Whether in a choir, a vocal group, a band with multiple vocalists, or singing in a group of any kind, of any genre, singing with other people is a musical skill to be honed and developed just like any other. Here’s a list of certain things to keep in mind and work on to make you a better singer in all scenarios — but particularly when singing with other people.
1. Listen, Listen, Listen
The balancing act when singing in a group, just like when playing an instrument in a group, is about walking the line between listening to yourself and listening to others. Get used to really hearing those around you. Only then can you really find your place in an ensemble of any kind, and better still perform sensitively and collaboratively.
The best vocal and instrumental ensembles are always those in which the members respond and react to each other in a complementary fashion. This principle of finding a balance between listening to yourself and listening to others is particularly heightened in ensemble vocal groups singing harmony parts. Which brings us to point two…
Singing harmony vocals is one of the most simultaneously challenging and rewarding elements of vocal performance. When done well, two, three, four or more harmonizing voices create beautiful rich textured sounds that are a pleasure to listen to. The tricky element is keeping in mind your starting note and sticking to the harmonizing melody you are supposed to be singing without getting distracted or sidetracked by the other vocal lines being sung by the other members of your group.
There’s just no substitute for practice here, and a great way to do so is to get into the habit of singing along to music you listen to by singing the backing vocal parts rather than the lead vocal melody. A basic working knowledge of intervals is also really important. If you know that your melody is for example, a fifth up from the lead vocal, then you can always find your note by simply singing the lead vocal then shifting your voice up a fifth. So, make sure you learn about intervals and how to sing them.
3. Arrangement and Tone
Here we meet some of the technical and administrative elements of singing in a group effectively. The things that transform ensemble vocal arrangements from just okay to something really great are how the ensemble is structured and arranged for best effect. This doesn’t even have to get particularly technical in terms of bass, tenor, alto, soprano, etc. Nor does it have to extend into advanced compositional and arrangement techniques. It’s simply about using common sense to apply certain principles:
- Is everybody singing the best part for their range?
- What are those with the lowest voices singing?
- What are those with the highest voices singing?
- How can the various tonal textures of the groups’ members inherent natural tones and timbres complement each other?
- Does the resulting arrangement sound too sweet? Or too plain?
- Theoretically why might that be?
Thinking along these and similar lines, you can develop your understanding of the theory and practice of singing in a group and thereby become a better group member or group leader.
Firstly, working in any kind of group requires cooperation and collaboration. So, enter into this with an open mind and a willingness to work together.
Secondly, having fun together improves the performance, stage presence, and sense of unity. This will inspire and inform the performance itself but also can’t help but be conveyed to any watching audience, who will appreciate the performance much more as a result.
Thirdly and finally, this is about understanding. Be compassionate and patient with the other members of your group as you would want them to be to you. Sometimes mistakes happen, sometimes elements of singing and harmonizing can be particularly difficult and sometimes it takes a while to understand one’s role within an ensemble. Be nice!
Good luck and enjoy!