14 Tips to Lead Your Worship Vocalists Better

This month I’m giving you a free lesson from my brand new Musical Excellence Course! I’ll be teaching you 14 ways to better lead the vocalists and background singers on your worship team. These are super practical tips, so get a pen, jot some down, and try them out next week in your worship ministry! Great worship ministries have great worship singers, and these tips will help you get there!

Inside the brand new Worship Ministry Training platform, you’ll get 138 more lessons just like this one! Best news is, you can try it absolutely free for 10 days. Sign up HERE

ALSO SEE: Improving Your Vocals and Vocalists w/ Charmaine Brown

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Alex | In this episode, I’m going to show you how to lead your background vocalist better.

Alex | Hello and welcome back to the Worship Ministry Training podcast, a monthly podcast for worship leaders and worship team members. My name is Alex and I’m so glad you are here. Leading vocalist lists is a tricky thing because I don’t know about you, but most worship leaders, I was never professionally trained in vocals, I just happened to be able to sing. So how can I teach other vocalists how to sing better? And how can I lead background vocalists?

Alex | And how can I deal with their different ranges? And how can I deal with different blending issues and different tones and vibratos and all that stuff, right? So in this episode, I’m going to show you how to lead your vocalists on your team to get a better result for your church. Because musical excellence, yes, the music matters, but the vocals really matter, right? I mean, the vocals are the thing that is primary in a worship service.

Alex | And so this episode will help you get a better result from your vocalists on your team. And this episode is actually from the musical excellence course that is found in the worship ministry training platform. And there are 138 other lessons just like this one in the platform. And you can try it completely free. That’s right.

Alex | For ten days you can try the worship ministry training platform for free. You can get access to all ten courses. We have courses on musical excellence, on administration, on group communication, on team building, on set building. So if you’re interested in improving as a worship leader, I would encourage you to go to worshipministrytraining.com and click one of the buttons that says start free, trial and just dive into the community and the courses and the live monthly trainings. Speaking of live monthly trainings, this month I will be doing a training on how to rebuild your team after covet.

Alex | So if you’re interested in being a part of that live monthly training, you can also join the platform in July and join us. I think it’s July 11, so join us in the platform again, go to Worship Mystery Training.com and sign up there. Also, I will be interviewing Andy Rosier from Vertical Worship this month inside the platform. So if you want to join us live on that call, you can also come inside the platform. In other words, join us.

Alex | We would love to see you inside the platform again. You can try for free for ten days. But let’s get into this sample lesson from our musical excellence course. Our voices are a huge part of corporate worship and so a key component of musical excellence is having excellent vocalists. If you want to have a musically excellent ministry, you have to train your vocalists to sing excellently.

Alex | And in this video, I’m going to share with you some very simple but practical ways that you can help get the best out of the vocalists on your team. And just like the musicians, a lot of improving your vocalist has to do with giving direction, being clear, and resourcing them to succeed. So this is going to be a longer video. I’m going to give you 14 tips for leading your vocalists well. So settle in, get your notebook out and get a cup of tea and let’s dive into these points.

Alex | Number one, encourage your vocalists to warm up. Encourage your vocalists to warm up. Warming up your voice is not only good for your voice, but it actually helps you sound better, too. You can sing higher, you can sing lower, you can sing longer and with less effort when you warm up. And this is especially true early in the mornings, on Sunday mornings when your voice has been dormant and sleeping through the night.

Alex | So you need to encourage your vocalists to make warming up a priority and a habit. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of vocal warm up playlists on Spotify, Apple Music and even YouTube. So at my church, what we’ve done is we’ve bought multiple licenses to a vocal warm up. I put it in a Dropbox folder and I sent it out to all of our singers so they can access that Dropbox folder. Some of them download those files directly to their phone, put them in Apple Music or their Android Player, whatever the Android player is called, I don’t know.

