Why you should NEVER sing entire songs with your eyes closed (part 2)

Welcome Back!

So in part one I discussed the fact that singing with your eyes closed disconnects you from your audience and basically makes them an outsider looking in on your “private” conversation with God.

But let’s face it. Keeping your eyes open comes with it’s own challenges. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but one of the biggest “disadvantages” of singing with your eyes open is that you can SEE everybody. LOL! Yes, this is not always the greatest thing. Because the honest truth is, no matter how good or anointed a person is, there will be people in the audience that are just not with you. For whatever reason. They might not like the song. They may be distracted. Heck, sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned hatin’. It can be somewhat discouraging when you see that from up on stage.
The other challenge is where to look. I already said in part 1 that simply staring at one spot in the room or up at the ceiling isn’t any better than having your eyes closed. You’re just as disconnected from the audience that way as with your eyes closed.

So what do you do??

I teach my students a very simple performance tip called the “Four Square” method. It’s a very easy to implement method of connecting with your audience in a genuine, effective way. It will also keep you from staring at one fixed spot in the room. It works like this:

As you stand in front of a room, mentally divide it into four large squares. As you sing, simply move your eyes from square to square, each time focusing just briefly on one person sitting in that area. Simply continue to do that throughout the song. Go to square one; look at the person in the front row. Move your eyes to square 2. Make eye contact with the person in the middle. And so on, you get the idea.

This keeps your eyes moving and keeps you connected with the audience in a much deeper way. More importantly though, it allows God to speak directly to people with the message in the song, through YOU.

So what about those people who aren’t looking very nice? Not enjoying you for whatever reason? There will always be some. That’s just reality. But the great thing is, unless you really need to come see me (smile) there will usually be a lot more people who ARE enjoying you and being blessed. As you continue to rotate through the four squares, simply keep coming back to those people who are being blessed. Clearly that’s who you’re there to sing to anyway.

 

Why you should NEVER sing entire songs with your eyes closed (part 1)

It’s a very common thing to see Gospel singers do their entire selection with their eyes closed. And honestly, most have very good reason for doing so.  After all, Gospel music is ministry. As such, many well-meaning singers simply want to completely lose themselves in the song and it’s meaning. Their thinking is if they close their eyes and focus completely on God and the message, God will use them to bless the audience. Some others though, close their eyes simply out of fear, nerves or stage fright.

Either way though, singing with your eyes closed the entire time is something every singer should avoid. Ironically the very reason many singers close their eyes is the most important reason they should STOP doing it. Have you ever been in a social setting with two or more people who are having this intense conversation and not involving or addressing you at all? It’s as if you’re not there!
Singing with your eyes closed has a similar effect on your audience. Even though every sincere Gospel singer wants to have a powerful, effective ministry that really speaks to people, closing your eyes cuts your audience out of that conversation and makes it a private conversation between just you and God. The audience, even though many may be enjoying the performance, is robbed of a much deeper connection with you because you’ve made them an outsider “looking in”.

But when you sing with your eyes open- and sorry guys, starring at the ceiling or the clock on the back wall doesn’t count either- I’m talking about making eye contact with members of the audience- people feel a much deeper spiritual connection with not only you but the message you’re portraying in the song. Imagine for a moment that you’re in the audience watching a performer sing. He’s great, and clearly fully invested emotionally and spiritually in the song he’s rendering. His eyes are closed the whole time. You hear him sing “sometimes you have to encourage yourself”, and you nod in agreement as you sway back in forth.

NOW: Imagine the same artist is doing the same song. He sounds great and the spirit is high. He’s engaging and looking at members of the audience as he sings. Just as he comes to the line “no matter how you feel, speak a Word and you will be healed”, his eyes make contact with yours and he points at you. This time tears begin to flow because you KNOW God is delivering a Word directly to you through this artist.

That’s the difference. When you engage with the audience while you’re singing, your message is much more powerful because you allow God to speak directly to them through you. And that’s the whole point of it all, isn’t it?

Now let me just clarify something really quickly. When I say you shouldn’t sing with your eyes closed, I mean just what I said above; that is, not for the entire song. There are moments in a song where it’s perfectly normal to close your eyes for a moment during a high energy or emotionally charged point in the message. Worship songs are also a bit of an exception to this rule of thumb. Typically when you’re singing a worship song it’s being done in an atmosphere or time of corporate worship. As such, most of the audience will also have their eyes closed…..in a perfect world. But we all know that’s not often the case even during worship songs.

Worship songs are different in that they’re really designed to set an atmosphere for worship and communion with God. It’s a lot like the background music at a really nice restaurant. Even so, while it’s maybe more acceptable to close your eyes longer or more often in a worship song, it’s still just as important to be sure to make eye contact with members of the audience from time to time.

Ok so we’ve established that it’s not a good idea to sing entire songs (or even most of a song) with your eyes closed. But singing with your eyes open comes with its own challenges. In part 2  I’m going to share a really neat performance tip you can use to make it easier to and highly effective.

See you then!

