International Choir Festival InCanto Mediterraneo

What to do when teaching a new song goes horribly wrong

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    I taught a new song to a group recently. It was a bit of a car crash!

     

    U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano

     

    What can you do when teaching a new song goes horribly wrong?

    It’s happened to us all: we start to teach a new song to our group then realise that it’s going pear-shaped.

    It’s vital to know a new song inside out before you teach it, but there’s a big difference between knowing a song 100% in the privacy of your own home, and teaching it to a group of eager singers.

    You may think that you know the song inside out, but under pressure with lots of people staring at you, it can all go out the window.

    Another issue is, if a song is a new arrangement that you’ve not yet tried with a group of singers. It may be that one harmony part is not easily singable, or the range is too great, or there’s a clash that you hadn’t noticed.

    what you can do to avoid things going wrong

    • make sure you are totally prepared – know all the different parts perfectly before you teach them. Most importantly, sing them against each other to find out where the difficult sections are and how easily it is to be put off by the other parts. You can use a multi-part recording device (there are many free apps on smartphones that can do this too), or just record a part on a simple recording device and sing against it then repeat with the other parts.
       
    • test an arrangement before you teach it – make sure you double-check any new arrangement that you’ve made. Ensure that each part is singable. Sing each part against each other part (see above) to find the tricky bits, clashes and how easy it is to be put off by the other harmonies. Record yourself singing all the parts together. Ideally, try teaching the song to a small group of friends before you release it into the wild.

     

    what you can do when things do go wrong

    Inevitably, despite your impeccable preparation and double-checking, there will be times in your career when it all goes horribly wrong when you’re teaching a song. What can you do then?

     

    • it’s OK to make mistakes – if you’ve been running a group for a while and they like what you do, they will have come to trust you. They won’t mind if you occasionally get things wrong (I do it all the time!). Don’t beat yourself up. Just try again, or abandon the song to come back to it later.
       
    • know when to let go – it’s tempting to keep plodding on when things go wrong until you nail the song. But sometimes it’s better to put this down to experience and move on (see If a song’s not working, when do you stop flogging the dead horse?)
       
    • make sure you have a back-up song – if a song in a session needs to be abandoned, make sure you have something up your sleeve to replace it with. Ideally something a lot easier and more fun!
       

    Have you had a similar car crash experience? We’d love to know what happened and how you dealt with it.

     

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

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