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Top 5 tips for raising musical
standards in your choir

Simple changes - amazing results!

Choir Performing on Stage
Keep it simple

Give your choir clear instructions, one at a time. If you muddy the waters with lots of advice at once, it will all get forgotten.

Low-hanging fruit

You can achieve big improvements in your choir's sound with simple physical changes: stand up tall, relax your shoulders, smile!

Girl Picking Apple
Plant Mirror Reflection
Mirror the choir

Your singers will unconsciously mirror what they see from their leader, so make sure your posture, expression and breathing are giving them the right message.

Listen

Singers fear being distracted from their part, but opening their ears to the rest of the choir will pay dividends. Encourage them with lots of rounds.

Leather Headphones

How to get started

Encouraging good singing technique starts with your warm-ups. They're a great opportunity to experiment in a low-stress environment. Breathing exercises, in particular, will get everyone relaxed and ready to sing while improving their stamina and support.

An easy, fun warm-up to download FREE

Slowing down the tempo in a warm-up is an easy way to encourage longer, steadier breaths.

 

In this exercise, we repeat an easy phrase to ‘noo’, each time getting slower and more challenging for the breath. You can do this exercise with or without the backing track. When the choir is familiar with the chord sequence, try improvising some new phrases and layering up some harmonies.

A deeper dive into
raising musical standards
in your choir

Your singers don't

As choir leaders, we are always striving to produce the best possible sound with our choirs. Whatever type of choir you lead, there's always something more to learn and something that can be improved. The trick is to inspire your singers into achieving greatness rather than to nag or chastise them, which will only end up with negative results. Empower them with a bit of knowledge and know-how and you will soon reap the rewards with an amazing sound.

Improve vocal skills

It goes without saying that the better your singers' ability, the better the sound of the choir. You don't need to be a trained singer yourself, all it takes is a few little techniques and pointers to help your singers to produce a better sound, which in turn help them to take better care of their voices. I find this is best done at the beginning of a session as part of the choir's warm-ups. Think about the techniques important for your current repertoire and work them into a structured warm-up session. Key areas to focus on are relaxation to avoid tension in the voice, breathing techniques to teach support and control, and pitch and harmony exercises to get singers thinking about the notes they are producing. These are all areas of singing which over time will help to achieve a better sound.

Develop the choir's relationship with you

As a leader, you are the one holding everything together, so it's vital that your choir pays attention to you.  Building a relationship with them over time will help this, but don't be afraid to let them know if they are not looking at you. A funny remark is the best way in my experience, but whatever works for you, its really important they follow your signals to keep the piece together, co-ordinated and on track. It is therefore vital that you give your choir clear signals so that your singers can interpret you easily. Also bear in mind your choir will mirror you and any tension or bad habits will be reflected right back at you and beyond to your audience. Stay relaxed, keeping your shoulders level. Keep your facial expression lifted and bright, give clear signals and breathe when your choir needs to breathe.

Ask questions

When you start a new piece, ask your choir what they think it's about. What emotion does it require? What tempo suits it best? How can we use dynamics? By doing this you are getting your choir to think more about the pieces they sing and you are involving them in the development of their performance more than if you just dictate everything to them. Of course, you need to have the answers to your questions clear in your mind, but giving your choir a chance to figure some things out themselves will really help them to invest in a new piece.

Be specific with your instructions

Prior to rehearsals, go through your music in detail and make decisions about how you want it to sound. If you want certain emphasis on words or parts of words make that clear to your choir in the learning process to get a feeling of togetherness. Talk to the choir about this and explain why it's so important to the overall quality of their performance. Focusing on and polishing a specific part of a piece is very motivational for a choir. Once they experience something really coming together they are also keen to hold on to this and repeat it in future performances of the piece.

Get them to listen to each other

You may occasionally notice singers rehearsing with one hand over their ear, trying desperately to get to grips their own part. While we can understand why they may try to block out other parts (they think they will be distracted) try to discourage that kind of approach. It's so important that choral singers listen to what's going on throughout the choir. Try mixing people up so that they are not always sitting within their separate sections. Raising musical standards in our choirs is a long and ongoing process, but I hope you agree that there are simple actions we can always take to help that process along.

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