Alex | But definitely send them links to vocal warm ups that they can use so that they can get in the habit of warming up while they drive to church. If you want. An even better way to do this would be to do it as a group in the back before you go out on stage for rehearsal. So just ten minutes before the band arrives, have your vocalists arrive early, and for ten minutes just warm them up. Run through the warm ups together and encourage them in their breathing technique.

Alex | Encourage them to sing, listen, all those things. Those are great little tune up moments, those ten minute windows in the back before the band arrives. So that’s something you can try. But however you decide to do it, whether individually or in a group, make sure you’re encouraging your vocalists to warm up. That’s point number one.

Alex | The second way you can improve your vocalist is to assign parts based on ranges. Assign parts based on ranges. This is obvious, but it’s important that you know your vocalist ranges and where their voices work best. Okay? You can do an assessment during the audition process, or you can just figure it out over time.

Alex | And you can call these parts by their traditional names tenor, alto, soprano, et cetera. Or you can just know that, hey, this vocalist usually takes the third, and the other vocalist always takes the top harmony the fifth. Okay? You can just kind of mentally know that, but your vocalist should know their own range and you should also know their range. And then you should assign them their parts based on their range.

Alex | And not only should you know their range, but your vocalist should know each other’s range. They should know each other’s ranges so that they don’t clash during rehearsal. They can say, okay, I know you usually take the third, so I’m going to take the top, okay? And when you’re scheduling your team, try to keep these things in your mind and try to schedule your vocalists who can fill the different roles, fill the different parts. Avoid doubling up on singers who have a similar range if at all possible.

Alex | I know some of you don’t have a ton of singers, but if you have a decent amount of singers, try to schedule singers with different ranges on the same service. And that way you can utilize the full spectrum of the vocal ranges available to you. So that’s the second way. The third way to get the most out of your vocalist is to schedule the strong with the week. Schedule the strong with the week.

Alex | So when you’re scheduling your teams, you want to look at your vocalist and you want to know, okay, these two are really strong and this one is not so strong. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to pair the not so strong singer with the two stronger singers so that those two stronger singers can pull up the weaker singer. What you don’t want to do is flip that equation. You don’t want to put two weak singers and then they pull your stronger singer down. No, you want to put two stronger singers and they pull your weaker singer up.

Alex | So consider that when you’re scheduling for us at our church, we have a Thursday night service that’s less attended and we have Sunday morning services that are very attended. And so what I try to do is every Sunday I make sure I have three of my strongest background vocalists, or if I can’t get all three of those slots filled with strong vocalists, I get two of those slots filled with my strongest vocalist and then I fill the third slot with the not strongest vocalist. And again, that just helps them bring the other one up. And I also tried to ensure that at least one of those singers is able to sing lead. And this allows me to utilize them to lead a song which makes the set more interesting and diverse.

Alex | So always try to bolster your weaker singers by pairing them with at least two stronger singers. That’s the third way to get more out of your vocalists. The fourth way is to give them cheat sheets. Give them cheat sheets. I haven’t done this tip personally, but I know other churches that do.

Alex | But basically they make a vocal run sheet and it’s like all of the lyrics printed out in a PDF or in a word, document or in a spreadsheet even. And by each line they assign who’s singing what. And you can just put in red letters on the margin, unison, tenor, soprano, whatever, to assign those parts in a visual run sheet that you can put in planning center. And your vocalist can see when you want them singing and when you want them sitting out. When do you want them singing in unison?

Alex | When do you want them singing harmony? Again, I haven’t done this personally, but I know the best churches in the world do it. And you should probably try it and see if it helps your vocalist prepare better. That’s the fourth way. The fifth way to get the most out of your vocalist is to lump them together during rehearsal.

Alex | Lump them together during rehearsal? What do I mean by lump them together? I mean clump them together. I mean put them on the same side of the stage. This is something we’ve been doing recently is because all of our singers were in your monitors and it’s hard to hear each other.

Alex | So we like to put them on one side of the stage during rehearsal. We spread them out during service, but just for rehearsal. They’re clumped together on one side of the stage, usually away from the drums. And that way they’re able to talk to each other easier. They’re able to say, Wait, what are you singing?

