothing changes at all for the Summer. I’ve been really thinking about this a lot lately and I do believe it’s important for us to plan at least one or two times of the year that we can slow down a bit and give the ministry as a whole time to rest a bit.

Summer makes sense for many ministries because it’s a time when many people are going on vacations and such. But it’s also a time of the year when there isn’t as much going on that involves a lot of preparation for the music department.  Do you really need to practice every single week, every group?

One thing we’ve put on the table is scaling back to one rehearsal a month throughout the Summer. We’ll make it a bit longer and cover more material, but it will be material we already know, just to refresh and perfect it for up-coming Sundays. Just a couple of ideas. The article below is one I found on-line that I thought had some great ideas on the subject of taking a break during the Summer. It even includes a list of things both leaders and members can do during that time off. I’ve included a direct link below. By the way, you’ll see a video with a choir pictured on it. Ignore it, it’s just an ad. Great information here though, and something we should all consider.

Give Me A Break! | Greg Ferrara Music

http://gregferraramusic.com

“Does your music ministry take a break during the summer? Here are a few … Catholic Worship Leader, Singer/Songwriter and Truth Teller. Worship … Does your music ministry team or choir take a month off? I have found that …”

Read more …

What makes a good singer? 2 things you should work on

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!

-Ron

 

75 Great Altar Call Songs

Someone sent me an e-mail recently asking me to give her some suggestions for Altar Call songs. Every music ministry needs altar call songs. Well, the Fan Page family loves making song lists, so I took it straight to them. And as usual, they delivered in a big way. There were over 80 comments in this thread at this writing. I chose 75 to allow for some possible duplication. The actual thread is below. Allow a couple of seconds for it to load if you don’t see it. It may not work in Chrome.

Just click the comment button below to be taken straight to the live post. If you haven’t already, please click the “Like” button in the top right corner and join the family!

150 Gospel Choir Songs With No Leader

Recently I asked my followers on the fan page to create a list of Gospel Choir songs with no leader. And boy did they step up to the plate! I put the number 150 on this list because it was somewhere around there the last time I was able to count! I’ve embedded the actual post below. It may take a couple of seconds to appear depending on our connection. All the buttons are live, including the like button (smile). Just click on the comments button to see the list.  This doesn’t seem to work for me on Google Chrome, so try I.E or Firefox. Be sure to click the “like” button in the upper right corner also, if you’re not connected with us already.
Need more leaders for your choir, or want to lead songs yourself? Here’s help.

5 ways learning to play piano will transform your singing ministry

octavesEvery singer longs to be the best they can at their craft. But of all the training, articles, You-Tube videos, books and manuals we consult for help though, the one most powerful thing a singer can do to improve virtually every aspect of his singing is often completely overlooked. That is learning to play an instrument. In particular, learning to play piano.

Today I’ll cover a list of powerful benefits a singer will get from learning to play piano.

1. Harmony becomes instinctive for you

Many singers struggle with learning and remembering their parts in situations where they have to sing harmony with others. Even those who pick it up easily can not often find that harmony themselves without someone teaching them their part. Learning to play gives you a completely new insight into harmony and how it works. You learn how to form chords, how notes harmonize with each other and how to build those harmonies from scratch. As a result singing harmony becomes second nature to you because you now understand how it’s constructed and how it works.
2. You become more creative vocally

Aside from the more common desires we have for more range, better breath control, vocal stamina, power and the like, many of us just feel kinda stuck, you know what I mean? We feel like we’re doing the same stuff all the time. The same vocal inflections, same runs and riffs. Learning to play piano opens your creative mind up in ways you’ve never thought of before. I’ve said before that your voice is a musical instrument and you should think of it that way. Learning to play bridges that mental divide between the physical instrument and the vocal instrument, your voice.

As you get better and better on the piano you’ll find that you get more and more creative with your style choices when you sing riffs, runs and even just normal melody choices within a song.

3. Everything about music comes easier and faster for singers who can also play piano

To learn piano you have to learn some musical theory. You have to learn how music works. Why music always goes in certain directions. Why certain notes work together. Why things repeat in certain places. How music moves in patterns and circles. The more you learn about this in your studies of the piano the more aware it makes you as a singer. Soon you’re learning vocal pieces in half the time. You know what your part is going to be before the director or musician gives it to you. You know what keys you sing all your songs in and how to tell the musician where you want him to go. It’s an entirely new awakening for a singer. You really do become a musician in every sense of the word.

4. You don’t need a musician anymore. You can accompany yourself!!

This is probably the coolest benefit of all. And if you’ve ever been asked to go sing at a church you’ve never been before only to find that the musician (a) doesn’t know the song you want to sing or (b) there IS no musician!) then you know what an incredible sense of freedom that would be. To be able to just sit down and play for yourself. Wow.

