Using Vocal Cues to Help Your Church Sing

As worship leaders, our job is not to sing, but to help the people sing. We are facilitators of the congregational choir. One way we can help facilitate is by using “vocal cues”. Vocal cues are the things you say or sing to help your congregation know where you’re going next in a song.

Today’s episode feels less like a lecture, and more like you’re sitting across from me in my office with our guitars, working through some real-life examples of using vocal cues well. You’ll hear about how to sing them, say them, proper timing, tone, non-verbal cues and more. Enjoy the episode and thanks for being a part of the WLT community!

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When the congregation feels confident, they will sing out confidently.  – Tweet That!

As a worship leader, your job is not to sing, but to help the people sing.  – Tweet That!

Worship leaders are at their best when they act as facilitators of the congregational choir.  – Tweet That!

You never want a church member’s brain to interrupt their heart. – Tweet That!

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Alex Enfiedjian 00:10 Hello,

Alex Enfiedjian 00:11 and welcome back to another episode of the worship leader training podcast. This is Alex Enfiedjian, your host, and today we’re going to be talking about using vocal cues to help your congregation sing. But first, our recommended product of the month is Planning Center. Planning Center is the most robust, easy to use software that you can use to schedule your teams and plan your services. There are so many things that can do I can’t even list them all. But lucky for you, there’s a free trial, if you go to planning dot center, you can try it out for free. And then after that it starts at $14 a month. My favorite feature of Planning Center that I use all the time is the matrix view. And what that is, is you can literally look at all of your services planned out for however many months in advance you want. And you can schedule your team in a drag and drop grid, you can just grab your players and drag them into the certain slots that you want. And you can kind of see who’s scheduled each week. And you don’t have to do it one week at a time, you can also do that with your song planning. So the matrix grid is awesome and saves you a lot of time, check out Planning Center at planning dot center. And be sure to use the free 30 day trial that they give you. Alright, let’s get into our episode for this month.

Alex Enfiedjian 01:28 As a worship leader, our job is not to sing. But to help the people sing. Obviously, we’re going to sing but that’s not the primary function. Our job really is to be the facilitator of the congregational choir. And one way that we can help facilitate this congregational choir is by helping them know when and what to sing. And we can do this by using vocal cues. Vocal cues are the things that you say, or the things that you sing that help your church know where you are going next in the song. The key to vocal cues is really to use them anytime there is a fork in the road of the song. So at any junction where the song can go two or more directions. Basically, you never want the congregation to be asking, ah, what’s coming next, you know, that feeling of like, Oh, I don’t know what to sing, like, what’s the next lyric going to be? And are we going to go to the bridge? Or are we going to a double chorus. And so you never want them to feel that feeling of what’s coming next. You never want their brain to interrupt their heart. And vocal cues are the thing that helps them feel confident, it instills confidence in your congregation, that they’re not going to sing the wrong thing at the wrong time. And when they’re confident in where you’re going, and where the songs going, well guess what they’re going to sing out confidently. Some typical places where you might lose people are at the end of an instrumental right, like, they’re not sure how long that instrumental is going to go on. They’re not sure when you’re going to start singing again and what they will be singing next. So that’s a place where people feel that what’s coming next, possibly in between double choruses, they might be thinking, Okay, I know we’re doing a chorus, what’s after the chorus? Are we going to the bridge? Or is it back to the chorus, so they’re not going to know in those moments where you’re going next. You know, after you sing a chorus and you’ve got like the musical portion before the verse, they know, they’re going to go back to the verse, but they’re not exactly sure when they should start to sing. And so what we do with vocal cues is we keep people on the train, we say, here we are, this is where we’re at in the song, and this is where we’re going, don’t be afraid, and it just instills confidence in them, and then they’ll sing them out. So those are vocal cues. Now, here are seven tips on using them. And I’m actually going to grab my guitar and give some examples. So I got my guitar here, and I’ll crank out a few tunes for you. It’s 6am as I record this, so you’ll have to excuse me, but I just feel like it’ll be helpful to hear some of the things I’m talking about. So the first tip of using vocal keys well is to sing them. You don’t always have to say them you can sing them sometimes. So here’s an example from Breton brown song joyful. The bridge goes

Alex Enfiedjian 04:17 Jesus

Alex Enfiedjian 04:22 Jesus you

Alex Enfiedjian 04:32 seeing that?

