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Vocal Coaches' Corner - Preparing for Vocal Competitions

  • 1999 11 Nov
Vocal Coaches' Corner - Preparing for Vocal Competitions
By Roger Beale, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

During the past six months, I have had the privilege to judge several vocal competitions. The styles were varied, from opera and musical theater, to gospel, contemporary Christian and southern gospel. After observing the singers participating in these competitions, it became apparent to me that there is a serious need for directions on how to prepare for a vocal competition. While listening to these singers, I experienced emotions ranging from frustration to abject depression. Most of the singers had not prepared at all or had not paid attention to the details that would have won the contest.

What points should you consider when preparing for a vocal competition? Following are several key areas that need to be considered.

1. Pitch - If you do nothing else correctly, learn your notes! This is the one area in which the competition judges show no mercy! Remember singing in tune is a gift from God, please accept the gift. Most pitch problems are caused because the singer has not learned the song thoroughly. In the early stages of learning a song, listen to it first. Don't sing, just listen. When you are ready to start singing pitches, don't use the words. Instead, use syllables such as "la," "doot," or "ta." One other technique that has worked well in my teaching studio is "scat singing" the melody. If you don't know what scat singing is, listen to recordings of jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald or Mel Torme. It will be self-explanatory.

2. Pick a contest song - A song selected for a vocal competition is not to be chosen lightly or haphazardly. It should be a song that creates maximum attention quickly, shows off your vocal skills effectively, and has an unforgettable emotional impact. They are a special breed of songs and are not easy to find. Take your time looking for this song. Don't just open your tape case and chose one simply because your family likes it. This is a contest, treat it seriously! Also, avoid the latest number one song on the radio. You and fifty other people may be singing it in front of the same judges. I heard of one contest several years ago where seventeen girls entered and sixteen sang the song "El Shaddai." Be different in your song selection.

3. Communication - Make sure you convey a strong message through your music. Touch the judges' hearts and souls. Too many of the singers I have seen lately have "winged it." They didn't study their lyrics. Find those unspoken ideas beneath the surface of each lyric. Look for them. They are there. Make sure you can apply Scripture to the lyrics of your song and make it come alive spiritually. If this seems like a lot of extra work, it is. You are performing a song that will emotionally move an audience. Maybe it will even move the judges to give you a better score.

4. Performance and impression - It has been said that you have about twenty seconds to get someone's attention while making a presentation. Whether or not this is true doesn't matter. It points to the fact that you must grab the judges' attention quickly. Make a good impression as soon as you can.

The first thing you can do to make a positive impression is simple: stand up straight. Make sure your posture compels them to listen to you. It also puts you in a position to "take the stage." Take charge and don't be apologetic.

One critical mistake singers make in vocal competitions is not moving the body. Don't stand there like a pillar of salt. The body is made to move. Plan out some movement, but please don't choreograph it. Make this movement simple and a reflection of your own style of gesturing, walking, and even moving your eyes. Let your instincts guide you and let the music move you. The judges will have to pay attention to your performance!

5. Appearance - You are performing, so dress like a performer. You don't have to spend a lot of money on clothes, just make sure you use color to draw attention to you and your message. One singer I know wore a bright red blouse in the vocal competition preliminaries. She received the highest score of the day and made it into the finals. The day of the finals, she wore a light beige blouse. Although, she sang just as beautifully, the color she wore blended in with the back wall. Unfortunately, she did not place in the finals. Also, please avoid black and white. I know it is "hip" right now, but you need to separate yourself from the crowd. Plan what you wear. It does make a difference.

I hope these five suggestions are a help to you in planning and preparing for your next vocal competition. It is frustrating for a vocal judge to see a singer so close to a really passionate performance and then miss it by a lack of preparation. No matter what kind of competition you are entering, please make sure you prepare thoroughly with much attention to the details. The judges will really enjoy giving you a good score.

Vocal Health Tip:
Avoid caffeine. It is a dehydrating agent. Your voice must be hydrated to work efficiently. Use of caffeine dries your vocal tissue, makes your mucous thick and abrasive, and stimulates acid reflux. Caffeine is just not good for you!

Roger Beale is one of Atlanta's foremost vocal coaches. He presently works with professional singers in all areas of musical performance. His teaching and coaching facility, The Voice House, is involved in the management and care of the professional voice. Many of his students have won vocal competitions, scholarships, and are well known artists in the Christian music industry. Roger can be contacted at: The Voice House, 1675 Virginia Ave., Suite 103, College Park, GA 30337, (404) 766-0526, e-mail:, web site: