Choosing choir warm-ups to solve problems in rehearsal

One of the aspects of leading my choir that I don’t tend to succeed at all the time is making notes after rehearsal. I always have the best intentions, and I usually manage to jot down any tasks that really need to picked up, like emailing someone or ordering scores. Where I sometimes fall down is in making notes about what went well in rehearsal and what needs attention.

The ‘I’m too tired’ excuse!

When I get to the end of a session, I’m usually pretty tired – after all, I’ve just spent two hours doing something pretty physical, and concentrating hard all the while. When I get home, I know that I should make some notes while everything’s fresh in my mind, but I usually just want to have a nice glass of wine and unwind a bit, so I promise myself that I’ll make notes in the morning. Of course, the morning rolls round and I forget. Ah well. ‘Twas ever thus.

Why planning your warm-ups is so effective

The point of making notes on the rehearsal, when I do remember to do it, is to inform my planning of the next rehearsal. A really effective way to address problems and challenges that have arisen in one rehearsal is to address those issues in your warm-ups the next time. So, for example, let’s suppose that you notice while rehearsing a piece that the balance between the vocal parts is off. You work on it during the session, but it’s still not quite as you’d like it. The problem might be that the singers aren’t listening to each other enough, which often happens. The less experienced the singers, the more likely it is that they try to block out the sound from other parts, for fear of being led astray.

‘Doing’ instead of ‘instructing’

So in this example, we’d like to work on the choir’s listening skills. It’s probably not going to be very effective to simply say ‘listen to each other’ because it’s often the case that our singers don’t really know how to put verbal instructions into vocal practice. Instead, we might use an exercise in our warm-ups that encourages listening. One idea that I’ve found very effective is to simply ‘pass around’ a melody. Pick a song that everyone knows (I don’t know why, but I find that ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ works very well) and divide the choir into two groups. If possible, ask the groups to turn and face each other. One group begins singing, and when you point to the second group, the first group stops and the second group takes over. The challenge is to continue the melody at the same volume and with the same tone. You can swap back and forth as often as you like, and it makes it a lot of fun if you do some quick changes, even during a word!

If you were hearing some breathy tone in the choir, you might want to focus on exercises that encourage good resonance, like humming. Or if the choir’s diction in a piece was less than brilliant, you could do some tongue twisters.

Applying warm-ups to repertoire

By addressing repertoire issues in our warm-ups, we can encourage improvement in our singers without them even necessarily knowing what the problem was. And helping our choirs to adopt good technique during vocal exercises allows us to reference that technique when we’re rehearsing a piece. Instead of saying ‘I need to hear a more resonant tone in that section’, which might elicit no change at all, you could say ‘remember how we made our faces buzz when did those humming scales? Let’s recreate that feeling here’. The more you can help your singers to understand how good technique feels in their bodies, the more likely they will be to adopt it when they’re rehearsing and performing, leading to a better performance all round.

Comments on Choosing choir warm-ups to solve problems in rehearsal

  1. Avatar Martina says:

    Thank you for the “listening”-tipp. Especially for a quartett it is very necessary to listen to each other. We’ll try “Over The Rainbow” in our next rehearsal!

    And – we have a simple exercise book on the table during our rehearsals. Every item we find out while singing our repertoire is noticed immediately so we do not forget.
    We notice infos about tuning as well as about choreo or even simple dates of appearals (?) or other To-Do’s for next week. Or we notice our questions for our next coaching date with our coach (every 6 – 8 weeks).

    Martina, “C’est la vie!”, Gevelsberg, Germany

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks for your message Martina, a great idea to have a book at the ready in rehearsals to note down anything which needs working on or to be remembered.

  2. Avatar Rachel Munoz says:

    Thanks so much… keep up with the good work. I’m really going to start putting this into practice… especially taking notes during and after rehearsals.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Rachel, thanks for your feedback, glad you found the tips helpful.

  3. Avatar Helen Mórag says:

    Love these newsletters!
    I have two basses, who are great men (both seniors). I have tried everything in my power to have tho
    A.) Sing instead of singing away TOO loudly.
    B.) To listen and hear other parts
    They often sing incorrect notes, ever so loudly and seem to want to do it their way. Both have been used to a lifetime of singing melody and have spent the last 6 years in my choir. Both have hearts of gold but it is so difficult for other singers near them as well as the overall sound.
    I realise that part of the issue is some hearing loss for each of them.
    Any ideas???
    Thank you.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Helen. If you have a good relationship with these chaps individually, it might be best to simply have a quiet word and explain that they’re overpowering some of the ‘quieter’ or ‘less confident’ singers. Let them know that their confident singing is valued, but it has to blend with the whole group.

      At a choir level, I’d do warm-ups and focus on changes in dynamic, particularly singing and humming very quietly, but still with good posture and support. I’d also think about mixing the choir up every now and then. A change of position, both in terms of the room and the singers surrounding them, might help them to blend a bit better.

  4. Avatar Charles E. Taylor says:

    Good points. I have the same issue. Just decided since I have my laptop at rehearsal, why not make the notes before turning it off. We will see how this goes.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Good idea Charles.

  5. Avatar sue parlby says:

    Really helpful idea re: warmups. I fully understand the pull after choir sessions to unwind & do notes later – as I now co-lead a choir I have had to make sure I do those notes, and have found that it only takes a few minutes when I get home to jot them down to capture them – then I feel i really can unwind! During the week I can then write them up properly and find that ideas for planning the following session seem to bubble up as if by magic!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      You’re so right Sue. It’s always less work to make the notes straight away when the issues are fresh in our minds.

  6. Avatar Carola says:

    I try to act exaggerating what I want my men to do. I show them how I would sing the phrase or scale and show how my belly muscles work to give the right impulses or how my mouth forms vowels and consonants. In addition i always make them imagine the scene they are singing. E.g. when rehearsing a psalm I let them sit in a church praying the very psalm in their minds. This works wonders for the resonance.

  7. Avatar Laura says:

    Thanks Victoria – such useful advice

  8. Avatar Maddie Cordes says:

    Excellent ideas Victoria thank you. I usually mark on my master score of a song areas of weakness for next time which helps as, I agree, difficult to find the time to do this later. Maddie

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