Tips For Teaching New Tunes

     Summer is over and choirs are back and already hard at work. Choral directors all over the world are busy teaching new songs to their choristers; new notes, new rhythms, new lyrics. To help us all keep our focus amidst the flurry of all that’s new, we offer these tips for teaching new tunes:



     The first step toward helping connect your singers to new literature is spending time in rehearsal sharing background information on the composer and the piece itself. In many cases, it’s possible to reach out to the composer for back-story information which your singers will find meaningful. If possible, use Skype or FaceTime to hear a word about the piece directly from the composer or lyricist.



     Make sure every singer has the correct score markings. Uniformity is a constant goal for every ensemble. Whether its matching simple things like timing and pitch, or more complex concepts such as tone and dynamics, we strive as directors to make sure all our singers are on the same page. There's one way we can begin this process before ever even looking at the notes: rehearsal markings. It is essential that the entire ensemble has the same breath-marks, cutoffs, and other rehearsal directions to ensure that we're set up for success as we strive for uniformity. Take time when you open a new piece to walk your choir through all rehearsal markings. This is also a great time to give your choir a heads-up about particularly difficult anomalies in the piece such as complicated road-maps, dynamic markings, or other important rehearsal notes. Try to anticipate ahead of time what your choir will struggle with. If you've anticipated problem areas, then you'll be ready with an answer rather than having to improvise.



     Chant the text in rhythm before you sing. One of the best ways to familiarize your choir with a piece is to have them chant the text, in rhythm, before they've learned the notes. By removing the obstacle of pitch, you provide your choir an avenue through which they can familiarize themselves with the general form and function of a piece, while also helping them practice sharp rhythms and clean diction. This can be particularly effective if you've never done it before. Sometimes breaking ourselves out of the usual patterns is just what we need! Consider other ways you can introduce pieces to your singers in ways they've never been introduced before; you just might find a fresh approach will give them the energy they need to attack a difficult piece with enthusiasm.



     Divide singers into sectionals to work on their specific part. Focusing on just one vocal part allows directors to work more intentionally with issues of sectional blend and balance. Sectional rehearsals are also a great way to develop new leadership within your ensemble.


Small Pieces

     Work methodically and intentionally on one specific section each time you meet for rehearsal. As you master small portions of the new material, keep repeating it as you add new sections for mastery. Consistently investing small amounts of rehearsal time yields great rewards in the end. One day you’ll look at your singers and ask, “how did we get THAT piece learned?”

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