Sunday, December 25, 2011

The 10 most popular posts of 2011

First of all, if you’re reading this post on Christmas Day: shame on you! Can’t you leave the computer alone for just one day in the year??!!

father christmas

Photo by Paul Wittal

But since you’re here, I thought I’d highlight the most popular posts of 2011 in case you missed any of them . . .

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Focusing on the one frown in a sea of smiling faces

Everything in the concert is going brilliantly. The choir is firing on all cylinders. The audience are lapping it up, even your lame banter between songs.

bored face

Then you spot the one person frowning in amongst a thousand smiling faces and the doubts set in.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Keeping a choir happy – you can’t please everyone

There have been grumblings in my choir of late. Some people are not happy.


But is it possible to keep everyone in a choir happy?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How to stop singers using word sheets in concerts

“In our choir we’re not allowed to use words in concerts.”

nose in a book

Great idea. In principle. But how do you achieve it?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

You are not alone – most people in your choir think they can’t sing well

This weekend I’m running a ‘voice clinic’ for members of my choir. I’ll be spending time working on basic vocal technique and confidence building.

George Bush and guitar

Photo by asmythie

When I asked people what they want to work on almost everyone said they lack confidence in their singing voice.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

10 ways to breathe new life into old songs

Sometimes old choir repertoire becomes stale.

bored choir

Photo by quinn.anya

Well-loved songs start to wear out and lose their sparkle. What can you do to overcome this?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why it’s easier to sing to 1,000 strangers than friends and family

Put me in front of a huge crowd of strangers and I’ll perform loud and proud.


Photo by Anirudh Koul

But in a room full of friends and family I get embarrassed and stumble. Why is this?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Stop me if you’ve sung this before: learning different versions of songs you know already

A while back I taught a song wrongly. Not for the first time!

bird clones

Original photo by Brian Robert Marshall

Even though I corrected myself quickly, the original version stuck in people’s minds and now they can’t shift it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Taking a song from source to performance – the many roles of a choir leader

My main skill is as a teacher of songs to those who don’t read music.

choir rehearsal

Photo by elfsternberg

Other choir leaders have different skills – like polishing songs for performance.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

We’ve come to sing, not to learn!

People come to my singing workshops because they love to sing.


Photo by Rex Pe

But first they have to spend time learning songs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Are singing workshops just a middle-class pastime?

I run singing workshops all over the place (why not book me and try one?!).

singing workshop

Photo by C. Moses

At some places the workshops are full and there is a waiting list. At others it’s a struggle to muster a dozen singers. Why is this?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Breathing for singers: it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it

As they say: size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts.

lung capacity

Measuring lung capacity with a spirometer The University of Iowa ca. 1920

The size of your lungs isn’t important in singing, it’s how you use the breath in them.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Sing like you speak – the ‘folk’ voice, or how to sing like a Bulgarian

I’ve always known that I’m more interested in traditional songs, but I’ve only just realised that it’s the vocal quality that I’m most drawn to.

Bulgarian women

Bulgarian National Women's Choir by Bruce MacRae

There’s something thrilling and primal about the sound of traditional singers’ voices. How do they achieve that and how does it differ from, say, ‘classical’ singing?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Too many cooks – benign dictators rule!

Question This post is part of a series of occasional Questions and Answers. Just use the contact form if you want to submit a question.

A budding choir director writes:

“I had prepared and arranged four songs, but the other person who leads the choir kept on asking the choir what they would like to do and of course they come up with ‘pop songs’.
“Would you ask a choir what they would like to do? The work I do with the choir is voluntary so I don’t really want to spend hours of time arranging if then we are only going to do pop songs - although I’m happy to do the odd one.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Starting over – going back to choir after a long break

After the long summer break, I used to arrive really early at the first choir session, sit by the door, and worry that nobody would come back.

starting over

Photo by kabun

I worry less now, but there are still many things to consider after your choir has had a long break.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What songs do atheists sing?

I’ve been asked to create a choir specially for an inter-faith event.


There will be contributors from Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and more. Plenty of songs to choose from. But what about atheists? Will they be represented, and what songs do they sing?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Name that tune! – earworms, musical memory and other strange phenomena

Sometimes I only have to hear two notes of a song and I know what it is.

Open mouthed

Photo by bishib70

Often I join in with someone singing a song only to realise that I’m singing a completely different one. What’s going on here?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Putting the hours in – are singers born or made?

I had a girlfriend who believed that we are all capable of anything if we just put enough effort in.

singing practice

Photo by _foam

She believed that if you fail at something or are not very good at it, then you just don’t want it that much.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What I did on my summer holiday – why we all need a break sometime

Apparently it’s the summer break. The weather is sunny, choir doesn’t start back until September, kids are off school and ice cream vans are cruising the streets.


