Equipping and Empowering Worship Leaders Worldwide

Join the Collective

Effective Backing Vocals



I don’t know how many of us have witnessed multiple lead vocalists attempting to share the same vocal stage – during the same song. While there may be some true “harmony” present, there can be a perceived “limelight-hog” air about the event that can leave the participants feeling like they’ve gotten a pedicure from a cheese grater (slightly amusing, but mostly painful).

While assembling a team that includes several powerhouse singers can seem like a worship leader’s dream come true, there is an inherent danger in opening the flood gates. Supportive singers are intended to be just that… “supportive.” The goal is not about impressing the congregation with our skills, it’s about assisting in drawing the congregation into a worship-filled experience. While it is within our ability as supportive vocalists to grab the oars and plow through “Oceans” with powerful and amazing harmonies, we need to be mindful and constantly aware of the mood, phrasing, and tone presented through the worship leader.

Song Phrasing

Many worship songs contain builds, climaxes, breakdowns, and recaps. Adjusting your abilities to support the phrasing of the song is a critical tool we need to keep foremost in our toolbox. Generally, appropriate phrasing consists of the worship leader fielding the first verse on their own. Then, as the stew is cooking, we season the next verse, bridge, or phrase with a single harmony or octave unison (as the register and complexity of the melody permits). We then build the chorus with a deeper oblique (or single tone) harmony to fill the chord. As we move to the next phrase or verse, we need not “reset” the supportive line, but may choose, instead, to back the support down to the single harmony.

Melodic Latching

When we support the melody with a harmony that matches the timing of the melody, we “latch” onto that melody. As supportive singers, it is important that we not only follow the melodic rhythm as closely as possible, but we also can adjust our diction to adopt warmer pronunciations. The more we concentrate on the open vowels in our diction, the less absolute we must be in articulating every consonant.  Not only does this create a full and rich sound on open vowels, it minimizes the amount of hard consonants heard by the audience – which run the risk of not being at the same time!  So instead of hearing the word “peace,” the audience hears “peace-ce-ce-ce-ce-ce-,” which is something we absolutely do not want to have happen.

Following Worship Leader Cues

The worship leader will sometimes adjust their vocal delivery by backing away from the mic when the Spirit is engaging the congregation. This most oftentimes occurs in a Chorus recap, but can also present itself within other moving phrases. Now, imagine we – as supportive vocalists – aren’t paying attention to the movement of the Spirit as closely as we should. The result can be an awkward and unbalanced harmony presenting through the PA, with little or no melody reinforcement. The key to an effective and unified vocal presence resides in our adaptation to the worship leader’s cues. When we see them back away from the mic to let the Spirit’s movement in the congregation take control for a short while, we – as supportive vocalists – need to mimic the cue and back away as well. Backing away from the mic is also an extremely effective tool we as singers can use to project in a more “ambient vocal” manner.

Related Posts

4 Responses to “Effective Backing Vocals”

  1. Adriana Gibbs June 2, 2015 at 11:04 am Reply

    Supportive singers, like the addition of any other instrument to the band, help to enhance the sound and feel of worship music in a way that leads alone cannot, and it’s often difficult to effectively communicate their specific value on the team. Thank you for articulating the important role that supportive vocals play in a worship setting, and providing practical ways to improve on this aspect of ministry.

  2. Adriana Gibbs June 2, 2015 at 4:49 pm Reply

    Well I just think your whole article brought a fresh perspective on the concept that being skilled in a background or supportive role is just as important as being skilled as a lead, or in any other position of service.

    Not every worship ministry uses supportive vocals, obviously; but where they are present, they can and should be developed. I’m not sure how common this really is, but sometimes I get the feeling that many people see the supportive vocals as either a stepping stone to lead vocals, or as just a “filler”. But when background vocals are used effectively, they add dimension to the arrangement through dynamics, emphasize important lyrics, and – I think most importantly – invite the congregation to join in singing.

    I think it can be easy to overlook the importance of backing vocals, largely because of that “limelight” you mentioned. But supportive singers should be affirmed that they are valuable to the church in their own right because they bring something to the worship platform that no one else can – and this article is a great place to start. 🙂

    • Thank you, Adriana.

      To your point, the importance of arranging the supportive roles can also teach the congregation the value of service outside the worship experience in everyday life. We learn that true teamwork in a supportive role can be accomplished in every aspect of service. The worn-out quip of “Too many chiefs and not enough indians” comes very much into play regarding what the spirit can teach during worship. If we have a stage full of “chiefs” – who by appropriate design are skillfully supporting the worship leader, the end product is much more engaging than the congregation seeing a bunch of very skilled “chiefs” who all “do their thing” well, individually – but leave the impression that’s counterproductive to the benefits of a honed team.

      When we work – as you and I have addressed – as an effective “supportive team”, we get to see firsthand that efficient supportive roles magnify the worship far greater than individual abilities ever could.

Leave a Reply