There are so many genres to explore as a singer! Here, Austin, TX voice teacher Gfire M. shares her tips for singing gospel music…
I have always been fascinated with gospel music! I spent several years studying Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and other famous gospel singers, just so I could get that soulful feel and get those cool bluesy licks into my own singing style. Here are some tips to help you get started with your own gospel journey.
1. Breathing Exercises
In order to be able to hold your gospel notes and vocal lines without gasping for air by the end of the line, it is a good idea to practice breathing exercises to give yourself more control. Singing is, after all, just vibrating breath! One great exercise is called the “one minute breath.” The full exercise — which I don’t recommend starting with! — is to inhale for 20 seconds, hold your breath for 20 seconds, and then exhale for 20 seconds.
Here is a good way to get started: exhale for four seconds (to empty out your lungs), then inhale for eight seconds, hold the breath for eight seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Once you perfect this breath, move onto (still) exhaling for four seconds, then inhale nine, hold for nine, and exhale for nine seconds. Gradually, you can work up to the full “one minute breath.”
2. Vocal Warm-ups
You’ll want to warm up your voice before working on your gospel song. A nice easy exercise is to sing “mah-mah-mah-mah-mah” on a major triad — for women, perhaps start on the G major triad below middle C, and for men, you can start on the C major triad an octave below middle C. Then you can warm up on some of the other pure vowel sounds, including “meh-meh-meh-meh-meh,” “mee-mee-mee-mee-mee,” “moh-moh-moh-moh-moh,” and “moo-moo-moo-moo-moo.” Work your way down to your lowest note in half-steps and then back up to your highest note in half-steps.
3. Choose Your Song
Next, try singing along with several gospel singers whom you admire. If you can hit all the notes that they are hitting, that is a great song to start with. If you find a singer whose voice is similar to yours, then you can learn a bunch of her or his songs and build your gospel repertoire.
4. Isolate a Lick
Almost every gospel singer out there has some vocal tricks up her sleeve! Take the song “Amazing Grace”, for example — the first “A” might have six or eight or more notes associated with it. Mahalia Jackson, on one version of the song, sings the G and A below middle C for six notes before hitting middle C on “-maz.” That is seven notes and we haven’t even finished one word! It is a good idea to break down the entire vocal line and practice it slowly at first, until you can gradually sing it note for note with Mahalia or whomever you enjoy singing with.
5. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!
Any vocal style worth studying is going to take a large chunk of time to really get a feel for its ins and outs. Spend at least a few years studying gospel singing — developing your repertoire, your vocal lines, and eventually your own personal style — with a singing instructor who specializes in the genre.
If you love gospel as much as I do, you will really enjoy your voyage into gospel singing! Give yourself the gift of developing your talent and then sharing your voice with others!
Learn more in voice teacher Heather L.’s Ultimate Guide to Singing Styles and Genres!
Gfire teaches music theory, opera voice, piano, singing, and songwriting in Austin, TX. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music from University of Maryland, as well as her Master of the Science of Singing from Ernest George White Society. Learn more about Gfire here!
Photo by U.S. Embassy New Delhi