Pastor Brian Wright recently released an album of Psalms (which you can read more about here). We got in touch and asked him if he would prepare some videos instructing those of us who are less musically gifted on how we might improve our singing! Here is what he said:
How can you improve the sacrifice of praise that you offer to God? Paul told the Ephesians to sing and make melody to the Lord with their heart, so a right heart comes first in praising God. But if the Old Testament sacrifices had to be unblemished, how much more should we try to sing well when we offer a sacrifice of praise? I’m not an expert, but here are a few tips I’ve compiled for each experience level to help you improve your psalm-singing.
- Some of the psalms say to shout to God; others are laments. Before we get to tips about music itself, work on singing with the right emotion for the psalm. You don’t need lots of musical skill to sing the psalms with the right heart.
- Get used to singing feeling too “high.” Everyone’s speaking voice is near the bottom of their range, so almost everything you sing will feel higher than what you’re used to. Here’s a video I made that explains how this can affect your singing.
- This is a particular struggle for men, but brothers, this clip from Henry V should dispel any ideas that it’s unmanly to sing higher than your speaking voice.
- Practice singing when no one is around (in the car is optimal). Get used to how high and low your voice can go. Get used to taking deep breaths to sing. Sing along with simple tunes and listen to see if what you’re singing matches what you’re hearing.
- Ask someone who sings well if you can sit with them, and try to sing what they sing. Consider changing where you sit in worship so that you’re closer to someone who has a voice like yours, or ask to sit with that person for a psalm sing or at a prayer meeting (this might need to be a post-COVID goal, depending on your situation). If you have the courage, you can even ask for feedback.
- Learn the basics of music notation. You don’t have to read music to sing, but it’s helpful to know something about what’s on the page. This video from TED-Ed is one good place to start.
- If you’re pretty confident singing the melody of a psalm setting, next work on singing in sentences. Look ahead at the words, and take your breaths where there’s punctuation. This helps you sing the meaning of the words and not just focus on the music.
- If you want to learn to sing harmonies, ask someone you know who sings that part (alto, tenor, or bass) if you can sit with or near them. It’s much easier to get started singing harmonies if at least one person is singing with you.
- Pick one psalm and work on learning that harmony. Don’t worry about learning them all at once; get that one tune down. Consider convincing children in your congregation to pick that psalm all the time so that you get lots of chances to practice. If you’re using The Book of Psalms for Worship, psalter.org has a great tool where you can isolate just the part you want to learn for each tune.
- If you lose your place when singing harmony, rejoin the melody, and wait until the melody and your part are close together (or are on the same note) to pick up the harmony again.
- Get used to the feeling of “home” at the keynote (i.e., C in the key of C, F in the key of F). Most psalm melodies end on that note. If you have that note in your mind as a reference point, you can use it to get your bearings at any time. Here’s a video I made demonstrating this concept:
- If you are an experienced singer, you can be a great help to your congregation as a whole. Start to think about the sound of the whole congregation and adjust how you sing to help the overall sound.
- Consider getting early access to the psalms for worship each week and look at them ahead of time. See if there are unfamiliar tunes and work on them so that you can help your congregation keep going if others falter.
- See if your congregation needs precentors. If not, work on learning that skill anyway, just in case.
- Join a choir! A choir will develop your technical skills, and a choir director will give you tips on how to sing with the right emotion and how to express the words in the music well (again, this may need to be a post-COVID goal).
- Study the difference between group singing and performance singing. Notice the differences between pop styles and how ordinary people sing together. It’s okay to have a soloist’s voice, but understand your role as a member of a body, one part contributing to a whole sound.
Wherever we are in our musical abilities, God has commanded us all to sing. Let’s do our best to offer a beautiful sacrifice of praise to the glory of our God!
Brian Wright is a follower of Christ who loves singing, the psalms, and singing the psalms. He is married to his college sweetheart, and they live with their three children in Sterling, Kansas where Brian serves as the pastor of the Sterling Reformed Presbyterian Church.