5 fun ways to practise scales with your choir

We all know that practising scales is great for improving pitch, flexibility and range. They can also be incredibly boring! Here are five ways to put the fun back into scales.

Five-note scales with dramatic slides

Starting in the low to middle vocal range, sing a 5 note scale up and down (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1) followed by a dramatic slide from 1-5-1. Encourage your singers to find their inner diva and create drama and volume to the slide. After each scale and slide move up a semitone and repeat.

You can sing these scales on any vowel sound you like, with or without consonants. Make sure that throughout this exercise your singers maintain good posture, breath support and bright faces to aid good pitch.

Nine-note staggered scales

Ask everyone to sing up and down a nine note scale (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) starting in their low to middle range. You can ask to sing the note numbers, or use a vowel sound.

Once they are happy with this and are all singing in time with your instruction, split the choir into three groups. Start the first group off singing the scale and bring the second group in as the first group sing 3. Then bring the third group in as the second group sing 3.

‘Hum-ah’ five-note scales and slide

These are great for fine-tuning your singers’ ears. Choose a starting note, hum on this note for two beats then sing ‘ah’ on the same note for a further two beats. Now go up and down a five-note scale (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1) to ‘ah’, followed by a fifth slide (1-5-1). The whole pattern is therefore hum(2 beats), ah(2 beats), five note scale, fifth slide.

Once your choir are happy doing this try alternating major and minor thirds in the sequence. This will get your singers thinking about how major and minor thirds sound and their relationship to the other notes in the scale.

1-5 scales – double and triple

This exercise works on scales and breathing. Start by singing a simple five-note scale up and down (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1). Then double this up. Check your singers are happy doing this in one breath. Then try a triple five-note scale.

You can leave it at this and work up or down the scale a semitone at a time. Alternatively, you can add some variations such as running up five-note scales followed by a full octave. My favourite challenge for my singers is a five-note scale followed by an arpeggio (1-3-5-3-1) and then a nine-note scale (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1). This can be done in one breath but if your singers need a breath, they can take it before the nine note scale.

Octave scales with a ‘drone’

Split your choir into two groups. Starting on a note in their low to middle range, ask one group to hold a tonic note (ie the number 1 note) while the other group runs up and down an octave scale. Make sure that everyone is stood with good posture, bright faces and that they are breathing well to support the notes. Try this a few times swapping over the groups each turn so that everyone gets plenty of chances to hold the steady tone.

For more information and ideas about teaching fundamental musical skills to your choir in a fun and engaging way check out our Community Choir Essentials ebooks.

Comments on 5 fun ways to practise scales with your choir

  1. Avatar Emmanuel says:

    Thanks Christine,

    I find this exercise very helpful.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      You’re very welcome Emmanuel.

  2. Avatar Todd says:

    We’ve been working on a piece with a middle canon section. It’s a struggle for many of my unison singers and for those who think of harmony as a vertical thing. So we’ve been using a few of your rounds, just to get them comfortable without piano backing them. We used the nine-note scale yesterday for warm-up. Then I told them we’re doing it as a round, there were groans. But they did have fun with it.

    Thanks for your site and your work on this. Hardly a week goes by I don’t find a gem of an idea or an affirmation of one aspect of our musical efforts in this corner of the world.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Thanks Todd. It always means a lot when we hear that what we do is useful.

  3. Avatar Suzie says:

    I am a bit out of my depth here. This is when I, as a community (read as – by ear) choir leader, am struggling. I’d love to see/hear this demonstrated. I have too little theory skills to make use of this. Maybe I’ve got the flu and my brain isn’t working. I hope as TCR develops you might consider doing some your articles as videos.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Suzie, that’s a good idea.

  4. Avatar Jessica says:

    Thanks Christine, these look like great fun!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      You’re very welcome Jessica.

  5. Avatar Camila says:

    Great ideas! They will definitely help break up the routine and make rehearsal more fun.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Camila,

      It’s always good to find alternative ways to practice the basics, helps keep things fresh.

  6. Avatar Pauline says:

    Thanks! Just busy planning our nest rehearsal and going to give these a try!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Pauline, let us know how you get on.

  7. Avatar Valerie says:

    Thank you Christine, I really enjoyed the article about fun aways to practise scales with your choir. IT IS TERRIFIC.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Valerie, you’re very welcome. Have fun trying the scales.

  8. Avatar Ruth says:

    Love these ideas, especially the nine-note scale! Just throwing the triplet rhythm in would be a huge interest boost for my group.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Ruth, glad to hear the ideas are useful for you.

  9. Avatar Julie says:

    This a great set of fun ways to use scales thankyou.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Julie.

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