The importance of focusing on one thing at a time in choir rehearsals

When we rehearse our choirs, we’re using many skills, but perhaps the most important one is listening. Even if we’re not conscious of it, we’re listening to our choirs all the time. It’s tempting to intervene every time we hear something that could be corrected or improved, but I want to counsel against that. Here are a few tips and ideas for keeping rehearsals focused.

The law of diminishing returns

If you try to change too much at once, it’s quite likely that you’ll get a negative effect overall, not to mention a negative atmosphere in the choir. People can only retain and act on so much information at a time. For example, if I say to my choir ‘that was great; let’s go from bar 24 again and enunciate the text a little more’, I’m giving them a single, clear instruction. When we sing the passage again, their focus will be on the enuciation of the text and it’s likely that they will improve it.

On the other hand, I could say ‘let’s go from bar 24 again. Tenors, you were a bit flat at bar 30; Altos, don’t rush the semi-quavers; everyone, let’s have a bit more dynamic contrast and also don’t forget to enunciate the text’. Sure, I’m still giving clear instructions, and I’ve mentioned some stuff that was bothering me before I forgot it, but what would be the effect on my choir? Most of them will probably forget all but one of those instructions, and everyone will be focusing on something different. The overall outcome will probably be no improvement at all.

So don’t overwhelm your choir. Give them the chance to implement what you ask of them before you move on to something else.

It’s okay to let things go

You don’t have to fix everything all at once. Rehearsals are a finite length and it’s important to finish on time. You can’t deal with every little point and it’s counter-productive to try. You’ll end up demoralising your choir and yourself. If you’ve planned your rehearsal properly, you’ll already have a good idea of what you want to achieve at a particular session. Perhaps it’s simply getting the notes secure. Perhaps you want to encourage the choir to sing with emotion and sensitivity.

If, for example, you’re focusing on bringing some dynamic colour to a song or section, let the choir absorb that without distraction. You might notice that one part is rushing, or the pitch is dodgy at a particular moment, but maybe it’s not the best time to leap in and point that out. You could sort that out next time, which leads me to:

It’s okay to take a moment

Choir leading can sometimes feel like that old circus act of spinning plates on sticks. If you’re too busy sorting out the plates over here, suddenly the ones over there are falling off and smashing. But don’t be drawn into thinking that you have to be conducting, demonstrating or instructing at every second of every rehearsal. It’s fine to take a moment to make notes. If you hear something that needs attention, but you don’t want to address it there and then, make a note and incorporate it into your next rehearsal plan.

Don’t forget the singer’s experience

Finally, try to keep in mind that your choir wants to sing. Of course, they want to learn and improve as well, but if a whole rehearsal is spent constantly stopping and starting, your singers will get restless and resentful. Make sure that you give everyone the chance to sing uninterrupted during a rehearsal, even if that means there are a few wobbles here and there.

Comments on The importance of focusing on one thing at a time in choir rehearsals

  1. Avatar Bovoza says:

    Sounds good and potential fruitful. I’m going to implement this.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Bovoza, implementing these techniques can really help boost your confidence in rehearsals.

  2. Avatar Abiyah says:

    …really helpful materials…

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Abiyah, really pleased you found the article helpful.

  3. Avatar Jeanette says:

    Keep all those articles and helpful hints coming ladies. It’s good to have reinforcement at times that I’m teaching and conducting in a good way.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks for your message Jeanette,

      It’s always our intention to offer helpful advice and tips to other choir leaders and it’s great to hear you are finding them helpful.

  4. Avatar Charles Taylor says:

    Good stuff. I try real hard not to emphasis more that one thing at a time as we rehearse. Once it is solid, then we will go back and build with the next improvement.

    Thank you for the article. Good reminder for some.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      You’re welcome Charles.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Thanks Gordon.

  5. Great reminders thank you Victoria

  6. Avatar Corryn says:

    Great advice…. Every time I get and read a choir resource article i get so excited to try it out ! Thanks for such motivational articles !!!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Thanks Corryn, that’s really kind of you.

  7. Agreed on your points. I also found that focusing on one issue over several weeks or even months nets improvement. For me last year, it was reminding my church choir to breathe well and relax. A few of them probably got tired of my jokes to lighten things up or the silly breathing exercises or my constant reminders to “breathe and pray.” But they report their friends and family in the pews notice a positive difference. This year, they will pay attention even more when I encourage better vowels and consonants. Little successes breed bigger ones.

    Maybe I’d add a #5 to Victoria’s excellent list here. Always conclude a rehearsal with a note of praise. Something specific. Even if the practice was a musical disaster, I would compliment them on their commitment, their spirit, or their hard work to try to get it right.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      A great #5 Todd. I totally agree.

  8. Avatar Ronaldo Dioneda says:

    With such focus you end up achieving something solid, noteworthy on the part of the choir, especially for a single rehearsal in a week.

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