Not everyone has the ‘luxury’ of being able to just walk on a platform, grab a mic, and have fun singing! Many of us, as worship leaders, are also providing much needed accompaniment via musical instruments as well. Being the lead worshipper, providing decent vocals, as well as providing a respectable musical background for worship can be a trick. Here are some tips to help you accomplish this lofty goal.
First Things First
The most important thing any musician can do is to learn his instrument. Beyond the basics there comes the artistry. Few of us really get the chance, or find it really relevant, to truly display our musical, artistic ability during times of worship. Nonetheless, honing our craft is still a positive goal for a number of reasons.
The more you know about how to use your instrument, the easier it becomes to do the right things with less effort. This makes things easier on a Sunday morning. This is why it’s so important to know both of your instruments well. My guess is that the vast majority of singing instrumentalists feel more accomplished on the instrument they’re playing rather than their ‘vocal instrument’. Getting some basic training on the proper use of your voice might be a great first step toward polishing the total package.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
The most important thing you can do if you feel more accomplished on your instrument (than your voice) is to practice to the point of not needing to concentrate much at all on your technique or the music. For example, if you’re a guitar player, and you can get to the place where you can pretty much play the song in your sleep, then you’re good! If you can change chords without looking and you know which chord is coming next, then you can free your brain up to think more about singing. Especially as a guitar player, if you can rid yourself of the music, then you can interact much better with your congregation.
As a keyboard player or drummer, you don’t have the same option. There will always be something between you and your congregation. However, you do have the option of being as prepared as possible. Anything you can do to free up your brain to focus more on proper vocal technique will be a plus.
Why is Vocal Technique So Important?
While technique with all instruments is important, proper vocal technique can mean the difference between you being able to speak afterward or not! It can also mean the difference between you being able to sing next year or not. A lot of physical damage to the vocal folds can be done with improper technique (some of it permanent). While damage to your body can result from improper technique with other instruments, it doesn’t usually happen as quickly, and there are generally signs that are more difficult to ignore. We tend to overlook hoarseness as an annoying necessity, when in fact it’s a screaming sign to stop doing what you’re doing to your voice.
Proper Breath Support
One of the keys to avoiding vocal strain is to stay relaxed and use proper breath support. This can seem almost impossible at times while playing an instrument. One of the most physically taxing instruments to play is the drums. While it’s less common for the lead vocalist to be a drummer, it does sometimes happen. Even if not the lead vocalist, a drummer needs to sing to show his participation in worship. But the key here is lots of practice and good vocal technique from the start. This includes proper breathing, which is essential.
In order to breathe correctly, it’s imperative to have correct posture. In the same way that drummers have to sit, so do many keyboard players. If you are in a sitting position when you play and there’s no way around it, then make sure you “sit from the waist up”. Pull up hard from the chest until you can feel that the rib-cage is off the diaphragm. Relax your shoulders though, or you’ll get too much tension. This is a tricky balance to try to maintain when you’re playing either drums or keys because of the involvement of the arms and shoulders in your playing. Check frequently to make sure you are staying relaxed.
To summarize: You need to make sure that you have at least a rudimentary understanding of proper vocal technique – this is step one. Next, you need to prepare your music well; leaving yourself plenty of ‘mind space’ to focus on your singing technique – then you have taken step two. The last step to help insure that you are singing correctly is to do a self check.
Have a look in the mirror to make sure that you are employing proper singing technique. If you are sitting, check your posture. Even if you are standing with your instrument, check to be sure you are relaxed, yet with proper posture. The mirror is great immediate feedback. Taking and viewing a video of yourself during an actual time of worship would be invaluable. Then you can see what you actually do when you’re in front of an audience. That’s where the rubber meets the road.