It is difficult to tell a student he/she is not vocally ready to lead his/her peers in worship, but there are times when this is necessary. Thankfully, there are several ways we can offer encouragement and direction to students in this situation.
1. Be Honest
One of the worst things we can do to struggling vocalists is not be honest with them. Students who are not meeting the musical standards you have set need to know, but you must be ready to explain:
- How they can improve—be ready to provide action steps on how they can improve and fix their issues.
- Where they can serve—the worst thing that could happen in this moment is for the student to quit and never join your team. Have a role or responsibility for them on the team so they can serve while they improve as a vocalist.
- When they can start leading—this is hard to know at first. I usually set a date and have them come sing again for me or some combination of the next two suggestions.
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:6 NIV
2. Develop Alternative Platforms
Students do not necessarily have to lead in a worship environment to grow as a vocalist. We have a small platform in our student cafe where we allow students to play before Bible Study on Sunday mornings. It is a relaxed atmosphere and there is little pressure on the students leading since everyone is talking and just hanging out.
Another option is to think about developing a team that leads worship for kids. Leading for kids is fun, there is much less pressure to sing every note perfectly and it allows you to monitor the student’s improvement.
3. Mix Them in Slowly
If there are no other platforms you can utilize, consider keeping the struggling vocalist low in the mix. I will often pair them with a more experienced singer/worship leader and explain that I am going to keep them low in the house mix compared to the more experienced leader, but will slowly increase them as they improve and grow more confident in their abilities. Again, honesty in love is what will help make this much less painful.
Another way of mixing them in slowly is to allow them to lead a verse or a chorus during a song. Again, the student is paired with a more experience leader who leads the majority of the song and what I have found is that this often helps boost the student’s self-esteem while not causing any major distractions during your worship set.
4. Offer Developmental Resources
Lastly, you need to offer resources that will help your students improve. There are many resources you can offer your students. Some will cost money and others are free.
- WorshipOnline.com — This is a paid resource I use with my students. It has helpful videos that teach melody and harmony parts on many of today’s most popular worship songs.
- Harmony Help — I will often record the harmony parts for a song (via a midi keyboard) in Garage Band and post them on Planning Center for my students to download and listen too. It is quick and easy. Best of all, it’s free!
- Voice Lessons — My schedule does not allow me to do one-on-one voice lessons with students, but I do know several instructors in town who teach. Have an up-to-date list of teachers who are accepting students and encourage families to consider voice lessons.
- Vocal Exercises — Though it is best to be done under the supervision of a trained teacher, vocal exercises can help your students improve their range and vocal strength when done properly. (For more on vocal exercises read the post: Vocal Exercises)
5. Praise, Encourage and Correct
Let’s be honest, we all would be embarrassed to be the student in this situation. This is why it is so important for us to praise our students when they do sing or lead well. Go out of your way to make sure that your students know when they have done a great job. Send them a handwritten note or make a special phone call to encourage them because they need to know that you are for them and not against them.
But, there is another side to this coin. When a student does not do well or still needs to improve, praise and encourage but also correct. Point out what they did well but also point out where they need to improve. No one wins or improves when you do not offer correction, and no one wins or improves when you only offer correction.