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Weekly Vocalize #2 from “Now Wolde Y Fayne Summer This Make”

This week’s vocalize is the entire melisma including last week’s vocalize at the very end of it.


This exercise is all about breath control. The tempo of the midi is somewhat on the slow side, which may be a bit much to start with. My suggestion is to start faster singing either on Mi to encourage a resonant tone or on Solfegge syllables to encourage proper intonation. As the choir gets comfortable with the phrase, slow it down and have them concentrate on their breathing. Breathing should be from the diaphragm and shouldn’t be done in a way that causes muscle tension.


Weekly Vocalize #1 from “Now Wolde Y Fayne Summer This Make”

Starting today every Monday I’m going to post a new vocalize that you can work on with your choir after you’ve done some warm ups. The goal with these vocalizes is to train your choir to be able to execute difficult passages with ease.

The primary focus of the “Now Wolde Y Fayne” series of vocalizes is to work on sostenuto or the act of sustaining long passages. This is done be working through the melismata–the sections of music where several pitches are sung on the same syllable–in the piece.

The secondary focus of the series is to train the ear in singing in the Dorian mode, and that really is what this first vocalize is all about.

The last thing we’ll incorporate into these vocalizes is working on dynamics.

So, this first vocalize is shown below.


It’s from the upper part of the last line of the song, and is, in my opinion, the tricky part. We’re working on it first because it’s a little bit strange to hear, and it’s also at the end of the melisma where the singers are most likely gasping for air. So, better to get it in mind’s ear of the singers so that they can focus on breath control in the later exercises.

The exercise should be sung on Mi (As in “Sing to me“) and the singers should try to feel a buzzing resonance in their faces. Also they should try to sing it as legato or connected as possible and without breathing in the middle. (This last part shouldn’t be too hard since the exercise is quite short.) The tempo should be be about the same as that of the MIDI… so not too fast.

If the singers’ intonation isn’t quite right you can have them sing on the solfege syllables as you play the exercise on the keyboard. This will have the effect of helping their intonation, getting them used to solfege, and getting them used to singing in the Dorian mode. All very good things. ^_^

With each repetition you can move up or down a halfstep. It doesn’t really matter. It’s not intended for range extension, though, so I wouldn’t have the choir sing it to high or too low. There’s enough to think about already!

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Music Editions Section

I just added a Music Editions section to the site. As of right now, all the music is stuff the Collegium uses. It’s all in the public domain, so you can do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t try to sell it as your own.



Creating MIDIs for Individual Practice

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a choir which comes prepared for rehearsal will perform a lot better than one who doesn’t. It also shouldn’t be surprising that enabling the choir to prepare at home isn’t necessarily a straightforward task. If you aren’t able to play an instrument you pretty much don’t have a way to practice your part at home, and there’s a high probability that at least some people in your choir don’t have an instrument to practice on. So how do you make it possible for everyone in your choir to practice at home? One way to do it is with MIDIs.

What are MIDIs?

MIDIs are small digital music files that store pitch and length values. Multiple tracks can be stored in a MIDI, and each track can have a different volume level and instrument. For the purpose of choral music, tracks are usually assigned to voice part. For example, track 1 could be the soprano line and track 2 could be the alto line. In general it’s very easy to fix errors in a MIDI file because you can change notes individually. Compared to making singing recordings where it’s easier to rerecord a track than it is to fix a wrong note, MIDIs are a heck of a lot easier to manage.

So how do I make MIDIs for singing?

The easiest way to start utilizing MIDIs is to use music that already has corresponding MIDI files. CPDL.org, for instance, has plenty of public domain choral sheet music with MIDIs. The next best way to use MIDIs is to create your own editions of the sheet music and have the notation program output a MIDI for you. This is great because not only do you get a MIDI, but you can format the music however you like. Personally, I really dislike it when sheet music has more than 2 pages, so making my own editions is really nice because I’m not limited to the original form of the music. The notation program I use is lilypond. If you have any liking for working with HTML you’ll probably like this program. Essentially you write up a text file describing the way you’d like the sheet music to look and then lilypond compiles the file and generates a pdf and/or a MIDI of your music. And the best part is, it’s free! Yay open source! There’s plenty of good documentation too. Other popular programs are Finale and Sibelius, although these cost a lot more money and can be a pain in the neck to figure out. Just because they’re “What you see is what you get” programs doesn’t mean they’re easier to use! If you’re not interested in going through the trouble of your own editions, though, you can use other programs like and of Cakewalk’s products to either record the music through a MIDI keyboard or to input the notes by hand. Although, seriously, if you’re going to input the notes by hand you might as well have it output nice sheet music.

