World Choir Games Flanders 2021

Tuning up - where do start notes come from?

  • [this is a version of a post which first appeared on my blog From the Front of the Choir]


    OK, I’ll admit it up front: I’m a charlatan. I have no training for the job which gives me my income. So when it comes to giving starting notes out to my choir, I’m not very good.


    Tuning fork












    I’m nowhere near as cool as those people whip out a tuning fork, and off the choir goes. But is it important to be cool or can you just plonk out the notes on a piano?


    The only formal musical education I’ve had are a few guitar lessons when I was around 10 years old. Years of listening to records and the radio has given me an innnate understanding of harmony and musical structure.I can tell when something is out of tune or off key. And, of course, I’ve learnt loads from leading choirs for almost 15 years (thanks guys!).


    But I don’t have perfect pitch and I’m rubbish at remembering the notes in the opening chord for a song.


    I have a little blowy thing (its posh name is a chromatic pitch pipe) which I use to give the starting notes to the choir. It has every note in the scale so all you have to do is dial up the note required and blow. I get the note for each separate part in this way and sing them to the choir.


    It’s a bit long-winded (and in concert I always forget which pocket I’ve put the damned thing in), but it works. It’s also very portable, unlike a keyboard say.


    What really impresses me however are those conductors who bring out a tuning fork, tap it gently on their elbow, figure out the key note of the song from the tuning fork note, give just that one note to the choir and then they all burst out with an amazing first chord! Will I ever be able to do that? I think not.


    It turns out that there are many (even some famous) choir directors and many excellent (some famous) choirs who use a keyboard or somesuch to give the opening chord. So maybe using a tuning fork or trying to be clever is just showing off. Keep it simple I say!


    What I might be able to work on though, is to give just one note to the whole choir and each section will find their own harmonising start note. Of course, it’s much simpler when all parts start on the same note (pay attention song arrangers!), but often each part has a separate note of the first chord.


    But the question is, which note?


    Next time I’ll be writing about which single note you might give out and what the pros and cons are.


    Chris Rowbury:

4,722 views - 2 comments - Post Comment
  • Frances
    Frances Getting the starting pitch as a singer in the choir has been an evolving skill for me.

    In my community choir, we are "spoon-fed" the pitches (the choir director gets the pitch from the piano or a tuning fork.)

    But last summer whe...  more
    June 30, 2011
  • Chris Rowbury
    Chris Rowbury Hi Frances. Your comment seems to have been cut off in its prime at the end! Yes, it is an evolving skill for choir members. Not sure that each singer having their own tuning mechanism fits in with the team-player philosophy of a choir! You really need to...  more
    June 30, 2011
Facebook comments