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Vocal Tips by Sheri Gould

Worship Leader, speaker and vocal coach, Sheri Gould, has put together a short list of what she considers to be some of the most important aspects of being a great vocalist. In this THREE PART SERIES, Sheri shares her insights and advice to help vocalists take their skills to a higher level.

PART ONE: The Ultimate Vocalist

These are simplified steps to becoming a great vocalist, even if you have not had a lot of training. They are easy steps you can do on your own— and surprisingly without the help of a coach (although the help of a coach is always better!). Each idea is distinct and yet vitally connected to the others. If there is even one aspect that isn't right, the whole “ship” can go down, so make sure you have a good grasp of these basics. I have put my top suggestions into a simple list of 5 words starting with “P”.

PREPARE
 Being prepared means being vocally and musically prepared. It’s imperative to prepare your body, mind and spirit. Many an opportunity has been lost simply due to lack of preparation. 

Vocally: Warming up is essential for the vocal mechanism to work at its best and to avoid unnecessary stress/damage to the cords. NEVER sing without warming up. You will not only sound a lot better, but you’ll save (and extend the life of) your vocal cords.  But beyond simply warming up before your presentation, you need to be preparing your voice to sing whatever song(s) you’ve selected. Each song will present unique and different challenges so you may find the need to work on certain technical aspects of a song until you feel more confident. This often means breaking the song down into smaller sections and isolating the specific areas that need work. Oftentimes there are vocalises that are applicable for exactly the problem you’re facing in your song. Having mastered a few of these key exercises can prepare you long ahead of time to be able to apply the technique right where and when you want to. 

Musically: It’s important to choose music that is well suited for you. This includes range, style and appropriateness for your event. Just because you really like a song, doesn’t mean its right for you to sing. (Having said that, there are times when a song can be adapted for you.) Having the right song, in the right key with the right accompaniment is a very important component of being prepared.

Spiritually: Take time to pray about your upcoming event. Ask God to give you a clear vision of what He wants to do through you and you’ll have a much better chance of accomplishing more than just a “performance”. You can actually touch people’s lives.

PRACTICE
Practice may not "make perfect” but it will get us a lot closer. We need to get really comfortable with whatever we’re singing if we’re going to be able to present our song in a manner that reaches people. So we need to practice the song we’re singing until we not only get it right, but it’s like a second nature to us.
I like to quote my college vocal coach who once told me, “You can’t even START to work on a song until its memorized, and NEVER sing a song in public that you haven’t sung at least 100 times in private.” He was on to something. Practicing well can truly help with so many things; including nerves. When you are confident that you know your song and that you can sing it effectively, you will be much less nervous. When you are less nervous and more relaxed, you can help your audience to be more relaxed and be able to enjoy your song and respond t the message instead of your nervousness.

POSITION
Position your larynx properly. Many are the problems associated with high larynx singing. Make sure you learn how to relax the muscles in your throat and neck. When the larynx rides up, it creates tension and also squeezes up against the trachea making the area you have for air and tone flow in the throat—much smaller. The throat can be a great source of resonance leading right into the chest area, but not if the larynx rides high and cuts it off. When that happens, you are relegated to only being able to sing with a resonance from the jaw upward. Therefore you’re much more likely to have a thinner resonance (upper head register) with a high larynx. Most of us prefer the richer sound of a lower register (chest) or would at least like to have the option of choosing between the two. When you constantly sing with a high larynx you have fewer options.
Additionally, keeping the larynx low not only eliminates tension, but it paves the way for extending your range because of it. So learning how to relax and master this technique will really help you in your quest to deliver your songs with the tone quality that you want.

PERCEIVE
The mind is an amazing thing. Scientists tell us that we only use about 10% of our brain; I can only imagine what capabilities lie locked inside. I just know that I wish I could use what I have more effectively! When it comes to singing, there is much that we can do to get our mind working for us rather than against us.
Take stock of the many mental messages that play over and over again n your head with regard to your singing—or singing a particular song, or even a specific part of a song. Often the messages coming from within are not always helpful or encouraging. We need to take hold of these thoughts (…taking every thought captive) and make a decision about whether or not they are helping us accomplish our goals.
I want to just look at one common thought process and it’s regarding pitch. Most of us think of pitch as something that goes “up” (or down). We tend to envision the pitches we sing in this way. As we do so, oftentimes we begin to react physically to what’s going on mentally and we may tend to tense up. Perhaps we’ll raise our eyebrows, or stand on our toes in an effort to “reach” the pitch. All of this goes against what we should be doing; which is relaxing.  I try to think about pitch as rolling put in front of me on a slight decline. That way when I picture the pitch, I’m actually “stepping down” in my mind to scoop up the pitch: I’m not reaching up for it. This has a significant effect on my whole body—but it’s my mind that’s controlling it.
There are so many aspects to this particular application that there is no way to cover it in a small section here. I do ask you to try and take an inventory of your personal thoughts with regard to your singing though and don’t let them get the better of you—take control and you that fabulous brain of yours!

PRESENT
Presenting your song is probably the most critical part of the whole process. Why? Because even if you have done everything else I’ve listed but fail to present your song well, it could be all for naught. On the other hand, even if some of the other things don’t get handled as well as you might have liked, there are certain things you can do with your presentation to help smooth over some bumps. . Because of the importance of this topic, I will discuss it more fully in my next article. 

See ya next time! Until then, keep on singing for Him!  - Sheri Gould

Visit Sheri's website for more tips  and information about vocal coaching sessions.   Part Two available soon.

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Sheri is a graduate of the University of Ill. She has taught voice privately for 30 years and has been a worship leader and music director in various local churches since 1986. She was the director of Good News Productions, an evangelistic outreach involving singing, drama, dance and original musica
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