So how come I’m stuck in the office and seem to be working as hard as usual?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Confession: I don’t like to sing much

You know those people who sing all the time — when they’re cooking, hoovering, gardening, whatever? Well, I’m not one of them.

love to sing

Photo by k e e l y

I love singing. I earn my living by teaching songs, I enjoy singing with others, I adore listening to singing on CDs and the radio, but I don’t sing around the house.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Why ‘singing for fun’ doesn’t mean low standards and poor performances

The other weekend 50 singers performed in public to a large, appreciative audience. We performed eight songs in four part harmony, most in foreign languages and some with dance moves.

singing for fun

The standard was high, the performance was tight and the singers clearly had fun. But this group of singers did not use sheet music, had rehearsed for just six two-hour sessions and welcomed all-comers regardless of singing experience.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

STAB, TABS or ASSBAT – how does your choir line up?

Last week I looked at the pros and cons of traditional choir formation vs. mixing parts up (Flying in choir formation – placing singers effectively).

barbershop choir

Photo by sludgegulper

Whichever approach you choose, there are still several choices to be made.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Flying in choir formation – placing singers effectively

Last week I looked at how singers choose where to stand in their section (Don’t stand too close to me! – finding the right place to stand in your choir). But that assumes that your choir is divided up with all singers in any given part standing together.

Mixed choir

Photo by laihiu

But it is also possible to have a mixed formation with individual singers from different parts standing next to each other. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these two alternatives?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don’t stand too close to me! – finding the right place to stand in your choir

In some formal choirs you’re told exactly where to stand when performing. There is often a fixed set-up which varies little from concert to concert.

gasworks choir

Photo by nicksarebi

However, in most community choirs, even though the separate parts might have fixed positions, where you stand within your part is up to you. How do you choose the right place to be?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What’s the worst that can happen? Dealing with performance nerves

The OK Chorale are not a performing choir (yet!), but after two terms of hard (but fun!) work, we’ve invited some friends and family along next week to hear some of the songs we’ve learnt.


Photo by Melissa Segal

I’m trying to keep it very low key as it’s the first time many people will have performed so there will be a lot of nerves about. How can we deal with these anxieties?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

How singing together creates communities

Singing together creates a real sense of community. Sometimes a choir arises from an existing community, but other times the creation of a choir builds a brand new one.


Photo by niallkennedy

In most cases people come together simply because they love to sing, but in others there is a real need to join a community of like-minded souls.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Are zombies taking over your choir? How to breathe like a human being

I’m beginning to worry that zombies are taking over my choir! Have you noticed how the living dead always have husky breathing?


Photo by theogeo

Well, the singers I come across seem to be doing the same thing. What’s that all about?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Read now to avoid disappointment – don’t miss out!

Places strictly limited. Book now to avoid disappointment. To be sure of a place, please send a cheque. Last year we sold out, so reserve a place early!

closing down sale

How many times have you heard these kind of pleas for a concert or singing workshop? But the tactic can seriously back-fire.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

No energy? Sing different, sing better!

I’ve been under the weather lately with no energy at all. But last night was choir night so I had to pull something out of the bag.


So tired by KcPhotography LA

I decided to use the fact that I had no energy to structure the rehearsal and we ended up doing some really good work!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

“Everyone can sing” – what the hell does that mean??!!

There is a proverb from Zimbabwe (apparently) that says: “If you can walk, then you can dance. If you can talk, then you can sing.”

Zulu nation

Zulu nation by nualabugeye

Exactly! The whole of my work is based on my belief that everyone can sing. But what does that mean in practice?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How to be a confident singer

When I was much younger I used to think that once you knew everything and were vastly experienced, only then would you become confident.

rock star baby

Rock star baby by fmgbain

But one day I was in a singing workshop when I realised that this is not true. You just have to decide to be confident! Behave as if you are and the rest will take care of itself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Do you care what songs you learn in a workshop?

I’ve been creating some new singing workshops for next year.

Janice Joplin

Janice Joplin by Patrick Pearse

Last week I wrote about how to create snappy, attractive titles. But what about the content – does the theme of the workshop actually make much difference?

I’ve come to believe that it’s irrelevant what songs you teach in a workshop.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What’s in a name? Creating good singing workshop titles

Like a newspaper headline, or title for a blog post, a good name for a singing workshop can make all the difference.


Queue for the Banksy Exhibition (Nigel Mykura) / CC BY-SA 2.0

I’m constantly wrestling with titles for new workshops. I’m always on the lookout for that killer title that will get the punters flocking in. In the process I’ve discovered a few guidelines that I’d like to share with you.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

How to move forward when you’re uninspired

I’m having a tough time writing this blog post.


