12 Things to Try at Your Next Singer Practice
It took me a long time to realize the importance of having a practice specifically for the singers on my worship team.
Band practices, I could understand, but was a singer practice really necessary?
As I started talking with and listening to my singers, I discovered that they had a lot of questions about what, when, and how much to sing. I realized that I had some of my own opinions about those questions. We started setting a focused time of practice outside of our larger band practice and within the first few practices, I began to see that there were definitely ways that my singers could improve. Setting a time to build them up as singers began to make a lot more sense to me. Once we started having singer practices, I immediately saw fruit come from it.
Here are ten things to try at your next singer practice:
1) Warm up. Starting with five to ten minutes of warm-ups always helps to break the ice and get people comfortable. There are a lot of great warm-up options you can find online. Just do a search for “vocal warm ups” on YouTube and you will find a lot of exercises to help warm up your singing voice.
2) Practice breathing. At the core of good singing lies good breathing. It takes practice to figure out what a ‘correct breath’ feels like in your body. There are some fun breathing exercises you can find online to help with this. Again, search “proper breathing technique for singing” or “breathing from your diaphragm” on YouTube and you should find plenty of examples of different exercises you can try with your team. It’s always good to keep awareness of breathing correctly before yourself and your singers.
3) Practice articulation. This is a big one to always keep in the back of your mind. Can you understand what your singers are singing? It’s good to be aware of articulating words to actually be understandable, especially if you’re doing a lot of spontaneous singing.
4) Sing solos. One of my favorite things things to do in singer practice is to have different singers sing solo. I have them either sing a worship song or spontaneously sing a Bible passage over some chords I’m playing at the keyboard. This might sound terrifying, but honestly, most singers desperately want feedback, whether good or bad. Something inside of us feels loved when our trusted friends share honest feedback in a loving way. Go around the circle a few times and have each person sing the vocal exercise.
5) Work on harmonies. Another simple thing you can do is work on harmony parts. I guarantee you that if you’re not sure which songs to do, just call a singer practice and ask all your singers what would be the number one song they would want to work on for the next hour. If they’re paying attention and pursuing excellence at all, they’ll have many suggestions for you and you won’t get through all the songs in one day. It’s a fun time to be with your singers in a different context and pursue excellence together in what you’re doing.
6) Develop musicianship. Good musicianship isn’t just for your band; musicianship must also be developed as a singer. You can have an amazing voice or be able to shred on the electric guitar, but you have to know when to use those skills. Building a song as singers is so key. You don’t want all of your three or four singers singing the entire song with you from start to finish. Instead of getting into specific detail for specific songs (which I used to do), I stopped specifically arranging certain songs vocally and began hitting the point with my singers that they need to actually think about whether (or not) what they’re doing is adding to the song in a tasteful way. Of course, everyone will have a different opinion on this, but as the worship leader, think about your sound. Think about the people in the room listening to you and your singers. Is it pleasant to the ear? Many times, I will set the standard of all singers singing on choruses of songs but on verses just me or maybe me and one or two harmonies. Work with your singers and get them to begin thinking about how to build intensity, gentleness, or even suspense with their singing. You don’t want them singing as powerfully as they can for the entire song. Develop with them the natural build of a song and the emotion you might be going for.
7) Find each singer’s “sweet spot.” Some more trained singers will know their voice very well, but for newer singers or singers who have never really thought about it, you can help them figure out their vocal range and where their vocal break is. Where is the “sweet spot” of their range where they should shoot to sing? Should they try to hit their falsetto in a particular key? Which key does their falsetto sound best in? Help your singers find their voice, not to lock them into something, but to give them confidence and help them soar.
8) Practice blending. As singers, this one is paramount. Practice blending by singing a worship song and having each singer harmonize with you one at a time or have them match you on melody. Their natural vibrato might not match with yours, so have them practice trying to match it.
9) Work on tone. Each singer is going to have a different tone when they sing and you want to be careful how you critique your singers’ tones. Many times, people claim that a certain tone is simply their “style” and that they’re unable to change it. But I’ve found that with some coaching, vocal lessons, and a lot of practice, tone can be developed and made cleaner, brighter, tighter, and more appealing to the human ear. The placement of your voice will determine whether or not your tone is good. Are you singing through your nose and sounding nasally? Do you have too much vibrato? Do you have no vibrato? The resonance of our voices is changed by the way we have our mouth shaped and the resonance in the chest and nasal passages. All of these are things we can work on developing.
10) Learn to sing with emotion. Obviously we don’t want to overdo it, but if we’re singing through Psalm 23 and we get to “though I walk through the valley of the shadow,” we want to try to paint that picture with the emotion in our voice and tone. Convey the message of what you’re singing. We cannot separate singing from human emotions; the two are tied together.
11) Sing different styles. Assign a singer to sing a song or style that they wouldn’t usually sing in. It can be in the style of a Broadway show tune, jazz, a Disney song, etc. I usually give the person three to four weeks to prepare their solo and then ask them to sing it to the rest of the singers. Afterwards, we all give feedback. This will expand the singer’s voice. More often than not, my singers say they learned something new about their voice, which then translates into their singing of worship songs.
12) Interval training. Have someone play the root note on the keyboard and then challenge different singers to sing different intervals (a major 6th, minor 2nd, etc). This is a great way to develop your skill for when you sing spontaneously. It’s a fun thing to practice and challenge your singers with. This will help singers develop the ear and become familiar with hearing different notes and pushes the singer out of the typical three to five note range that is so easy to get stuck singing in. You can get a basic overview of intervals online. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, a great place to start is by searching “music interval training 101” on YouTube.
Would love to hear your feedback once you try a few of these out!
Huge thanks to my friend Jordan Vanderplate for letting me use this photo of Beaver Springs, PA. Check out more of his work here.