When you’re the worship leader (or if you’re stepping out to lead a section of a song), you are supposed to be heard above everything else—so don’t be afraid to stand out! Your job is to lead people with your voice… so not only is it ok for you to sing with your own unique, distinctive tone and style—but it’s necessary that you sing confidently and distinctly so that people can easily follow you as you lead.
But… when you’re a supporting vocalist as part of a worship team, your purpose is very different. Of course we still want confidence and passion, but your purpose and goal should not be to stand out… but to blend with the worship leader and the other voices, to create the sound of one voice.
2 Chronicles 5:13 says, “[they] performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the Lord with these words: ‘he is good! His faithful love endures forever!’ At that moment a thick cloud filled the temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the temple of God.”
God loves unity. He comes and dwells where there’s unity. On a worship team, singing as one voice—singing in unity—is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t just happen. It takes incredible humility, skill and intentionality from each one of us.
When I’m the worship leader, I sing in a way that my voice is heard so that people can easily follow. And when I’m not the worship leader, I have to get in the backseat so that the worship leader’s voice is heard.
How do we do that? By aiming to blend our voice with the worship leader.
Blending is the “coming together” of two or more vocal sounds and styles. On a worship team, when several singers—or even two singers—are interpreting the song each in their own way, it creates chaos. It’s messy, it’s distracting, and it doesn’t create an environment of unity where it’s easy for the congregation to enter into the presence of God.
You know when you hear family members sing together—a brother and sister or a father and daughter—their voices often sound so lovely together even with very little practice or planning. (If you watch my “Discover Your Voice” course videos you’ll understand why… because the sound of our voices has so much to do with the resonant spaces inside our face—so for family members, naturally and genetically, their voices blend well together because their facial structures are so similar!) For most of us, though, we rarely have the opportunity to sing with family members—most of the time, we’re singing on a worship team with people of different ages, backgrounds and skill levels… and so we have to be way more intentional about blending our voices.
I’ve shared this quote before, and I’ll share it again because I love it…
“When man’s natural ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift.” (Martin Luther)
To “whet” means to “sharpen the blade of (a tool or weapon).” A dull tool is not very useful… in fact, it can be downright frustrating. As singers, our voice is our tool—and we need to be whetting and polishing our tool so that we can be most effective and useful in our worship services!
See… God loves detail. He loves planning… He loves creativity and beauty.
I think about in Exodus, when they’re building the tabernacle and there are very specific guidelines given for exactly what materials to construct with, and exact measurements—they’re making garments for Aaron as high priest out of incredibly rich materials and it says that the garments are to be made “for glory and for beauty.” (Exodus 28:2 ESV)
Again in Exodus, we read about how “the Lord said to Moses, ‘Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel… I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!’” (Exodus 31:1-5 NLT)
We read in 2 Chronicles 9 how the Queen of Sheba travelled a long way to visit King Solomon because she had heard of his wisdom and his wealth… and when she saw it, “she was overwhelmed. She said to the king, ‘The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe what they said until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on his throne as king to rule for the Lord your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel and his desire to uphold them forever, he has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.’” (2 Chronicles 9:4-8 NIV)
She was a queen—which means, she was accustomed to seeing beautiful things—but she was breathless and overwhelmed at what she saw when she visited King Solomon. The beauty and splendor prophesied to her the nature and the greatness of God.
Do you see?
Taking what could be normal and mundane and making it beautiful… it matters!
We are designed to be a reflection of the creativity and beauty and glory of God. And the more we blend our voices as a team, the more we reflect His beauty, and… the more we harness the innate, emotional power of music and the power of community and harmony.
So yes, this blog is about strategies for blending your voice as a team of vocalists. I’ll share things that we need to be mindful of so that we can create the sound of one voice—not many voices clashing with one another.
But before we can get into the technical things, it’s crucial that you embrace the importance of achieving a blend. I feel like a lot of teams work hard at getting their harmonies right, but stop short of making them tight—actually blending them together so that it sounds good. As supporting vocalists, our goal should be to add a beautiful layering effect to the sound, and to eliminate distracting moments where the harmony sticks out like a sore thumb.
