The Real Reason All Gospel Singers Should Take Vocal Lessons (It’s Not What You Think)

By far the biggest challenge I face daily in this ministry is convincing naturally gifted singers that they too need to invest in vocal lessons.

But that’s because so many people think vocal lessons are about teaching you how to sing. Well if I already know how to sing, and I was born into a family of singers, why would I need lessons, right?

But let me ask you for a moment to think about the last time you sang. Probably last Sunday. Whether you sang lead or background doesn’t matter. What matters is how you felt. Think back. Was there ever a time your attention shifted from the message you were singing about to the task of singing itself?

Think back. Did you at any time start to feel discomfort? Did you find yourself at any point just kinda wanting the song to be over?  If you did, you must understand that in moments like those your mind, heart and spirit are no longer available to God.

Physical and mental limitations become a hindrance to your ministry when they take your focus away from the message. You really can’t be a proper conduit for the Holy Spirit to flow through if the connection is broken.

That is the real reason all singers who proclaim the Gospel through music should invest in vocal training. It’s not so you can hold a note until the audience starts clapping in celebration of how long you’re holding the note. That’s about YOU. It’s not about being able to sing notes so high that they become almost irritating to the listener. That is also about you.

The real reason it’s important for Christian/Gospel singers should take lessons is to remove any physical limitations that distract you from the message. Physical limitations lead to mental distractions. Now your mind is somewhere other than focused on what you’re singing about.

Training your instrument simply makes you a better instrument for for God. It frees you from things that distract you. Things that keep you from being able to go when doors open. Makes you unable to focus your heart and mind on what you’re singing about. So when you take lessons you are taking steps to eliminate those things so that you can be more effective when you minister in song. Not by holding notes longer or singing notes higher, but by eliminating anything that breaks that spiritual connection to the message that you need to really move from performing to ministering. And that’s about God, not about you.

Listen, I can definitely understand the hesitation many people have to spending the money to take vocal lessons when they aren’t really sure they’ll benefit at all from them. You may have even been told as much by someone who took lessons. But you really can’t rely completely on someone elses’ opinion on things like this. There are too many variables.

Many people sign up but they quit after one lesson. Some continue to take lessons but they don’t practice at home so they don’t see results. So only you can decide if they’ll really improve your ministry, and you can only decide that by trying them.

I know that’s a scary thought for many people though. So I wanted every singer to have an opportunity to try vocal training for themselves without fear or reservation. To do that I created a free 5 day vocal training course. You can get this course by simply signing up for my mailing list. You won’t need a credit card, you will never be charged. It’s simply an opportunity for you to see for yourself what some training can do for your ministry.

You’ll be introduced to some simple, basic vocal lessons and concepts. If you take them seriously and actually do them, in a few days you’ll notice changes. At the end I’ll give you an opportunity to continue your training at a deeply discounted rate. Completely optional, of course. Some people go on to up-grade to the full home study course, but many more simply enjoy the free lessons and go their own way, more educated. Whether they upgraded or not though, thousands of people all over the world have taken this course and raved about it. You’ll see hundreds of testimonials below the video lessons when you join.

So take the the step right now by filling out the simple form below. If you do the exercises I’m going to show you in this course you will fill different by the very next time you sing. The next step will be up to you.

Follow The Leader: How To Surrender To The Holy Spirit During Your Choir Performances

One thing I tend to stress often with you guys is the importance of really knowing your songs. I mean moving past that “I know it well enough to follow the director” stage we’re all content with. I mean really knowing the song. I’m talking about having the lyrics memorized, not this thing where we’re nervously depending on the director to feed us every line. I’m talking about really understanding the format of the song and how it moves from one section to another one.

But perhaps I haven’t really made a strong enough case for why that’s important and how it benefits your ministry as a whole. Quite simply, the more thoroughly you know a song the more powerfully you’ll minister that song. Something happens when everyone in the group is absolutely certain about every part of a song they’re about to sing.

There is this cohesiveness there. This sense of unity. Everyone is with one accord. And we know the Holy Spirit moves when we’re with one accord. So in moments like these powerful, anointed, spirit-led moments of music ministry tends to happen. But they only happen because we’ve eliminated all mental distractions that normally hinder our spirits from really surrendering completely to God.

When we’re unsure we’re really too distracted with the task of getting through the song without mistakes. So nobody can really follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The director can’t, the song leader can’t, the group members can’t. Because we’re all too busy nervously getting through one section after another.

