Rehearsing to improve vocalists
I have inherited vocalists who have some pitch and tone problems.
Does anyone have suggestions on things to do in practice to attempt to correct these issues?
First, like you, I have inherited some of my singers. Because I genuinely love their worshiping hearts and they genuinely love and support me as their worship leader, I try to approach all sensitive issues through our relationship of mutual trust and love of the Lord. Most singers are sensitive and will do nothing but get more tense if their vocal problems come across as a judgment on their person.
I have used a few rehearsal techniques for pitch issues (and timing issues) - but only when I have mainly singers and no band waiting around
1) I select one of the better singers, and instruct the others to listen to that one singer as the lead singer as they sing more quietly. Their focus is to be on matching the VOWEL sounds of the lead singer. I think a lot of vocal issues are caused by poor support and incorrect vowel formation, and turning their attention on learning to improve their blending through vowels seems more effective than make everyone tense trying to self-correct their pitch (which just causes more problems of tension and demolishes self-confidence!) As a benefit, when we're focusing on vowels, our voices need more support anyway, so this exercise is often quite effective.
2) I approach pitch issues as a HEARING problem, and suggest they put one cupped hand in front of their mouth with the fingers cupped towards one ear - so they are singing into their hand and the sound is conducted to their ear. (Hard to describe - hope you got that!)
3) We memorize at least the chorus, hopefully more, and gather in a circle - off mic - and sing "in community" to each other - seeking to be one voice. I emphasize the listening and blending and try for the positive approach - seeking to be "one voice" is very rewarding for less polished singers.
4) If I have a major offender pitch-wise, in a very up-beat way, I choose a particular phrase and correct that phrase with that specific person. I might say something like "Freddie - I'm noticing we're not blending - you seem a bit under pitch on the last words of this phrase. Try singing it just with me. Better. OK - did you do something different? Because that sounded better." Then I move on in the rehearsal.
Later, after a few rounds of this work on pitch, say, over two different rehearsals, I have a wide-open opportunity to talk with Freddie about the repeated pitch problems. But that's only because we're already trusting and enjoying each other's company. In a private conversation, I commend their faithfulness, etc., and I encourage their love of singing, but then I bring up the pitch issues and I suggest they might need a few months of lessons to correct this poor pitch habit and become a stronger singer. (It is helpful to have a couple of teachers to suggest.) If their pitch is truly horrible, I ask them to take a break while they take time to build new vocal technique and I look forward to re-auditioning them after their six-month break.
OK - long post, but hopefully SOME of this will help! God bless your leading and your relationships with your team!
I don't know what tools you have available but we do a raw recordings of every service which is uploaded to a site each week that we have access to. While the recordings are very raw and unforgiving right from the dashboard, it's great for the use of listening where improvement needs be. It's helped me as a vocalist a lot!
There are some great tips above. I agree that a lot of pitch problems can be addressed as hearing problems.
Our group hasn't focused on vocals for a long time, and most of the time right now we only have one lead and one harmony, so it isn't as difficult to work together. But we just started using a personal in-ear monitoring system and I became hyper-aware of everything - cutting off at the same time, matching vowel sounds, pitch issues for me and pitch issues for the other singer. When I could isolate the individual vocals in the mix, I could hear those things so much better to know what I needed to work on. Personal in-ear monitors might not be in your future, but following some of the above tips to help them HEAR what is going on will go a long ways.
And don't forget to have an encouraging, positive attitude, "let's work on making this better" instead of "that's really bad and needs fixed".
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