Alex Enfiedjian 04:34 Cheese

Alex Enfiedjian 04:37 right so seeing that again now cuz they don’t know if if you’re gonna repeat it. You could just say seeing it again. Or you can sing it sing that again. Jesus you right or

Alex Enfiedjian 04:54 I want to

Alex Enfiedjian 04:57 sing off in the

Alex Enfiedjian 05:00 All right, so sing open the eyes, kind of you can do that. The song, the stand the chorus, or I guess it’s technically the pre chorus

Alex Enfiedjian 05:14 work in us.

Alex Enfiedjian 05:19 Work is

Alex Enfiedjian 05:31 complete?

Alex Enfiedjian 05:35 What can I say?

Alex Enfiedjian 05:43 Right, so you just you sing it in between, because they don’t know where we going next, or there’s that song worthy worthy. I don’t actually know how to play this song, but the youth band does it at our church. And, you know, goes, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty worthy, worthy is your name. And you know, if you’re gonna do a double, you can go worthy is your name we seeing holy, right, so we seeing it kind of tells the congregation we’re gonna sing it again, right? So that’s tip one, sing them. The other tip is obviously you could say them, it’s not bad to say, Let’s sing my hope is built on nothing less, my hope is built. So you can say the thing. And we’ll talk about the timing of when to say them, you know, so let’s just actually play that. So I hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood

Alex Enfiedjian 06:37 and righteousness.

Alex Enfiedjian 06:38 So if you have a little intro like I do on my arrangement, you say, sing my hope, my spell, right? So you say it, and you got to say it at the right time. You

Alex Enfiedjian 06:55 don’t want to say it too early. So for example, let’s sing my hope is bill. Why would you you know, why would you say that early so

Alex Enfiedjian 07:11 but sometimes, like we accidentally do. And then we’re like, oh, crap, now I gotta wait for the whole intro to finish before we sing it. And that actually takes away confidence from the congregation. So you don’t want to say too early. And you also don’t want to say it too late. So here’s an example of saying too late, same intro for my hope is built. My hope is built my hope is built on right. Obviously, that’s a bad vocal cue, you stepped over the bar that you needed to start singing on. And they’re just like, Ah, so and you’re like, Ah, so yeah, not too early, not too late. Another example would be like praise is rising. Sing praises rising.

Alex Enfiedjian 08:01 Pray.

Alex Enfiedjian 08:04 That’s like That was a good one. Here’s a bad one. Sing praises rising.

Alex Enfiedjian 08:15 Crazy. That’s bad,

Alex Enfiedjian 08:18 too early, right. And then obviously, you can do too late, but you get the point. So you want to it takes practice. And and that’s one of the points later on is you need to practice these things. Another tip, as you say them is to use variety when you say them. So you can do a couple things. Like so far on those two songs. My hope is Bill and praises rising, I said the actual lyrics that they’re going to sing. So you can say the lyrics, right? Or you could say, Let’s sing that verse again. Or you can say let’s proclaim this. Or let’s make this your prayer. Or you could say let’s sing it out or sing it to him. Alright, let’s think about these lyrics or like sometimes in man of sorrows, you know, we get to the last verse, and

Alex Enfiedjian 09:13 then we get to the verse about the resurrection. I say, Let’s sing the good news, or I’ll say, and now the good news,

Alex Enfiedjian 09:19 see the stone is rolled away. Right? You’re actually pastoring them in those moments to be aware of the lyrics that they’re singing. So that’s the third tip is to use variety if you do say them, use variety. The fourth tip is the tone. You want to match the tone in the same tambor that you’re singing in you don’t want to speak if you’re going to speak them you don’t want to speak them lower or higher than the tambor that your voice is currently singing in. So I guess an example would be let’s say revelation song. I remember a girl on my team was leading the song. And,

Alex Enfiedjian 10:03 you know, it’s like,

Alex Enfiedjian 10:05 Jesus you

Alex Enfiedjian 10:06 name is power.

Alex Enfiedjian 10:18 Holy, holy, holy.

Alex Enfiedjian 10:25 Right. So that I mean, that is just wrong. It’s like it actually is a distraction. So what you would want to do is you’re up there and you’re like, Jesus name is power.

