- Here’s a checklist for troubleshooting possible issues in finding the right blend for your vocalists.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] worship team or choir with good vocal blend is a group of singers that sound like one voice, a beautiful representation of unity within the church. Poor vocal blend can be distracting to other worshippers, so striving for a great blend is a worthwhile, common goal for all members of the team. Working to sound like one voice gives the team reason and opportunity to work together, listen together, and help each other. What’s not to love about a worship team or choir that grows together personally, spiritually, and musically? If you want to improve vocal blend, use this checklist as a starting point to troubleshoot any problems that might be getting in the way.
Can the singers hear each other?
This may seem elementary, but if the singers cannot hear each other well, they will not be able to blend well and sing as one voice. You may need to adjust microphones and monitor levels in order to help each singer hear the others (and themselves) clearly. Or you may need to arrange the group so that vocalists stand according to the part they sing. You can also use listening exercises to help singers improve their ability listen to each other. Have the singers stand in a circle facing each other to sing so they can hear and see all of the parts. Have the singers practice each other’s parts, as well.
Do the singers know their notes? Are they singing the same notes?
Sometimes, arrangements of popular songs are more difficult to learn than something that is relatively unknown because every artist sings the melody a little bit differently than the others. If each singer sings the song according to the way their personal favorite artist sings it, they might all be singing a different version. You may have to teach the notes of familiar songs just like you would an unfamiliar one.
Are they singing with similar volume?
Singers should be able to hear the person on either side of them sing when not using mics and monitors. If one person sings significantly louder than the rest, the vocal blend will suffer.
Are the singers using too many special effects?
Vibrato, scoops, breathiness, slides, and other effects make for great solos but can get in the way of good vocal blend. Ask singers to be careful with their use of effects when they aren’t soloing. However, effects that are done well as a group can make an impressive impact on a simple song.
Do the singers know their rhythms?
If singers are having to guess at rhythms or are interpreting syncopation differently, you may end up with a sloppy sounding blend. Tighten it up by having singers clap the rhythm or clap the beat while singing.
Are the singers singing on pitch?
Intonation problems are one of the biggest culprits to good vocal blend. You might try to have weaker singers stand next to singers with solid pitch. Also, make sure the accompanying instruments are tuned well. You might start out rehearsals with a few pitch matching exercises if intonation is a big problem. Try asking the team to practice singing a capella and have them listen for out of pitch notes.
Are the singers over-singing?
Over-singing is a great effect when used well and at appropriate times. However, this means of singing higher notes with chest voice (rather than head voice) can cause pitch problems that lead to blend problems. Save this technique for solos.
Are they using good technique?
Improving technique might make all the difference when it comes to vocal blend. If singers are sitting, legs should be uncrossed and planted firmly on the ground with no slouching. Better yet, have singers stand with good posture (without locking their knees). Some breathing practice will help singers support the sound, which will lead to better intonation and blend. Have singers practice saying “ha” in rapid succession to get the feeling of good breath support, or have them lie on the floor with a book on top of their stomachs. Getting the book to rise and fall as they breathe is another good way to practice achieving the vocal support necessary. Some singers mistakenly use their swallowing muscles to create a good sound; however, this will lead to poor blend and poor intonation as well as sore throats and hoarseness. Gently place your thumbs under your chin/jaw area and swallow – you will feel the swallowing muscles at work. Practice until you can sing without using these muscles for a better blend.
Are they using the same diction?
Diction, articulation, pronunciation – no matter what you call it, if the group doesn’t do it the same way, the music will seem out of tune and not well blended. For example, if half the group sings the word “either” with a long I sound while the other half sings it with the long E sound, the results will not be unified even though neither pronunciation is wrong. Try to spot possible differences before you teach singers the song, and then have them mark the pronunciation you want to use in their music so they don’t forget.
Is the song in the right key?
Every individual and every team has a particular range of notes that suits their voices. A key that goes to high or too low is likely to cause your singers to force their voices to do something unnatural and uncomfortable. Check that the tessitura is in the sweet spot for your particular group and consider harmonies for those that can’t reach the higher notes.
Some individual singers naturally blend well together, but for most of us, it takes a little effort and attention to become a unified voice. Taking a few minutes from each rehearsal to address any problem areas will be a huge help to your team’s sound and to their vocal confidence. This will improve the unified sound of the team and help them work together to accomplish a common, musical goal.
What are your best tips for improving the vocal blend of your teams and choirs?
Amanda is a toddler-chasing, coffee drinking, fashion boot-wearing, Fit-bit addicted, Jesus-loving, wife and mom to 5 small children. She spends her free time absorbed in fashion and tattoos, watching Pirates of the Caribbean, Googling, attempting clean eating, all while spreading autism awareness, encouraging adoption and foster care, championing the underdog, and of course, juicing.
Amanda serves the local church as a licensed American Baptist pastor, worship leader, free-lance writer, and church musician. She holds a Master of Divinity from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, a Bachelor of Arts in Church Music from Eastern University, and a cosmetology license from Metro Beauty Academy. Her favorite places to be are the local zoo, the church piano bench, Facebook, and anywhere her family is.