Keeping a choir rehearsal on track

Do you teach Choir?

Do you have trouble getting your rehearsals on track?

Are your choristers ‘chatty’ during the warmup?

How can we get our choirs on track and motivated from the very start of a rehearsal?

These are questions which we are hoping to find a few answers in today’s music Teachers Q and A.

As usual, we have provided a couple of thoughts to start the discussion on video:

However, this is just the start. Please feel free to add your suggestions to the comment box below this video!

19 Comments

  • By Anna Reply

    Hi Janice,
    I’ve taken adult and mixed adult and junior church choirs for a number of years, as well as school choirs of different ages. Adults are much trickier to get focused at the start of a rehearsal! I have used your second idea of singing a simple limited range song as a warm-up quite a lot. They don’t think they are warming up so tend to get on board quicker. I sometimes ask them to think about a certain letter I’ve been wanting to work on, eg “Think about how many Ts there are at the end of words here. Let’s aim to place them carefully and accurately as we sing this verse.” then I go straight into the intro without giving them time to chat. Choosing an appropriate simple song for this that has the sort of words you need is really important.

    I sometimes do a range extender after that, and before going into a more complex piece, and as they have already been singing, they tend to respond better.

    One other idea I have used takes into account that for some of these adults it is the social highlight of their week. They want to be able to chat and catch up with all the news, so I put in a short (and I mean short!) break in the middle. When they know this is planned, they can and often do, just like children, hold onto their news until that time. You’ll always get one or two who won’t, but that’s an improvement on the whole choir being chatty!

    Good luck, Ralph. I hope my comments might prove helpful.

  • By Josie Smith Reply

    I will sing on a So-me “Choir”
    They answer back on So-Me “Yes”

    Also, my choir is called RESPECT.
    So, sometimes I will say…as Aretha Franklin did…
    “R E S P E C T!”
    They would say
    “Find out what it means to me.”

    I do realize this is somewhat corny, but my choir is volunteer and has 3rd and 4th graders. I have around 50 and it IS crowded in my music room. We make do and have a great time.
    I hope this helps!
    Sincerely,
    Josie Smith
    Texas

  • By Heather Reply

    I have 4 school choirs, but also conduct my adult church choir. With the adults, we will sometimes share a short devotional, which helps to get them quiet and focused. We will follow that by singing a short, limited range hymn, which warms them up, but also gets them spiritually ready for the songs we are getting ready to work on. I’ve found that in the church setting this has been helpful, and made our rehearsals much more productive! 🙂

  • By Nanette Seaman Reply

    With an adult church choir one way to quickly focus everyone is to start with a prayer. If the conductor is not comfortable with doing this call on a member of the group who is.

    You can also try starting with a simple, well known hymn. Work on a different element each week like phrasing or dynamics or diction. Or even a simple canon such as Dona Nobis Pacem. It gets each section breathing together and also works on their listening and tuning.

    With adults, and even with my youth choir I explain the purpose of the excercise and sometimes they might feel silly doing what I ask.

    Look for a choral workshop for the group to attend together. Then everyone will reap the benefits of dining with a larger group and learning the workshop leaders warmups.

    As the conductor of my church choir I am the youngest in the group. We talk about how the voice changes as we age and the need to do daily exercises to keep our voices flexible. Just as the rest of the body looses elasticity as we age, so does the vocal apparatus.

  • By Dennis Myers Reply

    Hey, Ralph. It sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job already. The fact that you are concerned enough to investigate ways to do better says a lot about your attitude. I like Janice’s suggestions, and I don’t have much to offer other than encouragement. I conduct two community choirs made up mostly of seniors and retirees with much the same attitudes and habits as yours. I don’t focus on”warm-ups”, but I do get them singing quickly with music they are familiar with and enjoy, so they are good at it. I really like music of Natalie Sleeth, and so do they, and it is easy to learn, and can be used when we sing out.Keep up the good work. Dennis.

  • By Anne Reply

    I have a choir of older adults and we always start with warmups for at least 15 minutes. I talk a lot about the aging of the voice, how Parkinson’s and other diseases affect the voice and how important it is to maintain lung capacity as we age. We do humming, stretching (neck, shoulders, torso), deep breathing and talk about those muscles. We also add in some range stretchers, yawn-sighing, and tongue twisters. Then some easy warm up songs which they have chosen (Home on the Range, This Land is your Land, O What a beautiful morning) or rounds and chants from around the world. My favorite warm up and singing resources come from Tremble Clefs – a group in California for people with Parkinson’s Disease.