Alex | What are you singing? In between songs, they’re able to talk and figure out parts. They’re able to pull out one of their earbuds and talk to each other and discuss and give each other encouragement and tips and whatever. So having them clumped together during rehearsal allows them to communicate easier, which allows them to better know what’s happening, which allows them to sound better together. So all of this comes down to communication.

Alex | So try to make it easy for your singers to communicate with each other during rehearsal by putting them together on one side of the stage. All right, number six. Number six. Give part recordings. Give vocal part recordings.

Alex | So what do I mean by this? That means that you want to create isolated vocal part recordings for each of the vocal parts, for each of the harmonies for your singers. You want to create recordings where their part is louder than the other parts and they can learn that part easier. You don’t have to make this very complicated. You don’t have to even do it in a recording program.

Alex | You can literally take out your smartphone and open your voice memo app and you can press play on YouTube of the song and you can sing the harmony part into your iPhone. And then you can send that file to your computer and put it into planning center for them. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can do fancy. You can open Logic or GarageBand and you can drop an MP3 file there.

Alex | And then you can record your vocal part and isolate it and make it louder and bounce it down. You can do all that as complicated, as fancy as you want, go for it, but you don’t have to make it hard. Whatever will help you actually do it, and whatever will help you actually put those files in planning center for your team or dropbox folder. However you resource your team, you just want to give them the harmony isolated from the rest of the vocals. And that means just slightly louder.

Alex | It doesn’t have to be literally isolated. That would sound really weird. But you want the harmony to be more audible than the rest of the instruments. So if you can do that for two harmonies per song, and you don’t even have to record the whole song if you don’t want, you could just record the key harmonies. Like, okay, we’re going to record the chorus and we’re going to record the bridge, and you do the tenor and you do the alto or the soprano, whatever, and you upload each of those files individually to planning centers so that they can reference them, learn the parts easier and come prepared to rehearsal.

Alex | So that’s the 6th way to get more out of your vocalists. Here is the halfway point. The 7th way to get more out of your vocalist is to talk through who is singing where. Talk through who is singing where. So what do I mean by this?

Alex | I mean that before you start rehearsing a song, you take 30 seconds and you talk through who’s singing what. So, okay, guys, I’m going to lead verse one by myself. Verse two, let’s have Sally come in with me singing harmony. Let’s have the next singer come in on the first chorus and sing melody with me an octave above me. And then on the bridge, let’s sing unison for the first half, and then let’s break into harmony for the second half.

Alex | So you basically just take 30 seconds before your band starts rehearsing the song at rehearsal and you explain what you want each singer to do and when. And when you give this direction, you give this clarity, it allows people to know what you want, and it allows them to succeed in fulfilling your wishes. So number seven is talk through who is singing where. Number eight, the 8th way to get more out of your vocalist is to build your song through layers. Build your song through layers.

Alex | So what do I mean by this? I mean, just like musicians should build a song as it progresses, you need to do the same with vocals. You should not have everybody singing right at the top, full blast, full harmonies on the first verse. Okay? Then you have nowhere to go.

Alex | No, you want to make the song develop and progress and grow and intensify from start to finish. And so some ways you can do that is by saving your harmonies for the biggest parts of songs. So maybe for the first verse you just have melody. Then the second verse is a melody with a female melody on top singing an octave above. And then the first chorus you bring in one harmony, and then the second chorus you bring in all three harmonies.

Alex | And then the bridge is three harmonies plus a top melody. So you want to make the song grow by adding more harmonies as the song intensifies and progresses. Okay? So save your harmonies, especially save your third part harmony for the biggest parts of your song. It’s okay if for the first part of your song you have two singers singing the same harmony, but then when you get towards the end of the song, have one of those singers jump up to the third part, you want to save those biggest parts for the end of the song when it’s most intense and most impactful.

Alex | Because if you give it all away too quickly, the listener will become bored and disengaged. So save it, space it out. Build the song through letters. The 9th way to get more out of your vocalist is to use the top or the bottom melody doubling. Use top or bottom melody doubling.

