Backing vocalists are singers who provide vocal harmony with the lead vocalist or other backing vocalists. In some cases, a backing singer may sing alone as a lead-in to the main vocalist's entry or to sing a counter-melody. (wikipedia)
Backing Vocalists (BV) can make or break a worship set so it is important to have strong singers who are confident in their gifting. Experienced BVs know how to flow with worship and, most important, flow with the worship leader. They are always ready for the unexpected, always alert to the movement of the Holy Spirit and they know and understand how to use their voice to express the heart of God. On the other hand, an inexperienced or poor BV can have a disruptive affect on a worship set that can put the whole set out of sync, not only with the other vocalists but also with the musicians and congregation.
Here I list 10 Qualities of a Backing Vocalist Its Worth Knowing
1. Ability to Sing ( or willing to learn how)– As a BV the voice IS our instrument. And like any other instrument, you need to know how to use it. A guitarist is not born with the ability to play a guitar, s/he has to learn and understand the instrument. Whereas, with the voice - the instrument; its function, its purpose and use - is built in from birth. Isn't this even more reason to care and protect the voice in ministry? After all, if it is damaged, you cannot buy another one! A BV must be able to sing, follow melody, stay in pitch and preferably hold harmony, if required. A BV should also know the extent of their range, whether they are Alto, Soprano, Tenor, Bass or Baritone.
2. Co operative Team Player - Being a backing singer normally means being part of a team. The very essence of the phrase suggests there is more than one; some one is leading at least. If you want to be a part of the worship team, learn to be a team player, supporting your fellow vocalists and musicians.
3. Good Listener - It is important that a BV can listen carefully to instructions from the lead singer or/and musical director, especially when performing a live set. They are normally giving you information regarding how many times a verse is sung or if there will be a key change or transpose that they will expect your to follow. A lead singer may also be giving instructions when s/he wants the BV's to take over lead vocals so they can be free to speak or minister as the Holy Spirit prompts.
4. Bold Enough to Ask questions - Its OK to have a query or not understand an instruction. What is not OK , is to not then clarify your query, when you have a chance. Be bold enough to ask. The best place to do this is, of course, during team practice time. Is this the right key? How many times do we sing the chorus? Should I drop out here? Would you like me to come in at this at this point? And so on. If your question will help you to sing effectively then be ready to ask. And if you're a lead singer, be ready to answer.
5. Committed to Practice - Practice, Practice, Practice! A worship team is only as good as the amount of times they practice. If you are a BV you should be committed to attend team practice regularly. There's no nice way to put this: It is disrespectful when, last minute, a BV rocks up without explanation on a Sunday morning, expecting to sing, but having not attend that weeks practice. Remember all the song arrangements have already been rehearsed and completed in advance. Committing to team practice time means you are well rehearsed and prepared for Sunday service.
6. Observant - Of course, BV's are expected to worship too during a worship set. However, they still need to be looking at the lead singer or musical director to be ready for musical changes. If you close your eyes when worshipping, there is a moment to get 'lost' but what happens if precisely at this moment the lead singer indicates to transpose or stop? Many, many worship and choir singers close their eyes and miss their musical cue. The impact on the song at that point can be distracting and off-putting. A backing vocalist that worships and watches will be stronger for it.
7. Practising Prayer Warrior - Worship is not only about preparing and singing songs. It is also being ready to go to prayer. To understand the role and importance of the worship singer, 2 Chronicles 20:19, 21- 22, shows us the place of singers in the midst of war. If we are to lead, to be at the forefront, we must be ready to put on the Armour of God through prayer.
8. Can Confidently Improvise and Ad lib - The ability to fill in; add dynamics, change vocal texture and tone is a good quality to have, in my opinion. Empty musical space can be just as distracting as overplaying and can switch people off. To be honest, it is a pet peeve of mine. Here's why. Imagine, The Spirit of God is flowing and people are beginning to engage with God, a soft musical interlude with vocals is needed, the leader is indicating to the BV's to continue to minister quietly in song and then.....nothing! They cannot add any ooo's or ahhs. No gentle hums or line repeats. No understated harmonies. Just perplexed looks at not knowing where to start. So its left to the lead singer to minister and back up too. I have seen this happen many, many, MANY times. No, i am not saying that there is no room for silence. Of course there is. How else will we hear God speak if we do not allow silence to have its place? However, being able to sense that atmospheric shift and intuitively flow vocally (musicality) is an essential element of leading worship.
9. Ability to Sing by Ear - Ok, lets face it, even if you can read music, the vast majority of worship teams and choirs want people who can sing by ear. People who can pick up a tune quickly and stay in pitch, with little or no instruction. This is especially true if you are required to sing harmonies. So if you cannot sing by ear, the best thing to do is to learn how to do it. This could be by taking music lessons or working with a singing teacher. Not being able to 'sing by ear' does not mean you cannot sing. Its likely to mean your Aural skills are not your strongest learning style and you need to learn or complement your listening/hearing with visual or tactile (Kinesthetic) aids.
10. Tech Aware - A BV who understands the technical equipment around them is already in control of their personal musical space on stage. They understand how to use the microphone, the difference between the stage and house monitors, sound levels, what the musicians require from vocalists and so on. You do not have to take a course in music technology to sing but it is worth getting to know the PA guy/gal as a starting point.
To your Vocal Success
What do you think? Disagree? Agree? Tell me why.
Dionne is a professional Vocal Coach and Worship Leader and has been tutoring
Voice In Ministry - Lift Your Voice!