  • By Melissa Blaine Reply

    I assist in leading a church choir plus work with younger children & often soloists. Many times our director is transitioning from bell rehearsal to choir rehearsal so I bring along a few popular tunes, oldies or movie classics that I’ll play while they are all entering & unpacking. By the time he comes in, they are all usually singing along and a bit more focused. We also do a devotion time somewhere in the middle as a little break and a different member each week is responsible so it grabs people’s attention from listening solely to the director all night. We close devotion time with uplifted prayers for joy & healing from members and then complete the end of our rehearsal. Very rarely do we have issues with people talking in the middle of practice. 🙂

  • By AF Reply

    One great way to gain focus from any age group is having them clap back rhythms exercises. There are numerous ways to do this (clap and response, clap in different meters, tap a pattern and have them tap back while you are doing the next pattern… great to tap different areas on body). Not only does this immediately help the group begin to function as one, but it puts the focus on the director and reinforces steady beat etc.

  • By Douglas Jones Reply

    Hello, Janice,

    I am not a great lover of ‘warm-ups’. I have sung in some very fine church and cathedral based choirs in my time as well as some more mediocre ones. The best of the choirs, in my experience, do not use them at all. Even when I have been on residential courses they have not been a feature. The worst choir did use ‘warm-ups’ at the beginning of rehearsals but I found them unnecessary and very boring (as a boy chorister).

    Currently I run two choirs and do not use warm-up exercises with either – both would find them a distraction, I think. I am also official accompanist to quite a large choral society who do use them for about five to ten minutes at the start of each weekly rehearsal. The conductor is a professional singer and uses the opportunity to teach or revise some techniques. He does make it quite fun (though a little repetitive, as many are the same each week).

    On balance, I think it much better to get right on with the music from the start, and use examples in the music itself as teaching points when necessary. Others will disagree, I feel sure, but the better the choir and the better the singers, the lesser the need to warm-up before a rehearsal.

    However, I think it better to warm-up for a short time before a performance if it isn’t preceded by a rehearsal.

    Good luck and best wishes.

  • By Diane Hall Reply

    Dear Janice, I teach school choirs in k-8. Could you please give me a list of great warmups to get elementary students going? Thanks, Diane

  • By CherMac Reply

    The choral warm up is the most important part of a rehearsal. I usually pick something that pertains to teaching a skill in one of our songs. This tongue-twister is one of my 5th/6th grade students’ favorite. It is sung on “do,” with a clap added on the rest. “Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear when Washington’s washer woman (rest) went west.”

  • By Andrea H Reply

    One of the best ways to warm up adult choir is to sing one or more of the hymns that you will be singing the upcoming Sunday. If it’s familiar, they will jump right in and sing with gusto. If it’s not, it will make Sunday go that much smoother when they have practiced it.

    Use range extenders, tongue twisters, etc. before a piece that the warmup applies to. Tell them, “this next song has a lot of high notes, so let’s do a quick exercise to make sure those notes are ringing first….” Create a diction warmup using the words you are concerned about in the music. Tell them what you are doing and why, and they will get on board.

    I also love ending the rehearsal with celebrations, prayer requests, and a group prayer led by one of the choir members. When this becomes a routine, folks will save their news for that time in rehearsal. You may also consider having a monthly “dessert day” after practice. Someone brings dessert and everyone hangs out to talk and eat for a little while afterward. Put a sweet little lady in charge of it, and you won’t have to think about it again!

  • By Chris Reply

    Hi Janice,

    I teach very chatty teenagers who treat choir as a social event & have taken adult choir rehearsals. I find it best if everyone is so busy singing that there’s no time for chat until it’s time for an arranged break. I start with 5 easy warm ups which are vocally repetitive but I ring the changes by adding fun physical activity like singing while balancing bean bags on your head to improve stance, checking how deep your neighbour’s breathing is using a stretchy yoga band around their waist (reminiscent of party games!). Everyone laughs, usually gets over the chat & is ready for work after a few minutes. I then try to drive the first half of rehearsals so there’s little time to chat. We relax in the 2nd half of the rehearsal with chance to sing pieces requested by choir members & known repertoire.

    If pieces are difficult requiring sectional rehearsals I sometimes split the group into two rehearsals per week or have groups come at different times so people do not have chance to sit & chat for long before becoming engaged.