Colleen is bored by scragz

I didn’t sleep well last night, I’ve been over-doing it, I have too much on my plate, and I have no idea what to write about.

Actually, I have plenty of ideas what to write about. I have a file with hundreds of ideas for blog posts, but none of them appeal to me today, and the ones that do will take a long time to write and I want to do them justice.

But I have to write a blog post because I’ve promised you – my readers – that I will publish one post every Sunday.

Or it could be a song I promised to arrange, or a choir rehearsal that I have to run, or a workshop that needs planning, or a song that I agreed to write. It’s no use waiting for the muse to appear or to be in a better mood, it needs to be done now, today, this minute.

The answer is simple: JUST DO IT.

You don’t need to feel inspired to begin the job at hand. Just get started. No matter how tired you are or how rubbish you think the result will be, by just getting on with it some weird alchemy happens: you will begin to feel inspired.

Desire follows action, not always the other way round. Start to go through the motions then you will begin to feel like doing what you’re doing. No need to wait to feel motivated or inspired.

We often read about professional song-writers or authors or painters who tell us that they just work every single day, no matter how they are feeling. As professionals they can’t afford to sit around and wait for the muse to appear.

The results may not be the best (or they may be), but that’s not important. Just get on with it regardless.

So next time you don’t feel like going to choir or planning that workshop or doing your vocal warm up (or writing that blog post!), ignore that feeling and just do it. The creative juices will soon start flowing and you will end up with good results and feel better.

What are you waiting for??!!


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Do you need perfect pitch to lead a choir?

Question This post is part of a series of occasional Questions and Answers. Just use the contact form if you want to submit a question.

A budding choir director writes:

“Last year I got involved with helping to lead a community choir. I have a musical background in that part of my degree was in music and I play the piano and cello. However, I have never had any singing lessons or led a choir before or even been in a choir — except a school choir — so when I was asked to help I was quite nervous!

“I found that I really enjoyed conducting and teaching new songs. However, I’ve been getting a little stressed recently because when I come to teach parts, I can’t always think what the note is that I need to give the section of the choir when we’re rehearsing. Or when I need to help out a part by singing along with them, I can’t always come in with the correct note.

“Does this suggest that I haven’t got a good enough ear to lead a choir? I’m beginning to fear this is the case. I can usually pitch A and get a note from that, but I certainly haven’t got perfect pitch.”

My first response is “Gosh, you’re more musically trained than I am!”

Just like you, when I first started leading choirs I had never had singing lessons and hadn’t been in a choir since school (and even then we didn’t sing in parts)

I too was very nervous when I first started out, but it does get easier. Even so, I still get nervous before a new season or a one-day workshop. I think that’s healthy as it means I never get complacent and keep doing the same old stuff.

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “I can’t always think what the note is”. I always, always write down the start notes of each part of the song I’m teaching. I have a chromatic pitch pipe that has all the notes in the scale and I just dial up the appropriate note and blow into it.

I don't have perfect pitch by any means and, given an ‘A’ for example, I’m rubbish at finding, say, an ‘F’. In which case you are far more accomplished than I am!

Use an instrument to get the start notes and write down what they are. Even the best professional conductors do it!

Even though I teach by ear and don’t hand out sheet music, I always have a copy of the score myself when I’m teaching. I often don’t have to refer to it, but it’s good to have it in reserve if I get confused or make a mistake. I’ve taught over 600 songs in the last ten years so it’s very hard to keep every part of every song in my head. The score is useful if you need to find the right note to come in with a part half way through a song, say.

If you need to, just stop, check the note on an instrument or pitch pipe, and then carry on. It will get easier as you (and the choir) become more familiar with a song.

I think you’re being far too hard on yourself. You don’t need perfect pitch to lead a choir.

You might like to check out an earlier post: Start as you mean to carry on (about giving out starting notes — read the comments!)


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, April 24, 2011

In praise of imperfection in art

Some people just love anything that’s finely honed, all shined up, squeaky clean, highly skilled and perfectly rendered. Not me.


Give me imperfection and humanity any time!

I like my art to be dirty and messy. I’m not a fan of art that just copies real life – illustrative or representative art. We have the real thing to look at after all. Or art that airbrushes out all the little blemishes and mistakes of nature.

I’m not keen on skills-based art, the kind of thing where people go “Oh, how clever! I could never do that.” Then you’re not looking at any kind of creativity or humanity, but the skills and techniques behind it.

