Rehearsal Techniques When Starting an Elementary Choir
Often times, there are many elements in a beginning choir rehearsal that need work, especially at the elementary level. These may include singing in unison, pitch matching, two-part singing, concert etiquette and even bowing together. (Something that doesn’t sound very difficult to do in sync but it is hard for children to do.) Using clear and precise directions and examples in your rehearsing techniques you will be able to build a better overall sound and sense of unity for your chorus.
First, you will want to explain a little about concert etiquette to your students. The number one thing they need to know is “no talking during a performance.” I explain to my students that while singing their lyrics, they are actually speaking to the audience. This is much like telling a story only with their singing voices not speaking voices. I tell them that if they are to actually talk as well, that it would interrupt this story and confuse their audience. This seems to make sense to them although you will always have a few that just have to talk.
If you encourage your students not to talk from day one of rehearsals then you should not come across a problem. You can always use “socializing” as an incentive to have a good rehearsal as well. In other words, if they have a great rehearsal and get everything done, let them talk at the end for a few minutes as a reward.
Other rules of etiquette that are important to introduce to your chorus and that should apply to all rehearsals and performances, are no gum chewing and standing up straight. (Wiggling is another but my kids are always nervous so it is hard to avoid.)
It's All in the Technique
In a beginning elementary choir, the hardest elements to work on are pitch matching, singing in unison, and two-part singing.
In order to help my students match pitch, I will play the melodic line with them on the piano or keyboard (whichever is available). I always sing for my students and demonstrate everything. I find that most children are both oral and visual learners and find it easiest to mimic, so setting the example is key.
Teaching them how to listen to one another is also very important particularly in unison singing. You will always have those students that want to be little stars and sing as loud as they can trying to drown out all the others. I tell my students to listen to the person next to them and if they can’t hear them they are singing too loud! I tell them to blend and that they need to become one big voice. I have each row sing a line and then add each row accordingly having them listen for the next row’s entrance. If they can’t hear when they come in, they are doing great!
I rehearse two-part singing the same way. I have the two groups listen to each other’s part by having one group mouth their words while the other sings and visa-versa. This way they develop a better understanding of how the words fit together. I then have one group sing their part while the other hum theirs and then of course they will switch roles again. Sometimes (if the song has a lot of tricky rhythms in the melody) I will have one group clap their parts while the other sings. I often have split rehearsals as well so that I can work with one group at a time and fine tune each part before putting them back together. This makes for a more time efficient rehearsal.
When rehearsing motions and hand signs for pieces, I usually work on these before the lyrics for they can be more complicated and I find that the students have an easier time memorizing the words if they know the motions to go with them first.
Speaking of lyrics, to help make my rehearsals more productive, I provide CD’s to my students of the accompaniment with lyrics of their songs so that they can take them home and practice memorizing the words. This saves me a great deal of time in rehearsal working on lyrics and instead we can work on such things as dynamics, pitch, blended singing, etc.
Take a Bow
The key to finishing a good performance is the bow. In order to get it uniform, I tell my students I am going to count to 3 and we are going to bow together. I tell them not to look at the people around them but to stare straight ahead and smile big. Then I count 1...2...3 and I use an arm motion like I am pulling them forward and we bow together. During the concert, I just use my fingers to count silently for them and then we bow. The audience is always impressed at this.
Once you have these choir rehearsal techniques down and your singers will be that more prepared for the big performance.