your music for Vocalists
On a typical Sunday morning at my corps, the worship team comes together to practice and each singer is assigned their part for a particular song – which can sometimes get a bit complicated. It’s possible that on the first song, I’ll sing melody the whole time but on the second song I need to sit out for the first verse, sing a low harmony for the first chorus, melody for the second verse, a higher harmony for the second chorus…you can see how this can get confusing! There are many times when “sticking to our parts” just doesn’t happen. Too often, we forget which harmony is ours and end up taking someone else’s or just default to the melody.
In order to counteract this problem, I created a sort of shorthand notation system for the vocalists. Using this method, everyone marks up their copy during rehearsal and there is no confusion about who is singing which part at a particular time. In addition to each singer’s copy, I usually have a master copy. The master copy is simply a detailed overview of what everyone is singing; each part is labeled clearly and whoever is in charge of rehearsal can reference it to be aware of how the vocals have been arranged. This can be particularly useful when parts are lost or when the leader of the group is not primarily a singer.
I like to make my copies fun and colorful but all you really need to get started is a pencil and a chord sheet. I like the ones on SongSelect.com, but anything will do. One of the most important steps of this process is to write your name on your chart. In addition, next to the title of the song, I’ll usually write down who is leading that song. From there, what I write on my copy changes based on what part I’m covering.
Recently, I was leading worship with a friend named Israel, and we used this system to remember our parts. The notation on Israel’s copy of Glorious Day was pretty minimal because he was leading, so he knew that he was singing melody throughout the entire song. My copy was a little prettier. First, I labeled who was singing on each section. Since Israel was singing verses 1 and 2 alone, I only wrote his name at the top and in the choruses and verse 3, we were both singing so I wrote both of our names. For the parts where we are singing unison, I just bracket it and write “uni” to remind myself that we’re singing the same part together. Where I was singing harmony, I just underlined it. On the master copy I’ll usually add some brackets and write down who is singing what during the underlined parts.
For Glorious Day it was really straight forward –I was singing the harmony above Israel’s melody. However, if a song has 3 parts in it, like the chorus of Fullness, I will write down the parts in order of range. For that song, worship team member Hannah sings the harmony above my melody and Israel sings the harmony below. Writing it out like this gives me a visual representation of where I should be hearing the harmonies come in.
The bridge for Glorious Day looks a little different because Israel sings the first four lines alone and then I join him with a harmony. In situations like this, I write the names in the left-hand margin as the singers join in. I finished off this section with a little reminder to myself to jump back to the chorus.
These notations may seem small and overly simple but they’ve worked really well for me in various teams to make sure that everyone is pulling their weight and not stepping on other singers toes...musically speaking. As you integrate these principles into your corps and divisional worship bands, I encourage you to adapt this system to meet the individual needs of your team and the sound of your group as a whole.
Article by Shalini Henry-John from the USA Western Territory, pictured here singing at the SA Worship Leaders Conference in January 2019