I don’t like dancers who have perfected their technique, but have nothing to say with it. You know the ones where you can tell exactly who they’ve studied with. Or people who study Alexander technique and walk down the street like they’re balancing a book on their head.

And I really don’t like jugglers. At least those who only juggle. We can all learn to juggle if we want, it’s not that hard. I have more time for the bad juggler who keeps dropping things.

The best juggler I ever saw was in Covent Garden. He had this amazing act whereby he juggled a range of differently sized things at the same time, but it was only at the end that I realised he had been juggling at all! The skills and technique were very much secondary to his act.

Give me an artist whose technique and skills are invisible and who has something to say about the world. Or even a creative person who is not perfect where we can see the imperfections and humanity behind the finished product.

Which is why I don’t like singers or choirs or music which is just so, so perfect. The blend is perfect, the rendition is perfect, the enunciation is perfect, the costumes are perfect. I may as well stay at home and read the score and imagine the music in my head.

If you ever go to one of those kinds of concerts you will tend to find the audiences on tenterhooks, unable to relax. As soon as the singers walk on stage you know what you’re in for and you start to worry for them. Perfection is impossible, of course, but you will them to succeed. You’re on the edge of your seat hoping against hope that there won’t be a bum note or a missed cue. Then you applaud wildly (and over-enthusiastically) at the end, because it’s all over and you can relax.

Then there are those concerts where the musical director puts you at ease with a bit of light-hearted chit chat, where the singers are obviously relaxed and enjoying themselves, when a wrong starting note is given and the world doesn’t end. At the first laugh or mistake you can feel the audience relax and sigh and settle in for an evening of entertainment without having to worry. We’re all human, and we’re all in this together. They’re on our side!

Sure technique and skill and practice are important, but don’t let it dictate. If you have nothing to say with the skills you have acquired, then better just keep them to yourself.

At least that’s my two ha’p’orth. What do you think?


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hearing ALL the harmonies – you sound better than you think

At the end of each of my one-day workshops I’ve recently started to record all the songs I’ve taught during the day. It’s nice for people to be able to take something away to remind them of the songs.

But one comment recently gave me pause for thought: “In all the years I have been attending singing workshops I have never heard how we sound. I think we should be proud of what we have achieved.”

No matter how singers are positioned, and even if one half of the choir sing to the other half, it’s hard to get a real sense of how the group sounds as a whole.

Sometimes singers in a choir can’t do a performance for one reason or another and they come as an audience member. Every time this has happened in one of my choirs, they’ve come up to me afterwards to tell me how wonderful the overall sound is and that they had no idea how good we sounded!

So no matter how many times your musical director says how fantastic you sound; no matter how many times you position yourself in order to hear the other harmonies; no matter how many times you hear the other half of the choir sing to you; and no matter how big your ears are – you never quite get the sense of how good your choir sounds unless you stand outside and listen.

Make sure you get a recording of your choir or workshop. Or even better, resist the temptation to sing at every concert and take time out to be an audience member for a change. You will be surprised by what you hear.

Have you had this experience? Do drop by to leave a comment and let us all know what you think of what you heard.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Working with a big choir

Size is in the eye of the beholder. How ‘big’ a choir is depends on the context of course, but working with a large group of singers in any circumstances can prove to be difficult.

big choir

Photo by -bartimaeus-

I recently started a choir in my new home town of Woodbridge: the ok chorale. I was lucky enough to have over 100 people turn up to the first session. Working with such a large group from the outset has set me thinking about how one works with large choirs.

can there ever be too many singers?

From personal experience, I find that working on my own with more than 70 singers at a time is very tiring. I don’t know why it should make a difference that there are 20 singers in each part instead of 15, but it does.

The maximum number of singers you can work with also depends on the space available and how you work. Obviously a larger room can take more singers, but even a large space might be too small if you need to do lots of moving around. If you work with the singers seated, you can squeeze more people in.

The singers also need to be able to hear you clearly, so even if you think you can work with 200 singers, there might be trouble ahead if you’re in a large hall with no amplification.

When you start out with a new choir, you may think that bigger is better, but there are definite pros and cons to having a large group.

the advantages and disadvantages of a large choir



  1. big sound – you can really tackle those big, juicy songs that need a large sound
  2. less confident singers can hide – until they feel more confident, new singers have plenty of places to hide whilst still enjoying the experience of singing with others
  3. plenty of people on each part – nobody is exposed and there will be enough people to paper over any cracks or deal with any wobbles
  4. lots of enthusiasm and energy – which can buoy up the choir leader and keep things moving along
  5. good earner! – if you’re charging by the head, there will be greater income from a larger group and hence more financial security for the choir leader or organisation which runs the choir
  6. more likely to have spread of vocal ranges and abilities – you won’t end up with a group of totally inexperienced singers. There will be enough variety for singers at different stages to help and learn from each other.


