How to choose new songs for your contemporary choir - Total Choir Resources

How to choose new songs for your contemporary choir

With such a wealth of great music out there, it can sometimes be hard to narrow choices down for your choir. Whether you decide on all the repertoire yourself or involve your choir by asking them for suggestions, here are a few things to consider.

The performance venue

If you are choosing repertoire for a particular event, always consider where you will be performing the music. Some songs lend themselves to outdoor spaces; others require a more enclosed acoustic. If your event is outdoors, big show-stoppers can work really well as they are lively, full-bodied in sound and will be easily heard by the audience. If the piece you have in mind is subtle with beautiful close harmony, it might be lost in a huge space. Even if you are desperate to do a particular piece, make sure it fits with your venue. If it doesn’t, keep it on the back burner until a performance with a more suitable venue comes along and do something else in the meantime.

Consider the event

Just as you need to consider the venue for repertoire suitability, so do you the actual event itself. Think about what the event is for. Is it a charity concert? Is there a particular theme? Is it a family event? Make sure your repertoire is suitable for the occasion to avoid any embarrassment or unease with your choir and to ensure that it is in the spirit of the occasion. An example of contrasts might be a summer fete and a charity concert. For the fete you would ideally want to steer clear of sombre tunes and stay more upbeat. For a charity concert, a heartfelt tune within a mixed programme might have great impact.

Think of your demographic

When choosing repertoire always think about your choir performing it. This gets easier with time when you are more aware of your singers and what works well for them. Some pieces will suit choirs of a younger demographic whereas others might have more grown up themes based on life experience which would seem odd for the likes of a children’s choir. Put yourself in your singers’ shoes and check that you would be happy singing the piece.

Check the lyrics carefully

When choosing new material always take time to look properly at lyrics. Often we sing along to songs with completely the wrong words and it’s only when we actually read the lyrics that we understand their meaning. I cannot tell you how many times we’ve had to dismiss a piece for the choir when we’ve actually read the lyrics! Also look at how wordy a song is, particularly if your choir learns by ear and performs without scores. Don’t go for anything too complicated with many different vereses and lyrics to learn unless you’re confident that your choir can handle it.

Check that the music is available

Before you get too excited about a piece, check that the music is available, whether that’s sheet music for your accompanist and singers or a backing track. If it’s not available, you may have to go back to the drawing board, however much you’d like to perform the song.

Consider the difficulty level

Try not to get sidetracked purely by music you like. Make sure that it fits with the level of skill in your choir. If something is simply too difficult for your choir, everyone will get demoralised and won’t perform at their best. Similarly, if it’s too easy, your choir could be very bored by the time it comes to perform the song. After all, the most important thing is that the choir goes out and performs with confidence and enjoyment.

Christine Mulgrew

Christine Mulgrew

Christine is a contemporary choir leader who loves to help novice and nervous singers find their voice.

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Graham - last year Reply

I have 3 criteria for choosing songs –

1. The choir must be capable of singing it. I pretty much know their capabilities and try to avoid material which is too challenging – but it’s also important to be a little challenging sometimes to raise standards.
2. The majority of the choir must like the songs. Otherwise they won’t give their best.
3. The songs must popular with the choir’s audiences. I’ve found that if members of the audience can sing along, they like it. The choir get a boost when the audience like our songs.

I often send emails to the choir with YouTube links, where appropriate, or sound clips and ask for comments. I have found this approach most successful.

Thanks for yet another great article.


    Christine Mulgrew
    Christine Mulgrew - 11 months ago Reply

    Hi Graham, thanks for your tips, really pleased you liked the article.

Valerie Summers - last year Reply

Thank you so much for the wonderful article on choosing music for your choir. It is a fine line between getting material that is easy and yet boring the choir eventually or them getting frightened by something which is too difficult.


    Christine Mulgrew
    Christine Mulgrew - last year Reply

    Thanks Valerie,

    Glad you enjoyed the article.

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