    For a treat I find choirs & cakes are meant to go together – whatever the age range of choir members! Mad ideas but they seem to work for me most of the time though I still have to practice deep breathing & being patient on a regular basis!
    Best Chris

  • By wendy hunt Reply

    YOu sound great-as others have siad, you’re doing everything right, relly, wit a supr attitude and snse of reponsiblity. Ive found, with my church choirs, that getting too serious about physiology and music reading and other such details is bit of a turnoff for many of the dear singes. So ive tried ‘singing’ a simple hymn/chorus/folksong a cappella but in an unusual way eg: bubble it with lip-raspberries, bubble it with a straw in a half-glass of water (Fun on a hot day), humming while walking in random directions round he rehearsal space, providing own improvised harmony.Starting with Taize chants could also provide meaningful focus for the group, without getting too heavy.But remember, they’re there to sing! Best wishes, Wendy

  • By stacie Reply

    Warm ups are extremely helpful to develop a voice and invoke the sound you want. Also it helps develop the confidence of the individual singer. I like to begin with a few staccato exercises that get the breathing mechanism working and then something legato to invoke a warm and rounded sound. Then vocal extender exercises might be good, but it is here that I then choose a short phrase from the actual pieces we are singing. Choose a phrase that needs work or might be challenging vocally. For instance, soprano is more at ease with a big jump up in her vocal register in the actual piece if she can go through it many times and find a sweet placement. Take that phrase and start it on a lower key and move up a half step for each repetition. Even though just the sopranos have this written in their part, the whole choir can benefit from this. It can first be sung on ah or another vowel, and then add the words. Make sure you dont stop at the top – key it is written, but go beyond that a few half steps. Then move to another place in the music and begin a new ‘warm up’ from another challenging phrase. The choir will see the connection of how warm ups directly help. Sometimes I think directors forget the correlation themselves and just do a warmup because that is what they are used to. Warmups should be carefully chosen. For instance, why would you start a choir humming in an easy range if it is nighttime? Haven’t they been speaking all day? They are warmed up here. Warmups can work wonders with a carful thought. The best directors use warmups to their advantage. This is my experience and I have sung in many high level choirs and travelled the world singing.

  • By Sarah Reply

    I direct a choir consisting of 6-8th grade students. I have found warming up to a hymn and fun vocal exercises to be most effective. Most importantly mixing it up is very helpful and you can’t allow for a moment of down time as you then will loose their attention. I also choose a hymn they will be singing in chapel the next day for them to rehearse and thus help them assist the student body in knowing the hymn. I have one extra item to keep them motivated … their grade. Honestly though I never bring that up but I do remind them about attention, participation and effort (APE). I do believe warm-up exercises are important in the developing voice.

  • By Marie Reply

    Thank you for the opportunity to share ideas. I have a Primary School Choir of 70 students. I have been running school choirs for many years. This year I set strict rules for joining the choir. I told the students that choir would be hard work – which it is- would require discipline – which it does – uniforms, rehearsals, commitment etc., etc.
    I expected to have a small choir of highly dedicated students. It is voluntary. Instead I had more students wanting to be in choir than ever before! Now I tell them – if you are going to talk then choir isn’t for you!?! …So to get the masses warmed up I use simple rounds like Ah Poor Bird; Sol fa scale in three parts; Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree; Shalom Chaverim. There are many simple rounds that you can find as well as Kodaly based songs that have pentatonic soh- me- soh- lah harmonies. You can extend voices by changing the key. After all, what do I want to achieve in choir? Perfect harmony. Use the simplest songs to warm up with and work on harmony. Good luck!

  • By Tara Reply

    I’ve been teaching middle school chorus for 17 years. A few years back, I went to a workshop with Rollo Dillworth on how to keep boys interested in choir. He had a book called Choir Builders that I purchased at the end of the workshop. I’ve been using this warmup book ever since. My students love the warmups – especially my young men. I think I’ve doubled the size of the tenor & bass section in only 5 years. Middle school is such a tricky age with voices changing. Most boys drop out when this happens. If these warmups can keep them interested, they could also be used with an adult choir.
    I have also sung with my adult choir in church as well as a professional a cappella group. Warm ups are extremely important to protect your vocal cords. You must stretch them, just like any other muscles, before using them. I also had surgery on my vocal cords seven years ago. This was due to not warming up and using my voice too much. Now I know better after much voice therapy, and I won’t sing unless I warmup first.

  • By Janice Reply

    Thanks everyone for sharing your fantastic input, and sharing your experiences. Its great to know that we can help each other as music teachers, and that everyone does experience the same sorts of challenges.

    Diane, we do have a choir warmups product available – you can under ‘teaching guides’ of our website. We also have a Monday value video coming out in the next couple of weeks featuring me trying to play & sing one of the warmups from this ebook…. which should be a bit of laugh for everyone!

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