How do I adjust the levels on MIDIs?

And by levels I really mean the volume of each track. It’s pretty much given that if you’re going to record MIDIs for your choir you’re going to have one part emphasized over the others or have each part soloed. In my experience I’ve found that emphasizing one part is better than soloing it because that way the other parts can be heard and you can hear where your part fits into the chord and how it fits rhythmically with the other parts. It isn’t that hard to do, but this time you can’t… or maybe you can but you probably shouldn’t… use the notation software. Instead you should use music recording software like the cakewalk products mentioned above. The interface will be a lot easier. Usually it doesn’t require anything more than moving the volume sliders up or down.

So just save each different volume and instrument configuration as a separate file and then you can send the files over email or post them to your website. The files are really small so both are viable options.

Where can I get more information about MIDIs?

As usual, Wikipedia has a good article to get started, although it’s a bit of a technical page. The links at the bottom I think are more useful.

I’ve found that when my choir actually uses the MIDIs at home, they can learn difficult music much faster than just working on it at rehearsal. Also, MIDIs can be useful if you’d like to break up the choir and do a part rehearsals. This way it doesn’t matter if the part leader can play the piano or if there’s a piano or other suitable instrument available.

Yay MIDIs!


Teaching the Choir to Sing in Other Languages

Getting your choir to sing songs in foreign languages can be challenging especially when your choir mostly consists of hobbyists. Your choir came to sing, not to speak Latin. Yet singing a repertoire of only English songs is limiting and if you’re directing an early music group, even English pronunciation won’t necessarily be straightforward. Old English is very different from Middle English which is also quite different from Modern English. So, how do you spend most of rehearsal singing yet still get your choir to sing a French “que” instead of “kay”?

The short answer is to make learning pronunciations as easy as possible. Below are a few ways to do that.

Record Pronunciations

If your group has a website and you’re comfortable with voice recording software (e.g. GarageBand (MAC)), recording the spoken foreign lyrics is the best way to do it. People first learn to speak by listening to and imitating the people around them so listening to someone say the lyrics is the most natural way for people to learn. Also by recording the lyrics you don’t have to explain how a word is supposed to sound using inexact terms, your choir members can to listen to a track over and over again without having to worry about bothering the expert at rehearsal and taking precious rehearsal time, and there’s an official record of what the current pronunciation is. In my group some of our songs have had several different pronunciations over the years and many of members who’ve been in the group a while don’t remember which one we’re using at the moment. Having recordings alleviates that issue.

The one potential problem with recordings, aside from the person recording the pronunciations being able to pronounce the lyrics correctly, is technology. If you don’t have a recording device (be it a tape recorder or a microphone and software) making recordings is practically impossible. And even if you can make the recordings, making them available to your choir can still be difficult if you don’t have the right equipment or are that comfortable with your computer.

In the Collegium, we handle pronunciations by getting our resident expert on a certain language to record pronunciations for songs in that language and then put mp3s of the recordings on our website. Choir members can download and listen to the mp3s at their leisure, and I also take a few minutes to go over the pronunciation at rehearsal too so that it’s fresh in their minds before singing. What’s nice is that I can update the website whenever I want to, everyone has access to the latest and greatest instantly, and I don’t have to worry about wastingCDs. If one of the choir members didn’t have internet access I’d probably give him/her either a CD of the pronunciations or update a USB drive at practice. Luckily that hasn’t been a problem. Although, I think I’d still try to have pronunciation recordings made even if it wasn’t feasible to give a copy of the pronunciations to the choir members because the other benefits–being able to play them during rehearsal and having a static record of what our current pronunciation is–are very useful.

