Yet ask them to sing something familiar like Happy Birthday and they have no problem. What’s going on here?
Some people seem to have difficulty learning new songs in a singing workshop or get put off by the other harmonies. Yet when you hear those people singing on their own they can reproduce a melody accurately.
Some people think they can’t ‘sing’ but when asked to sing something familiar like a nursery rhyme or Happy Birthday they don’t have any problems.
Some people never seem to raise their voice in choir (there are some people I still haven’t heard properly after many years!), but when they sing a song they know well their beautiful voice soars.
The fact is, singing as part of a group – especially in harmony – is a learnt skill and doesn’t necessarily come easily. Also, in a group, some people will learn songs more quickly than others. For some singers it may take several months before a song has really bedded in and they feel confident to sing out.
When leading a group – particularly open groups where there is no selection – we’re constantly trying to unite a set of people with different needs and different levels of experience.
We usually manage to strike a reasonable balance, but sometimes it might seem to a particular singer that they’re getting left behind, and that can put them off and even lead them to believe they can’t ‘sing’.
What can we do about this?
- When leading a group, remind yourself that singing in harmony is a skill and not everyone is as accomplished as others. Lead singers in with lots of unison singing (an under-rated technique, and one that can act as a useful training tool. See Sing something simple (and see if your singing is as good as you think it is) ) Then maybe move on to rounds or songs where each part has a distinct and separate melody (like a quodlibet).
- Without putting singers on the spot, make sure you get to hear each individual and give them an equal chance to shine and share their voice with others. This may mean using very familiar tunes and slowly dividing the singers into smaller and smaller groups. Help inidividuals realise their voice is fine and they have an equal ability to sing as everyone else in the group.
- Emphasise to everyone that really learning a song takes many many repetitions. Just because that alto has picked it up quickly and you still haven’t got it doesn’t mean that they are a better singer. Most professional singers take several months before they really feel that a song is under their belt. Yes, you might pick up the melody or harmony quickly, but it’s easily forgotten and you’ve not begun to explore all the subtleties.
- As a singer, be patient. Give yourself time to learn a new song or to pick up a harmony in a group. Don’t give up too soon or think you can’t ‘sing’. Be kind to yourself! You might find these two posts useful: How to sing – 10 habits of successful professional singers and Handy hints for hesitant singers – 10 tips for singers new to choirs.