Blend is one of the most difficult things to do really well on a worship team, but one of the most fulfilling and beautiful things when you can do it—it’ll bring your team to a whole new level of excellence! So I encourage you to read through these “do’s and don’ts”… and start putting these things into practice as you’re singing on your worship team!
DO… MAKE SURE YOUR HARMONIES DON’T CLASH
This one might seem obvious… but it needs to be said. If there’s more than one harmony being sung, take the time to plan out the harmonies and make sure they don’t clash. Clashing harmonies are worse than no harmony at all.
(Sidenote: in my early years of singing on worship team, the vocalists would spend an hour in the church basement before joining the band—honing in on our harmony parts and planning things out meticulously. I thought that was normal. Turns out it’s not… but maybe it should be!)
DO… SING YOUR HARMONIES ON PITCH
Every vocalist on stage needs to sing on pitch—and I don’t just mean we shouldn’t be hitting completely wrong notes… I mean we need to sing in the centre of the pitch, not sharp or flat. If even one vocalist is a little flat or a little sharp, that slightly-off-pitch melody or harmony clashes with the instruments and the other vocalists singing in tune.
This is where vocal training comes in! I encourage you to check out my vocal training videos—watch them and do the accompanying vocal workouts—the exercises are designed to train your vocal cords to sing on pitch, instinctively, all the time. If you’re a singer who tends to push your chest voice too high, that will cause your mid/high-range notes to go flat, because you’re muscling up to them… and if you’re a singer who tends to pull your head voice too low, that will cause your mid/low-range notes to be sharp, because you’re bringing an inefficient vocal coordination too low in your range.
It’s so important to expand your range and be able to use all your resonators—chest, head and pharyngeal—so that you can sing your notes as efficiently as possible. When your voice is healthy and working efficiently, pitch is a byproduct… it’ll come easily.
But… understand that range and resonance can’t be built in a day (it’ll take time… all the more reason to start now!)—so in the meantime, here are a couple tips to help you sing with better pitch:
- If you’re a worship leader, don’t choose songs that are out of your range. Sing in your sweet spot.
- If you’re a background vocalist and the melody is too low or too high for you, don’t sing it into your microphone. If you’re asked to sing a harmony part that’s outside your comfortable range, either work diligently on it at home until you’re able to hit those notes, or, perhaps ask if you can sing a different part that’s more comfortable for you.
- Make sure you can hear yourself and the worship leader in your monitors. When we can’t hear ourselves properly, we tend to over-sing and this causes our voices to go off pitch. And when we can’t hear the lead vocalist, we don’t have enough of a pitch reference to sing our harmony to.
DO… MATCH YOUR TONE TO THE WORSHIP LEADER
By tone, we’re referring to the characteristic sound, or quality, of a person’s voice. As background vocalists, we have to listen very carefully to the worship leader, and try to intentionally match their tone quality as much as possible.
Is their tone bright? Is it deep? How clear or breathy is their tone? How aggressive or light are they singing? What resonance are they primarily using?
Chest voice resonates in the chest cavity and mouth—it’s a fuller, deeper tone, and it’s the foundation of the commercial, pop-sounding tone we’re aiming for in contemporary worship music. (Think Brooke Ligertwood in the low verse of “Who You Say I Am”, or Phil Wickham in the verse of “Living Hope”.)
Head voice is a lighter tone—it resonates in the head and at the top of the nasal cavity, and it tends to be a more classical, traditional-sounding tone. We don’t hear a lot of pure head voice in current worship music—almost never for a whole song… however, you will sometimes hear worship leaders use a head-voice-dominant tone for a softer part of a song that goes into their higher range. (Think Taya Gaukrodger in the first part of the bridge in “Oceans”, or Cody Carnes at the beginning of “The Blessing”.)
The pharyngeal voice resonates in the nasal cavity and pharynx—it has a really bright, trumpet-like quality to it, and it’s an important part of the contemporary mix voice because there’s so much potential for power and emotion in our sound when we’re engaging the pharyngeal. (Think Steffany Gretzinger in verse 2 of “King of My Heart”, or Phil Wickham in the big chorus of “This is Amazing Grace”.)
My vocal training videos go into this stuff in way more depth—how we need to develop all three of these resonators so that we can expand our range and mix these three qualities together to get the sound of one voice from top to bottom in our range. So check those out.