Alex Enfiedjian 10:54 I’m putting myself out there with the 6am singing guys be gracious to me. All right. So, so yeah, tone, make sure your tone is right in the range that you’re singing in. Otherwise, you’re like, too low or too high. it detracts from the moment keep keep the tone the same. Okay, next tip is actually some nonverbals, there are some nonverbal things that you can do to indicate to the congregation that you’re about to start singing. So for example, if we’re moving into an instrumental moment, I will step away from the microphone, I’ll just step away, I’ll turn towards the drummer, I’ll get away and I won’t step back until we’re about to start singing.

Alex Enfiedjian 11:36 That’s a visual cue for the congregation. It’s not even a vocal cue, it’s a nonverbal cue,

Alex Enfiedjian 11:42 okay, we’re not going to sing for a while because he’s not even close to the microphone. And then as we get closer to the point, I kind of sneak back and then as I’m about to start singing, I lean in to the microphone, or I turn my head towards it. And that’s a cue for everyone. That’s a cue for the lyrics, people, the slide people, that’s a cue for the congregation, it’s cue for the band and the singers. So stepping into the microphone is a great way to do that. Also, breathing loudly. Sometimes, for example, let’s go back to like the stand. So I’m gonna lean into the mic here. You can, when is he going to start singing used to be for creation? When is he going to start? Well, I don’t know. So what I’ll do is I’ll be like, you stood before, hopefully, you could hear that in the recording. But I take a deep breath into the mic. And that helps people realize All right, here we go. So that’s a really great way to do it. And also, the slides behind you, or on the sides of you, wherever you have them. Those can be a nonverbal cue. So I always tell my slide people, you never want the congregation to think about, oh, what’s the next slide again, you don’t want their head to interrupt their heart. So the slides should be up there early. And that gives them a cue on what they’re singing next, as well. One thing that I tell our slide people is, as soon as we sing the first sound of the last word on a slide, click the button to the next slide, the first sound of the last word is your cue to click the button to the next slide. Because once they’ve said that first sound, they already know the rest of that word, and they’re ready for the next batch. What’s the next batch. So the slides are a nonverbal cue that help your congregation feel comfortable about what’s coming next. One thing that I forgot to mention earlier that I’ll mention now is that you can actually help people know when to come in and when not to come in by holding out your vocal note over potential bars where they could come in. So for example, on How great Thou art after the course, they could come in after a four count. But if you don’t want them to come in, after the four count, you can hold your vocal note over the four count. And so they have to wait for the next bar to start. For example, I’ll show you how great and when I think they could come in right there. And because I stopped my note early, they might accidentally come in right there. But if I want them to not come in till the second bar, you should hold the note longer than the first bar. So here’s how it would sound.

Alex Enfiedjian 14:28 How okay.

Alex Enfiedjian 14:43 So, right there, I didn’t even give them the option to come in early. So they knew Okay, we’re waiting here. So that’s another thing you can do that I highly recommend. The other thing that I’ll say about vocal cues is to not overdo them. Don’t overdo them. can be a distraction. If you’re literally every single verse and every single chorus, you’re saying something. And I personally have a tendency to overdo vocal cues. But that can be just as much a distraction as not saying them at all. And so you have to find this balance. And it really is a thing that you learn with experience. But a good rule of thumb is, if the church knows the song and the structure of the song well, and you do it often, you can basically just stay out of the way and let them worship. So it is something that you have to balance and kind of figure out with time and experience and practice. And that’s the last tip about vocal cues, practice them. This is something especially if you’re a new worship leader, it’s not going to feel natural, it’s not going to be easy. And so you have to practice you have to work hard to sit in your office, play through the songs and think okay, where am I going to lose the congregation? Where are they going to be unsure and then practice, use variety, say them, sing them, try them try things out. So those are my seven little tips on using vocal cues to help your church sing well. Again, the recap of it is literally just this, make sure your congregation knows where you’re going so that they feel comfortable, instill confidence in them, and they will confidently Sing out. That’s it for today’s episode. Thanks so much for tuning in. Check out all the links in the show notes. There are ways for you to contact me, you can email me You can even leave a voicemail for a future episode. You can share this episode very easily by clicking the links and you can leave us a review all those things are in the show notes and more. So check out the show notes in your podcast app. I hope this episode was helpful to you please pass it on to a friend and I will see you next month for another great episode. Hopefully all of them have been helpful, and thanks for being a part of this community. I am so blessed by you guys. Go Lee. Well, God bless.

Alex Enfiedjian 16:59 Talk to you soon.