  1. individuals can feel redundant – it’s so easy to feel like a member of a crowd. Individual singers might feel that they don’t count
  2. not possible to give individual attention – the larger the group, the harder it is to keep an eye on those struggling or to help individuals with their technique
  3. very tiring for the leader – the bigger the group, the more tiring it is for those who lead
  4. hard to keep track of people in each part – if you encourage people to swop parts regularly (as I do), it becomes hard to keep track of how many people in each part for each song
  5. often not enough space to move around – if you attempt any kind of choreography or different choir formations, you might find the room is not big enough
  6. can lose subtleties – it’s great being able to have a big sound, but it becomes harder to work on subtle dynamics with a big group, also articulation, ends of lines, etc. all become more tricky
  7. hard to hear overall harmony – since there are so many singers in each part, if you stand in traditional choir formation, it soon becomes difficult for individual singers to hear other parts and hence harmonies

some solutions to the difficulties

  1. break into smaller choirs/ groups in each session – rather than work with the whole group all the time, divide the choir into smaller groups (e.g. split the choir in half and have one half sing to the other) and work separately with them. If you have enough people you can have sectional rehearsals in different rooms (if you have the space!)
  2. mix ‘n’ match people/ partners – don’t let individuals always be surrounded by their own part, do work in pairs/ trios, etc. getting people to sing with others they wouldn’t normally sing with
  3. get help (more than one conductor) – there are lots of examples of this. Some big choirs have two leaders, others have four – one for each part. You’ll have to work well as a team though, and usually one person has overall responsibility
  4. split the group on different nights – turn one choir into two separate choirs, or keep the whole choir, but have rehearsals over several nights and people choose which one to attend 
  5. limit numbers in each part – to keep track of who’s in which part, you could use chairs. Once the chairs in a part are filled, there is no more room in that part.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Why singing is bad for you (and 7 reasons why you shouldn’t stop doing it)

People don’t often talk about the downsides of singing. Yes, we bang on about the health benefits, social aspects, etc. but seldom mention the bad bits.


Here are 7 terrible things that might happen to you if you start singing.

  1. singing can become addictive — once you start singing, it’s very hard to stop. It’s such an enjoyable activity that you will start noticing it everywhere and begin to take every opportunity you can to sing.
  2. singing takes up valuable time — you start by joining a choir once a week, then you do concerts at the weekends, then all those social events, and that great weekend workshop ... before you know it, it’s taken over your whole life. 
  3. you will abandon your friends and family — and spend more time with your new singing chums and on the tour bus and in the pub after the concert (and after weekly rehearsals). You’ll also be listening to more CDs on your own, checking out YouTube videos, learning lyrics, etc. No time left for family and friends at all. 
  4. you will become unbearable to live with — singing makes you so happy that you will wear a constant smile and be humming along all day long in a state of bliss, much to the annoyance of everyone you live with (who will be insanely jealous).
  5. singing stops you sleeping — after rehearsal or performance you will be so buoyed up with enthusiasm and joy that you will find it hard to come down off Cloud 9. Not only that, but you’ll have all those wonderful tunes bouncing around inside your head. Sleep – who needs it??!!
  6. you will spend more money — nice new costume for the next gig, more CDs, songbooks, weekend workshops, maybe even a musical instrument.
  7. you might lose your job — for some people singing takes over their lives entirely and they end up singing the whole time. They turn professional or start leading a choir of their own, and before they know it, they have a new career.

So be warned: approach singing with caution. Once you start you might not be able to stop. And it’s like a virus which you can easily pass onto someone else. Remain alert at all times in case the bug gets you!


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Asking for sheet music in a ‘learn by ear’ choir

Question This post is part of a series of occasional Questions and Answers. Just use the contact form if you want to submit a question.

Philippa writes:

“How do you respond when you get asked directly for sheet music? I’ve had this a few times now, usually by men interestingly! I’ve not had a woman ask me for dots yet, although when I first joined a community choir five years ago I was the person asking for music.

“I have managed to say no nicely until now, and explain my logic for not giving out music. I find it hard to refuse as I’m a people pleaser, but I totally agree that as a choir leader you can never please everyone and I’m not going to tie myself in knots trying to!”

I met a woman the other day who was interested in joining my choir, but it clashed with another choir she was in. She then said that if she had joined my choir she would have to have the music. Even if I didn't give it to her, she would write it down herself!

This woman is a control freak. She needs to be in control and hates that eggy place where you’re not quite sure what’s going on (see The importance of being confused). She has a method (sheet music) that she knows works and sticks to it. It’s her security blanket.