We become locked into predefined repetitions and formats that we can’t deviate from because everyone is so unsure that if we do there will be some kind of mistake. But when everyone is absolutely on point with every part of the song, there is a freedom that takes place spiritually. In moments like these the Holy Spirit often takes over and leads the director or the song leader.

We did a song Sunday morning that we’ve done many times, called God Is Able. One of those churchy, hand-clapping, foot-stomping songs. So we know it very well. I was directing the choir. We came up to this one part in the song where we would normally repeat it a couple of times and go back to the chorus.

But this time the Holy Spirit started dealing with me and I just didn’t feel led to move from that spot. . So I just kept having them repeat that same two lines, right where we were:

“He’ll be there when you call Him/
He’ll be there when you need Him”

I just kept repeating it and it seemed like the more we repeated that phrase the higher the spirit got in the sanctuary, until everyone was just going in. Well, the whole format changed from there, because at that point everyone was following me, but I was following the leader. We never went to the real vamp of the song. That became the vamp and I just let God have His way right there; with me, the band, the leader and the choir.

We didn’t do anything that morning the way the song normally goes or the way we rehearsed it. But I had the freedom to allow God to just guide me in the direction He wanted the song to go because I know the choir and musicians knew it well enough to follow. I also knew the leader was skilled enough to just flow in the spirit right there, and would have no problem ad-libing as long as the Holy Spirit needed us to. So we all followed the leader. The ultimate leader.

Have a great week!
Ron
Ps. What if you were leading the spirit took over? Could you keep going as long as the spirit needed you to? Would you run out of words, or become anxious or irritated that the director got happy and won’t stop? If so, I have something I’d like you to see. Take a look here.

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

So you want to write a song! Do this first

Old Notebook PaperEvery serious singer should definitely start making the effort to begin writing their own material soon. But unfortunately, many people when they decide to write their first song just sit down and start writing. I suspect that’s because writing songs looks, and is often portrayed to be easier than it actually is. It’s NOT easy, and chances are when you hear that it’s coming from someone who doesn’t do it very well.

Most people who decide to write a song will simply sit down and start writing. However, it is never a good idea to jump into anything new without doing some kind of research to learn more about how to do it. If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I’m a big advocate of learning more about how music “works”. Seeking to go beyond just singing your part as it was given to you, for example, and instead tying to understand why it is what it is. It makes your part make more sense to you, so you’re more likely to remember it.

In a similar way, when you decide to write your first song, you should assume there’s more to it than creating a few lines that rhyme. While there is no rigid format for writing songs, there is indeed a formula for writing a good one. This article isn’t meant to be a tutorial on song writing by far. Rather, it’s meant to encourage you to do some research about how good song writing is done before taking the plunge.

Where do you start? Song Structure.

This is the biggest mistake most people make when they start writing a song. They may be good at rhyming or putting their thoughts down. But good songs follow a certain kind of format.  Here’s a basic example:

Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus- 

This is one of the most popular song structures. There are many. Here’s another one:

Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-

 

Song writing is a very creative, expressive thing, and you DON”T have to stick to a rigid format. You do, however, need to educate yourself about the rules of good songwriting so that when you decide to take liberties you do so in an intelligent way.

Every song has sections, as we mentioned in another article. These sections are given names like “verse”, “chorus”, “bridge”, etc. But to begin really understanding how to write good solid songs, you need to understand what the function of these sections are.

The VERSE, for example, tells your story. It gives the listener the details.

The Chorus gives the central idea of your song. It’s the “main message”. Your chorus should be the thing that the listener remembers. It’s often called the “hook” for that reason.  So a good “hook” should “hook” the listener by being written in such a way that it sticks with you. Many people practice bad song writing choruses that are long, complex and always changing each time the song comes back to it.

The Bridge is that part of the song that is a departure from everything else. It often sounds different musically. Lyrically it’s kind of a “summary” of everything else you’ve said. It ties or “bridges” the other parts of the song together. Hezekiah Walker’s “Soul’d Out” is a great example of a great bridge that really summarizes the message and pulls the song together.

“My heart is fixed/my mind made up
No room no vacancy I’m all filled up
His spirit lives in me and that’s the reason I’m sold out ”

There are many other such parts I won’t mention here. All have a very distinct way of helping you create and formulate your message and move it from one section to the next. It’s a good idea to become familiar with them all when you decide to take an interest in writing. When you’re writing a song knowing what the different parts of a song do and how they work together, you write much more intelligently.Your songs have a much better flow and are much easier to sing and to remember.

