How To Identify Keys On A Piano (every singer should know this)

You’ve heard me say it before if you’re a regular reader, but every singer should at a minimum be able to tell the musician what key they sing a certain song in. Especially in Gospel churches where most music is done on the fly and you often don’t know who’s playing for you. Knowing what key you’re going to sing in insures that you won’t start in a key that’s too high or one that you haven’t been practicing in. We’ve all seen that happen and it ain’t pretty!

Even if you’re not interested in learning to actually play, learning your keys on the piano is easier than you think. In fact if you can say your ABC’s (you don’t even need all of them, just the first 7) and recognize a very simple, very repetitive pattern, you can learn the keys on a piano in minutes. Look at this graphic of a piano keyboard. piano-notes-and_keys

The first thing I want you to notice is that, as I said, we’re only using the first 7 letters of the alphabet, A thru G. Now look at the black keys. See the pattern? All the way up the keyboard, you’ll see groups of 2 black keys and then 3 black keys. Now let’s look at the key of C. Notice how the key of C is the first white key to the left of the 2 black keys. Because this pattern repeats the entire length of the keyboard, every time you see 2 black keys the first white key to the left of them will be the key of C.

Once you know where the key of C is, it’s as simple as pressing down the next white key and saying the next letter in the alphabet. Look at the graph again: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. We started over at A when we got to G because in America these are the only letters we use in music.

So what about the black keys?? The black keys represent the sharps and flats in music. This can get involved if you’re actually studying music theory, but that’s not our purpose here. We’re just learning how to identify what key we’re singing in. For that we can use this simple rule: The first black key to the RIGHT of a white key is it’s sharp. The first black key to the LEFT of a white key is it’s flat.

So let’s look at the key of C again. Where is C located? First white key to the left of the group of 2 black keys. So if we look at the key of C, what’s that black key to the right of it? It’s C Sharp! Or, you could call it D Flat, since it’s the first black key to the left of the D key. This also works all the way up the keyboard. For example what is the black key to the right of the A key? You could say “A sharp”, but it’s more commonly referred to as B flat. Either way, if you said it to a musician he’d know where to put you.

If you have a pretty good ear- meaning you can listing to music and find that key on a piano, then now you know how to identify what that key is so you can tell a musician. But if you can do that, then why not take it one step further and just learn how to play! Learning to play keyboard will absolutely transform your singing, and you can learn it on line.

By far my top resource on-line for learning about piano, no matter what level you’re on, is HearAndPlay. These guys have a ton of free information that will help anyone at any level understand more than you ever thought you could about playing the piano. It’s really a good thing to be on their mailing list if you’re someone who is serious about learning how to play. You can get some free lessons just by visiting this link. Check it out!
Free Piano Lessons

The Music Ministry Coach.com Releases A “Training Manual” For Praise Teams

Ever since I started this ministry in 2011 one topic has always gotten way more engagement, shares, likes and comments than any other topic I write about. That would be praise teams, or worship teams. Well after writing articles about them for a few years I’d accumulated quite a few of them. So I asked the fan page community one day if they thought having them in one place would be helpful. The response was unanimously yes.

So I decided to create an e-book compiling several of my most popular and useful articles on the subject of praise team ministry. One thing my followers told me I must do to make this book useful is to organize the articles into categories so they’d have some continuity and be easier to use. I listened intently, and after many hours and many hurdles, it’s here! Praise Team 101 is a reality and it’s available for purchase right now.

Praise Team 101 is a collection of articles offering practical advice for common challenges most all praise teams encounter. I’ve assembled the top 13 articles from my blog- 42 pages in all-into 3 main categories to help you take your ministry to the next level. In fact just to show you how much great content you’ll get in this book and how well organized it is I put together a short video for you that actually takes you inside the book and shows the entire table of contents.

So many of you have been asking for more help with this subject, and I’m really proud and excited to have it ready and available for you. I really believe this product has the ability to have one of the most profound ministry impacts of anything I’ve released so far. To watch the short video and pick up your copy, just click on the link below.

http://themusicministrycoach.com/introducing-praise-team-101/

Do We Have To “Urbanize” Everything We Sing?

I’ve often pondered this privately because it’s one of those things that can easily spark a bunch of debate, and I’m really not too fond of that. Especially regarding faith and the things of God. But a blog is a different story. You almost NEED a little controversy now and then on a blog, or it’s just boring. Sooo, let me ask a very frank question here. Do we have to “Urbanize” everything we sing?”

First of all let me say that I realize and greatly appreciate the fact that I have readers and followers from several countries, nationalities and ethnicities.  If you all would be so kind, please talk among yourselves for a moment.  I need to chat with my Gospel groups, praise teams and churches for a bit.

I often say if you’re a Gospel praise team and you’re not doing any of the wonderfully beautiful praise and worship songs being written in the Contemporary Christian Music genre you’re doing your team and your congregation a great disservice. Some of the most beautiful worship songs can be found down the dial a bit. Ditto for praise songs. Great up-beat, up-lifting songs.

There are indeed a growing number of Gospel music ministries that have figured this out and are adding CCM praise and worship songs to their roster. But what I see quite often is that when they do they feel the need to somehow “make it more black”. They change chord progressions, add vamps and fancy bridges, etc.

I think this is rather unfortunate, actually. And really, unnecessary. I suppose the general thought is “if we do this song just like it is our congregation won’t like it or won’t receive it because it will sound “too white” or “too plain”. I definitely understand the concern, but I think it’s perhaps a bit of over thinking.  So I’d like to offer two thoughts for you to ponder the next time you’re considering “doctoring up” a CCM song to make it sound more “gospel-y”.

1. Your concern about whether or not your congregation will accept the song done the original way is probably misplaced. Many, many people who grew up listening to Gospel music actually love the fresh, clean sound and pure message of CCM praise and worship songs. Not only would many of them embrace these songs, many of them would think it a welcome change.