Alex | This is something that really helps add all of those layers without giving away the farm too early. And what I mean by this is let’s say I’m leading a song that has a lower range in the verse. So for verse one, I’m singing by myself. Lead vocal it’s low, but in verse two, if I have a female double my melody and octave above me, it really adds a lot. And I use this in songs like goodness of God, I love you, Lord.

Alex | It’s like really low. And then the girls and it’s like we’re both singing the melody. You don’t want to do that right at the top of the song, but you want to add that maybe at verse two, same thing. Battle belongs. Like when all I see are the bashes, you see the beauty and she’s singing at an octave up.

Alex | And this can be done the opposite way too, when the female is leading. So she might lead the verse alone, but when she gets to the first quiet chorus, like, let’s say we make a miracle worker and I’ll be like, way maker, miracle worker, I’ll double below her and add the warmth and some body and some resonance that’s found in the male vocal range. So try using top or bottom melody doubling next time you’re arranging your vocals. It’s very helpful. Number ten.

Alex | Highlight certain phrases in verses. Highlight certain phrases inverses. What does this mean? This means that when you’re singing harmony, you don’t need to sing harmony for every single phrase, especially in the verses, because it can kind of lose the magic. But what you can do is you can kind of paint certain phrases, you can color certain phrases by harmonizing only that phrase.

Alex | So the lead vocalist sings the first part of the phrase and then you come in for just two words of it. Or the vocalist sings one line of the verse and then using the second line with them in harmony. So you’re just painting or coloring certain phrases, not the entire verse. So this is really cool and it can really create some nice ear candy and so try that some versus this sounds great, doing other versus it doesn’t sound great. So you’ll have to do some trial and error and figure out which songs it works best for.

Alex | So try highlighting certain phrases and that will help you get more out of your vocals. Number eleven do a backstage vocal run through to tighten up phrasing. Do a backstage vocal run through to tighten up phrasing. So this is something we started doing recently where we get our singers out on stage, we get the band out on stage, we run through one song, everybody mixes their ears so they have a good mix and then the vocalists go backstage and the band stays on stage and the band runs through the music and runs through the songs without the vocalists and the vocalists run through the songs in the back without the band. And they play the song on planning center and they sing along and they listen to each other and they talk through their parts and they dial things in and they listen to the phrasing, listen to the timing, they try to match it and they try to just sound really good and blend really well together.

Alex | And then after they run through the whole set with planning center, sometimes they’ll just sing the choruses and the bridges together and then they’ll come back and join the band on stage. But basically you have two separate rehearsals going at the same time. One of them is dedicated to tightening up your vocals and the reason why it’s helpful is because they’re not wearing their inears, they’re in a clear acoustic environment and they can really hear each other better. And this helps them find out if they are tight and together in their timing and their tone, which every background vocalist should focus on tone and timing. All right, number twelve focus on blend, focus on blending.

Alex | So what do I mean? I mean the start and stop of your words. Like when you start a word, when you stop a word, the timing of your words, the tone of your words. How warm are you? How harsh are you?

Alex | The background vocalist is supposed to perfectly mimic the lead vocal. They are supposed to disappear around the lead vocal. They’re supposed to match the lead vocals so well that the background vocalist disappears into the background. That’s why it’s called background vocalist. You’re supposed to fade to the back and you fade to the back by not sticking out in the front.

Alex | You fade to the back by so perfectly matching the tone and the timing of your lead vocalist, that nobody can really hear you except that they kind of feel you, they sense you, they notice the harmonies, but they don’t notice you. And that’s how you play your role really well. And so you need to listen actively, we’ve talked about this in this course already, but actively listen to the lead vocalist. And they should focus on where is the lead singer starting the word? When is the lead singer stopping the word?

Alex | And they should try to mimic the timing exactly. And you should also listen to the intensity and the tone of the vocalist, the timber of the vocalist, and try to match that as well. Is the vocalist mellow or is it intense? You want to match that. You want to match the intensity of your lead vocalist.