Learn and Teach the IPA

If you’re allergic to making recordings or need something to augment the recordings then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to study the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and teach the necessary symbols and sounds to your choir. The IPA is a standard notation for writing out words phonetically. By teaching your choir what the symbols mean and how to make the sounds you can eventually send them the foreign language lyrics with a translation into IPA and theoretically they should be able to sound out the right pronunciation. The IPA translation can then be used as a pronunciation record in addition to or instead of the recording. Although, I think the real benefit of IPA is that knowing it enables you to write accurate notes to self in the music. Many times I haven’t been able to tell what my pronunciation notes mean, but when I’ve used IPA I usually remember.

A good way to teach the phonetic alphabet is to give an example word for each sound. This works well because it gives context to the sounds and symbols making it easier to remember which symbols correspond to which sound. Using example words is also useful for identifying the sounds that need to be worked on because the native language doesn’t have those sounds. Your choir still needs to learn how to sing those sounds, so using an interactive website that explains both how to produce the sound and has audio examples a good way to handle it. Here are a couple websites that do just that. Of course in order to type up IPA versions of songs you’ll need to have an IPA font.

The major drawback of this method is that it’s time consuming both for the director and for the choir-member, especially at the beginning. With practice it will get easier, but it’ll still probably take more time to make and comprehend than to make and listen to recordings. So if you have the time and the interest it’s not a bad idea, but try to make recordings first if you can. For my own use I’m planning to use IPA to augment recordings by explaining how to pronounce and notate certain sounds that do not have an English analogue.

Make up your own phonetic alphabet

The basic idea of this method is to make a translation of foreign language lyrics into your native language’s pronunciation. If you’re going this route, I highly suggest making a key up at the top with examples of words that already contain the sound. It will help for the times when two sounds are nearly the same or the same letter has different ways of being pronounced. (Ex: “a”: “hat”, “hate”, “what”) The good part about this method is there’s no real studying involved aside from figuring out the right pronunciation, you don’t need any equipment, and chances are your choir will be able to more easily consume it. (Those who take the time to anyway.) There are some major pitfalls, though. As mentioned, certain letters or combinations of letters can be pronounced differently. I already gave the example of the vowel “a”, but what about “eh”. Is it like the “a” in “hate”? Or is it like the “e” in “wet”? And then there are the instances where your native tongue simply doesn’t have that sound. Easy example is the rolled r, which doesn’t exist in English. Another reason to stick with IPA is that there’s a chance someone in your choir is already familiar with the IPA and would much rather have it in that form, where just about all pronunciations are accounted for, than try to decipher your cryptic code. So, if you can avoid making your own phonetic alphabet, do.

To conclude, the best way to get your choir to pronounce foreign language lyrics correctly is to have them listen to recordings of the lyrics. It’s easiest for you–the director–and for the choir. An excellent way to supplement recordings is to learn and use the IPA to show your choir both how to make the sounds they aren’t used to making and a way to notate those sounds in the music. Making up your own phonetic alphabet is not as effective, though, because deciphering will still have to take place and you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to approximate the sounds using only your native language.

Mind you, this assumes that you actually know how to pronounce foreign language lyrics. Later I’ll write more on this topic.


Dealing with a Large Repertoire

The Collegium is a repertoire group, meaning that we maintain a large number of songs. Unlike school choirs we don’t do a music changeover every semester or Church choirs who have changeover every week or season. In fact we never do a complete changeover. Some songs the group has sung for a decade. Others we just started a few months ago. Right now the Collegium’s repertoire has around 35 songs + 10-15 Christmas Carols, and it’s still growing (albeit slowly). This has its advantages, namely that we can choose from a large body of music when it comes time to performance and songs that we’ve worked on for months don’t have to be thrown away, but it has some distinct challenges too, the most significant of which are how to handle newcomers and how to handle polishing.