5. You’ll start writing your own material

When you learn to play an instrument something happens to your entire creative process as a singer. It makes you think differently. So it’s only a matter of time before you start hearing melodies and getting little phrases to go with them. Before you know it you’re getting ideas for songs. It’s an amazing gift.

There is no other single thing that can benefit a singer more ways than learning to play piano. Contrary to what you might think though, it’s not something that’s out of your reach or too hard to do. Today there not only many home study options available, but several that specialize and focus specifically on learning to play Gospel. When I went looking for some training to improve my own playing some time ago, I came across a company called Hear And Play.

Hear And Play is a Gospel is a piano training company that specializes in learning to play all aspects of Gospel music. These guys have absolutely set the standard by which all other such companies are judged, in my opinion. I’ve learned so much since I started following them and purchasing their training products, and my own playing has improved tremendously. What I like about this company is that no matter what level you’re on; complete beginner who doesn’t know anything at all, or seasoned professional who wants to take his playing to still another level, Hear And Play has training methods and products available for you.

I have been so impressed with this group of young, saved, African-American musicians that I became an affiliate of the company so I can help promote this incredible resource. That simply means that if you end up buying something from them I’ll get a small commission. I don’t mind sharing that with you because I’d tell you about them either way. I highly recommend checking these guys out. Their 300 page course is one of the products I’ve purchased myself and again, I recommend highly.

Click the link below to go check it out.

Take care!

Ron

The Best Place To Find Your Next Church Musician

One of the biggest challenges churches and music ministries face is finding a gospel musician. Gifted church musicians who can handle all the different challenges, changes and musical styles of the average Gospel church service are in very high demand and many are already committed to a church that keeps them very busy. Some are dividing their time between more than one church.

When you’re trying to find a musician who can be there for all of your important services, rehearsals and engagements you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who has the time to commit. In short, you need someone who can come to your church, join as a member and be a dedicated musician to your church, your music department and all of the rehearsals and performances that come with it.

Yet even churches who are offering paid positions have a very difficult time finding a musician, despite resorting to even paid advertising to fill the position. But what if I told you that the absolute best place to find your next musician is probably the last, and yet the most obvious place to look? It’s true. Because the absolute hands-down best place to find your next musician is your own congregation. Yes, your own church. In fact every single member of the band at my church has been a member there since childhood. We are all musicians born and bred right there at the church we serve at.

Think about it. Who is going to be more dedicated, involved, faithful and available than someone who is already a member of your church? Someone who’s heart is already there? Consider all of the most talented church musicians at your average church. Aren’t they usually related to the pastor or someone else there? Aren’t they usually someone that has been there since they were a child and grew up there? Yup, many times they are. Ever try getting musicians like that to leave their church and play for someone else, even for good money? Exactly.

But you may be thinking “well that’s great Ron but we don’t have ANYBODY right now. We need someone that kinda knows how to play. Someone that can at least play songs for the praise team or the choir. We don’t have the luxury of waiting years for someone to learn.”

I get that. But remember we’re living in the age of information now. There is so much information and training out there now that someone who knows nothing about playing can  be playing for your church in a very, very short time. One such resource I use and recommend exclusively is The Gospel Music Training Center. (aff. link)

This is without a doubt the fastest way I know of to get a person up to speed as a Gospel musician, to the point where he can play for not only the choir and praise team, but the entire service. And this site has awesome training for all levels, not just beginners. Even intermediate to advanced players can take their craft to the next level here.

I’ve been a member myself and have seen some pretty dramatic improvements in my own playing. This is nothing short of having some of the best Gospel musicians in the world sit down and show you the chords to some of the hottest gospel songs out there, calling them out note by note. I love it because it really helps you understand the theory behind what makes music work while also giving you the tools you need to start playing songs NOW.

Make no mistake though, it will still take lots of practice and dedication. A brand new person can sit down with these videos and learn to play a song- especially praise and worship songs- by simply practicing it over and over until the muscle memory kicks in. But in the process that person will also be learning some very fundamental principals that will help them with other songs in the future. Because GMTC doesn’t just give the notes and chords. They’re also teaching you the number system, and how those chords can be used in several other songs. Then they shoot another video that includes a more advanced version, and in some cases even a third video that explains all the theory. Honestly I haven’t seen anything like it available for Gospel Musicians or people who would like to be.

At this writing they’re offering a $1 trial for the first month. Plus they even have several free examples on the page to view. Check it out and let me know what you think! 
Gospel Music Training Center .