Worship Leaders: Know Your Vocalists!
As worship leaders/music directors, it is our responsibility to know exactly what our vocalists are capable of musically. Matching a song to the appropriate singer can have tremendous effects on the singer, the band and the congregation. If a song assignment is not done correctly, your singer will feel like a failure, your band will experience overall frustration, and the phrase “oh, bless your heart” will be echoed throughout the congregation. If you have not focused on this aspect of your role much, I suggest you start paying close attention to what your vocalists’ major strengths are, as well as what they are not. Below is a list of items to consider when matching songs with vocalists.
1. Range – You can always transpose a song if you need to but it’s easier to select a song that fits nicely into your singer’s range. Using my guitar, I have found that most women sing between 3rd string G (open) and 1st string A (5th fret). Again, that is the general range and you may find some women with the capacity to sing well beyond two octaves. As far as male vocalists go, 1st string E to 5th string A is a general range. A baritone won’t have many songs to sing unless you transpose the songs to a lower key. So, when selecting a song, make sure the vocal line is within your singer’s vocal range.
2. Style – Is their style soulful, rocker or traditional style? You’ll know this immediately when they audition. I would think twice about giving someone who sounds like Kari Jobe a Kim Walker-Smith song. Or, vice versa. They may be able to pull it off, but they won’t be in their sweet spot and it just won’t sound great. If they’ve performed cover tunes for many years, they will be able to cover most anything, but that is a rare find.
3. Speech – When they talk, are they monotone? Do they project? Do they have a southern twang in their speech? Think about this, because if you’re doing “Hosanna”, you may end up hearing “Hosan-ner” instead. However, these issues are an easy fix and should not prevent you from scheduling someone.
4. Pitch – If a singer frequently goes just a little flat on long notes, then don’t assign them songs with long notes. It goes without saying that you need to teach your vocalists about breath support and holding pitch, but in the meantime, give them the faster songs whose original tracks have some pitchy vocals in them already. These are usually the “jump and shout” songs that everyone knows and loves. They can rock these songs while they work on their lessons.
5. Lead/BGV – Many times singers will join your band with the capacity to sing lead vocals only. This creates a problem when you have 4 singers and none of them know how to harmonize. You can either teach them how to sing harmonies or have each of them on stage to sing their specific songs only. As for me, I would rather teach them how to sing harmonies. When you present the idea you may hear comments such as, “I can’t sing harmonies. I just don’t hear them”. Harmonizing can be taught, you just have to invest in your singers.
6. Win, Win – A tested and proven way to give your singers confidence, create “buy in” and experience a huge “win” is to have them bring you a song that they love and want to sing. They usually perform well on songs they bring to the worship team. They know the song musically, they have the lyrics memorized and will totally be in their sweet spot when they get to lead it. Ask them to bring you their “home run” song and you’ll be glad you did.
7. Who Are They? – Last but not least, you must get to know your singers. Relationships are the key to building a great team, and as you assign songs to your vocalists, it’s important to know exactly who is leading the congregation in praise to our King! All of the tips above will not be effective if your vocalists don’t love and trust you. They need to know that you have their best interest in mind and that you love them. You need to be their biggest fan and show them that you are proud of them. A strong relationship will allow your singers to be comfortable in sharing what they’re going through in their personal lives. This lets you know when to love on them, and most importantly they will trust you when you need to ask them to take a break. These situations can be tough, but sometimes necessary to guide them in their walk with Christ.
You can really make or break a singer by the songs you choose, so please choose wisely. After months of assigning the right songs to your vocalists they will become confident enough to try songs that are out of their comfort zone, and before you know it, you’ll have a talented singer that is strong in faith, versatile and ready to worship. Remember, it’s up to you to Know Your Vocalists.
Joey Davila is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Harvest Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He is a husband, father, guitarist, vocalist, producer and solo artist. In his 13 years of worship ministry he has served as a music director, school of worship founder/director & multisite worship pastor.