The number of years each choir member has been in the group varies drastically. A few have been in the group for over a decade–like some of our music–and several have been here for less than a year. People can join at any time so the group could be in the middle of learning a new madrigal or polishing a song that we’ve been singing for years when we have a new person show up to rehearsal. Does that mean we have to start going over parts all over again? What about the other 30 songs in the repertoire that he/she doesn’t know yet? How many times have we gone over those before? It can get a little tedious especially for the choir members who’ve been there for a while. And yet, if we didn’t allow newcomers the group would die. So how do we deal? I’m going to illustrate a few ways we’ve handled it in the past and the current way, which I think works quite nicely with our repertoire size.

Option 1: Whatever we feel like singing

This non-method works fairly well with a small repertoire. You can work on whatever songs you want and chances are you’ll have practiced every song within a month’s time. New people slow down the practice time dramatically, but even so if the repertoire is small enough it doesn’t really matter. It’s a review for everyone else too and soon enough everyone will be on the same page. This method doesn’t scale very well though. As the repertoire grows, haphazardly singing songs will most likely lead to mediocre results at performance time. The blend might be OK, but more nitpicky performance stuff–the stuff that makes songs stand out–will get glossed over because it takes up too much time. Or you’ll spend too much time on one or two songs and the rest of the repertoire suffers. Add into the mix some new singers and things get even more complicated. :-/ I’d say once you have more than 10 multi-part songs in your repertoire this method starts to fail. You need to have more structure in order to effectively manage more songs than that.

Option 2: What Needs the Most Work?

There are some songs that you can pull out right after the Christmas season and not have to worry about whether or not the tempo will slow down dramatically or whether the altos know when to come in, and then there are some songs where there’s a 50/50 chance of either a total train-wreck or a passable performance. Clearly songs in the second category need more work, but how do you work on them without alienating new people or making the currently good songs devolve into potential train-wrecks? The short answer is if you’re strictly working on the weakest songs, you won’t be able to avoid these problems and you’ll introduce some new problems as well. For one thing you’ll be stuck in maintenance mode for a long time because there are always songs that need more work. Second you’ll burn out your singers by making them work on hard stuff from start to finish. Working hard can be fun but not if you’re doing it for two hours straight. Third, after a few weeks of this the choir will start to hate those songs.

During my first two months of directing I took this approach and I basically burnt out the choir on Lasciatemi Morire and April is in My Mistress Face. We had intonation problems with the former and tempo problems with the latter, and I was determined to make them sparkle before we switched over to singing Christmas music. By the time Christmas rolled around everyone was very tired of these songs (including myself to some degree), and we were happy to put them away for the next few months. They had improved over that time, but even now they aren’t on the same level as some of our better songs. We didn’t spend much time seriously going over our whole repertoire either, so the person who joined the choir around the time I took over still hasn’t sung every song. Not good! In moderation, though, this method makes sense. Spend more time on the weaker songs and less time on the stronger ones. Just don’t spend ALL time on the weaker songs and No time on the stronger ones.

Option 3: During Seasonal Work still sing Non-Seasonal Songs

In the past when we’ve worked on Christmas Carols we had a hard time transitioning back into secular songs come January. All the performance notes we’d written out in September were lost after the new year. Tempo markings, intonation, and even what part we normally sing were mysteriously forgotten. It’s important for the director to take note of these things for the purpose of reminding the choir later, but it’d be nice if it didn’t take a whole month to get back on track too. During the 2007 Christmas season we experimented with starting practice by singing non Christmas songs, and then working on more Christmas songs as it got closer and closer to our performance. This method is pretty kind to newcomers since they can become familiar with the other music without having to spend lots of time practicing individual pieces. We’ll get to those songs eventually, and when we do they’ll at least have some memory of what it sounds like.

While a good idea in theory it didn’t work very well in practice. The main reason for this is that a lot of our Christmas Carols also needed reviewing, so the time at the beginning of choir rehearsal which was spent reviewing songs we wouldn’t be performing could have been better spent singing the easier carols while the rest of practice could have been spent focusing on the harder ones. Besides allowing us to have a chance to remember the carols which we hadn’t sung at all sung in the past year, we’d have actually gotten emotionally into the Christmas season a lot sooner. For some reason starting rehearsal with non-seasonal pieces seemed to have delayed this process. Also, the Collegium has a request period at the end of every rehearsal which could have been used to sing songs that are in our usual repertoire, therefore while not explicitly having time devoted to reviewing our normal stuff we’d still effectively have it.