But here’s where this becomes super important for singing on a worship team…
If I’m a supporting vocalist on my team, I’m asking myself (constantly, throughout each and every song)—is the worship leader singing in chest voice? Or are they singing in a lighter head voice? Or, can I hear a lot of bright pharyngeal quality in their voice?
The answer to that question determines the tone that I should sing with as a supporting vocalist. (And that answer will keep changing… from verse to chorus, chorus to bridge, and song to song—especially if there are different worship leaders in a set! Expect to be kept on your toes!)
Bottom line—if you can only sing with one tonal quality, you’ll have major difficulty blending on your worship team.
If I can only sing in chest voice, or only sing in head voice, how can I possibly match the worship leader’s tone if they’re singing in a completely different vocal quality? If I have tons of pharyngeal (or in other words, nasality) in my voice, and I don’t know to let that go, how am I going to blend with a worship leader who doesn’t sing with much nasality at all?
As a worship vocalist, an important part of your skill set is to be able to adjust the colour—the resonant tone of your voice—you need to be able to add nasality, take away nasality, sing in head voice in some moments, sing in chest voice in others. The more tonal options you have, the more you’re able to offer your worship team—in essence, the more valuable you are… not as a person but as a skilled member of the team, because you’re bringing greater excellence to the table.
When you’re the worship leader, it’s ok (and good!) to stand out, but you need to think differently and sing differently when you’re a background vocalist… you need to intentionally become a chameleon.
Yes, that means yielding your individuality. It means that sometimes you’ll be singing outside the comfort zone of how you might “naturally” sing. But all for a greater purpose—the BLEND!
DON’T… SING LOUDER THAN THE WORSHIP LEADER
This is another thing that seems self-explanatory… but it’s not always executed well on worship teams.
The general rule of thumb is that as background vocalists, we want to match or stay under the volume of the worship leader. Some parts of the song might be loud and powerful, other parts are soft and gentle, and so we have to constantly adjust our voices to fit the moment.
If it’s a quieter moment, sing quietly—be careful that your volume isn’t overpowering and drawing undue attention. Sometimes it helps to hold your microphone a little further away from your mouth in those moments. You can also try adding a breathy quality to your tone—an airy texture really helps to achieve that quiet, layering effect that we’re aiming for (check out my “Playing With Texture” lessons in the “Master Your Voice” course, where I teach you how to sing breathy for stylistic effect!).
If you’re singing a high harmony, or if you’re a female singing the melody an octave up from a male worship leader, it’s important to be really careful about your volume. The higher pitches tend to overpower everyone else in the mix because those resonant frequencies cut through more clearly (they’re higher up in the sound spectrum). So if you’re singing high notes, again, think about layering your voice underneath the worship leader (hint: a little bit of extra breathiness in the tone goes a long way!).
And of course—if it’s a loud, powerful moment in a song, bring your voice there along with the worship leader! If the leader is singing full out and you’re still singing in a quiet, breathy tone, you’re not helping to build that moment dynamically.
Bottom line—we always need to be listening intently to the worship leader and following them dynamically. The more you train your voice, the easier it will be to instinctively adjust your volume moment by moment, so that you’ll be able to sing both powerfully and gently, depending on what the song is calling for!
DON’T… SING WITH TOO MUCH VIBRATO
This is a biggie. Vibrato is something that can really mess up a good blend and make your voice stick out way more than it should!
This is also a touchy subject in the worship world—so understand that when we talk about vibrato, the conversation is not about “right or wrong”, or about what sounds good or bad. Vibrato is a beautiful thing, and absolutely appropriate in certain contexts and genres. What this is about—first and foremost—is asking the question: what sound we are aiming for in my church context, and how can I submit to that? And then beyond that… asking: how can I use or limit my vibrato in order to blend my voice in the best way possible?
Traditional church music and gospel music has lots of wide vibrato, but in a modern context of worship, a lot of vibrato doesn’t fit well. In the contemporary worship style, we’re aiming for a much more subtle vibrato, and often, no vibrato at all—a primarily straight tone.
If you listen to current worship recordings, you’ll hear that the phrasing is tight and there’s often little to no vibrato (check out artists like Kari Jobe, Matt Redman, Mariah McManus and Leeland Mooring to see what I mean).
