If you are anything like me (and I assume you are if you are reading this post), then you love choir and choir music.
I love choir. I love choir music. I have been in choirs since I was in seventh grade. I continued all the way through high school and college. Last semester was the first time since I was 12 that I was not in a choir, because I was student teaching. And I seriously missed it.
This year, I started singing with a semi-professional group (that means we are all out of college, most of us with degrees in music, but we don’t get paid) called iCantori. I love being in choir again, but only rehearsing once a week was not cutting it for me. I was struggling to keep up with all of my choir music.
So I started working on it. Practicing just a few days a week for twenty minutes or so.
Side note—really and truly you should always be practicing your choir music between rehearsals, but we all struggle sometimes.
Here are my top tips to practicing choir music by yourself.
Read the rhythms
This is probably the easiest to do, but depending on the piece, sometimes the hardest. Sit down with your metronome and read through your rhythms. If you are having a hard time, there is no shame in writing your counts in. that tells me that you are smart enough to want to get it right.
If a passage is particularly hard, slow it waaaaay down. Then speed up. My piano professor in college used to say that when practicing, you should start with the metronome at a slow speed, then you should move it five clicks up. Then slow it down by two or three clicks. Then speed it up, and slow it down. This way you really get to know it and you do not always do it the same speed.
Say the words
Secondly, say all of the words. This is especially important when you are singing in any other language. If you are singing something that is not your language, go through and figure out the pronunciation. This book is really wonderful to help you learn pronunciations for pretty much any language. I somehow did not take diction in college, so I just bought this book instead.
Additionally, you can download a translator app on your phone. Type in the word and click the button to have it say it. Then you can write it down phonetically or with IPA, whatever your preference.
Once you know the words, you need to practice reading them. Even if it is in English. Most songs used really wonderful poems or texts, and the better you understand them, the better you will sing.
If you are not a soprano, then you may also want to look at the soprano line. Sometimes the altos only get every few words, and the text makes no sense. Ditto for tenors, and basses.
After that, read it through with the correct rhythm.
Make sure you know the notes
AKA play it on the piano.
Sometimes in choir, it is difficult to hear your part—especially for those of us who sing alto or tenor, because we are in the middle of everything. I have had experiences when I was dead set that I knew my part and I was sure, and then I actually bothered to play my part.
And it was not my part.
In choir, it is not uncommon for people to double someone else’s part or sing a note that is in the chord but not what is written.
I know from experience that it is better to find this out a few weeks into choir rehearsals than the day before the concert.
If you do not play the piano, then see if you can find someone who does that could help you. You could have your own mini sectional, and your choir director will be incredibly impressed.
If you are good with solfege, that will work too. I sometimes write the solfege into my music in case I forget a tricky interval.
Check out my resources page to see other things I use to help with my practicing.
Listen to it
Some people will advise against this. My choir director in particular shies away from it.
I get their point. They are thinking it is better to have you figure it out on your own. If you do not listen to a high quality recording, then you may inherit someone else’s mistakes. And they do not want your choir to sound exactly like someone else’s.
But seriously, just do it.
Look it up on YouTube. Learn some names that you can trust—anything that is from Eastman or Northwestern is fine. If you can find a Robert Shaw version, that is great. Don’t be afraid to listen, just make sure you are critical the first time. If it is a not so great high school, skip it.
When you listen, have your music our so you can follow along and sing with the music. That is how you will learn the most.
Go. To. Rehearsal.
Finally, go to rehearsal.
Once again GO TO REHEARSAL.
You cannot learn your music by not going to rehearsal. Even if you follow every one of these step and you could sing that bass line like a melody, it is not the same.
Choir is a lot different from band. In band, you follow your notes, rhythms, and dynamics. You play these notes and you get a C. In choir, we don’t have any buttons, so you have to remember your notes, or find them from someone else’s part. It can totally throw off a section if someone has been absent 90% of the rehearsals and then shows up for the concert.
It happens. I know, because I used to take attendance.
Those people did not know the music. They did not know what markings we had put into the music. And everyone else was not used to hearing them.
Don’t be that guy.
Eugene Corporon, educator and conductor said, “Rehearsals are not for learning your part, but for learning everybody else’s.”
Learn your part on your own, and come to rehearsal to see how it all fits together.
Don’t be afraid to write in your music. This is how you will remember and how you will sound good.
This is also what attracted my husband to me. He was helping me with a piece, and was impressed by how I had written in my counts and other markings—as a vocalist.
What are your top tips for learning choir music? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments!
PS—if you are in the Savannah area, come check our my choir! We are singing December 15 at St. Peter’s Episcopal, and December 16, 2017 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 7:30. Learn more here.