Option 4: Quarterly “Changeover”

This is our current method of high-level rehearsal structure, and so far it seems to be working well. The way it works is we divide our repertoire into three overarching categories + Christmas, and work on one category for three months at a time. Each category has a mix of about ten songs of differing difficulty. Ten songs in three months is fairly reasonable to manage and polish and gives us a decent range from which to pick performance material, especially since our performances tend to be on the short side. The other major benefit is for newcomers. This method enables us to invite people to join at 4 different times of the year. Also since the total number of songs is fairly small per 3 months period, if newcomers join in the middle of a quarter they can work on the current songs on their own without having to invest too much time in it. (We use midis to aid in solo practicing.) The quarter method also enables the group to get immersed in a theme for 3 months. Our current themes are “love” (January-March), “drinking and merrymaking” (April – June), “religious and other”, (July – September), “Christmas” (October – December). Neither the themes nor the quarters they lie in are set in stone–except perhaps Christmas–so if someone can only be in the group during the beginning of the year we wouldn’t have to sing our love songs each time. In addition we use our request time to sing songs which are out of theme. All in all it seems to be working fairly well for us so far.


I don’t know how well this method scales for much larger repertoires than 30 songs. The more comfortable individuals are on their parts the easier it is for new people to pick up the music, so it’s possible that with greater polishing we could double or triple our current repertoire without either sacrificing quality or making it too difficult for newcomers to join. It’s also possible that there’s an upper-bound for the number of songs in our repertoire, that with our level of commitment isn’t really possible to surpass. If/when we reach it I’ll write about it, but until then all I can say is that with my group’s 35 song repertoire the Quarter system works well and we probably won’t be changing it drastically for at least a couple years.

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Directing and Singing at the Same Time

Chances are high that if you’re leading a small madrigal group you’ll also be singing in it. Conducting and singing are complicated tasks alone let alone doing them simultaneously, so what are you supposed to do? There are a few things to consider when you’re getting started. First, don’t expect everything to run smoothly the first time you do it. It will get easier over time just like how playing the piano with both hands gets easier over time, but it does take time and practice. Second, avoid doing both for as long as you can in order for you to both get used to conducting and spend more of your energy analyzing the group. You should still know how to sing the music and if someone else were conducting be able to join in at any time, but don’t stress yourself out if you can avoid it. As you get more comfortable conducting ease yourself into singing as well. At the same time you’ll be weening the choir off of having a fully engaged conductor, which is something you’ll have to do anyway for performances.

This, of course, is an ideal situation. There will probably be weeks where an entire section can’t make rehearsal, and the only way to practice a given song if for you to sing too. Case in point, just this past week I had to sing and conduct because all of the altos were either sick or swamped with work. So I handled it in not the most optimal way possible. I tried to do everything at once. It didn’t totally crash and burn since I knew how to sing the music, and the rhythm wasn’t too complicated, but I really couldn’t do anything aside from sing and conduct. Judging the quality of the singing was just not happening. I probably would not take this approach again if I could avoid it.

So what other methods are left besides doing everything?

Here are a few:

  1. Have several members of each section learn at least one other part than their usual.
  2. Have a choir member sit out and evaluate while you sing and conduct.
  3. Turn the rehearsal into a part rehearsal.
  4. Focus on other aspects of singing like pronunciation, breathing, sight-singing, etc.
  5. Sing pieces that don’t require the missing section.
  6. Sing the songs and omit the missing section.

Having some members of each section learn parts other than their own is very useful. Benefits include enabling the choir to be more flexible at performances and rehearsals and the individual developing a greater understanding of the music. The drawback is when choir members forget which part they’re singing and jump back and forth between the original and the new one. Another drawback is that it gives more work for the individual. It also assumes that the song is already learned. Asking the choir to learn two parts simultaneously when a song is introduced is probably unrealistic, but you never know. It never hurts to ask.

