Boost your enjoyment of choir rehearsals with these easy confidence tips - Total Choir Resources

Boost your enjoyment of choir rehearsals with these easy confidence tips

We all get a bit nervous at times. Standing up in front of a group and giving instructions can be particularly nerve-wracking, even when we’re doing something as enjoyable as making music. If you struggle with confidence in rehearsals, try these top tips to get your head in the game.

Know your stuff

Preparation is a big confidence booster. Having a clear rehearsal plan and doing your homework will help you to lead your choir in a professional and organised way. Of course, we all have to be reactive in rehearsals. Things don’t go exactly as we plan; questions arise and issues take longer to resolve than we expect. But having a baseline plan and knowing the music thoroughly gives a rehearsal structure and pace, and frees us to be fully engaged with our choir.

Stay on track

Inevitably in rehearsals, questions arise from choir members who are struggling with a particular issue or who don’t understand something. You may also have found that it’s the same hands being raised over and over again. This can be really stressful for a choir leader – you want to do your best for all your choir members, but persistent questions or comments from a particular individual can derail your rehearsal plan and annoy the rest of the choir.

How we deal with interruptions is a marker of our confidence as choir leaders. Personally, I will listen to and deal with a query in rehearsal as long as the issue is a general one (ie, not exclusive to a particular singer) that doesn’t depart too much from my rehearsal plan.

If someone asks a question that I think would interfere with the flow of the rehearsal, I make a note and either address it later in the rehearsal or ask the singer to talk to me afterwards. Become practised in politely and amiably declining a request can really boost your confidence because you don’t feel that you have to buffeted around by people’s questions and worries.

Stand tall 

I’m a huge proponant of the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ school of leadership. There are two reasons for this. The first is that adopting a confident posture and demeanour will actually make you feel more confident. The second is that your confident demeanour will be mirrored back to you by the choir. If you stand tall and have a bright, engaged expression, it’s more likely that your singers will too.

At any point in your rehearsals, you can take a moment to breathe, correct your posture and smile. It only takes a second and your confidence will soar.

Know when to move on

As a recovering perfectionist, I know only too well that niggling away at a task until it is ‘perfect’ (which, of course, it never is) is a sure sign of lack of confidence. It comes from a fear of being judged and of not being good enough.

We have to find the resolve to work on a piece or section of music and improve it, and then have the guts to leave it when time is running out, or when it is obvious that there is no more improvement to be made on that occasion. This comes back to having a sound rehearsal plan and sticking to it. If it’s late in the rehearsal and your singers are tired, you’re probably going to find that further work on a particular issue or section is counter-productive. Make a note to return to it next time, then move on.

‘Fess up to mistakes

It’s incredibly stressful and confidence-sapping to feel that you have to be right all the time. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes, no matter how carefully you prepare. Handle those mistakes with humour and humility and you’ll feel the benefit. If you can acknowledge the mistake, laugh and move on, you’ll feel so much more confident than if you live in terror of being ‘found out’ as the imperfect creature you are.

    Victoria Hopkins

    Victoria is a founder and director of Total Choir Resources. She leads Total Voice Chamber Choir in the UK.

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    Chris Hobson - a few months ago Reply

    Last week I suddenly had an attack of nerves at the beginning of the rehearsal and completely forgot to do any warm-ups and started the first song. When I noticed puzzled faces I realised my mistake and knew I had to stop and do the warm-ups. I felt a bit stupid but just admitted I’d forgotten and to my relief everyone smiled and did not seem to mind at all.

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - a few months ago Reply

      Hi Chris, thanks for your message and for sharing your experience. I think you did exactly the right thing. Once you realised you had forgotten the warm-ups and noticed other people had realised, if you’d have just ploughed through it might have continued to make you feel more and more nervous. Far better to fess up, perhaps have a giggle which will help to relax you and then start again. I always find when I’m being me with my choir and not pretending to be perfect everything goes so much better and I enjoy it more. Good luck going forwrad, I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine next week.

    Helen Wade - a few months ago Reply

    Just brilliant. Wish I’d read this advice when I was starting out as a choir leader.

      Victoria Hopkins - a few months ago Reply

      Thanks Helen. That’s really kind of you.

    Jo Griff - last year Reply

    Interesting reading everyone. I have been a choir leader for only a few tender months and recognise that I am trying to please everyone and so your words of wisdom are very helpful . I should trust myself and just go with it.

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - last year Reply

      Hi Joanne,

      Thanks for your message, I’m so glad you found the article useful. Good luck with your choir ventures. Trusting in your decisions is the best way forward and you’ll find things are less stressful when you adopt that approach rather than trying to please everyone.

    Celestine johnson - a couple of years ago Reply

    Nice one madam…
    What if your choir members are Frustrating you..and you are doing ur best to keep your cool…would it be advisable to express t
    Your anger to them..I. This case??

      Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

      Hi Celestine. In my opinion it’s not productive to express anger to your choir. I think it’s better to use encouragement. I know that can be hard sometimes!

    Megan - a couple of years ago Reply

    It’s taken me a long time not to beat myself up for getting something wrong…I assumed a leader should be note perfect, key perfect and tempo perfect every time! I realised it didn’t matter if I made the odd mistake when I was singing through the alto part with them..without the music…and had inadvertently started waaaaaaaay too low…the looks on the faces of my altos as they tried to get into their boots for the last bit and then worked out what had happened was priceless…we all fell about laughing then had another go!!

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - a couple of years ago Reply

      Thanks for your message Megan, I too used to get very worried about the possibility of getting anything less than note perfect. These days I am a lot more relaxed about it, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. I usually joke with my choir that I was just testing them if I sing something incorrectly! Sounds like you have a great rapport with your singers so I’m sure they’ll forgive you the odd mistake. I always take comfort that when singer’s notice mistakes it means they have been paying attention and learning the parts. All the best with your choir.

    Fiona McGillivray - 3 years ago Reply

    When I am making up a plan for rehearsals I create an alternative plan – an easier one so that if the group is having a bad day or I lose the plot entirely I have something already planned and I don’t have to think on the spot quite so much. I can use it for the whole rehearsal or just pick the eyes out of it depending on how needy I am. It helps when my brain has left the building.

      Victoria Hopkins - 3 years ago Reply

      That’s a great idea, Fiona.

    Isobel - 3 years ago Reply

    As someone who froze like a rabbit in the headlights this Wednesday and became completely unable to play the bass line without missing out the flats, this is welcome advice! The sudden meltdown took me by surprise and if it happens in the future I’ll just stop and say I need to gather myself or go on to something different for a while. No need to confess to the mistake – everyone could hear it in the endless repetitions and the way my head sank on to the piano keys in despair.

      Victoria Hopkins - 3 years ago Reply

      Oh Isobel, you poor thing! We’ve all been there. This sort of thing often happens to me towards the end of rehearsals. I tend to think that if my head’s getting a bit woolly, so are the choir’s, and it’s time to stop working and sing something fun.

    Helen - 3 years ago Reply

    Love it Victoria – I think there will be a few more of us having that sign in our offices, or at rehearsal!

    Chris Rowbury - 3 years ago Reply

    Love the idea of being a “recovering perfectionist”, Victoria!! Is there a 12-step programme?

    Chris

      Victoria Hopkins - 3 years ago Reply

      I also have a sign on the noticeboard in my office that says “I’m a recovering people-pleaser. Is that okay?”.

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