There aren’t a lot of folks out there that think they’re ‘amazing’ singers, but, I often hear people refer to their voice as a “gift” from God. Many people believe that God has gifted them vocally and therefore they need to use this gift. Whether or not that is true, how to go about determining that could be a subject for another article. The current question of how to deal with your voice still remains. Is vocal training necessary if I am a God-approved singer?
Do I need vocal training as a gifted vocalist?
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success” he takes a look at the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? It’s a fascinating book that researches everything from their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing to come to some startling revelations. I suggest you read the book for a more thorough (and interesting!) look at this concept. One of the most remarkable conclusions is this: the biggest difference between “gifted high achievers” and others, the next level down, often comes down to this: 10,000 hours of practice.
When I teach classes on team vocals, I often use the example of my 4 daughters. When my daughters sing together, it’s magical. They easily move back and forth between parts. They breathe together, they cut off perfectly together, they blend perfectly. Why? Because growing up together in a very musical household, their vocal training has easily accumulated to over thousands of hours. I contrast this with the vocal training of a typical worship team that might spend a couple of hours practicing together at best. Most worship teams don’t even stay the same from week to week, changing their make-up constantly, based on scheduling preferences. This underscores one of many reasons why we never seem to achieve a professional level of vocal team dynamics in our churches.
So, back to you; God has given you a gift. You want to use it for His glory. If He has gifted you, do you still need to train? The answer to that is easy, YES! Vocal training is of utmost importance. Eric Liddell, a Scottish athlete and Olympic champion known for his decision not to run his preferred race on a Sunday, was quoted as saying: “Many of us are missing something in life because we are after the second best.” I can’t agree more. We often set our sights so low when it comes to our performance in ministry, that we somehow mistakenly think that working on our craft might undermine the value of the “gift” that God has given us. Or we think that it somehow makes it appear as though we have a worldly mindset and are focused more on performance than pleasing God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 9:24-25, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable…” The issue here, as a singer and leader of worship, is whether or not you are personally pursuing a wreath that is “perishable or imperishable”, not whether or not you should work toward perfecting your craft. That is something that you may need to get straight between you and God, but the idea of perfecting your craft should not be a question.
“But vocal exercises are so weird…”
Ha! Yes, this is true. Once again we can learn from our friend Eric Liddell:
“…They danced about on their toes as if they were stepping on hot bricks. Whenever they started to run, they dug big holes for their toes to go into, as if they were preparing for the time when their toes would dance no more. Surely they did not expect me to make such a fool of myself as all that? Yes, I found that they did. At first, I felt that every eye was turned on me, when, as a matter of fact, there was nobody watching me at all. The exercises seemed unimportant at first, but later one finds how useful they have been. It was at this time that I got to know the trainer who trained me during my five seasons on the running track. He took me in hand, pounded me about like a piece of putty, pushed this muscle this way and that muscle the other way, in order, as he said, to get me into shape.
He told me that my muscles were all far too hard and that they needed to be softened by massage. He added that if they were not softened soon, some day when I tried to start, one of the muscles would snap. Thus, being thoroughly humiliated, feeling that my reputation had been dragged through the mud, that my self-respect was still wallowing in the mire, and that if I didn’t get into the clutches of the trainer soon, every muscle in my body would give way and I should remain a physical wreck till the end of my days. I was then in a fit mental condition to start an athletic career.”
It can be a humbling experience to admit that you need to learn how to do something that you seem to be able to do naturally already. But, as Eric points out, there are many things that can cut short an athlete or a singer’s professional life. Knowledge and training are keys to a powerful and sustainable career as a singer. Humbling yourself to the point that you can admit that you can use help and get better is a great start. Following through with discipline and exercise is the next step. Don’t be afraid to invest in your gift so that you, like Eric Liddell can say, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast (gave me a voice)! And when I run (sing) I feel his pleasure.”