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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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