How much 'homework' should we expect from our singers?

We've probably all experienced that feeling when a rehearsal has gone exceptionally well, but by the next rehearsal all that good work has been forgotten! It can be very frustrating when progress is slow, but before you give everyone a good telling off and ruin the mood of your rehearsal, consider how to tackle the subject of 'homework' in a positive manner.

Show understanding

Firstly, it's important to appreciate that as well as being singers in your choir, your members are all also busy people with jobs, families and responsibilities. Being part of a choir is often seen as a hobby or escape from daily life. Expecting large amounts of practice may make the idea of the choir much less appealing for those just looking for some enjoyment.

Let your members know that you appreciate that they're busy but if they could squeeze in a couple of practice sessions during the week, you would really appreciate it. Then give them some positives: practising will help them to gain a better understanding of the music, improve their singing, help them enjoy rehearsals and performances more.

Give your singers the tools they need

If a singer is willing to spend some time on practice, but doesn't know how, they'll probably be put off pretty quickly . Give your members the tools they need for a productive rehearsal session. Below is a practice structure that you could suggest, based on a twenty-minute session. Carrying out the types of exercises you suggest for practice in your rehearsals will also help:
  1. Gentle stretches and relaxation - 1 min
  2. Easy vocal warm-ups - sirens, hums and scales - 1 min
  3. Breathing technique - such as a long note/sipping and hissing/bicycle tires - 1 min
  4. Technique practice - such as tongue twisters for diction, vowel sounds for tone and resonance or arpeggios for flexibility - 1 min
  5. Repertoire practice - 15 minutes
  6. Cool down - gentle descending scales - 1 min
Choose a section

Many singers will approach a piece from start to finish each time they practise. Although this will eventually yield improvements, it's a good idea to encourage your to focus on specific sections, perhaps in preparation for what you intend to cover in your next rehearsal. Providing rehearsal tracks can really help to encourage homework. You could suggest that they play the other parts then sing theirs over them for a greater understanding of how the harmony comes together.

Words of wisdom

Encourage your singers to be kind to themselves; they're looking for gradual improvement not transformation, and that comes with practising little and often. Remind everyone that they shouldn't sing when they're ill and should always work within their own limitations.

If you've never encouraged your choir to do any work on repertoire in their own time, you could consider introducing the concept gradually, perhaps asking everyone to do one specific piece of learning for the next rehearsal. If you make a lot of demands without warning, you're likely to scare the horses! Small requests, coupled with a postive message about the benefits of practising outside choir will rehearsals, may bring surprisingly good results.
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