Vocal Harmony in Worship 3: Jessica Rollins

This week, we are excited to present the third and final installment in our three-part blog series on vocal harmony, written by our friend Jessica! We hope you've enjoyed these posts as much as we have, and we'd love to hear your thoughts about them, so feel free to comment! This post is more rooted in practicality than the others, so get ready for a grab bag of gold nuggets, if you will: 

Practical Harmony

If I really analyze “how to be a good harmony singer” when I am on stage   leading people in worship, here are some things that I value as suggestions for anyone singing harmony to follow: 

Listen, listen, listen.

They say that a good friend is a good listener. So it is with singing, harmony should be a good friend to the melody.

Listen closely in order to correctly follow the person singing melody.

There are a million different nuances within one word and the chances are very high that the person singing the melody doesn’t sing the song exactly the way you do.

So, it is vitally important to pay attention to their specific definitions in vowel tones as well as where consonants are placed.

Each person sings every song in a unique way.

It is important for your harmony parts to match the melody in tone blend, consonant placement, and word rhythm. Even breathing in-between phrases should be synchronized. Pay attention to any minute crescendos or decrescendos that the melody voice may do. Any volume swells are important to follow so that your harmony parts are in sync with the melody. There is a certain art of singing harmony in which a harmony part blends so well with the melody that they almost become as one voice.

That is what you want! To become one voice with the melody. Take a back seat and let melody lead.

Harmony singers need to try very hard to predict what the person singing melody is going to do.

Even though rehearsals serve to help map out the direction of a song, ALWAYS try and read the person singing and even think ahead a couple of words, so that you can be prepared to quickly pick unexpected harmony notes. Since the song is live, there is always a possibility of a change from what was rehearsed. You have to learn to make good predictions.

Be flexible and prepared to follow where ever the melody leads.

Since the majority of all the other voices in the congregation are following the melody, you should too.

The melody is driving and harmony just hitches a ride.

Don’t be a selfish microphone hog. During a corporate worship setting, it is not the time to try and use the microphone for selfish solo opportunities. Harmony parts should not steal the spotlight. Anything that draws too much attention to yourself is nothing but an unfortunate distraction. Nobody wants that.

Choose a tasteful harmony part.
Consider both the song's composition and the song’s message.

Making music is like painting, the song itself is a piece of art being created in the moment it is being played or sung.

As musicians, you should approach the canvas of your song with excitement, skill, and good taste.

Leading music in a worship service is a live painting session, in which you all get to add your own brushstrokes and colors that make sense within the composition.

Be aware of the entire composition. Watch and enjoy what other people are paining, and stay in line with the message composition is meant to say. A good composition is not boring. It will have natural ebbs and flows of intensity in volume and tone.

Watch for these things and conform accordingly. The composition is purposefully planned to say something specific.

Keep that in mind so that the intended message comes across clearly and the composition turns out as beautiful as planned.

Good art comes from a place of authenticity. When collaborating with others on an art piece, it is only fair to be considerate to others.

Don’t be a harmony bully. Be yourself, but don’t allow any selfish efforts to take away from the beauty of the collaboration.

The point is to make something beautiful together. Don’t let selfish-ness get in the way of that goal.

It is totally appropriate, and sometimes needed, to let the melody resound on its own. Some words and moments within the composition call for only bits a pieces

of harmony to float in and out of the song. Other songs call for a strong consistent harmony that runs along with each note the melody sings. Each song is different, so take that into account when choosing what to do.

The part each person plays in creating the composition is extremely important. Be confident and enjoy the harmony role.
Enjoy the process of creating the song.

Every song is a unique, one time composition of art. No one song is exactly the same, and we as musicians get the awesome opportunity to create art for God by making music with other musicians. This corporate worship music is special because it’s purpose is to remind us of someone much greater than ourselves, namely, Christ.

It is a privilege and honor to be involved in something so great. Enjoy the gift of being able to sing alongside of other wonderful musicians. Show gratefulness and enjoyment as both are such contagious attitudes and will lend for a much more fun experience for everyone.

Remember your specific responsibilities within the song, but also, let go of worry and enjoy yourself.

Be authentic to who you are because that’s why you were invited to be a part of the service in the first place.

You do have something to add to the experience that can only come from you.

So, don’t be afraid. Just step up to the mic and sing it. Be totally present in the moment, or you will totally miss it.

Consider your volume compared to the melody.

In volume, it is good to sing just a hair below the melody. Say there and follow the melody as it gets louder or softer.

Be sure about what you sing. If you are unsure, it is obvious because it shows in your voice and countenance.

If you are unsure, it is ok to not sing. It is more of a distraction for a person to stand on stage and public struggle through their own insecurities. There is nothing more uncomfortable than listening and watching someone try to find their note when they are obviously well mic’d and all lit up with spotlights. It makes everyone’s faces turn red out of embarrassment. So, just don’t do it.

Silence is better than a listening to someone fishing for the right note.

Step up to the mic and join in when you are sure of what you are singing.

You can be sure by adequately rehearsing your part so that you know what to do and when.

If you know your part well, you can really start to enjoy the harmony role. It is actually so fun to be melody’s sidekick. Be confident, but not too much. Selfish overconfidence can breed overzealous pride, but there is such a thing as humble confidence that is extremely attractive. There is a confidence that comes by the gift of faith that is crucial to have. So, pray for it.

Mistakes will happen, but it’s ok, just move on.

Own your mistakes by quickly correcting them and, in a way, even pretending like they didn’t happen.

It’s likely that most people didn’t even catch your mistake, but even if it was totally obvious, don’t linger your thoughts on it.

Stay in the moment. If you can, try and play it off as intentional.

People see your posture and countenance as well as hear your voice. Keep all of those things in check.

Do what you can to not be afraid. Fear is so easily sensed by others. Especially when you are on stage, pray for confidence and the ability to believe each word you sing. Be sure of what you are singing so that people will not hesitate to join you in song. As a worship leader, you want people to follow you to a place of worship. Do whatever you can to keep distractions at bay.

A seasoned singer will still make mistakes, but no one knows it because they have learned to disguise mistakes to seem intentional.

The less attention drawn to a mistake, the better. Don’t make a big deal over mistakes. It is better to not distract from the rest of the worship service. 

Thanks for reading! 

-Jessica