When vibrato is present, it’s vibey… it’s used as a stylistic tool… the waves are more subtle, not wide and over-present (artists like Taya Gaukrodger, Chris Brown, Melodie Malone and Brian Johnson are good examples of tasteful vibrato in a contemporary context).
Remember that the sound of contemporary worship in general is very chest-voice-driven and speech-like… we’re communicating the lyrics as authentically as we can in a way that sounds like we’re just speaking it out… and since we don’t speak with vibrato, we don’t want too much of it in our singing, either.
If the worship leader is singing with no vibrato, but the supporting vocalist is singing with lots of wide vibrato… it sticks out like crazy. It sounds messy. Why? Because when you’re singing with vibrato, your voice is actually oscillating between pitches (as opposed to straight tone—which stays on the same pitch), so vibrato introduces frequencies that become very difficult to blend when there are multiple singers.
You might say… “But this is just the way my voice sounds. My voice has a lot of vibrato in it.”
Sorry. Doesn’t fly, friend.
Vibrato is a stylistic tool that can be added or taken away. If you can talk without vibrato, you can sing without vibrato, because singing is just speaking on pitch.
So if that’s you… if you find that in every worship song you go to sing, the vibrato comes flying back, no matter how hard you try to sing without it… know that you can’t just “will it away”—you need to teach your voice to be able to let go of the vibrato. So start practicing this at home—just holding out notes in a completely straight tone. OOOOOOO. AHHHHHHHHH. Every time the voice wants to quiver and allow the vibrato in, rein it back in. (Note: don’t try this unless you’re in a moment where you can really concentrate on it… because it will require a lot of attention!)
Another great thing you can do to practice stripping away your vibrato is to put your voice in a very different “place” than it’s used to. Try singing a kids song, and sing it in as toddler-like (naturally vibrato-less) a way as you can. Twinkle twinkle little star… ABC’s, etc. Now, try singing your ABC’s with loads of vibrato (go ahead, try it!)… it doesn’t even feel right! The point is—if you can do it in one song, then trust me, you can sing any song without vibrato.
As supporting vocalists, this is a non-negotiable for singing in the contemporary style—we have to limit our vibrato and be able to sing in a completely straight tone in order to blend. This doesn’t mean you should never sing with vibrato—if the worship leader sings with vibrato, then a little bit of subtle vibrato in your voice is ok as you sing backup, BUT… if the worship leader isn’t singing with vibrato, then you shouldn’t either.
Best rule of thumb—if in doubt, leave it out. A straight tone is the best way to sing as a supporting vocalist, period.
DO… MATCH YOUR PHRASING TO THE WORSHIP LEADER
Phrasing is so important because it tells the story of the song. When I’m singing, sometimes I hold notes longer, sometimes I cut them short. Sometimes I emphasize certain words to bring out the emotion. Sometimes I sing notes smoothly, sometimes I sing more aggressively.
Every worship leader sings differently, which means that as supporting vocalists, we’ve got to be on our game and listening intently… all the time!
A few things to pay attention to specifically…
- Make sure your diction and pronunciation match the worship leader. If they’re singing in a more conversational, less enunciated tone, your voice won’t blend if you’re over-enunciating. If they’re singing “toMAYto”, don’t sing “toMAHto”. ?
- Make sure your rhythmic phrasing is as identical to the worship leader as possible—aim to enter your phrases and cut off your phrases at the same time as they are. This means not jumping the gun and starting into a word or phrase before the leader, not coming into the phrase late, and… not holding notes loooooooooooong—there’s not much worse than a supporting vocalist singing every phrase longer than everyone else.
- In many cases, it’s best to let the leader close off the consonant by themselves. Certain consonants, especially S’s and hard consonants like T, D and P—and especially when they’re at the ends of the words—stick out way too much when multiple vocalists are singing, because every vocalist ends in a slightly different spot. It’s distracting when we hear a lot of s…s.. s…s…s or d..d..d…d..d! (So for example, if the worship leader is singing “up from the ashes, hope will arise”, as a supporting vocalist, I’ll sing “u(p) from the asheh, ho(pe) will arih”. The P’s are minimized/softened and I eliminate the S’s entirely.)
