Thursday, May 20, 2010

8 Top Tips for Getting Blokes to Sing

Getting men in your faith community singing can be challenging. Unless a strong singing culture already exists, and a decent number of blokes are present, men often feel their voice is too exposed, and resist singing with anything like great gusto.

Some years back, in my own congregation, the collective voice of men became so reticent, despite their significant number, that I set about trying to identify the problems. After listening to what they had to say, the 8 Top Tips for Getting Blokes to Sing emerged quite effortlessly.

Getting the voice of men going is an ongoing adventure. However, one delightful observation has been that on the week "Blokes Vocals" lead the singing in my congregation, the eyes of the boys shine as they too attempt to lift the roof.

1. Use male song leaders
Chances are your male musicians are not leading the singing, but contribute on piano, guitar, bass or drums, with a female offering the vocal lead. What this can often mean is that men in the congregation perceive the song is "too high" because the songleader is singing an octave above.

2. Check the pitch of your songs
It has to be said, many of our community songs are too high. It seems to be an area often neglected by music publishers. I suspect the key of most songs is chosen because of its accessibility for instruments, or that it sits comfortably for the individual who wrote it. As a rule of thumb, I consider any song exceeding a high D, or E flat at the most, to be prohibitive. Many will even find that D too difficult to handle, especially first thing in the morning.

3. Include songs with male imagery
Consider the text of some of the songs we sing, and you'll understand why they confront the masculine. To use an oldie as an example, "If I were a butterfly" is a phrase no self-respecting 16 year-old man will add his voice to. Just as we have become conscious about using feminine images in worship, so too should we ensure there is music that resonates with men and boys.

4. Use bass instruments in your band
 If your instrumental combination is top-heavy with treble instruments, men may feel unsupported. Try doubling the bass on piano or keyboard, or using other bass instruments.

5. Encourage blokes to sit together
For reasons similar to tip 4, men fell particularly exposed when surrounded by treble singers - this may include their partner and children. If you can devise ways of bunching blokes together, it will bolster confidence and participation.

6. Flush out their favourites
Find out which songs the men in your congregation like. The revelations can help ensure there is at least one winner each time. It may also help to inform new song choices.

7. Get the guys together
In my faith community, a few years back. we decided to get a bunch of guys together to lead the singing one Mother's Day. I enlisted one of our male keyboard players to run the rehearsal, beacause I wanted it to be a men's thing. His main fear was that the outcome would be akin to a footy team singing the club song at the end of the game. Sure, the results are unlikley to be top-notch, but the positives are many.

Whenever our "Blokes Vocals" lead the singing the corporate voice is as uplifting as I have ever experienced. Everyone sings their heart out, with a grin on their face. People regularly report how uplifting iot was, and report shivers down the back of their neck. Yes, it IS that good. "Blokes Vocals" is often enlisted to introduce new songs, as it ensures on the occasions they sing within the community, they will offer a strong lead.

8. Use songs with men/boy's parts
This is one way of getting men and boys linked in to each other's voices. Sing songs with a women/girls part and a men/boys part. Any two-part thing will do. Have a leader for each part up front, and observe the results. If you get a boy to lead the part, most men will make a second effort.  In a standard community song, it is also great to have females sing a verse, and males to sing another.

I'd love to hear what you have tried and tested in your faith community.

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You may also be interested in
Why don't the Children sing?
Virtual Music Barriers


Squirrel said...

I just found your blog after a sleepless night from getting "volunteered" to start a singing group in our church. With the unexpected backing-out of the organist, combined with less talent than enthusiasm and even less availability, my confidence is not high!

Thank you so much for your great ideas and observations. I've book-marked your site for future reference.

Lucy Graham said...

Hi Squirrel,
I'm glad to know something here is hitting the mark for you. I'm sure if you have been 'volunteered' you are currently the best person for the job in your faith community. I'm not sure if you are local to me (Victoria Australia), so this may not be possible, but if you feel you'd like some practical support I can talk to you about the songmakers course for songleaders. Anyhow, in the meantime, let us know what you learn along the way.