2. The fact is, if you’ve been eating, sleeping and drinking Gospel music all your life, anything you sing is going to have that flavor. The same goes with the musicians. So even if you do a CCM worship song as is with no changes, it will take on a Gospel feel just because a Gospel group is doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these modifications don’t work. Many of them go on to be big hits. But Contemporary Christian praise songs have a sincerity and purity that frankly is sometimes lacking in Gospel. The focus with CCM writers is  on pure, authentic worship and praise. The musical arrangement is often understated so that it’s not the focus. The song arrangements are kept simple (we can get pretty complex sometimes, making it more about the musicianship than the message).

I could go on here, but the point I’m making is that adding CCM songs to your roster and just doing them straightforward could be just the thing to help your ministry widen it’s appeal, add depth, variety and balance. So don’t always feel that the only way you can do CCM songs at your church is to somehow make them blacker and more gospel. A great worship song is a great worship song, just the way it is. Going out of your way to add stuff to make it sound more like a Gospel song can actually detract from it if you’re not careful.

Just one more point of view.

The Most Overlooked Reason Congregations Don’t Sing Along With The Praise Team

I saw an article recently that talked about what he referred to as “the death of congregational singing”. One of the main reasons he sited for this is how much more complicated songs have become in this day and age than they were before. It’s true, even of some praise and worship songs.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “a song the angels can’t sing”. Well unfortunately I believe many praise teams are often choosing songs the congregation can’t sing. Something most of us don’t consider when we’re choosing songs is the most obvious consideration of all: Will the audience be able to sing this?

Often in our zeal to choose powerful, popular songs that we feel will create an atmosphere of praise, we choose songs that are, quite frankly, intimidating for the audience. Don’t get me wrong, the audience may be really enjoying the song. Yet they don’t actually participate in the worship experience. Instead most congregations simply stand politely and watch the praise team; because that’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s protocol. Here comes the praise team, better stand.

But when it comes to actually joining in and becoming an active participate in the praise and worship many congregation members find the songs simply too intimidating to sing along. They may feel it’s too high, too many words, the format or flow of the song is complicated- you get the idea.

We often fail to catch this because we’re singers and musicians. This is pretty common stuff for us. So when we hear that hot up-tempo song with the awesome chord progressions and the great harmony arrangement-the one that modulates 4 times and just works us into a frenzy-we think “Oh man, this is gonna be great! We goin’ IN when we sing this!”

We fail to understand that the people in the audience aren’t “music people” like us. So while modulations, high notes and directional changes are all familiar to us, they tend to leave audience members thinking “I can’t do that” (COUGH “Chasing After You” COUGH). So they stand and clap and enjoy the show, but they don’t join in the praise.

So it’s really important for praise team leaders and members to never lose sight of why we even have a praise team in the first place. Our primary goal is to create an atmosphere that encourages corporate praise and worship. That only happens though, when the audience begins to join in and sing together, rather than watch our “praise show” from the sidelines.
For more articles and help with your praise or worship team’s ministry check out Praise Team 101.

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

 

5 Spiritual Dangers To Praise Teams

There is a certain glamour or prestige associated with being on the praise team; at least in many people’s mind. Praise teams have become the it thing in churches, it seems. But with their popularity comes many challenges.

While doing some research on the subject I came across a powerful article that dealt with some of the “spiritual traps” many praise team members can fall into.  The title of the article was 5 Spiritual Dangers To Praise Teams. I’ll list the 5 topics covered in the article and give you a little snippet. Then I’ll post the link and the author’s info at the bottom so you can read the article in full.

Danger #1:  Ego issues

“Musicians take pride in their craft. Whether vocal or instrumental, most have an emotional investment in what they do. Being a part of a team effort places you in a position of having your pride challenged. Consider the vocalist who at times tends to let their pitch drop just a bit, or one who isn’t getting the correct rhythm. Being corrected by the worship leader in front of the others can be a blow to our ego. Some musicians are far more impressed with their talent level than are others and can tend to want to push their sound to rise above that of the others. What can you do about that?”
Danger #2:  Addiction to the spotlight

“This is closely aligned with the ego/attitude problem.  Being in front of people on a weekly basis can become addictive, and tends to give an unhealthy balance in how a member views themselves and their life. A person’s identity shouldn’t be defined by being on a stage.”

Danger #3:  Being a performer rather than a worshipper
I personally read this one with great interest. If you know me you know that I do believe in the importance of perfecting and honing your craft. But I believe that’s important not so that you can be the center of attention. In fact I believe the opposite. I think the most important reason to perfect your harmony and musicianship is precisely so NOBODY will be paying attention to you. The objective is to remove all hindrances, not to focus on the importance of the performance itself.

However when you spend that kind of time and effort on perfecting and honing your delivery there is indeed a danger of  beginning to place too much importance on the performance itself. The author does a great job of addressing this in danger number 3.

Danger #4: Burnout

“Rehearsals and multiple services can drain our time and energy. If you are naturally active, you can be so involved that you grow to resent the time drain of the team.”

Danger #5: Ignoring Spiritual Disciplines

 

“You might assume that serving on the team gives you all the spiritual nourishment that you need. Well, it doesn’t. Like every believer, you need to practice the spiritual disciplines if you expect to have any vital spiritual strength.”

Ok is this great stuff or what?! I gave you the highlights here, but they’re only excerpts from the full article. The Article was written by Thamuss. Originally I included a link to it but unfortunately it has been removed. I’ve been unable to find the author to properly credit and link back to him. If you happen to know him or how to connect with him I’d love to know so I can update the link to point to his new location.

You can find more helpful articles like this one in my e-book Praise Team 101.