You need to point out to people that reading music is a learnt skill and is not necessary to be able to sing (see Music notation – do singers need it?). It’s an invention, an aide memoire originally developed to help those learning hundreds of chants (easy to get lost with them!). The vast majority of the world’s singers do not read music, neither is most of the world’s music written down.

People need to trust the learning process (it takes longer than they think) and not expect instant results. We have become a visual culture, so need to re-learn how to LISTEN. See Learning songs by ear.

So ... I don’t hand out written music to teach songs. I use it myself to remind me of parts because I have 600 songs in my repertoire and am not good at remembering all of them! Once we have learnt a song and sung it for a few months, I might hand out music if someone asks so they can play it at home on the piano or pass it onto someone else. But only if they know it perfectly by ear first.

I make it very clear that my groups do not use sheet music. There are plenty of choirs out there who do, so they can go and join one of those if they want.

Men often request sheet music because bass parts are usually very hard to remember as they often don’t have a recognisable tune. In fact, many of my basses invent their own music notation for just that purpose. But if you teach them to listen to the chord changes, then they will soon know when to go up and down.

You can’t please all the people all the time. Be assertive and clear about what you offer. There are plenty of other choirs that people can join.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why tenors shouldn’t sing on their own

Many community choir members enjoy practising at home. And so they should!


Ernest Williams, tenor, Croydon Male Voice Choir by Philip Talmage

They sing out loud whilst washing up or mowing the grass, re-living last week’s choir session and hearing the full glory of all the other harmonies in their head. Trouble is, we can’t hear what they’re hearing!

It’s like when people sing along with their iPods. They can hear the guitar solo, the backing group and the other singers in the band, but we can’t. They’re lost in the midst of a glorious mix of sound which we can’t hear. We just get to hear their part on its own with a tinny “tsh tsh” backing coming from the earphones.

It’s the same when a single choir member is singing their part on their own. If we’re lucky it might be a recognisable melody which is pleasant to listen to. But there’s a 75% chance that it’s not. It will be a harmony they’re singing and we can’t hear the main tune so it doesn’t make much sense!

The worst is usually tenors and basses who often don’t have recognisable melodies. Basses at least tend to follow the chords and can have a nice bouncy fun line. But tenors very often have just one note for ages, or those strange accidentals which make for weird chords when put with the other parts. But we can’t hear the other parts so it’s often not very nice.

It’s also not that nice to sing on your own unless you can really hear the other parts simultaneously in your head. Many’s the time I’ve had a tenor complain that their part is boring or tuneless. But when they get to hear a concert (usually only when they’re ill and can’t take part) or listen to the CD they realise that they’re an important part of the mix and that their part makes so much more sense when heard with the others.

So, hats off to the tenors who have a difficult job of it most of the time. We couldn’t do it without you!


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Starting a new choir: my story

Having written about starting your own community choir, I recently put my money where my mouth is and started a brand new singing group – my first in 15 years.

Woodbridge poster

I learnt a lot from this process and thought I’d share with you.

pastures new

Last autumn I moved to a completely different part of the UK – Woodbridge in Suffolk. I knew that at some point I would need to start a regular weekly group as I have to earn a living! I decided to wait a while to settle into our new house and start something up in the new year.

Before I moved here I thought I would start a group in the nearest big town, Ipswich, as that had the largest population and was a central point for the surrounding area. But I also decided that I wanted to cut down on my travel.

So I decided to take a risk and set up a group in the small town that I live in (population 11 – 12,000).

In January this year I put my modest publicity machine into action, gave the group a name (The OK Chorale – I wanted to keep it light-hearted and avoid the word ‘choir’), found a venue (this was very hard as most decent spaces are already used on a regular basis), and waited.

the first session

I had modest expectations. I reckoned that if 20 people turned up, that would be OK as I could build over the coming months. If only 10 people turned up, at least I could cover my costs and it would be a start.

The start time was advertised as 7.30pm. A handful of early-birds turned up just after 7pm. By 7.10pm this had turned into a steady trickle, and by 7.15pm all the seats in the room (about 30) had been taken. By 7.30pm there were almost 100 people squeezed into the tiny room that I had booked with no room to move!

Fortunately, I was able to contact the person who books the large adjoining hall which (luckily for me!) just happened to be empty on that one night that month. We re-assembled in the big hall and only then did I realise how many people were there.

Panic over, I began the session with some trepidation as I’ve not worked with such a large group before. The acoustics were great for singing, but I had to really project my own voice to be heard above the hubbub. The evening went fast, and people seemed to enjoy themselves.

