World Choir Games Flanders 2023

Why you need many different ways of telling your singers the same thing

  • [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]


    As I started yet another singing workshop, I realised that I say pretty much the same thing in the introduction each time.



    That got me thinking: if singers hear exactly the same thing too many times, they’ll just zone out. How can we avoid that?

    I’m just back from a trip to Switzerland. At the beginning of the flight we were encouraged to listen to the safety instructions carefully, even if we fly frequently and have heard them many times before.

    This was an attempt to get us to pay attention. If we hear the same thing time and time again we will zone out and not take it in.

    The same goes for instructions to singers.

    If you’re trying to engage the singers and get them to take something on board you may have to repeat yourself several times.

    How often do we need to remind our singers about correct posture for example?

    But if we use exactly the same words each time the singers will stop paying attention.

    “I’ve heard this before” equals “No need to listen.”

    In order to create any lasting change or to develop self-awareness (e.g. about breathing, posture, listening, etc.), singers have to be in the moment. Zoning out is the opposite of that.

    It could be:

    • instructions at the start of a workshop (“work within your limits”, “maybe try a different part from your normal one”, “I believe that voice is rooted in the body”, “don’t worry, everybody’s nervous”);
    • preparing to sing (“roll your shoulders as you breathe”, “a gentle hum with the sound forward”, “stand with your feet hip width apart”);
    • vocal training (“don’t reach up physically for the high notes”, “engage your body to find the rhythm”, “you have more breath than you think”);
    • rehearsal notes (“remember to crescendo on that phrase”, “don’t slump and lose energy as you come to the end of the legato”, “watch me carefully on the repeat”).

    Whatever it is you’re trying to communicate to your singers, if you find yourself repeating it often, then find a different way of saying it each time.

    Here are a few tips to keep things fresh and help singers stay in the moment:

    • use different vocabulary
    • vary the order of the instructions
    • add the unexpected – a joke or comment that is out of context
    • get one or some of the singers to present to the rest of the group in their own words
    • illustrate with different visual imagery each time
    • create an unfamiliar situation whilst keeping instructions the same, e.g. different choir configuration, all facing into the corner, standing instead of sitting
    • change the focus of attention, e.g. if you usually ask singers to focus on their breathing in a particular exercise, ask them to focus on their knees instead or listening to the outside

    I’m sure there are plenty of other ways of keeping things fresh. I’d love to hear your ideas.

    You might find this related post useful: I’m only going to say this once.





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    Chris Rowbury

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