Choir warm-ups to get the room buzzing!

Choir warm-ups to get the room buzzing!

Whatever your experience of leading singers, you’ve undoubtedly encountered times when the atmosphere in the room just isn’t what you’d like; there’s no energy and the singers just don’t seem to gel.

Perhaps you’re working with a new group that doesn’t know you or each other. Perhaps a longstanding group has been rehearsing some particular repertoire for a long time and is getting a bit jaded.

Whatever the reason, you, as their choir leader, need to take steps revive the atmosphere or risk precious rehearsal time being wasted through inattention.

In the longer term, unpleasant atmospheres can really fester and affect performance and retention of singers.

When you start to sense that you’re losing the interest of the group, there’s no point in carrying on regardless. You need a quick injection of fun and energy into the proceedings.

Once you’ve regained your singers’ attention and goodwill, you can get back to work. Here are a few that I have at the ready when I feel that rehearsals are getting away from me.

Shake it out

If the ambience has become a little tense, it’s probable that the tension will manifest itself in physical form, ie the choir (and you) will be holding tension in their bodies. Stop what you’re doing. Ask the choir to shrug their shoulders up and down loosely, really letting the shoulders fall heavily. Introduce some sound – a low, relaxed  ‘aah’ – while their shrugging. It sounds daft, and will probably get them laughing.

Finish by shaking out the hands and feet (not too vigorously with the hands – there are tiny bones in the wrists that might not take kindly to it).

Breathe and re-balance

Another way to address a feeling of tension of lack of focus is to ask the choir to stand, close their eyes and take long, deep breaths in and out (it’s common to use a longer out-breath than in-breath). Then hum on the out-breath, or even sound ‘om’.

If you’re not a fan of yoga, you might never have tried it, but chanting ‘om’ is incredibly relaxing and focusing. Finish with some yawning and have everyone stick their tongues out as far as possible. This always gets a giggle.

Ring the changes

If you’ve been working on a piece or song for a while and you feel that the choir’s getting a bit jaded, you can revive your singers’ attention by doing something really daft with the piece itself. Double the speed (perhaps a cappella so your poor accompanist if you have one doesn’t quit!) or get everyone singing the piece in a silly voice.

Reverse the dynamics, have everyone change voice parts or ask them to sing standing on one leg. If you feel a group needs to bond, try mixing them up and asking them to stand in a large circle (space permitting, of course) so they’re singing directly do each other.

Relax the voice

When singers are tense or unengaged, they don’t sing at their best. Choir leaders hear that tension in the form of poor intonation and tone, and hear the lack of attention as poor ensemble.

Help to relax your singers’ voices with some humming slides from their lowest to highest notes and back again. Sing a melody (perhaps the one you’re working on) entirely to ‘ya’ or ‘yoo’. Encourage yawning!

Smile!

When we’re happy, we smile. Our smile response is so unconsciously linked to feelings of happiness that if we smile, we feel happier. When the atmosphere begins to sag, ask your singers to give you a big cheesy grin. You’ll all get an instant lift!

Above all, the central message is ‘take action’. Don’t just keep bashing away at whatever you’re doing and expect the atmosphere to spontaneously improve. Change something, anything, that will relax your singers, cheer them up and help them focus on the work in hand.

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    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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    Judith Hill - a couple of months ago Reply

    Great suggestion to break the practice up! We do the “My Bonnie” thing with raising and lowering arms too, or sometimes we change it by clapping on all the “B” words. It sounds pretty mad by the end!

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - a couple of months ago Reply

      Hi Judith,
      Glad you liked the article. My Bonnie is so much fun to do, always gets a good giggle. :)

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    Debbie Lichfield - last year Reply

    Oh, that is a great idea, Bobby. I am going to try it tomorrow on the first day of school, to get out the first day in choir jitters and have lots of fun. Thanks for posting that idea. Love it.

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    Bobby - a couple of years ago Reply

    Singing “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean” with everyone standing up (if currently sitting) or sitting down (if currently standing) each time you sing a word that begins with the letter “B” We also add in raising and lowering arms to go with it.
    This gets lots of movement, and nobody gets it right, so you end up with a mix of standing and sitting, arms up and arms down … and lots of laughing.

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - last year Reply

      Great suggestion Bobby, sounds hilarious, I might have to try that one at my end of term rehearsal!

