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Vocal Tips by Sheri Gould

In Part One of this three part series, Worship Leader and Vocal Coach Sheri Gould highlighted five areas designed to help vocalists remember key basics in becoming the best vocalist they can be.   Sheri discussed the benefits of how to Prepare, Practice, Position (your larynx), Perceive and finally the art of Presentation.  Part Two adds to that discussion and addresses the final “P” -  Presentation, in more detail.  Enjoy this in depth view at the importance of how a song is received as it is presented.  To view Part One, click here  

PART TWO: The Ultimate Vocalist

The actual presentation of a song is the culmination of all the preparation and work a vocalist has done behind the scenes. Yet, in spite of the importance of all of the preparation, nothing compares to the impact of how the song is presented to the audience. In actuality, if you could somehow get a hold of your presentation and do a great job with it, you could conceivably accomplish nearly all of your primary goals as a singer. I say this confidently because of the incredible number of singers out there who clearly have not worked on a few finer points of singing and yet they touch us and their song moves us. Why? The answer is because of their presentation.

The Goal

So what is your goal as a singer? You need to remember that everyone who comes to see and hear you sing is looking for an experience (even if they don’t immediately realize it). Depending on the venue, the experience they’re seeking will be slightly different for each setting. For example, if you’re singing in a coffee house, people may be looking for one type of experience. If they’re coming to see you at a large outdoor concert, then it could be a slightly different type of experience they’re looking for. If they’re coming to see you in a church...you get the idea.  Yet even though these experiences are different to a degree, they’re likely to be very similar in that it’s an emotional response most of us crave when it comes to music, especially singing.

Unlike other types of music, singing can direct your thoughts more pointedly. All types of music are capable of moving you and creating a response, but with vocal music we can communicate more specifically.  Because we have the advantage of language in our music, we can communicate very specific concepts. These concepts are designed to touch people and reach them where they live. Those are the types of experiences that people enjoy and remember. So we need to make sure that our primary goal as a singer is to be a servant. A servant that serves up a message that can touch, effect and even change the audience.

What It’s Not

Many singers, intuitively recognizing the goal as stated above, can get confused as to how to get there.  I often see performers mistakenly thinking that THEIR emotional response to the message or the song itself is what will move their audience. There is a big difference between displaying your own emotions versus evoking emotion in your audience. Make sure you understand the difference.  Try to remember this: the audience is not so interested in how you feel, but you make them feel.  Lots of outward emotional responses and overused hand motions simply become distractions for the audience and prohibit them from getting in touch with the message themselves.

It’s important to remember that when you are nervous or uncomfortable in any way, this will also greatly affect your audience. They will naturally respond to your emotional state and find themselves concerned for you rather than simply responding to the song. This is because your message has changed, it’s no longer rooted in the song you’re singing or its message, but instead the message has become all about you and your emotional state.

Own the Message

In order to communicate any message effectively, you have to truly understand it and feel its impact. This is one reason why it’s important to sing a song with a message you can truly relate to.  It doesn’t make sense for us to try and connect with a message that has no place in our lives. I often find it amusing when I see YouTube videos of little 7 yr old girls singing “I’ll Always Love You” or some other moving love song that they can’t possibly relate to or have anything other than a cursory understanding of. These types of performance are strictly designed to show off certain vocal aspects of the child, but they do nothing to really move the audience most of the time.  However, when Whitney Houston sang the song (especially in light of the role she played in the movie for which this was the theme song) the song was truly moving.  Her breathtaking rendition is rent out of not only impeccable vocal technique (encompassing the first 4 “Ps” perfectly) but also a genuine understanding of the message. She truly owned the song.

Own the Song

Owning the message is critical, but the last step is to truly own the song itself.   No place is this more relevant than in the church. Recently I experienced this first hand.  I was in church one Sunday and was able to observe a young woman who truly embodied this whole idea. As I watched her on the worship team, even though she was a back up singer, I was truly moved by how she totally connected with what she was singing about. Every move was born out of her love for what and whom she was singing about.  Her ownership was obvious.  In her role as a background vocalist she shined and truly led. She was an inspiration not only to the congregation, but to the entire team as well.

Then she stepped forward to sing the lead on the final song of the morning.  I watched as this young woman deftly sang this song. She was completely committed to the process of drawing our minds to the message of what she was so clearly proclaiming. She did this without drawing attention to herself. Her inspiring display of true worship was like a brush fire that caught sure and fast throughout the congregation leaving us to follow her even as she followed after the Lord. It was a marvelous example of what a worship leader should be doing.

It was clearly not the first time she had worshipped through the means of that song.  Her familiarity with worshipping was so palpable it heightened everyone’s worship experience.  That’s something that can’t be “put on”. She spent time preparing to arrive at this place. Not time “practicing singing” but time engaged in understanding and owning the true massage behind her song.  What a blessing for the congregation.  They truly embraced the experience they were longing for that morning because of one woman’s commitment to becoming the “Ultimate Vocalist”!

Stay tuned for Part Three coming soon:  “Vibrato” by Sheri Gould.  Visit Sheri's website  http://sherigould.com/

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 and dance.
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