What are the components of an effective choral rehearsal? How do we teach students to succeed musically beyond simply singing notes and rhythms accurately? Here are solid strategies and techniques to encourage excellent results and artful choral singing!
The foundation of your entire curriculum is the use high-quality, varied repertoire representing different style periods (Middle Ages through Today) and as global a perspective as possible. Multicultural choral music is critical, but music from your own backyard shouldn’t be ignored! Here is a partial list of choral music (and publishers) to consider:
This topic is covered extensively in other posts, including:
After you’ve chosen a healthy and balanced selection of choral repertoire, the next step is to study the score so that you know it inside and out! This provides the basis for all other teaching activities to follow; there’s no shortcut to digesting the piece fully on your own. Click on the link below for an outline of steps to effectively prepare a score and plan rehearsals. Follow these instructions carefully, and please don’t skip any steps. For excellent teaching, there’s no substitute for learning the score completely.
Solfeggio, or Solfege (for short)
No doubt solfeggio is the most helpful and important tool a choral music educator can wield. Benefits are numerous, as solfege:
- Cultivates audiation, which is the foundation of musicianship that allows one to hear and comprehend music for which no sound is present. To get the most from a musical experience, one must audiate well when listening, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music.
- Aids score study, for which solfege is the conductor’s best friend! Singing each part allows you to hear/sing every note, to learn the score “from the inside out,” to anticipate where difficulties in teaching will take place, to internalize the musical content in the most authentic way.
- Promotes the reading and writing of musical notation accurately and confidently. Teaching students to decipher this symbol system is one important aspect of music literacy and is the intellectual framework to gain access to the unique expressive content of the music.
- Encourages excellent performance, especially through hearing and feeling melodic and harmonic tendencies in order to sing in tune individually and as an ensemble. Good choral intonation is one of the strongest by-products of a group approach to learning solfege.
- Strengthens singing (vocal technique), especially through the use of pure vowels inherent in the solfege syllables and the kinesthetic/visual representation reflected in the Curwen hand signs. Individuals and ensembles lock more securely into pitches and unify their sounds with an emphasis on excellent vowel production, especially the focused vowels: [i] for mi, fi, ti, si, etc.; and a modification and rounding to [u] for do and sol.
Most importantly, however, there must be a balance between the use of solfege as a teaching device and the use of other techniques featured in this post. Such a variety of activities creates a choral rehearsal that is well-rounded and true to the nature of the choral art.
Lesson Plan (Experience-Analysis-Experience)
Based on your score study and ability to sing every part, devise a Lesson Plan to include (at a minimum!) the following:
- Set Up. What will be preset? Always plan for (and expect the worse) when using technology! That way you will always be prepared!!
- Objectives (Conceptual and Behavioral). What specific musical concept(s) will be addressed and what will the students be able to do by the end of the lesson.
- Procedure. How will you accomplish the objectives? Be specific. Script out the transitions so the lesson proceeds smoothly. Anticipate problems. More than anything: keep the students SINGING and consider 5 WORDS OR LESS to keep pacing rapid! Avoid too much teacher talk!! Students learn the most when they’re singing!!
- Closure. Final assessment is usually best accomplished with a final performance of the piece. Record performances to evaluate the ensemble and yourself (conducting). What do you hear? Have the students learned the objective(s)? Let your honest perception of the performance answer these questions.
The concept of EXPERIENCE — ANALYSIS — EXPERIENCE encourages a singing-centered rehearsal, as the students are making music for 2/3 of the total time! Depending on the nature of your rehearsal, E-A-E could be used for smaller sections of a piece, an entire piece, or perhaps even the entire rehearsal. Be sure to balance more formal analytical activities with opportunities to make music freely. This chart provides examples of various strategies for Experience and Analysis:
Choral Ensemble Sound and Vocal Technique
In choral music, the sound of the ensemble is how feelings are expressed most immediately to the audience — it is through sound that emotions are shared and aesthetic experiences (“goosebumps”) are inspired. Ensemble sound is developed through group vocal technique. It is your responsibility to teach your choirs how to sing: you might be the only voice teacher most of your students even have! I have blogged about this often (see links below), especially in approaching the teaching of singing through the framework of “Functional Unity Fred” (Posture and Alignment, Breath Management, Phonation, Resonance, and Articulation). Click on these links below for a powerpoint presentation and handout: “Choral Conductor = Voice Teacher, Part I: The Functional Unity Concept.”
For other resources, see:
If you want your choirs to be excellent, you must invest a large amount of time in group vocal technique. And not only in opening vocalises, but constantly and consistently throughout the learning process of the repertoire. Don’t neglect this all-important aspect of your job; provide your students with the tools of singing instruction they’ll need to succeed!
Artistry Beyond Notes and Rhythms
As you strive to incorporate all of these strategies in your daily work as a choral conductor, remember that the ultimate goal is for your students’ artistry to extend beyond the basic task of negotiating notes and rhythms. You want to move people emotionally through the choral art!! Engage the singers’ feelings in performing, perceiving, and responding to the music…and the audience will ultimately share in this process as well! This ideal is not a “pie-in-the-sky” goal: it is our duty to our art! Effective choral music education, as outlined above, will faciliate and actualize this result; however, you must allow time in your rehearsal/performance schedule for this to happen, and you must plan for it. Two-thirds of experience in E-A-E will help. For the final experience in each cycle, focus on out-of-score experiences. KINESTHETICS (moving to music via gesture, movement-in-place, and movement-in-space) is the most effective way for performances to soar above the score, especially after songs are memorized. These activities fully involve singers via mind, body, heart, and spirit. See these links for ideas:
Excellence in Performance
Still looking for ideas of what to teach in a choral rehearsal? Well, should you be observed by Music Supervisor, or be required to take your choirs to a countywide adjudication, or be brave enough to enter your choirs in a competition/adjudication, there will be a rubric/evaluation/rating sheet that will be used to determine the musical success of your choir. Why not use this as a resource to confirm that you’ve adequately covered all the elements the adjudicators will judge? What better way to determine the specific details of performance necessary for a choir to succeed? Consider using these criterion as inspiration for identifying objectives and construct lesson plans to teach this musical material. Here is the kind of assessment form commonly used for festivals, adjudications, and competitions:
Let’s face it: teaching choirs of any age is a privilege and a joy, especially if you devote yourself fully to your mission and share your love of choral music with enthusiasm, commitment, energy, passion, and purpose. Remember: the best recruitment device for a program — and evidence of healthy curricula — is singer success and happiness reflected in rehearsals and concerts of artistic excellence. If you build it, they will come!