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 5 Biggest Lies Gospel Singers Believe About Vocal Training

The 5 Biggest Lies Gospel Singers Believe About Vocal Training

 

 

 

 

 

As you may already know, I’m first and foremost a professional vocal coach. As such, over the years I’ve heard a lot of confusion from singers about taking lessons. I thought I’d cover the most common misconceptions in today’s blog.

1. Vocal lessons are for people who can’t sing

I can understand the confusion here. Unfortunately people often suggest taking lessons as a way of insulting one’s singing ability. Truth is, while people who don’t have a natural gift can see some improvement from lessons, it’s people who can already sing who see the greatest benefits. Most people who have a natural gift for singing and have never taken lessons, are doing a lot of things that cause strain, stress and limited range in their vocal abilities. Gifted singers can see a dramatic improvement in almost every aspect of their singing by taking professional lessons.

2. I was born with the gift to sing, so I don’t need lessons

Not true! People who were born with the gift of song need to train their voices far more than people were weren’t born with the gift. Why? Simply because you’ll be singing a lot more often. Vocal lessons not only teach you how to improve almost every aspect of singing, but they also teach you how to protect your voice and use it properly so it lasts you a long time.

3. Lessons won’t teach me anything I don’t already know!

If you’ve never taken voice lessons you’d be amazed at how much you really DON’T know about your voice and how it works. Some of the most simple changes can make a huge difference in your vocal tone, control, breathing, range and vocal stamina.

4. Vocal Coaches just charge you a bunch of money and make you yell and scream for an hour.

Unfortunately I’ve heard horror stories like this, so I understand the skepticism here. Sadly, there are many people out there offering professional voice lessons who have never had any kind of training. Often there are people in church who were simply born with great vocal ability naturally. These people are often asked to give private lessons. Even though they haven’t been trained, it simply gets hard to resist the extra income.

The truth is, however, the last thing a trained vocal coach will allow you to do is scream. When you’re studying with a professionally trained vocal coach, you’ll easily sing for a full hour lesson without any strain, yelling or screaming. Learning to sing powerfully without these damaging habits is the main reason for taking professional lessons.

5. Vocal lessons are a waste of money. I can learn just as much on You Tube for free.

You Tube is a great resource for free information, and you can certainly learn a lot there. But you’re only going to get small sound-bites of information there, and they won’t apply to you or your vocal tendencies specifically. As any of my former students will attest, taking lessons is the best investment a serious vocalist can make in their voice and their ministry.

So there you go! These are the most common things I hear from people about taking voice lessons. I hope I’ve shed enough light on these common misconceptions to change your mind about investing in your ministry with some vocal training.

Listen, if you’re a serious singer vocal lessons is simply something you MUST do if you want to keep singing for a long time. Even if you’ve looked into vocal training before and found it too expensive, you can still get professional grade vocal lessons by investing in a home study program. Home study vocal training programs are much more affordable than live face-to-face lessons, but with some self discipline can be just as effective. Consistency and practice is the key! My own home study vocal training program Vocal Ministry Breakthrough is the most convenient, affordable way to get the training you need to take your ministry to the next level. Get started today!

Until next time,

Ron Cross

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Train this seldom-discussed body part for amazing breath control

BreatheToday we’re going to get pretty technical in our discussion of breath control. Odds are you’ve never heard it discussed from this angle, so let’s get into it.

First, a couple of questions.What controls your breathing? That is, how fast or slowly you can realease air? When you hold your breath, how do you do it? What do you use to stop the air flow? Chances are it’s not what you think.

Try this with me now: With your mouth open I want you to take a deep breath, hold it for about 3 seconds, then release it. …………
Did you do it? Ok. Now, the question again…how did you do that? How did you stop the air flow for those 3 seconds? Without fail, almost everybody responds to this little experiment with answers like “I held my stomach”. Or, if they’re a little more experienced they’ll say something about “squeezing the diaphragm”. Actually it’s neither.
The answer may surprise you, but the way you did it had nothing to do with either of those.You stopped the flow of air by pressing your vocal cords together so tightly that no air could come through. Yes, it’s the vocal cords that regulate the flow of air!

Now, be sure you understand what I’m saying here. You don’t breathe with your vocal cords, but they do regulate the flow of air through your trachia. When you cough, sneeze, hold your breath while you’re drinking a glass of water or anything along those lines, it’s your vocal cords that are coming into play.

Since we know that now, it becomes a pretty smart assumtion that vocal cords play a major role for the singer in improving breath control. In partiular, we are referring here to what we call “cord closure”.

When we sing, speak or make any kind of audible sound, our vocal cords come together and adduct, or “vibrate”. How good that connection is when they’re against each other has a lot to do with how efficiently they are using the air we send up when we’re singing.

Here’s an example: Let’s go back a few years when everybody had manual, roll-up windows in their cars. You’re driving down the highway. The windows are up. It’s raining outside. But you hear wind coming into the car from somwhere. You know the window is up because no rain is coming in, right?

You still hear wind coming in though, so you grab the handle and pull up on it to tighten the connection between the window and the frame. Suddenly the wind stops. Obviously, the window was up far enough to make a “decent” seal. It was enough to keep the rain out, but not enough to keep wind from escaping into the vehicle.

A very similar thing is happening when we sing. In most cases; particularly if you’ve never had lessons or done any excersises to develop them; your vocal cords are like the window. You have cord closure, but the seal is weak.

