Singing together, not at the same time
The experts at National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and Sing Up give their advice on running a school choir
Most schools aspire to have a school choir, or several. One that performs at end of term celebrations, at community events and showcase moments like parents’ evening. But where do you start with running a choir? National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) and Sing Up give their best choral basics advice.
Start with some preparation
Have a sense of what you want to achieve. Are you working towards an end of term concert? What do you want your pupils to get out of joining a choir? Does your choir feel inclusive? Once you know what your goal is, schedule in some realistic, regular rehearsals and a termly performance to help you stay on track and build confidence.
NYCGB conductors recommend taking some time to consider your room setup and singer warm-ups, which are worthwhile even when you’re feeling pressed for time. Make sure your rehearsal space has as much air and light as possible, and that you’ve limited distractions. Then it’s time to warm up your choir.
Don’t underestimate warm-ups
Singing is really a whole-body activity – and a whole brain and ear activity as well. Warm ups bring focus to the learning atmosphere within the room, reset busy or distracted minds, and prepare singers physically. Warm-ups are also the first collective output from your group in each session and therefore act as the best team-building exercise.
Keep your warm-ups agile. Shake up the types of warm-ups you do, the order you do them in, even the space or place you do them in, or who’s involved in them. Wherever possible, do exercises with eyes closed to concentrate on the feeling of the voice or the body – and to exercise the ears. Try some warm up exercises from NYCGB here.
Be a confident leader
Your own energy has a big impact on the room. If you are stood at the front looking like you are just trying to get through the next half hour, or if you feel unwilling to demonstrate the next verse, your singers will most definitely pick up on it. NYCGB director Dominic Ellis-Peckham says that his rehearsal mantra is ‘You are the mirror of what you want to achieve’. Take running a choir as a challenge to boost your own confidence and use both the tools and the people available to you to achieve your goals.
Take running a choir as a challenge to boost your own confidence and use both the tools and the people available to you to achieve your goals
For example, if you’re using Sing Up repertoire, take advantage of the performance and backing tracks – as well as the ‘karaoke’ player mode. If you have confident singers, get them to accompany you in demonstrating a song to everyone else. Have a guitar or piano playing colleague? Ask them to accompany you. You could even set your goals together with your choir so that everyone feels a sense of achievement when you get to the performance.
Listen to your singers
… and get your singers to listen to each other too. Greg Beardsell, one of the choral directors at NYCGB, offers some advice: “Don’t listen for what you want to hear – listen to what you’re hearing.”
The Sing Up team suggests giving your singers constructive feedback and discussing ways they can improve as well as (importantly) telling them what is working. Get your singers to practice their listening skills, both when listening to a recording of the song and when listening to each other. This is an important musicianship skill that they will develop over time.
Don’t forget about vocal health
The voice is a muscle like any other, and especially if your singers’ voices are still developing, it’s wise to keep vocal care in mind. Sing Up’s golden rules for looking after you and your choir’s voice are:
- Warm-up and cool down each time you lead a singing session
- Don’t over-sing. Don’t sing for too long without breaks, and don’t strain the voice by trying to sing too loudly or outside of a comfortable vocal range
- Keep hydrated – have regular sips of water
- Establish and maintain good posture
- Relax and support your breath from your tummy
Always share your singing
One of the best things about singing together is sharing that experience with others. Always be on the lookout for performance opportunities – to pupils, staff, families in the playground at the end of the day, the wider community at a local fair. This will help focus your singers and give them something to work towards.
A school choir is a fantastic way to bring together pupils and staff who might not normally work together. As well as the community benefits, a choir is a great way for you as a music teacher to prove the benefits of singing and music as a great learning tool, one that improves language skills and soft skills while enriching pupils’ school experience.
Sing Up offers you a complete singing package through a digital music platform so you can place singing at the heart of education. Sing Up nembership packages are flexible and well-loved by teachers across the world.
Membership includes access to all the repertoire you’ll need, from pop to classical, specially arranged to promote good vocal health in young voices. Sing Up’s teaching resources are designed to help you use singing for cross-curricular learning in the classroom or to act as a foundation for musical learning across the school, with early years to age 18.
Make a commitment to music for your pupils throughout the school year. Click here to find out more.
NYCGB exists to inspire and empower young people throughout the UK with the life-changing experience of singing together. It comprises five choirs of over 800 young people aged 9-25 who meet for residential training courses and concerts.
NYCGB enriches the choral tradition with commissions from leading composers. Nationally, NYCGB works with Music Education Hubs and others to support increased access to singing opportunities for young people regardless of background or circumstance. In 2019, the organisation will offer more than 40 open activities to non-members, reaching more than 4,000 young people and adults.