Remember there are no hard and fast “rules” in song writing. Many songs don’t have a bridge at all, for example. You can break all the rules of song writing and write a great song. But when you know what the rules are in the first place, you’ll break them more “intelligently” when you do decide to color outside the lines. Learning about song structure isn’t about limiting your creativity. It’s about giving you the tools to make better, more organized use of your creativity.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a song following basic song writing. Your verse gives the listener your story. Your chorus gives the listener the central message in a catchy, repetitive way. Your next verse tells more of your story but doesn’t simply repeat what you said in the verse before.

From there you may want to do the chorus again, but you want to say something different this time. When you really understand what the chorus is for, you’ll understand that if you want to say something different you may want to make it a verse or a bridge instead.

As I said earlier, this isn’t meant to be a full tutorial on how to write a song. My goal here is to spark enough interest in you to make you start some serious research into how to do it well. The point here is not to just sit down and start writing, but to do some research and learn the rules of good song writing. You’ll write much better songs when you have some guidelines to follow.

Now of course once you start writing songs you’re going to be writing them around your own limitations as a singer. Many singer/song writers unknowingly write most of their songs in a very limited range of only 2 or 3 keys. So unless you’re someone who doesn’t sing and you’re writing mostly for other people, you’ll want to make sure you have the vocal freedom and range to sing anything God inspires you to write. Investing in your ministry by taking vocal lessons is the best way to do that. Vocal Ministry Breakthrough is an easy, affordable self-paced home study course that will give you a good solid foundation of proper vocal technique. You can join Vocal Ministry Breakthrough here.

 

For a stronger singing voice, do this exercise!

Singer with microphoneOne thing most singers want is a more powerful singing voice. Once that is sharp, full and cuts through the music easily. Unfortunately most of us go about achieving that by simply pushing and forcing our way through notes, phrases and melodies. Today I’ll talk a little bit about what causes a weak, airy voice and give you one exercise you can do to help improve it.

The most important thing to develop in order to strengthen your voice and get rid of airiness is something we vocal coaches call “cord closure”. Cord closure refers to how well your vocal cords come together when you’re singing or speaking. For most people who have never done any kind of training to develop them, the vocal cords do come together, but they’re not very strong so that “seal” is not very good. As a result, much of the air you send up to produce the sound you’re trying to make goes unused.  This produces the airy, weak sound we hear when we sing or speak.

But then a domino effect of sorts starts to happen. You see, when your cords aren’t using air efficiently you run out of air much faster. As a result most singers start compensating by gasping for more and pushing harder. All of this wears the vocal cords out much faster and makes singing much harder. To improve this condition we have to strengthen those small, thin edges of the vocal folds that come together to produce sound. We want them to produce a much tighter seal when they’re together, so more of the air you’re sending up to produce sound actually gets used.

One example I like to use is a car window. If you’ve ever been driving down the street with your windows up, but you could still hear wind coming into the car, you understood that even though the window was up all the way, it hadn’t made a complete seal with the top of the door. So you reach over, give the button one more hit and the window moves just that small fraction it needs to make a good seal and stop the escaping air.

This is what we want to do with our vocal cords, and that’s really what “cord closure” exercises are all about. But because everything is so amazingly and wonderfully connected to everything else in our body, improving cord closure will not only give you a stronger voice. It will improve breathing, increase your range, overall vocal tone, make high notes easier….I mean, wow!  There are several such cord closure exercises you can use, but today I’ll show you just one.

The Exercise

Today we’re going to use the sound we make when speaking the word “AT”, as in “at the store”, or “at the cross”. Only we’ll get rid of the T on the end.

To start out, let’s use the same 5 tone scale we used in this lesson .  We’re going to sing this Aaa-aaa-aaa sound “Staccato”, which means very short and detatched. You’ll do it right if you simply focus on attacking the “A every time. Avoid slurrring through the notes like this: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. Rather, attack each note of the 5 tone scale like this: Aaa-Aaa-Aaaa-Aaaa-Aaa.

Remember to take your 5 tone scale up and then back down, then move up a half step to the next note and do it again. Keep going until you reach the highest place you can do this COMFORTABLY.

You should NOT be getting any louder as you do this. Allow that edgy, choppy, closing feeling that creates the sharp “A” for you to do all the work. Don’t use any kind of force or reach for notes in any way.

After you’re used to this exercise, I want you to try using it in a song. This is actually a great way to train when you’re singing a song that has just one note you’re having trouble reaching. The idea is to take the actual words of the song and substitute them with this Aaa-Aaa-Aaaa sound. But you must always do this “Staccato”- meaning, very short, detached and choppy. Doing it this way is what exercises the edges of your vocal folds and helps them get stronger.