So what happens is much of the air you’re sending up is “going out the window”, so to speak. It’s escaping and not being used to make the note. The consequence, of course, is that you need and use more air to accomplish the task at hand.

Properly trained vocal cords have a tighter, stronger connection when they’re closed for singing. The result is that much of the air you send up to sing is actually used to make the note. Very little escapes unused.

As a result you need a lot less to do the same thing. So if you need less, you use less…which means you have more to spare and can sing longer without running out.

So, am I saying that better cord closure is the single, be-all solution to better breath control? No. Not cord closure alone. Better cord closure is just one of many elements that, when you take vocal lessons, begin to work together like a symphony to give you better breath control, more power with less work, and increased range without yelling. “Cord closure exercises” are just one of many beneficial vocal training tools a professional vocal coach uses to to get you there. I’ll teach you more about proper breathing and show you a great chord closure exercise in my free 5 day vocal training course. Get it free when you join my mailing list below.

 

 

4 steps to gaining more confidence about your singing

Doppia IdentitàOne of the most common issues that plague Gospel singers is simply lack of confidence. Many singers struggle with fear and doubt at the very thought of getting up singing in front of people. Oddly enough, a great number of people struggle with this lack of confidence even in the midst of constant encouragement and complements about their singing. A lack of confidence is very much rooted in fear. And, since we already know that God didn’t give us the spirit of fear, it might help to first define what confidence is. Then we can deal with where the lack of confidence comes from.

Dictionary.com defines confidence this way:

 

 con·fi·dence

kon-fi-duhns]  

noun

1. full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing: We have every confidence in their ability to succeed.

2. belief in one’s self and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance:  His lack of confidence defeated him.

3. certitude; assurance: He described the situation with such confidence that the audience believed him completely.

 In other words- and regular students hear me say this all the time- confidence comes from what you know. Or, as my pastor often explains it when he talks about salvation- what you “know that you know”. As believers we all know that we often don’t feel Saved. But no matter how we feel from day to day, our assurance- or, “confidence” comes in knowing that we know that we know we are saved.
Singers who struggle with their confidence level are people who are not yet convinced of their own ability. You don’t fully trust and believe in your singing ability. You aren’t self assured.  Here are 4 steps beginners and experienced singers alike can take to start gaining more confidence.
 
1. Embrace and learn to like your own voice.
One of the biggest reasons people don’t like their own singing is because they’re comparing it to someone else’s. You MUST stop doing that if you ever hope to get to a place of confidence in your own voice. Every singer is different. Everyone has a different style, tone, vibrato; any number of things that make every person unique. And the thing is, no matter how popular and well loved someone is, you can be sure of two things:
a) there are people who like that style of singing
b) there are people who don’t.
The same is true of your own singing voice. Even if not everything you hear about your singing is positive, there are certainly just as many people who are blessed by your singing. That’s God’s design. There are different styles because there are different people. One sound, one style won’t reach them all. There are people assigned and earmarked to be blessed by YOUR gift specifically. So you need to get to a place where you can appreciate your own voice for everything that is is, and more importantly everything it’s not. Your gift is yours alone, and the Bible says it is good and perfect.
To start embracing your own voice you’re going to need to hear it a lot more. Become used to it. Learn what you do well and do it a lot. In other words:
2. Do a lot more singing
Remember, confidence comes from what you know. And knowing something comes from repetition. So even if you’re not singing in public, you need to make a habit of singing a lot. On a daily basis. I don’t mean some huge production. I’m just talking about the process of singing out loud so you can hear yourself doing it. Just around the house. In the car. Running errands along with the radio. Do it. Not only does this help you really get to a place of enjoying singing, but it will help you start to enjoy your own voice.
3. Start singing in public
If you’re not already a member, join the choir. The choir is a very forgiving, no-pressure place to start singing. You’re not asked for perfection. you’re not forced to come up front normally. You can blend in with others. Singing in the choir gets you used to being in front of people singing. It also teaches you more and more about singing and harmony.
4. Invest in vocal lessons
It’s one of the least discussed benefits of vocal lessons, but one of the biggest benefits.  Anyone who has taken them will tell you that taking vocal lessons gives you a huge boost of confidence. Why? Again, it goes back to knowing what you know. Nothing makes you more certain of your own vocal ability than taking voice lessons. Your vocal coach will help you and guide you through every issue you’re struggling with as a singer, and train you how to do it correctly. When you hear those things rapidly improving you can’t help but feel more confident. For the more experienced singer who is already singing in front of people on a regular basis but still struggling with confidence issues, vocal lessons are often the one missing link to sending your confidence levels through the roof.
Why? Again,  it goes back to knowing what you know. Less experienced singers worry about their ability to sing well. More experienced singers worry about much different things, like hitting the high note, not cracking, not losing their voice during the song, running out of breath, being able to truly minister to the audience, etc. All of these thing are easily fixed by studying with a good vocal coach. Live lessons with a trained vocal coach can be costly enough for most people to discourage them from doing it. Home study courses are always a viable option to get professional training at a fraction of the cost of live lessons with a coach.
So when you can walk up to the front, knowing that you’re going to hit every note in the song, that you won’t crack or “mess up”, and most importantly that every person in that audience that God put there specifically to hear YOU will receive exactly what God sent them there to get from you; then that’s a great sense of knowing. Assurance. That’s confidence. Get started building the confidence you need today by joining my own home study vocal training program, Vocal Ministry Breakthrough.

If it’s Ad-libbing that scares you, check out Ad-lib Like A Pro.