I am curious to know what everyone does for vocals.  Not so much in terms of audio setup as much as how many people singing, how much they sing, etc.

For example, my philosophy is that each instrument has a role to play.  Drums provide rhythmic support, bass provides harmonic foundation, piano and guitar can provide rhythmic and harmonic support as well but can also provide ornamental melodies that complement the main melody, and instruments like sax, violin, etc. are also ornamental type instruments.  Not that they aren't any less important, they just serve a different function.  I am not sure how to coach vocalists in what their role should be.  We have 1 singer at the moment but I may be adding a few more in soon.  I don't want them to sing all the time, neither do I want them to feel like I don't want them to sing.  The obvious solution is to have them sing away from the mics when they are not providing harmony, but I am curious what everyone else instructs their singers.

Perhaps my degree in music composition is getting in the way and I just need to read that book on micromanaging.  Any practical advice is encouraged.

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Hi Carl,

Most people seem to have the idea that non-lead vocals are there to support the lead with harmony, but there is so much more you can do. You can provide melody reinforcement, melody in octaves, vibrato, air, timbre and probable things I'm not aware of. I don't see the leader as having to be the lead singer, they are only required to provide in-tune and in-time leading. Beyond that is a bonus.

So, I would start with your lead, but then look at each voice and see what they can do. If you have one strong vibrato, you can have them sing melody along with the lead to provide that. I wish I had time to work on these things myself. And the lead could even start out with melody and break into harmony as everyone else comes in.

Ultimately my plan is to have people take turns leading songs depending on how it fits their voice or gender, but that may be some time from now, once we know what they can handle.
I think I would expand your statement to suggest that each instrument has a number of roles it can play. For example, drums are very rhythmic but you can broaden the palette if you also think of them as being able to shape dynamics or adding texture. Likewise the voice can do all sorts of things.

Our musical director is a professional violinist and very skilled. Often he just lets people get on and do what they do but sometimes he will have specific ideas - for example, he might ask that only the lead vocalist sings on the verse with others coming in on the chorus. Another time, he might ask someone to take over the melody and wants space to step back and play his violin. It isn't micromanaging but it is giving some direction; that balance between freedom and following is perhaps not a bad thing to be modelling from the platform!

I agree; I didn't want to write a book on my whole philosophy before, so I simplified it. Perhaps it would be clearer to say that they take on default roles. (At a bare minimum, they need to serve these purposes.) I would also add that each instrument's default role will change depending on what other instruments there are. If there is just one piano and nothing else, it needs to provide primarily rhythmic and harmonic support, (ornamental stuff optional) but when there's a drum set and bass and a guitar, that piano could have more freedom to be all fills and very little rhythmic support. Also, the more instruments there are, the less they need to play. 1 sole piano should have free reign over the entire keyboard, but when playing with a band, they better not go into the electric bass range unless they are spot on, (note for note) with the bass or else it can sound muddy. Also, I prefer to have instruments sit out from time to time to provide variety instead of a constant wall of sound for every song. That's where I get the part about having singers and the "to sing or not so sing"
Wouldn't it be marvellous to work with a group of singers to whom you could say, "right, now I want you guys to hold the rhythm together"....

Depending on your church setting, it probably is worth bearing in mind what Charles says below about the vocalists' role as examples to the congregation; not a musical role per se but an important one all the same.

Part of the "role" of both the lead vocalist and the BVs is to serve as model worshipers - to cue the congregation when they should or should not sing. So if you're going to have the vocalists sit out a verse, be careful that this doesn't send a message to the congregation that "you're not supposed to sing on this part."

Also, if the leader / lead vocalist is going to go off on a bunch of improvised lines during the song, you may want to have some of the BVs continue to sing the melody for the congregation to follow. I have a compressor on the WL's vocal mic so that when he goes off on his own like that, I can turn him down and bring up one of the singers who is still singing "the song."

May not be as much of an issue if you're doing "modern worship," but if the goal of your worship band is to "lead the congregation in singing" then the BVs can play an important role in that process.

Row row row your boat - haven't' heard it in church yet.
Well, we wrote "Ring Ring Ring the bells" as a Christmas song for this tune and it is awesome when the congregation does it!!!

Ring Ring Ring the bells,
Ring them loud and clear
To tell the people everywhere,
the Saviour's birth is near.
There is a reason I make such comments...thanks for sharing.
When I lead I like an octave up (if possible), a male harmony, and a female harmony, ideally. That's when we are all singing of course. I really love when singers get to the point where they know when to come in, where to sing, and how to sing, because arranging them is definately not within my zone of expertise.
I don't have time, self-arranging singers are a bonus!
you got it!!


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