If you do this on a regular basis along with the “low larynx” exercises we learned in my previous article you’re going to start hearing and feeling some amazing changes very quickly. If, like me, you’re a more visual person, this may be hard for you to grasp on paper. Most people need to see and hear it demonstrated.

That’s why I created Vocal Ministry Breakthough, my full length home study vocal training course. Vocal Ministry Breakthrough includes over 20 video vocal lessons with yours truly, taking you through powerful vocal workouts that feature exercises like these and many more. And for a limited time it’s 40% off for the holidays. Get started on your path to a stronger, more powerful singing voice now while the price is still discounted.

 

Till Next time,

Ron

 

 

How to ad-lib like pro overnight

How to ad-lib like pro overnight

Doug Todd adlibsAd-libbing, by definition, is the art of making it up as you go. In Gospel music it’s often referred to as “pressing”. Many would-be lead vocalists, in fact, avoid leading songs at all simply because of they don’t think they’re good enough at ad-libbing to “carry” the song .

It is one of the most feared tasks many singers face in all generes of music, not just Gospel. But it doesn’t have to be! What if I told you you could become almost instantly better at doing ad-libs without taking a single lesson or doing any studying beyond what you’re about to read here?
What I’m about to share with you is one of those “well guarded industry secrets” that, once you know it, you go….”that’s it???” It’ll seem painfully obvious once you read it.

I don’t have to tell you that what scares people about ad-libbing is having to make things up on the fly, in the middle of a performance, in real time, right in front of everybody! That’s a lot of opportunities to stumble or get tongue-tied, freeze up, go blank, etc. That’s exactly why most professionals don’t, and you shouldn’t either.

If you’re a regular follower of my blogs, you’ve seen me talk about the importance of being prepared and well-rehearsed. Knowing as much as possible in advance. Nowhere is this more important than in ad-libbing. The “skill” is a nice one to have, but it’s importance is way over-rated. It’s way more important to nail that song without any mistakes, than it is to be really good at making stuff up on the fly. At the end of the day nobody knows or cares if you’re making it up or if you wrote it all down a week ago.

So the secret to great ad-libbing is to do the exact opposiite of it’s meaning. Write your ad-libs in advance! Yes, I know that’s a direct contradiction of the very meaning of ad-lib. But consider this. If you’re doing a song where you know you’re going to need to ad-lib, and you know you simply don’t have have the mental quickness and confidence yet to make it up as you go (and the thought of trying scares the crap out of you ) then what makes more sense than writing some stuff out in advance?!

First of all, as I always say, the more you know in advance the better you’re going to perform. You’re going to be less nervous, more polished, more comfortable.

Secondly, nobody in the audience will know (or care) that you wrote your stuff out in advance. They’ll think you’re awesome.

So the next time you’re faced with singing a song where you’ll have to ad-lib a lot, sit down with a pen and pad, and write down as many lines as you can think of that would fit the subject matter you’re singing about.

Rehearse these lines and get familiar with how you want to sing them in the song. There’s no need to rehearse and memorize them in any certain order. It’s really about having a pool of material to pull from that you’ve come up with in advance so you don’t have to come up with it live in front of an audience. Not about memorizing a complicated sequence of lines in a certain order. That’ll just make you more nervous.

In fact the more random the better, in my opinion. I personally don’t like to hear a person rhyming in their ad-libs. It sounds too rehearsed and to me, makes it really obvious they wrote them in advance. Stay away from that and you’ll sound like you’re making it up as you go.

The cool thing about this is that over time you’ll build up a sort of “mental rolodex” of material you can draw from at any time. it’s a lot like scripture in the sense that what you hide in your heart is there for the Holy Spirit to bring back to your memory when you need it. So in time you’ll be able to truly make it up on the fly, right out of your spirit.

But until then, if you want to be instantly better at ad-libbing, don’t try to make it up live, writing some things down will definitely help at least alleviate some of the fear you have of ever stepping out there to sing. If you’re someone who has tried that before and were unsuccessful, you may be wondering what else you could do in the meantime to help you get to that place I mentioned above. After all, just writing stuff down and memorizing it doesn’t work well when you’re new to ad-libbing and leading songs.

You’re already afraid and nervous. You’re bound to go blank sometimes just because you’re nervous. I’ve actually thought a lot about this over the years, and I’ve seen so many people that have this same fear.  So I wanted to do something to help people get past that initial stage, overcome their fear and get started. So with the help of the Lord I created a step-by-step, paint-by-the-numbers system. I explain the details in this 5 minute video you can view here: ad-lib banner

 

 

 

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