Having someone sit out while you’re singing and conducting is a very good technique because it encourages choir members to analyze how the group sounds and takes the pressure off of you, the director, to offer commentary. As a former choir member I’d also suggest that you give the person sitting out some ideas on what to look for. I know the few times I was asked to offer commentary I didn’t have much to say because I didn’t know what to look for. When I sang I was mostly concerned with being on pitch and on time so my analysis rarely went beyond “we sound reasonably in tune”. Chances are there’s at least one person in the choir who is in the same position and probably more. Suggest they look for things like intonation, expression, breathing problems, tempo, etc. Getting the choir involved with analysis is especially good when you’re weening the choir off of your fully focused conducting, so I’d use it at some of the rehearsals when everyone is present too.

If there’s a song that you’re just starting to work on and need to pick out notes for, a good time to do it is when you’re low on people. The reason for that is when the choir is fully present you want to make use of that time by singing together. Spending a large chunk of time picking out notes for the basses is a pain and wastes time for all the non-basses in the room. But when you only have enough people to sing two part music anyway, why not take the time to work out the tricky sections. If you’re prepared enough you can even split the choir into each part and have them work through their parts on their own. This is when midis come in especially handy because it means you don’t have to bring another keyboard with you or record yourself singing the parts.

Focusing on other aspects of singing, while both useful and important, should probably not be the sole focus of a practice with few participants. The main reasons for this are boredom and advanced preparation. Your choir came there to sing, so chances are they will not be amused if 2 hours is spent working on pronunciation. Also, you’d need to come to rehearsal prepared with 2 hours worth of information on pronunciation and breathing and whatnot. Augmenting a sparse rehearsal with more of these aspects of singing makes a lot of sense though. If you’re trying to avoid 2 hours of singing unison or two part songs and you’ve come prepared with ample material, padding the rehearsal with this information ought to be very effective.

The last two options, singing pieces that don’t require the missing sections and just omitting the missing sections on the songs you planning to sing should probably not be the default if you can avoid it. Chances are the two part songs you have don’t need the work and many songs you encounter don’t work without all the sections present. A song without the melody line isn’t much of a song.

So you have many options when it comes to avoiding singing and conducting at the same time or making the most of rehearsals when you have to do both and aren’t fully prepared to.

What if you’re not planning to sing during performance?

If you’re not planning to sing with the choir in performance you should probably not sing during rehearsal unless it’s absolutely necessary. And by necessary I mean a part is either empty or low on people for that rehearsal. The reason you wouldn’t want to sing with a weaker section regularly is that the section may become dependent on you and then at the performance–when you’re not singing–the section is likely to fall apart. If a section is really weak and not likely to improve it’s a much wiser idea to move a strong person from another section or try to recruit a stronger person into the choir or offer to work with that section individually or continue singing with that section but also sing at performance.


Your First Day Leading Choir Rehearsal

If you’re about to take over the leadership of an established choir here are some ideas on how you should prepare for your first day on the job and some easy, effective warm-ups you can get started with. This should be especially useful if you haven’t had any prior experience conducting a choir.

What’s a good goal for the first choir rehearsal?

If you’ve never led a choir before don’t be surprised if you discover that there’s a lot more to directing than just giving starting pitches and telling the choir to start singing. Sadly, I learned that the hard way. Prior to my first rehearsal I’d spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to structure rehearsals, what songs to sing, and how to go about teaching sight-singing, but I hadn’t put much thought into basic things like leading warm-ups or how I’d actually go about keeping time. Also I had a small problem with playing through voice parts, and ended up stumbling through them on the piano. What better way to inspire confidence than to play 8th notes like quarter notes or play the bass line in treble clef? I know few other ways. -_- Needless to say my first rehearsal was fairly close to a disaster. But I got through it, and my choir has been, thankfully, very forgiving.

While my intentions were good, I think I’d have done better to spend more time learning how to conduct and pushed my sight-singing research to later. I didn’t start employing formal conducting techniques until 5 months after I began directing, and I’m kicking myself now. When I finally got around to using them I found that the choir sang much closer to the tempo I was intending and came in at the right time verse after verse. It was such an improvement.