I got everyone who was interested in coming back to jot down their email address as clearly I had to find a new venue by the following week. I was amazed at how many names there were! I had thought we maybe had 60 or 70 people, but it was only when I counted them all up that I found there were over 100.

following on

I spent the rest of the week phoning round madly to find a suitable new venue. I thought I’d exhausted all the possibilities when I booked for the first session, but finally managed to find a school hall only 5 minutes walk from my house!

The following week pretty much everyone who said they would come back did, plus a few more who had heard about the group. Now that the dust has finally settled I have 93 fully paid up member for this term (I work in blocks of 10 weeks). And I still have people contacting me to go on the waiting list!

We have just finished our sixth session and everyone seems as keen as ever. The biggest problem I now have is what to do with such a large group and how to deal with those people who still want to join. A nice problem to have!

what I’ve learnt

  • plan for success – most of us have a contingency plan for when things don’t work out, but I didn’t plan to have such a successful choir!
  • big isn’t always better – yes, it’s great to have a large sound, keen singers, and lots of voices, but there are drawbacks to working with such a large group (I’ll be writing about this in a later post)
  • there are never enough men – amazingly I managed to attract around 17 blokes out of a total of 93 singers. I usually reckon on there being only 10% men, so that’s a great turn out (we even have a decent male tenor section). BUT it would be nice to have around 40 blokes at least. Same old story (see Why men won’t sing).
  • it’s the usual suspects who turn up – same old constituency: older white women. That seems to be a fact of life with any arty workshop. I have nothing against older white women, it’s just that it would be great to have a cross-section of (at least) ages (see How to recruit singers to truly reflect your local community). I have to admit though that I didn’t put a great deal of effort into widening the net.
  • get help! – with such a large group of people, the logistics of collecting money, getting contact details, dealing with questions, etc. means that I couldn’t have done it alone. Fortunately my partner Susie Mendelsson helped enormously.
  • start as you mean to carry on – it’s no good pandering to what you think other people will want only to do what you really want to do later on. You need to start as you mean to carry on. People will get used to your ways quite quickly so it will be difficult to change tactics later down the line.
  • it’s not just down to you – don’t let success go to your head. You might like to think that everyone turned up because they’d heard of you, or because your publicity was wonderful, but most probably it was due to luck, their friend told them, or it happens to be the one night of the week they have free.
  • keep tabs on everyone – even with smaller groups, it’s important to have everyone’s contact details (in case you need to cancel or move a session). Everyone also needs to feel valued and noticed so make sure you keep your eye on everyone (even those at the back) and try to learn everyone’s name. I’m getting photos of everyone and learning their names in the holidays!
  • create a sense of community – if you want everyone to stay and work well together you need to create a strong sense of community and team work. Introduce everyone to each other, be playful and make everyone laugh, put people in different groups each week, move people around, create social events outside the sessions.
  • make it clear what it is – you should have done this at the publicity stage, but it’s certain that some people will mis-read or mis-understand. People often hear or read what they want to, no matter how clearly you describe something. Make it clear from the beginning by the activities in each session and the songs you teach. Tell everyone several times and in different ways what they can expect. The OK Chorale is not currently a performing group and I’ve made that clear. But neither is it just a ‘singing for fun’ group. I’ve said that it’s “challenging but rewarding work” which means that I can keep the standards high.
  • you can’t plan for everything – no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to plan for every eventuality. The first venue I chose had a huge car park, so even though 100 people turned up, there shouldn’t have been a problem. BUT ... the car park also serves the local independent cinema which was showing The King’s Speech to packed houses so the car park was full to capacity!
  • you can’t please everyone – even though you might try. There will be people who don’t like some of the things that you do or want to learn more slowly (or faster) or who hate the warm-ups or who don’t like moving and singing or dislike songs that are not in English. Tough. This is what is on offer and if people don’t like it, there are plenty more choirs out there who can accommodate them. (see also Trying to please all the people all the time)

and your experience?

Several of you have contacted me over the last few months to say that you’re setting up your own choir. I’d love to hear how you’re getting on and what you have learnt from the experience. Are there things you would do differently? Did you make any mistakes? What was your biggest success? Do drop by and leave a comment and share your own experience.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Are you tone deaf? Very unlikely!

Very, very few people are tone deaf. Tone deafness is an abnormality of the brain which can also affect the understanding of language and certain spatial abilities. So unless you are one of those rare individuals who are born with amusia or have suffered a brain injury or have hearing problems, you aren’t tone deaf.


Photo by twinxamot

So now that’s out of the way, you can get on with singing!

When I tell people that my singing groups and workshops are open to anyone and that I believe that everyone can sing they often ask “But what about people who are tone deaf, people who just can’t hold a tune?” They just jump in and start being negative and putting obstacles in the way!