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      Fiona B - last year Reply

      I use this one too. Always lots of laughing at the end. Another one we do is the chinese whisper. All stand in a circle (there are 18 of us most times). I sing a doh into the ear of the person on my left who sings it out loud and passes it on. When it has travelled a couple people I then sing a third into their ear, and so on and so forth. You are not allowed change pitch until you receive the new tones. Usually we get to a 13th before it falls apart of someone gets a fit of the giggles.

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    Helen Sims - a couple of years ago Reply

    We sing Ten Green Bottles (right down to No Green Bottles) to 10 well-known tunes, i.e. Hallelujah Chorus Messiah is 10 Green, down to In the Bleak Midwinter for One Green bottle. It is amazing how the words of the 10 Green Bottles can be made to fit the music.

    This is a great article and thanks for all the suggestions.

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      Jessica McGowan - a couple of years ago Reply

      I like that one! Thanks to Victoria and Christine and to everyone for some great ideas.

        Christine Mulgrew
        Christine Mulgrew - last year Reply

        Thanks Jessica.

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - last year Reply

      Thanks Helen,

      This is a great idea, sounds like lots of fun and one I’ll definitely be trying out. Glad you liked the article.

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    Diane B - a couple of years ago Reply

    All the ideas are amassing. Thanks.
    What ideas u have provided will help me because every 2 years I start a new high school choir.
    Thanks to u all.

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - last year Reply

      Thanks Diana, glad you found the article helpful. Good luck with your choirs.

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    Diane B - a couple of years ago Reply

    All the use as are amassing. Thanks.
    What ideas will help me because every 2 years I start a new high school choir because of scheduling problems. So every other year is usually a whole new crew except for maybe 3 students. My size of choir is usually 16. I am in a very small school system.
    Thanks to u all.

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    lizzy Renihan - a couple of years ago Reply

    Thanks so much for all the podcasts and advice to help keep everything fresh. I love listening to it all and it’s really helped my sessions already.

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      Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

      You’re welcome Lizzy. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site.

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    Dyrck - a couple of years ago Reply

    Not so much a warm up but a fun exercise to get people to step out of their comfort zone. Find a dull text book or similar and, standing in a circle, ask people to sing it as if it were the libretto from an opera. Include the operatic voice and, if they are up for it, some appropriate gestures. After a few ‘bars’ pass the book round the circle. Initially, the book was passed on very quickly but after a couple of minutes everyone was having such fun I had to grab the book and pass it on. We tried this with a 1950s book called Motorcycle Maintenance, the section on the difference between a four stroke and a two stroke engine were hilarious! Who knew there were so many double entendres in such a staid publication.

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      Victoria Hopkins - a couple of years ago Reply

      I love that Dyrck! I have to find a way to use that in a choir rehearsal soon.

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      Jessica McGowan - a couple of years ago Reply

      A variation on that is to make them sing a well-known tune to the words in the boring text book, and the others have to guess the song. They did that on thr the TV show ‘Spicks and Specks’ in Australia. It’s very funny. Not sure if it’s adaptable to a choir situation. Might be good at a Choir’s Christmas Party?

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    Megan Mackney - a couple of years ago Reply

    We sing ‘the grand old duke of york’ and then start leaving out words, singing double speed, singing in accents while still leaving out up or down…it always makes them giggle!!!

      Christine Mulgrew
      Christine Mulgrew - a couple of years ago Reply

      Thanks Megan,

      Some great ideas for variations on the Grand Old Duke.

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    Sally - 4 years ago Reply

    Another suggestion under the “Ring the Changes” heading – try swapping from major to minor, or vice versa – my choir had great fun singing minor versions of “Don’t Stop Believing” (altered, of course, to “Do Stop Believing”) and “Defying Gravity” (Obeying Gravity)… got them thinking, was fun for those who were already really proficient at it and relaxed those who were still nervous.
    Great ideas, btw – thank you!

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    Newbie director - 5 years ago Reply

    Thanks for all the great warm up ideas! Love them. :-)

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      Victoria Hopkins - 5 years ago Reply

      You’re welcome.

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    Jacqueline - 5 years ago Reply

    Facing pairs – ‘gurning’ whilst singing vowels ‘at’ each other (at a selected pitch or all hell is let loose!)

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      Victoria Hopkins - 5 years ago Reply

      Like it!

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