How to get the best results from Choir rehearsals

In a recent article I stated that the choirmaster is “in charge”.  It follows logically therefore, that it is entirely down to the choirmaster (or choir mistress!) to take responsibility for the rehearsal and their actions should, therefore, determine whether or not it is a success.   In part, this is true, but there are also a lot of things the choir can do to help make the rehearsal better for everyone.

1. Warm Up

I’ve mentioned this before and it’s quite widely known that you should always warm up your voice before singing.  However, there’s nothing to say you can’t do this before you get to choir practice.  If you drive to rehearsal then you could easily sing along to the radio for example.  Most choirs will, however, spend a short period of time at the beginning of the rehearsal warming up. So it’s worth giving this your attention otherwise in the long run you could actually end up damaging your voice.  Warm ups don’t just have to consist of singing – stretching, bending, humming and even yawning will help to warm up your vocal chords.

2. Posture

If you adopt a bad posture this will impact on your breathing and can also strain the vocal muscles neither of which are helpful for singing.   The ideal posture for singing should be standing up, feet a shoulder width apart, shoulders relaxed and looking straight ahead.  The position of the head is more important than many people realise.  Conductors up and down the country and always saying look up, or watch.  A lot of that is about receiving musical guidance from the conductor rather than posture, but also if you position your head so are you looking forward rather than up or down, this places less stress on your vocal chords and will improve the sound.

A lot of choirs will also spend some of their rehearsal sat down.  In principle I have no problem with rehearsing sat down for some of the time. The problems occur when sat becomes slumped and any notion of correct posture disappears as music is placed in the lap, heads go down and legs are crossed.

At this point a lot of choirmasters will be heard to say something like, backs straight, uncross the legs and look up. In an ideal world the best seated posture for singing would be back straight feet flat on the floor and slightly apart and shoulders relaxed.  On a number of occasions I’ve seen people doing their best to sit up straight but in doing so looking so rigid they actually lose any of the benefit of the attempted posture!

The correct posture, is therefore a question of balance and common sense.  If the choir is starting to slump in their chairs or look too relaxed then perhaps the choirmaster needs to do something to wake everyone up.  Standing up and doing a few short exercises is always a good cure!

3. Breathing

Good breathing is essential to singing and a good conductor will attempt to help indicate breaths with their gestures while conducting.  A lot of singers fail to give themselves sufficient breath and end up gasping for some air in order to keep in time.  If you are struggling with this then ask the conductor for some help.  In order to maintain longer phrases good breathing is often essential

4. Don’t over do it

A choir is all about a blended sound.  That said, some people naturally have louder voices than others.   Try to listen to the voices around you to ensure that you are not singing louder than the rest of your section.  Regardless of whether you have 2 per part or 200 per part, the overall sound of the choir needs to be as one voice rather than many individual ones.   Not only that, over singing will generally put more stress on the voice. I’ve often said to my choirs, the best choirs are those who can sing together quietly.  For me 100 people all singing together quietly to create a blended choral sound is one of the most magical sounds a choir can produce.

5. Preparation

Preparation can take many forms and indeed is an entire article in itself waiting to be written.  For this article I am concerned with what you bring to rehearsal.  If possible it’s obviously a good idea to bring the right music – a lot of conductors will produce a schedule so you know what is being worked on. If that’s the case try to ensure your music is either in the right order or at least in some order so you can find it easily.   This saves a lot of wasted time!

In addition to the music two things that everyone should bring to rehearsal are:

1.  A pencil – there is every chance the conductor will tell you something useful during the course of the rehearsal which would be worth noting in the music!  This saves conductors having to repeat themselves and also saves you embarrassment if you’re the only person who forgets there’s going to be a pause at that particular point!

2. A bottle of water – This article has talked a lot about the voice as a muscle and how to avoid stressing the voice.  Like a lot of moving parts, the voice also requires lubrication; and no I don’t mean that sort of lubrication – thats why you go to the pub after rehearsal.  Having a bottle of water with you during rehearsal will stop your throat getting dry and will help you to be more comfortable singing for a long period of time. Hydration is also very important in vocal health and generally it takes about 30 minutes for a glass of water to begin hydrating the vocal folds.  As a result it’s also worth drinking some water before you come to choir practice.

6. Stop Talking!

Some of you may think this is my way of ending the article with a bit of humour.  In a sense perhaps – after all I run a lot of ladies choirs and trying to stop them talking is an art in itself!  There is, however, a serious point to this.  Talking is not only disruptive to those who are ready and waiting (including the conductor), but it also tires the voice.  This in turn then, rather defeats the object of everything we have been discussing above!