What makes a great choir leader?

You could be forgiven for thinking that being a choir leader is mainly about musical ability. While that’s pretty high up on the scale, there are many other skills and attributes required to be a great choir leader. Here are my top five which will get you on the road to success.

Good communicator

Communication is a key quality in building a rapport with your choir. Good communication will gain their attention and get results. Think about the information you need to give to your choir, whether it’s announcements, warm-up exercises or repertoire work. What do you need to tell them and what is the clearest way to get that across? Sometimes, words can get in the way and cause chatter or confusion. For example, if you’re teaching a round, sing each line, then signal for the choir to repeat it until the whole phrase is learned. To divide the choir into groups for rounds, simply gesture to a section rather than explaining at length who should sing what.

Another aspect of good communication is eye contact. Make sure you look at and acknowledge your singers when you address them. Be warm and friendly and create a positive atmosphere. This is particularly important when working with a beginners’ or community choir where singers may have limited musical experience and be quite nervous.


If you are approachable your singers will feel that they can ask questions if they aren’t sure about something. They will come to you if they have concerns or worries and share with you the things they love and enjoy about choir. I always think that your mood is reflected back at you by the choir, so if you are a bit aloof or detached, your choir may respond in the same way to you. Sometimes, you have to ‘fake it ’til you make it’. You won’t always be in a great mood when you rehearse your choir. Sometimes, you just have to pretend.


Nothing helps you feel more calm and in control of your choir than preparation. Never under-estimate the importance of a good rehearsal plan. You will achieve much better results for your choir with well-planned rehearsals that lead singers through the learning process in good time for performances, without last minute panics. Try to get into a routine where you plan the rehearsals at least a couple of days beforehand. If possible, plan your next rehearsal immediately after the last, while all the issues that arose are fresh in your mind. If that’s not feasible for you, at least jot down a few notes. Your rehearsal planning will be all the easier for it.


One of the most important things I learned during my conducting training was this: teach the choir in front of you; not the choir in your head. We all want our choirs to excel and achieve the best they can, but results take time. As a choir leader, you will start to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t for your choir. These techniques will not come in one miracle session, but with work over time. Decide on the key areas you want to work on with your choir, these may be breathing, range-building, performance skills or any number of things. Keep these key areas in mind when planning your rehearsals, focus on them in warm-ups but also relate them to your repertoire.

Fun and inspiring

We all want to be led by someone fun, motivated and inspiring. That doesn’t mean we can’t be firm when we need to be, but we want to create an atmosphere that will have people coming back and enjoying choir week after week. Being sure of yourself and your ability as a choir leader takes time and practice but if you are keep all these attributes in mind as you work, your singers will happily share that journey with you.

Comments on What makes a great choir leader?

  1. Avatar sammy says:

    inspiring and encouraging. thanks for your effort

  2. Avatar Nadine Pearls says:

    Interesting article. Knowing what works for your choir. Fake it till u get it. Bwing approachable. Thanks for this. Will Luke to have more

  3. Avatar Berry says:

    Fantastic ideas!

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Thanks sis xxx

  4. Avatar Martin says:

    m.martinkaefer@web.de Very good article, fits to my experience and reminds to focus on whatcvozbts

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Martin, it’s always good to hear that an article rings true to another choir leader.

  5. Avatar Miracle says:

    Wow! That was actually great. Being a great choral leader is what i’ve always wanted. Thanks for helping actualize my dream.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      You’re very welcome, good luck!

  6. Avatar Gary says:

    Greatly apppreciate your comments.
    It all makes sense when you are in front of the choir. Thoroughly enjoying all your suggestions & constructive advice.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Gary, that means a lot to us. It’s exactly why we started Total Chorir Resources.

  7. Avatar Aaron says:

    Thanks so so so much. Really helpful. God bless you

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Aaron

  8. Avatar Jeanette says:

    Hi ladies. Everything you have written is so relevant. I am told by members of my community choir that one of the main things they admire is my patience. Also I never single any one person out when making a correction. Thanks for your emails. Always welcomed and appreciated.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks Jeanette, you’re very welcome. Patience is certainly a virtue when it comes to being a choir leader. Sounds like your choir love and really respond to your teaching style.

  9. Avatar Monique Teh says:

    Hi Christine,

    I am choir Director for my church branch. I only know very little of music and I was called to take this post cause nobody wanted to take up this post.

    I know it the choir not fun people will drop off very soon cause our branch try to form a choir always fail.

    I was searching from wedsite and found your website and it is very useful for me to learnpresent, At .I have 20 committed choir members. 50% know how to read notes and 50% fresh in singing.

    I would like to follow your vocal warm up 9 lessons to start with them. can you advise me how many lessons should i start with? or every time just 1 lesson? all of them are busry and we may have only once a month to practice.

    Actually my question is what to teach for my 1st lesson?

    Thank you.

    Monique Teh ( Malaysia)

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Monique. Well done for stepping up and leading your choir. I’m glad you like the website. The audio tracks that you downloaded aren’t intended to be used in any particular order. If you’re only practising once a month, I would probably focus on selecting warm-ups that really help with team-building and get the choir working together as a group. Improv games, rounds etc are great. Try mixing the singers up and getting them to introduce themselves to their new neighbours. You can pick just one of the vocal workouts, or mix and match them. It’s entirely up to you.

      I wish you the very best of luck with your first session. Keep in touch – we’re here to help.

  10. Avatar ovie says:

    Thanks Team.
    Please is there any reference or method i can use to learn teaching songs in parts?

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Ovie, my top tips are 1. Ask each section of the choir to learn to sing each part or hum their own part as you teach, that way they won’t get bored or start talking. 2. Be well prepared prior to your rehearsal, learn the piece thoroughly and have a good understanding of each part. 3. Look for patterns and repetition within the piece and go through these sections at the same time when teaching. You don’t need to start at the beginning and work through in order, in fact learning sections then piecing them together can be very rewarding and satisfying for singers when they hear the piece coming together. 4. Mix up your singers so they are not continually sat within their own sections, this gives them a different perspective and trust me always achieves a fantastic sound as people are less able to rely on those around them singing the same part so thus try harder. 5. If you want to achieve a better blend with your choir work on a section a capella and get them to listen and be involved in creating the right balance. Hope this helps, good luck.

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