7 Crucial Tips for Background Vocalists


By Kristen Gilles

Do you serve as a harmony vocalist on your worship team? Or are you a worship pastor who mentors vocalists and leads practice sessions? These seven tips should help:

 1)  Allow the lead vocalist to sing the first verse alone so that the congregation can clearly hear the melody. This is for the benefit of any member of your congregation who might be unfamiliar with the song. 

If the song is entirely new to the congregation, also allow the lead vocalist to sing the first chorus alone. If the song is familiar to your congregation, it’s not as critical to let the main vocalist sing the chorus solo. The congregation will likely be singing more robustly on a familiar chorus, which will aid any visitors who might not be familiar with the song.

2) Make sure your harmonic singing is in sync with the lead vocalist.  During rehearsal, pay attention to the specific way they are singing the lyrical phrases. Do your best to match the timing.  Let them lead the song.

3) Don’t necessarily sing harmony on every word or phrase.  If the text is particularly wordy, limit your harmonic vocals to the accented words and phrases.  This will also help you keep in time with the lead vocalist, who is less likely to vary the timing on the clearly accented words.

4)  As a harmony vocalist, you have the opportunity to help the congregation hear other musical, vocal parts of a song.  This can aid those in your congregation whose vocal ranges vary from the lead vocalist.

  • Gents, you have the opportunity to help the men in your congregation hear a tenor, baritone or bass line that accompanies a lead female vocalist. 
  • Ladies, you have the same opportunity to help the women find an alto or soprano part when a male vocalist is leading the song.

Of course not everyone in your congregation will be able to sing a second or third part, and that’s okay. But we can help them hear a complementary vocal part that they may otherwise have missed.  And if they can sing it in the congregation, it will add fullness to the choir of voices.

5) Be careful not to excessively sing melody over the lead vocalist.  There are instances when having all the vocalists sing the melody on the mic is very powerful and serves to further emphasize the lyrics. But if you are going to sing melody on mic with the lead vocalist, match his or her tone and timing.  If we’re singing double (or triple) melody on the mic, our sounds and words can easily become muddled.  The lead vocalist may also have a more difficult time hearing his self and, as a result, become pitchy and off-key.

6) When there are three or more vocalists, be sure you rehearse and solidify the three parts to be sung so everyone’s not fishing for their musical line during the gathered worship time.

7)  If the only harmony part you can hear is out of reach, leave it where it is and sing the melody off the mic. Sometimes if a harmony is too far removed from the melody it becomes more of a distraction than a support for the melody, especially if there isn’t a third, middle part to close the sound gap.


Kristen Gilles is a deacon in the worship ministry of Louisville’s Sojourn Community Church, and is featured in Sojourn Music’s The Water And The Blood: The Hymns Of Isaac Watts, Volume 2. Kristen blogs about worship with her husband, Sojourn’s Bobby Gilles, at mysonginthenight.com.


Be Sociable, Share!

    2 comments on “7 Crucial Tips for Background Vocalists

    1. Pingback: VOCALS: 7 Crucial Tips for Background Vocalists | Refuge Worship Arts Blog

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>