In More Than Music Mentor

For those Church singers who find themselves in the privileged position of being given a microphone and a platform, vocal harmony offers an opportunity, but also the potential for disaster! Many singers love to sing harmony parts. It’s fun and gives scope for self expression. But if they are not well arranged and well prepared, harmony vocals can actually create a distraction for those we seek to lead (the congregation) and make it much tougher for them to be able to sing along.

As we choose when to use harmony vocals and what harmonies to sing, vocalists must keep several important consideration in their minds and hearts:

  1. We sing to guide the congregation to sing also, as an expression of worship through songs.
  2. We are not performers! This position on the platform is not my opportunity to show that I know how to sing harmony vocals. We should act as guides and as an audio and visual invitation to sing with us.
  3. To lead effectively, we must realize that the melody and the lyrics of the song are FAR more important than harmony.
  4. Harmony vocals must never crowd or disguise the melody for the musically uneducated median of the congregation.
  5. While harmony vocals can provide an excellent arrangement-enhancing technique, they must always be well arranged, well rehearsed and only used in a way that enhances the congregations ability to engage and sing with the melody and lyrics of the song. This is, after all, our primary role.

In short, our approach to vocal harmony must be disciplined and well controlled. The fun we have while singing harmony is not as important as the bigger purpose of our role as leading vocalists. Leading a group of people to connect more deeply with each other and with God through songs is MUCH more important (and fun!) than singing vocal harmony in the way that I want to.

In this instructional video for Church musicians, my team’s vocalists give a negative demonstration of haphazard, on the spot, “fly fishing” harmony vocals that are often distractingly heard from Church band vocalist.  We also demonstrate the positive use of well rehearsed, simple, vocal harmonies and their sparing application.

Watch Video#2 Vocalists: “Fly Fishing” for Harmony again here.

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  • Joel Lang

    Hey Grant,
    More good information in this video. Preparation and planning the actual harmonies are absolutely key to getting a polished performance. I also found that less is sometimes more when it comes to harmonies. Especially with volunteers that don’t necessarily have a lot of experience, they feel like they must add harmony to every single phrase. Which can make things interesting to say the least.

    Because people are volunteering their time, it is sometimes difficult to get some quality time to rehearse the parts properly. Sometimes they like to say, “I have done this song for years” and then end up winging it, and their version is different or something, and it just sounds off. I sometimes have them sing their part by themselves to hear what they are doing, and more often than not, they cannot remember what they just sang because they have not actually practice a specific harmony.

    It is sometimes difficult, but sometimes I have to suggest that they continue to practice with the group, but not actually perform until they have their parts polished and are ready. We usually don’t have a large pool of people to pick from, so it takes a lot of practice and patience.

    If we are really short –handed , we may just have them double up on the melody line in the chorus to thicken it up. I believe it really comes down to what the harmonies add to the arrangement. Does it get the congregation engaged and make them want to sing along, or does it cause a distraction and throw them off.

    I’m a big believer in preparation and practice. At every practice I try to make a point to let everyone know that group practice is not the place they should be learning their part. They should prepare and learn their part on their own time. Group practice is very valuable and should be used to gel as a group.


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