My new coaching mentorship program launched in November, and I am LOVING IT. It’s been so rewarding to connect with like-minded coaches and singers who are passionate about helping train worship vocalists to reach their full potential and unlock everything God’s put inside them!
And it’s also been a stretch for me—it’s made me really think about WHAT I do as a coach, WHY certain things work well in a student’s voice… why things DON’T go well in lessons sometimes… and try to distill this information so that other coaches can learn quickly and easily how to get the most out of a singer’s voice. (Many of the things I do aren’t necessarily things I’ve been “taught” to do as a coach… they’ve been learned through a lot of trial and error!)
This month, I watched some of my own lessons back, as well as lessons that I co-taught with my coaching students, and it was so enlightening to watch from a why is this working (or not working!) and what could we do better perspective!
As I watched, I jotted down some strategies that I saw working well—and I wanted to share them with you, as I know that many of you, even if you’re not in the coaching program, already teach lessons or have an active role in giving feedback to other singers on your worship team… or maybe you have a desire to teach private voice lessons in the future! Or maybe you’ve taken voice lessons and you’re curious about what makes a lesson successful (or not!).
Anyways… enough talking about it! Here are the strategies! (PS this is not an exhaustive list… so feel free to add more in the comments!)
- Always encourage the student first, then give your critique. Look for strengths in their voice—do they have power in their low range? Great pitch? Good dynamics? Do they communicate passionately as they sing? Your critique will land so much more effectively if they feel encouraged by you as a coach!
- The most important thing to listen for (and work on) is a student’s resonance (are they pushing up chest? pulling down head?); secondary (but still important!) things are mouth shape (most students need to narrow their mouth and drop their jaw), jaw/neck/tongue tension, dynamics, style, etc.
- Be intentional to relate with the student—it’s a vulnerable thing to sing for you and it’s important to let them know that they’re not alone in their vocal struggles! For example, say something like: “I’ve been working on this in my own voice because I struggle with this too…” or “what has really benefited me in my vocal training is…”
- Don’t just talk about techniques or just explain what you want them to do—demonstrate what you want them to do! For example, instead of saying: “Try singing a NAY NAY NAY on the melody”, say: “I’ll demonstrate, then you try it.” Instead of saying: “Something you could try in your practice is bending over when you go for the high note”… show them how it works and get them to try it out right then and there in the lesson!
- Demonstrate both bad and good examples for the student back-to-back so they can hear it in your voice. For example, demonstrate what pushing up chest voice sounds like (if that’s their issue), and what it sounds like to sing in mix voice (if that’s what you want from them)—sometimes they can’t hear it in their own voice but it “clicks” when they hear it in yours!
- Take the time, as often as possible throughout the lesson, to affirm who they are, their voice, and the fact that they’re “showing up”! Remind them that you as a coach are not here to judge, just to cheer them on—and tell them that you don’t care if their voice cracks or breaks or sounds terrible!
- Remember that successful coaching is partly about giving good technique/exercise suggestions and partly about the way we deliver those suggestions. Great feedback delivered awkwardly/not friendly enough/etc. won’t land, and loving feedback that doesn’t make sense or isn’t accurate won’t land!
- When you’re working on an “exercise to lyric strategy” in a song, tell the student to “forget that this is the song melody”—to help them turn their brain off from the “default” of how they usually sing it.
- Try using short segments of a song for the “exercise to lyric strategy”—for example, instead of: WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH → PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW, do WAH WAH → PRAISE GOD… The shorter runway into the lyric works with (not against) the power of muscle memory, and helps the student to not over-think the technique.
- Don’t jump too quickly to the “exercise to lyric strategy”—get the student to master the exercise first, because if they aren’t finding efficient resonance in the exercise, they’re not going to find it in the lyric either.
- Don’t let the student get away with under-committing to pharyngeal exercises—be tough on them (in love, of course)! You’re doing them a favour by pushing them to go further (more nasally/ugly/whiny/etc), because their mix voice won’t work well if they don’t commit. You’ll have to say things like “don’t hold back” a million times in your lessons—just get used to it!
- Connect the technique with the emotion of singing and the reason why we do what we do as worship leaders. For example, remind them that the pharyngeal cry is not just technical—it brings an emotional, passionate quality to the voice. Remind them that their voice was designed to be a reflection of the glory and beauty of God, and that the more they train their voice, the more confidently they will be able to lead their congregation!
- Take the exercises away from the scale/song melody (ie “free vocalize”) as often as you can and tell them to just pretend they’re “talking it out” to help them find a more relaxed, speech-level tone that isn’t the “default” of how they normally sing.
- If they’re having trouble with a melody that moves up (for example, if they’re pushing up their chest voice in the chorus of “O Come to the Altar”), have them sing a mix voice exercise—or even the lyric—starting from the top of the melodic phrase (instead of the bottom) so their voice learns how to place the resonance of that top note more efficiently.
- Don’t always tell them when you’re moving up a key—move quickly between exercises and between keys without “announcing” it, because their voice will often do things they don’t expect when they don’t know they’re singing higher (singing is SO psychological!).
- If you’re not seeing improvement (especially when you’re looking for a shift in resonance), take it outside the box of what you’ve been doing—for example, change keys, change up the exercise, etc, and/or try out a few exercises all at once and then move ahead with the one that works the best.
- Ask the student questions about how an exercise is feeling in their voice and/or which exercise they prefer—for example, say: “Which pharyngeal exercise do you prefer—NAY or WAH?” Getting them to analyze their own voice builds their self-awareness so much—which will fast-track their improvement!
- Don’t assume a student is familiar with certain vocal terminology (ex. chest/head/pharyngeal/mix)—ask them if they’re familiar with a certain term, or just explain the concept briefly without asking if they know what it is (everyone needs reminders… so it’s not a waste of time!).
- Get them to sing the song a half-step higher to find freedom in their voice, and then bring it down to the lower key—if they’ve found freedom in the higher key, they’ll be able to nail it in the lower key and it will bring them so much confidence!
- If their audio is clipping (in an online lesson), do what you can to try to trouble-shoot the issue (see if they can optimize their sound settings, get them to move back from the microphone, etc.), but if you try a couple things and it’s not working, just move on with the lesson and teach as best you can around the audio issues.
- Lessons won’t always go to an overtly spiritual place—but if you feel the nudge to go there, TAKE IT THERE!
I’d love to hear from you—let me know which strategies you’ve had success with as a coach or that you’ve seen a coach use in a lesson!