Teaching Tips: Vocal Range Commands

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles

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Written by: Greg Ellifritz



At the Rangemaster Tactical Conference last month, quite a few of my fellow instructors and I had some in depth conversations about the topic of teaching.  The general consensus we came to was that there is an endless variety of information available concerning the relative merits of every tactic and technique under the sun.  There is a relative lack of information, however, about HOW to teach.  The art of instruction isn’t given nearly the press that the specific techniques are.


That creates a situation where skilled practitioners don’t have the basic abilities to impart the knowledge they have to their students.  It takes a lot of practice and years of experience to get good at teaching, even after you’ve mastered the skillset you are trying to teach.


In an attempt to remedy this discrepancy, I’m going to regularly share some teaching tips that I’ve learned over the years.  The articles will be short, to the point, and will be full of actionable information without any fluff.  The first topic I’d like to discuss is using voice commands on the firing range.


Did you know that you can both positively and negatively effect your students’ performance by varying your vocal tonality?  Most instructors don’t understand this and are missing an important way to help their students learn.


When teaching a large group and giving firing commands with everyone on the line, vary your vocal sense of urgency and you will see your students respond differently.  I’m not talking about varying the volume of your commands.  All of your commands should be loud enough to be heard by everyone on the line.  I’m talking about the difference between screaming the command and calmly (but loudly) saying it.


Imagine the difference between an instructor screaming “GUN!!!!!” by surprise as a firing command.  Now imagine the reaction if the same instructor spoke in a calm tome of voice and said “Shooters ready…..Fire.”  The students will react very differently to the two commands.


Most novice instructors will only use one method or the other when a combined approach would yield much better results.


Until I know my students well, I generally don’t scream my range commands.  Some students are stress monsters and will completely freak out if you start screaming at them.  Let them get comfortable with the skill first.  Start out with calm and measured vocal firing commands.  As they are first learning a specific skill set, your students don’t need the extra stress.  They need calm, focused thought to master what you are trying to teach.


As I continue to teach during the day, I get a better feel for my students’ abilities.  Once they have learned what I am trying to teach them, I will generally want to add some stress to the mix.  Stress (and pain) make learning faster, but only after the basics have been mastered.  When I want to start adding stress, I will give range commands by surprise (without a “ready” command.)  I will also raise the level of my verbal intensity.  In doing so, I’ll instantly see students acting with more immediacy and urgency.  They will start to hurry and to fumble.  I want that to happen…but not when students are first learning.  Save the stress for a little later when the students can truly benefit from it.


Here’s your assignment:


During your next shooting class, vary the urgency and intensity of your range commands.  If your students are nervous, vocalize in a calm manner.  If you want to test them a little, up the intensity.  I think you’ll be pleased with the result.





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3 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Karl Rehn says:

    Talking in a normal voice works great, as long as you are outdoors, on a range where no other firing is going on in adjacent berms, and everyone is wearing electronic hearing protection. When you inject older shooters, shooters with hearing damage from combat or other loud noise sources, shooters who “double up” with plugs and muffs, ambient noise, and (a common problem among for-profit instructors more concerned with profit than class quality) overly large firing lines/class sizes into the mix, problems can occur.

    I purchased many sets of electronic ears to loan students who don’t have them or are clearly having difficulty hearing range commands. I also purchased a portable PA w/ wireless mic setup to save my own voice and improve clarity of range commands. A good wireless PA setup is not cheap, and many instructors feel that they can compensate by yelling or using a “stage voice” – but that doesn’t always work.

  2. David from Alabama says:

    I think Greg makes a good point about being aware of your delivery and the instructional situation.
    Frank Proctor (Way of the Gun) taught a class at our tactical officers conference one year. The class was about shooting techniques for recoil control, not a defensive simulation. Fran rarely spoke above a normal conversational tone. As he would teach, you could see the students gathering closer and leaning inward to make sure they heard the message. Of course his line commands were a bit louder, but were delivered in a calm tone. As Karl cautioned, we were on an isolated range, so interference wasn’t a problem. In that situation, I believe we all paid better attention because of Frank’s delivery technique. That technique might not work for all students, situations, or instructors, but it was fine for that subject, with those students, on that day.

  3. Because I integrated tactical movement and vocalization with shooting, I had my students learn complex drills by number commands. When time allowed, I’d sometimes ask the students if they wanted to see how easily I could open up their group sizes. If they replied in the affirmative, I’d simply go from speaking the numbers just loud enough to be heard through hearing protection to shouting them.

    No point in introducing the stress until the students have moved from conscious competence to unconscious competence.