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Vocal Coach's Corner - Old Voice Majors Can Learn New Tricks!

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Vocal Coach's Corner - Old Voice Majors Can Learn New Tricks!
by Roger Beale, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

In the last edition of Vocal Coach's Corner, we became acquainted with worship leader Ralph and choir member Eunice. As you might remember, Ralph was holding auditions for the praise team and Eunice tried out. Well, Eunice did not win a spot on the praise team due to an overly classical vocal sound. It just didn't fit into the design of the church's music ministry. As you can imagine, Eunice was very insulted, but after a time of reflection and prayer, she decided to work with Ralph to modify and change her vocal sound and style. So she asked Ralph to design a vocal study program to initiate and implement these vocal changes. Ralph went to work.

His first assignment was to get Eunice to learn a contemporary song. She was so thoroughly embedded in the classical sound that she had never sung a contemporary Christian or pop-based song. Eunice went home with the assigned song and learned it. She later returned for a practice time with Ralph.

At that time, she reported that she had experienced difficulty creating the non-classical style needed for the assigned song. Ralph then had Eunice do a comparison of classical and pop vocal techniques. When he had her sing simple three-note triads in a classical style, all went well. However, when Eunice attempted the triads with a pop sound, her pitch and vocal tone suffered greatly. Since Eunice had already indicated that she had never sung in a pop style, it was obvious that she needed to develop a new vocal technique that could handle the needs of a contemporary style.

Ralph at this point knew that this project was going to take time. Eunice would have to dedicate herself to this task and remain patient as she developed these new vocal techniques. But the biggest hurdle had been crossed. Eunice had made a decision to change.

Ralph then asked Eunice what her latest album purchase had been. Her response was as expected, {{Sandi Patty}}'s 1985 recording, "Hymns Just for You." He immediately sent her to the music store with a list of artists to listen to. So off she went and listened to {{Margaret Becker}}, {{Cindy Morgan}}, {{Nichole Nordeman}}, {{Crystal Lewis}}, and {{Babbie Mason}}. She was to listen to these singers and find two songs to work on, one up-tempo and one ballad. Eunice had never sung an up-tempo song.

This assignment had a dual purpose. One, Eunice has to listen to other vocal sounds. Ralph was showing her where she needed to go vocally. He was putting a new sound as well as a new song in her ears. Second, by learning two new songs, he was challenging her technical ability. This forced her to experiment with contemporary stylistic phrasing, different tonal concepts for singing, and exposed her to different vibratos, licks, loudness, etc. For Eunice it was a shock.

When Eunice returned for her next session, she had her two songs learned. Her problem was she could not sing her songs without an operatic vibrato in the upper part of her range. The vibrato actually scared Ralph. He knew he had to teach her to sing without vibrato and help her discover her chest voice. The next several steps were to develop a low voice, meld her high voice with her low voice developing a middle register, and make her singing sound conversational. This would be no easy task! His head was beginning to hurt.

Ralph insisted that Eunice keep trying and learning new songs in various styles. By doing this, he helped her develop a wide array of techniques from which they could continue to design her new sound. Even though the goal was to end up with a contemporary praise and worship sound, each style that Eunice experimented with added a special flavor to her voice.

Ralph's next task with Eunice was to develop a dynamic contrast between musical phrases. He had Eunice start her songs with a moderate energy, and then add vocal power as she moved to the climax of the song. This created an emotional performance and kept her from vocal harm.

This whole process took a good nine months of practice and effort on Eunice's part. But the result was a vocal sound that effectively communicated the gospel. The final result of this vocal makeover was that Ralph and Eunice stayed friends and the praise team had a new member.

Vocal Health Tip
Manage your vocal workload! Some singers with good vocal technique develop vocal problems because of simple overuse. They sing and talk too much. Take an inventory of all forms of voice use: singing, day job, telephone use, home environment, children, and physical rest. You might find a lifestyle change is needed to conserve your voice for ministry.

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: