4 essential things to remember when you teach new repertoire to your choir

When your choir has enjoyed a great performance and it’s time to leave behind familiar repertoire and embark on something new, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are my top tips for capitalising on the exciting atmosphere created by your performance as you introduce new repertoire to your choir.

Think about time

When embarking on new pieces, consider how long you have to get them ready for performance. Timings may vary with some gaps between performances being longer than others. Plan your rehearsal sessions so that you allow enough time for the initial learning and also for perfecting the performance of the piece. If time before a concert is short, think about the difficulty level of the piece and try not to introduce a number of harder pieces in a short time frame. Instead, maybe balance one challenging piece with a couple of easier ones. Much better to achieve the right results within the time frame you have than to take on too much and not be properly ready. This will only stress you and your singers out.

Work through sections

When planning your rehearsals think about how much of a piece you will try to cover in one session. If the piece is fairly easy and repetitive you may manage to cover it all. However, if there are intricate harmonies which may take longer to master or if the song has several different sections, consider breaking this learning down over a couple of rehearsal sessions. Singers will feel more confident when learning manageable amounts than if they feel overwhelmed by too much information. This ties in with the previous point of making sure you have enough time to teach the repertoire over the number of rehearsals before your next performance.

Don’t spend the whole rehearsal learning

When there’s new material to learn, it can be tempting to spend the whole rehearsal doing so, particularly if you feel that time is short. However, don’t forget one of the main reasons people enjoy being in a choir is that they want to sing. Learning, particularly in the early stages, usually involves a lot of stopping and starting. Make sure that you allow time in each rehearsal to sing repertoire that the choir already knows and can sing from start to finish. I often have a section of old favourites towards the end of the rehearsal when the capacity for new learning can dwindle. I find this really peps people up and makes them leave the rehearsal on a high rather than feeling a bit bamboozled by all the new material.

Think of the new repertoire from your singers’ point of view

When planning how you will teach repertoire, think of the best way to introduce it. This may not necessarily involve starting from the top of the piece. Perhaps the song has a really catchy chorus which you can learn first and then go back to the verses. Also think about how you will layer the parts. If you start with the melody of the piece ask everyone to sing along so that they get a feel for it and then introduce the different harmonies layering up the sound so that you build up the effect. Your singers will really enjoy this sound as it starts to come together and develop harmonically.

Comments on 4 essential things to remember when you teach new repertoire to your choir

  1. Avatar Peter millar says:

    I am assiting with rehearsals for our community singing group as our leader retired due to ill health at the end of the year, we have advertised for someone to take over the position, with no interest so far, my experience is in bands and orchestra and I can sing, but some of our members are more experienced singers so I feel a bit intimidated I would love some confidance boosters if you can give me some advise.
    Kind regards

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Peter. Congratulations on taking over your singing group. You know what? There will ALWAYS be better musicians than you, and me, whether or not they’re in our choirs. That doesn’t matter at all because what we’re giving our choirs isn’t about being the best musician ever, it’s about who we are. Those ‘more experienced singers’ aren’t going to be sitting in judgement over you. They’re much more likely to be feeling grateful that you’ve stepped up to lead the group. For all we know, they’d make terrible choir leaders, but that’s beside the point. You just concentrate on being the best choir leader you can be, right now, with the skills you have, and you’ll be fine.

      This podcast episode might be helpful to you: https://www.totalchoirresources.com/tcr055-podcast-how-we-overcame-imposter-syndrome-to-lead-our-choirs-with-confidence/

      Best of luck.

  2. Avatar clare says:

    i am loving all your tips and hints. Can you please give me some recommendations of songs that would work well for a mixed primary school choir( aged10-12years old) ? thank you clare

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Clare. It’s actually kind of tricky to recommend individual repertoire choices, particularly as we don’t run children’s choirs ourselves. If I were you, I would look for simple songs in unison or easy two-part harmony. If you have a look on musicroom.com, you can filter your search by no. of parts as well as voices.

  3. Avatar Lisa Westerhout says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the various music material you post. The Counting Canon was an unexpectedly effective and useful piece I used with 2 beginner groups who really enjoyed it.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Lisa, really glad to hear you found the material on the site useful for your reearsals.

  4. I love the tips. That is exactly how I hold rehearsals so it’s nice to know that I’m on the right track.

    Looking forward to more conducting tips.

    Oh wait, I could use some tips on how to improve intonation. I’ve tried sectionals, individual training and even recording but some singers seem to drift away from the lines they are supposed to sing.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Leo. It’s great when your approach gets the seal of approval from someone else – I know how you feel. In my experience, improving intonation is mostly about listening, so for my choir it’s rounds, rounds and more rounds! I get the choir singing something easy and repetitive, then I invite them to open up their listening and not worry if they go wrong. I want them to get more in touch with the singers around them and more confident about holding their part. Inexperienced singers often try to shut out other parts around them, whereas when we get more experienced, we not only cope with other parts next to us, we actively enjoy it!

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