Ragged phrasing makes a worship team sound very unprofessional, but unified phrasing makes a team sound incredible. Like I said earlier—most vocalists are so focused on just getting their harmony right, that they pay no attention to getting it tight… and they’re not aware of how messy it sounds.
So start paying attention. The rehearsal is a great time to listen to the worship leader. I know we all love to sing and worship and we just wanna sing, sing, sing when we get to rehearsal… but the more you listen, listen, listen… the better you’ll be able to blend.
Embrace your role and your goal—to shadow the leader. Listen intently, then yield and adjust your tone, your volume, your vibrato, and your phrasing until your voice is blended into the sound and not sticking out awkwardly. This is going to take practice, but I promise, it’s so worth it!
A couple final thoughts, for those of you who are worship pastors/leaders…
Above all, learn to communicate well with your background vocalists. As Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Open communication is so important.
Vocalists want direction, so don’t be afraid to be clear and direct.
“Sing here.” “Don’t sing here.” “Only Susie on this part.” “Let’s sing softly in this section.” “Can you tighten up your phrasing on this line?” “Can you sing with less vibrato here?”
Sometimes a team member might be giving off a bad attitude vibe and you might feel like they don’t want you telling them what to do, but actually… they might just feel ignored. People just want to be loved and valued—and as a worship leader, you’re called to lead your congregation, but you’re also responsible to lead your team. So be kind and loving. Be intentional about casting vision with your team. Don’t just say “here’s what we’re gonna do.” Share the purpose and intention behind WHY you’re making certain decisions… why you’re asking them to sing in a certain way. Love your team on the “off-stage” moments, love your team in rehearsal, affirm them and encourage them, pay attention to each one of them… and if you do these things—they won’t mind taking your direction when you have something to say or you want them to sing in a certain way.
The bottom line is, if your vocalists feel valued, they will come more prepared and they’ll take their role more seriously.
And… if you expect the vocalists on your team to be growing in their skills and getting better at these things… then you need to make sure that you’re pursuing a higher level of skill as well. If they don’t see you as the leader improving and working at things… they’re not going to be motivated to work on their own voice and skill.
Hopefully these tips have been helpful! Let me know what stood out to you and which of these do’s and don’ts you’re working on in your own voice or with your team!
The message has been so helpful to me as a worshipper.
I’m so glad to hear it!
So many nuggets here! These points weren’t really anything I’d ever thought about before. I also always thought vibrato was “just the way some people’s voices are”.
Learning to actually be in the background, back off on vibrato, let the leader close out the consonants, sing in the center of the pitch, etc.
I’m looking forward to delving more into harmonies and back up vocals with my vocalists and this will all be super helpful information for me to come back to!
Umm okay… I LOVE this article. Some “lightbulbs” for me:
– Vocalists want feedback! I feel like I don’t operate this way most of the time. I feel like I’ll hurt feelings by offering correction, but really I could be stunting the growth of our vocalists by not helping them improve.
– We’re totally guilty of singing RIGHT harmonies, but not taking the next step of finding a TIGHT blend. Sometimes we get there by accident, but we could definitely do a better job of being intentional with it.
– Matching tone and using the right amount of vibrato are some practical next steps for specifically our team. Most of our vocalists have a strong ear but sing in a different way than the person leading the song. Definitely will pay more attention to this in the future when leading our vocal team!
Yes! Great lightbulb moments!
Love the practical tip of letting the worship leader close off the consonants and that it’s ok for the backing vocalists to omit the ending consonants. The idea of coming around a backing vocalist with a bad attitude with love and care (and attention!) is beautiful and is a reflection of God’s heart for us.
These are all great! What do you do if you are trying to follow the phrasing of the leader who tends to do it different every time they sing it or kind of divert from the melody a bit and ad lib where they might not of in rehearsal? Sometimes I feel like I can intuitively follow them but sometimes I just drop out and sing off the mic.
Also I found the information about singing with family members so fascinating. I always just heard family members sounded good together because of DNA but the facial structure things and how sound resonates was a major light bulb. I’m a twin and we sound amazing together and well…our face is pretty much identical…lol
You’re a twin! So neat! I hear ya—sometimes we just need to do the best we can when we’re with a singer who tends to change things up a lot!