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Basics of Back Up Vocals

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There’s a major problem facing the church, one of such severe magnitude that we all must take action now! Back-up vocalists are singing too much. Ok, so maybe the issue isn’t as big as I said, but still, can we discuss?

When serving as a vocalist on a worship team we are either vocally leading the song or serving as background vocals to a song. While this position may change for us throughout a service, or even throughout a song, we would do our teams a service by considering the following ideas.

A Pleasant Surprise

Make a plan as to when your background vocals will enter the song. If they come in right at the beginning where do you go from there? It’s ok to wait until the first chorus, or many times, even the second chorus. Waiting to add the background vocals will allow yourselves some room to grow vocally.This means that when you have more than one extra vocal, space out their entries in the song. By all means be creative with this. The last thing you want is to create a pattern you repeat over and over again which becomes predictable (Who would do that? Oh right, me. Guilty).

Too Much Harmony

Yes, this can absolutely happen. If you have one person leading and the two background vocals are singing the same harmony part, it’s too much. Try having one person match the melody on the choruses and back off the mic a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, three part harmony is something I love, but you need to know your song. Have beautiful harmonies for How Great Thou Art or All in All? Use them! Songs like How He Loves or Greatly to Be Praised don’t always need that much going on. Sometimes keeping it simple can create something beautiful.

Why Am I Here?

I get this, you come out to practice and show up early on Sundays and perhaps you’re only singing on the choruses, maybe on one song you don’t even come in until the bridge, so why are you there? Each instrument has their role, the background vocals are no different. We are adding a beautiful texture to the song that wouldn’t be there otherwise. We are waiting until the bridge to sing into our mic because that’s when the song needs to build and feel full and without your vocal singing the 5th, it would be empty. We are standing up in front of our congregation and saying “Here I am to Worship and serve, however The Lord may need me this week.” (We underestimate how powerful that statement can be sometimes)

Now What?

Ok, so we’ve discussed how the extra vocals shouldn’t jump in right away, how too much harmony on a simple song is overwhelming, and that even if we’re not singing all the time we’re still vital to the team, now what? How do you go about implementing some of these ideas? If you’re the worship leader, take the time to make a vocal map of each song with your vocalists. I will say try to have an idea as to what you’d like before practice starts, but I completely understand how things change once the voices start singing. Let each one of them know when they should enter. Don’t be afraid to be direct. Your vocalists want direction, most of them are extremely comfortable and familiar with exact directions. You can tell them, “Don’t sing here. Enter here. Only Lindsay join in on this part.” If you take the time out to give even a little bit more direction than you currently do, it will be a huge benefit.

If you’re not the worship leader, listening is the best advice. Listen to what the people around you are doing. Did the other vocalist join in really fast with the leader? Then take it upon yourself to push back your entrance. Are two people singing the harmony parts and you can barely hear the melody? Ask your leader if you can sing the melody part behind them. The more you take the time to listen and not just sing, the better you will get at it.

Let’s give the background vocals some attention at our rehearsals this year. Be purposeful about them and they will take their job more seriously. Do you meet with your vocalists separate from the band? Do you figure out the vocal map of a song as you’re doing it or while planning your service? Do you have someone on your team who directs the vocals? How does your worship team manage this? Comment below to continue the discussion.

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10 Responses to “Basics of Back Up Vocals”

  1. Great points Carly, keep it coming!

  2. Such great stuff! I’m sending these articles to my Vocal Director. Love the content and look forward to reading more! Thanks so much!

  3. Hi! Loved this lesson. But, awhile ago when I first moved to the Sunday morning service, our pastors said it was too confusing to the congregation to not see the back – ups singing (they wonder if they sing or don’t sing along). What would he the best way to address this? Should the back-ups sing and just not hold the mike close, or hold the mike close and maybe lip-sync? Thank you for any advise ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Susan, I’ve heard of that confusion with congregants before; not knowing if they should follow along or stand still quietly. Personally, when singing backup there are times I sing along with the mic held down, and there are times when I don’t sing at all. I would advise against lip syncing, you really don’t need to do it. If people see you worshipping with the mic still held down they will start to understand that they are welcomed to do the same.

    I did this for a while and now I don’t worry about it at all. Our congregation has learned they are asked to worship with us no matter who is singing ๐Ÿ™‚ hope this helps a bit!

  5. I love this post! We just implemented many if these concepts into our worship team. Last year we began streaming live online and noticed how unforgiving raw live vocals can sound . We implemented new ” vocal sheets” ” vocal training tracks” and ” vocal directors” on each of our worship teams at multiple campuses . It was very hard work to change the entire singing culture but the pay off has been HUGE. The excellence level has gone up and the teachabibility in the vocals and the whole worship team has risen drastically.

  6. Great post! I would also add some advice to the BGV’s that aren’t singing the entire way through the song… You can still sing and worship (off the mic) before your part comes in! It bothers me a little to see BGV’s that aren’t currently singing a part standing there like a stick when they aren’t singing. Conversely, I am always inspired as a person in the congregation when I see members of the band singing throughout the song whether they are singing/playing or not. This tells me they get it, they’re in it and involved, and they care about worship, not just about playing music. And it’s simple enough to accomplish – take a step back from the mic when it’s not your time to sing, but still be engaged in the song! Then step up to the mic when your part is supposed to come in. Besides being visually inspiring, this also makes for a smooth transition.

  7. Great advice. I like all of it.

  8. This is exactly the type of info I was looking for as I step in to managing our vocalists. Thanks for this!

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