World Choir Games Flanders 2021

How to find the balance between easy and challenging songs in a drop-in singing group

  • [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]

     

    A drop-in singing group is exactly what it sounds like: singers don’t need to make a regular commitment, but can drop in any time they want to.

     

     

    I’ve written before about the pros and cons of these kind of groups. But here is what I’ve learnt from leading a monthly drop-in group for the last few years.

     

    how a drop-in group works

    I started Sing Out Saturdays in January 2016. Every third Saturday of the month I run a morning group in Hadleigh, Suffolk and an afternoon group in Wivenhoe, Essex.

    Everyone is welcome, there are no auditions, no need to read music and no requirement for any previous group singing experience.

    The beauty of these Saturdays is that people come as and when they like. Some people come most months, some once or twice a year, and some just come once to see what it’s all about and never return.

    The downside of this is that I never know how many people will be at any given session. I also won’t know the ratio of men to women, nor whether they’ll be regulars or newcomers.

    I also won’t know if I have 40 or 12 singers. I would definitely choose different material for each of these situations.

    You can read more about the pros and cons of drop-in groups in these two posts:

    The challenges of running a drop-in singing group (and why you shouldn’t start one)

    Regular weekly choir or drop-in singing group? – the pros and cons

    easy or challenging songs?

    The obvious choice for a drop-in group is to constantly teach easy, quick-to-get-on-their-feet songs. This will mean that material is accessible to new singers and quite a few songs can be learnt in a single session.

    However, if there is a core of singers who come regularly, they might want something more challenging which will bring a greater sense of achievement.

    I try to balance these two extremes. We usually start off with a couple of easy(ish) songs and then one that’s a bit more challenging. I always end with something quick and simple too.

    Whatever songs you choose they must be ones that you can really nail in a single session. For a drop-in group there is no guarantee that the same singers will come the next month.

    The trouble is, when you suddenly realise that the ‘challenging’ song is perhaps too difficult for the large proportion of people who’ve not sung before and who all decide to turn up at the same session! (it’s not easy to predict either, see Why are some ‘easy’ songs hard (and vice versa)?)

    A new singer struggling with something that’s beyond their capabilities can put them off singing. They might never come back.

    finding the balance

    The secret is to be flexible. Even though I’ve taught over 700 songs over the past 20+ years, I’m not one of those people who can pull songs out of thin air. I need to have a plan and to have gone over the parts before I teach.

    The solution is to have a backup by making a plan with far more songs than you actually need.


    Choose a range of songs which allows you to construct a session entirely of easy (or challenging) songs or a mix of both. Since you’ll have more songs than you need, you can pick which ones to use depending on who turns up to the session.

    It does mean more work for the leader, but it will mean that you won’t lose beginner singers so easily. It also means that you can choose songs appropriate to your male/female mix.

    It’s harder when, say, 90% of the group in any given month are regular attenders and experienced singers, and the other 10% are all beginners (or you have all women and one man!). You need to challenge the experienced singers without putting off the newcomers!

     

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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