Another good reason to spend time learning how to conduct from the start is that there’s no getting away from conducting. At just about every rehearsal the choir will be singing through songs or parts of songs and the main job of the director is to conduct those songs. You may as well learn how to do it at the start because if you want your choir to be any good you’ll have to find an effective conducting system at some point.

So, I’d say a good overall goal for the first rehearsal would be to conduct songs with a measurable amount of confidence and competence. This will leave choir members feeling confident that they’ve left their choir in the hands of someone who can handle the basics, which is important. A future article will go into the mechanics of and justification for conducting, but for now here’s a pretty good book on the subject. Conducting Made Easy

What about Warm-ups?

If you’re going to do unison chromatic style warm-ups (i.e. everyone sings the exercises together and each successive warm-up travels either up or down the keyboard by one half-step), I have some advice. First, it’s better not to play than to play wrong notes. If you don’t want to play every warm-up in every key, don’t. Just play the first few and then play the starting note. After a one or two repetitions the choir will get the hang of it and can sing the rest of the notes without the piano. Later on you can test if they’re still on pitch with some easier keys. This is especially useful toward the higher and lower ends of the vocal range since at the top people tend to go flat and at the bottom people tend to go sharp.

To get started, play the exercise on the piano once, sing it once with confidence, and play it again for the choir to sing with. For warm-ups it doesn’t hurt for the choir director to sing too. It’s also a good idea to practice them at home first since many of them sound silly and it may take some time before you feel comfortable leading them without laughing.

When doing exercise that move up, I start on the G below middle C and keep going until the notes start becoming uncomfortable. When moving down, I start on middle C and keep going until no sound comes out.

If you don’t have any idea which warm-ups to start with here are three to get you going.

Do Mi So Do So Mi Do

Mi Me Ma Mo Mu



In future articles I’ll discuss warm-ups and vocalizes, but for now these will do.

If you’re against doing unison warm-ups or don’t have time to practice them before the first rehearsal, you can always sing some easy mid-range songs. The rule of thumb here is not to start with songs that the sopranos or basses complain about. If you don’t know what a comfortable range is, ask your choir members which notes are uncomfortable for them to sing or which songs are comfortable or uncomfortable to sing. That should give you an idea.

How well should I know the parts?

If you’re going to spend a significant amount of time on any one song you should know how to play the parts for the song on the piano. You may get called on to play it for them and it’s kind of embarrassing to stumble through it. Also, when the choir is singing you’ll want to diagnose which sections are strong or weak. If you don’t know what the altos are supposed to be singing you’ll have no way of knowing if they’re singing the right thing. While, you’re going to want to do this sooner rather than later I’d say it’s less important than conducting because you can go through an entire rehearsal without giving parts. The same can’t be said about conducting.

How do I give pitches?

I know it sounds pretty basic, but there are some things to remember even with this. Try to figure out the tempo before you give pitches. If you give pitches first the chances are much greater that people will lose their note once you’ve figured out the tempo. Pick a direction to give pitches (bass to sop or sop to bass) and stick with it. Don’t go too slow or too fast. To figure out what too slow or too fast is try going faster than you think you should. If they complain give them again a little slower until you find a good speed. Some people like to hear the starting chord and if you go too slow it’s much harder to do.

Should I sing while I’m directing?

At the first rehearsal probably not. It’s hard enough to conduct and listen at the same time. Adding singing on the top of that only makes the process more difficult. This doesn’t mean directors should never sing, though.

So, for your first rehearsal you should really concentrate on the basics of choir directing, which is to say conducting. The techniques are just as useful for a barbershop quartet as they are for a church choir, and if you want to be an effective director you’ll have to come up with some method eventually so you might as well do it from day one. Once you’re mostly confident with conducting, you should find some sort of warm-up routine so that your sopranos can comfortably hit the high-notes later on. After that you should probably start learning all of the parts for the songs you’ll be practicing. That’s another one of those things you’re going to need to do anyway, but it’s not quite as critical as conducting so if you can only work on either conducting or parts for the first rehearsal you should work on conducting.