Alex | And this takes active listening. So you need to listen to your lead vocalist. I talked about it like a computer program. You want to listen, the input goes in your brain, analyzes exactly what it’s hearing, and then your voice matches it perfectly. That’s how you want to approach singing background vocals.

Alex | It’s almost more about listening than it is about singing. So learn to listen and then definitely kill any vibrato because that will clash because nobody can really do vibrato exactly at the same wavelength. So cut the vibrato, sing to straight tone and straight notes and then soften the edges of your consonants. As a background vocalist, you don’t want to be like, you want to soften your consonants a lot and you want a certain consonants. You don’t even need to sing at all.

Alex | Like, you don’t even need to sing a t because to match the lead vocalist, it’s not going to match you like. So for certain words, just cut the consonants out completely at the end of words and just be more of a tonal quality behind the lead vocal. So work on your blending. Okay, two more tips for how to lead your vocalist. Well, number 13, encourage them to sing off mike, to smile, to clap and to raise their hands.

Alex | Sing off mike, smile, clap and raise their hands. So your vocalists are usually not holding an instrument, so they can help lead the church in the postures of worship through their body postures, through their facial countenance. They can help be demonstrative in worship more than someone who’s holding a guitar or a bass or drumming. So you want to encourage your singers to help demonstrate for the church what engaged worship looks like. So just because a singer isn’t supposed to sing on a certain part of the song doesn’t mean they should close their mouth.

Alex | They shouldn’t just be standing there when they’re not singing, they should be singing when they’re not singing, but they should just keep their microphone down at their side and they should demonstrate singing along with the song even when it’s not their part to sing into the microphone. So while they wait for their part, they should, and they can sing along with the church and just hold their microphone down by their side. But encourage your vocalists to sing for the whole set. Encourage them to smile, encourage them to raise their hands and encourage them to demonstrate for the church what it looks like to be engaged in corporate worship. All right.

Alex | Lastly, number 14 give direction. Give direction. You, as the leader, need to not be shy about what you want. Please communicate. It helps everybody if you communicate.

Alex | Don’t leave things up to chance. Just like you give direction to your band and ensure that they’re playing the right parts, you must do the same for your vocalist. Don’t be ashamed to say, hey, guys, I’m hearing something sounding off. Can we go over that part together? Just the voices.

Alex | Let’s loop that. Sally, can you work on blending for this part? Or Hey, you’re sticking out too much. Can you kind of take a little bit of your volume down? Don’t be afraid to say those things.

Alex | You’re the leader and God has called you to lead, so give direction and lead. So those are the 14 ways that you can get more out of your vocalist. And let me give you one last bonus thought. I would encourage you to try to only audition and add singers to your team who can sing both melody and harmony. It does not do you any good to have a bunch of people on your team who can only sing melody.

Alex | No, you need harmony singers, so make it a requirement at your church. Before you audition anyone, ask them, do you sing harmony? If they don’t, say, at this time, we’re only auditioning people who can sing both melody and harmony. Here are some YouTube videos. Please watch them try to learn harmony and come back and audition.

Alex | But it’s really important that you have vocalists who can sing both melody and harmony so that you can have a versatile team and great vocalists on your team, because great vocalists are a huge part of musical excellence. All right, I hope this episode was helpful to you. If it was, please help me by passing it on to a friend. If you’re watching on YouTube, hit the like and subscribe button and the notification bell icon so you can be notified of all future episodes being released. And let’s keep growing together.

Alex | Remember, this was a sample lesson from our Musical Excellence course, which is found within the Worship Ministry training platform. There are 138 other lessons about different topics that are just as impactful and insightful as this one. So if you like this one, dive into the free ten day trial and check out the rest of the lessons in the platform. Go to Worship Ministrytraining.com and click the Start my free trial button. All right.

Alex | Hope to see you guys inside the community. Otherwise I will see you next month for another helpful episode. But God bless you, and thank you for letting me be an encouragement to you.