World Choir Games Flanders 2023

How to bring harmonies to life when teaching a song

  • [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]


    To teach a harmony song by ear to a group, you don’t want whole sections standing around waiting their turn.


    photo by COD Newsroom


    Not only should you break the song into chunks, but you can build the harmonies as you go along. Here’s how.

    I’ve written about how to teach songs before: How to teach (and learn) songs by ear.

    In that post I describe how you need to break the song down into manageable chunks. That means that you won’t have whole sections waiting around for ages until their turn comes.

    The other big advantage of ‘chunking’ is that everyone gets to hear the harmonies as they build up.
    A great technique to take this further is known as ‘duetting’.

    Although I’ve been using this technique for ages, I first came across the term in a blog post by Liz Garnett: On duetting.

    ‘Duetting’ is when you get two harmony parts singing against each other. As the song builds up, you may try the alto part against the tenor for one chunk. Then try the bass against the sopranos and so on.

    This helps to keep the singers engaged and allows them to practice their harmony against another one (and not get thrown!). However, as Liz points out:

    “it is not the people who are singing who have the greatest opportunity to grow.”

    It gives those who are not singing the chance to listen to other parts in combination and to learn from that.

    At the end of the learning process, all singers in the group will have a much deeper understanding of how the harmonies are working in the song, and they will have had a chance to sing their part against all the others.





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    Chris Rowbury

    Monthly Music Roundup:

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