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

 

The one thing every great singer does…

First off, I suppose I’d better start off by defining what I mean by “great singer”. When I mention the “greats” I’m talking about those vocalists who have achieved critical acclaim for their singing. I’m talking about singers who are universally considered some of the best there is, by people across all genres, styles and backgrounds.

There are, for example, some artists in Gospel that have achieved great things and have a huge fan base. Gospel fans may think they’re the best out there but very few people who don’t listen to Gospel know who they are.

So, who are some people who have achieved this kind of universal acclaim as great singers? I’m talking about people like Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston (pre Bobby Whitney, ok?, lol) Luther Vandross. Remember Mel Tormey (sp?) Considered such a smooth vocalist his knick name was “The Velvet Fog”.

I could go on, but you get the picture. These are people who are known the world over as simply some of the best vocalists out there…by everybody, not just fans of their respective genres.

There’s one thing that every one of these singers do, that you can do too; immediately and without a single lesson.

Ready? The answer is one word…..

SIMPLIFY

I happen to know that most of my subscribers to this blog sing either R&B or Gospel. In both of these styles of music people tend to equate great singing with the ability to do lots and lots of vocal runs, riffs, trills and such. This has to be one of the most coveted vocal abilities of them all. It’s so important to many singers that they do it almost the whole time they’re singing.

But often I think we get so caught up with the fancy stuff we mistake the fancy stuff for actual singing. Riffs, runs, trills, and other “vocal acrobatics” (as Arron Nevel called it once) are style elements; they are nice touches that should be sprinkled into your singing here and there for style.

But many singers mistake riffing for singing. Because this is such a highly regarded ability in Gospel and R&B, many singers mistakenly put way too much emphasis on it in their singing.

But look at the singers I mentioned above again. I’m sure you can add a few names to the list I’m not thinking of right now. But the point I’m making here is this: all of these singers are known the world over for their ablity to create some of the most beautiful music with their voices. Why? Because they place the emphasis on pure, honest, true tone production.

I heard Whitney’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner again the other day and it gave me chills. Still considered to be one of the best renditions of it ever. No trills, runs, or riffs. She just sang the notes; pure, clean and with deadly accuracy of pitch.

There is no instrument more complex than the human voice. It is about the only instrument that can’t be accurately duplicated by any keyboard. As such, no sound is more beautiful or unique than the sound of a human voice producing pure, clean musical tones with spot-on pitch.

So, as simple as it sounds, if you want to instantly improve your sound, do what the greats do..simplify. Just sing honest, true musical tone as clean and as pure as you can. If you want to work on anything, spend as much of your time as possible working on pitch. Always be on pitch, even if you have to sacrifice style elements you want to do.

Want make that Worship song transport the audience into the very presence of God? Strip your performance of it down to nothing but the pure musical notes it calls for, and sing them as clean and simply as possible. You will move your audience to tears.

Want to make that love song have people gazing into your eyes? Same thing. Luther Vandross hardly ever did a run or riff, and was overweight most of his career. Yet he was considered one of the most amazing ballad singers of our time.

Let’s look at an interesting contrast, just to prove a point. I’m a big fan of Stevie Wonder. Now, let’s face it. Stevie Wonder does a lot of riffing, and he does it like he invented it. The man is incredible. He uses his voice like a weapon, lol. Stevie can sing, no doube about it. AND….Stevie has indeed received critical acclaim the world over.

But NOT for his singing. When you think of Stevie Wonder what do you think? “That man’s a musical genius! He’s an incredible writer”. So does everybody else. That is his claim to fame.

Now, when you think of Luther, what do you think? “That man can saaang!”So did everybody else.

Get it?

So the word for today is…..Simplify.

 

How to tell if you’re “sharp” or “flat” and what it means

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Today I thought I’d do a video blog because I really need you to hear what I’m teaching this time rather than just read it.  We’re talking about the difference in major chords and minor ones today. If you’re wondering why as Christian or Gospel a singer you should even care at all about this topic, it will all become clear in today’s video blog.

Take care!

Ron

“Tone deaf” girl learns to sing, part 2

Today we check back in on Natalie with another video. She came to see me Monday and we had a great session. In today’s video you’ll see Natalie sing with music for the first time. She’ll be singing along with the original artist doing the song she sang for me on the first video. I decided to go a couple of “before and after”-type clips between that footage and footage of her from Monday. This is a short one guys, but no less amazing.

Here we go!