Image courtesy of “imagerymajestic”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

5 easy changes that will make you a better Gospel Soloist

If you’ve been to a musical or other “program” where there will be lots of Gospel music, you’ve seen more than a few people come up and sing a solo. When it’s good, it’s powerful and electric, and spirit-filled. It super-charges the whole audience. But sometimes a really good singer can have a not so good performance. And often it can leave not only the audience but the singer scratching his/her head wondering “what just happened there?” So in today’s blog I’d like to share 5 very simple tips that will make an already good soloist a better one; not by changing your singing, but by changing  “experience”. You’ll see what I mean. Here we go!

 

1. Always have at least one song ready- more if possible

It may not be exactly “P.C” of me to say this, but it has always kinda bugged me a little when soloists- meaning people who are always being called on to sing a solo- don’t have a clue what to sing. So you go through this whole awkward thing where you have to watch them fidget around and go whisper to the musician for what seems like way too long. And everybody’s waiting and nobody really knows what to do, and the moment is kinda dragging on, and the soloist looks completely caught off-guard. It’s just awkward all around!

If you’ve ever sang a solo at your church, you might as well assume that you’ll be asked to do so again, at any time. So a good thing to do is just always have a song ready in case you’re called. If you’re smart you’ll have more than one, because at a musical someone could very well sing the song you planned on doing. Seems really obvious, I know. But it wouldn’t be on the list if I didn’t see it happen all the time. So if I may state the obvious once again, a soloist should always have a solo ready- even if you’re not scheduled to be on program.

 

2. Know what key you do your favorite song(s) in.

 

Nothing feels better than when you can walk up and tell the musician what you’re singing and what key to put you in.  First of all it makes that conversation over there at the organ much shorter- which means it’s much less awkward for everybody. You walk up, tell the organist the song and the key and go on over there and do your thing. NICE! Now, if you’re intimidated at the thought of learning keys, there’s no need to be. First of  all you can learn your keys on the piano in 7 minutes. But an even easier thing to do is simply ask the musician.  The next time you sing a solo and you like how it feels for you right there, simply lean over and ask the musician what key that is. Make a note of it and every time you sing that song you’ll know exactly what key to tell the musician to play it in.

Have you ever seen or experienced that embarrassing thing where the soloist starts singing then halfway through the song he suddenly realizes he started way too high? I don’t know which is worse, when they keep going or when they stop and start over. But both are completely avoidable by just knowing what key you sing your most popular songs in.

3. Choose a well-known song for your solo

Yes, I know you listen to all kinds of Christian and inspirational music, not just Gospel. And that’s great! But it’s important to know the audience you’re singing for and what they’re most likely to be familiar with.  This is not nearly as important for the audience’s sake as it is for the musician’s sake. If, for example, you’re singing at an African-American church and you decide you’ll take that beautiful Contemporary Christian song you heard on the other station the other day and sing it as a solo, there’s a good chance the musician will have never heard the song. Which means both of you will struggle and stumble through the entire performance.

You singing mostly a cappella and the musician desperately trying to follow you but using chord progressions that don’t really follow the original because he’s never heard it. So now you’re thrown off because what he’s playing doesn’t sound like what you’re used to. And he’s thrown off because he’s flying blind trying to accompany you on a song he’s never heard. The whole thing is just “uncomfortable” for everybody. Choosing well-known songs for your solo will insure a smooth, seamless experience for everyone.

4. Testify, don’t apologize!

Here’s another thing that always kinda irks me a little.  That is when a soloist comes up and spends two minutes talking about how completely unprepared they are to sing, and how they’re gonna “attempt” to “try” to “take a stab at” (insert song title here).  And then almost every time they’ll quote the scripture that says “be ye also ready” as proof that they know they should but still aren’t, lol! God gets no glory from that, singers. What the audience wants and needs a soloist to do when they come to that microphone is give them something that connects you-and will connect them- to what you’re about to sing about. What does this song mean to you? Why do you love to sing it? Why or how does it minister to you? What’s the message you want to impart to them in the song? Stop coming down front and apologizing for how “not ready” you are. And stop saying you’re gonna “try” and “attempt”. Go up there, give your testimony and then sing to the glory and honor of God.

 

5. Don’t over-sing!

I realize that things like this are very subjective. One person’s opinion of over-singing may not be someone else’s. But here’s one thing that almost everyone sees universally. TIME. A solo shouldn’t last 10 minutes, gang. After you’ve gone back to that bridge for the 4th time, I think you’ve made your point. It is far better to leave the audience wanting more than wishing you’d end it already. So we kinda walked through a typical “not so good” soloist performance under item number 1. It was awkward, uncomfortable for the audience  and took way too long to get started. Let’s now compare that to a typical soloist performance using these 5 changes.

The MC calls your name to come up for a solo. On your way to the front you stop by the organ and whisper the name of your song and the key you like to do it in. Takes about 5 seconds. You walk up to the microphone, give honor and greetings where appropriate and begin a brief testimony or words about the song. You give the nod for the musician, who is already doing soft music in the exact key you need him to be in because you told him. You sing your song and the Holy Spirit moves mightily. You go sit down.  :O)