Now, what if I’d said I was starting an amateur soccer team or a beginner’s cookery class or a tennis academy for kids? Most people would probably say: “Well done, great idea! Can I join?”, not “But what about those people who can’t kick straight or those whose taste buds are under developed or those who have to wear glasses?”

Somehow singing is different. People who sing are expected to be perfect from the off, be able to “hold a tune” from the get go, to have a lovely voice without any practice, to never dare to “inflict” their horrible tuneless voice on others. They must be able to sound like Pavarotti or Britney Spears or Justin Bieber or Lesley Garrett as soon as they open their mouths.

But we don’t expect someone starting to learn soccer to be able to play for the premiere league next week, or someone to open a Michelin starred restaurant the week after they sign up for cookery classes, or new tennis players to play at Wimbledon next summer.

A person can kick a ball about in their back garden and nobody minds if they’re good or bad. Someone can practice their serve on their own until they get it right, even though the ball hits the net most of the time. A beginner cook can experiment at home to create new dishes which, at first, may be virtually inedible.

But when it comes to singing, somehow expectations are different.

“No, no, no,” you cry, “I don’t mind if someone sings in the bath or around the house, as long as they don’t do it in public or inflict it on others”.

So let’s take our new footballer out of her back garden and to the first practice session of the local amateur soccer team. Now it’s in public and her team mates depend on her and can also see how well or badly she can kick a ball. In the beginning her passes will be rubbish, she’ll miss easy shots at goal and she’ll run out of breath quickly.

But as the weeks go by she’ll get better and become an important part of the team. She may never get to be as good as, say, Wayne Rooney, but few do. She’ll have fun, face challenges, be better or worse than some of the other players, possibly compete with her team, get much better at soccer and become a valuable team player.

Same with singing. Ears and mouths are just like eyes and feet: it takes time to connect the two. Just as our soccer player can’t pass accurately at first and a beginner tennis player keeps serving into the net, the singer just starting out in a group might not be able to accurately reproduce with their mouths what they hear with their ears.

But be patient. Like any skill the ability to hold a tune accurately will develop in time. It’s not that you’re tone deaf, it’s just that it needs practice. And any way, most of the time in a group it’s not a big deal if you’re slightly out.

So next time someone says “I can’t sing, I’m tone deaf”, just tell them to join a choir and get practising!


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Using sheet music to teach and learn songs: pros and cons

Last week I looked at what music notation is for and if you need it to sing.

sight reading

Sight reading by discopalace

This week I’d like to lay out what I think are the benefits and shortfalls of using sheet music to teach and learn songs.

advantages of teaching by ear

  • no looking at pieces of paper – singers can focus properly on their director (and it’s not a problem when they forget to bring their music with them!)
  • no need to photocopy – or buy lots of copies of the music (cheaper and less hassle)
  • complex rhythms will be learnt through the body – and not intellectually on the page
  • emphasis on ears and not eyes – it is, after all, an aural and oral medium
  • easier to add clapping, dance steps, etc. – without bits of paper getting lost or books being dropped
  • no ‘perfect’ rendition to aim for – the singers won’t have the constant reminder of an ‘ideal’ version of the music staring at them
  • no possibility of reading ahead – seeing the whole score at once can seem daunting, also if the song is taught and built up in segments, it can often be learnt better
  • learning together creates a sense of community – people are able to look at and listen to each other and feel they are all part of one whole
  • complex rhythms often look very difficult when written down – whereas if you just teach it by engaging the body and getting everyone moving together, it can be much easier

advantages of using sheet music

  • can teach very complex songs – especially very long or structurally difficult ones
  • helps visual learners – although it’s good to exercise ears more than eyes
  • have a back up – the written music can remind us of our parts and/ or we can rehearse on our own at home
  • egalitarian – musical director doesn’t have all the power or act as gatekeeper, everyone is in the same position with the music in front of them
  • easy to disseminate music (but we now have recording devices, so not so relevant)
  • creates ‘product’ – a composition or arrangement that can be sold

Is there anything I’ve left out? Do leave a comment. If you’re reading this by email or in an RSS reader, you should find a ‘comment’ link at the bottom that you can click on.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Music notation: what is it good for and do we need it to sing?

Do you have to be able to read music to sing? Lots of people believe so and are put off joining choirs as a result.

Mensural Notation

I don’t use written music when I teach, but does that mean I am limited in what I can teach? And am I making life difficult for those who can read music?

I want to make music as widely accessible as possible, so I don’t use unnecessary musical jargon or rely on sheet music. All the groups and workshops I run are open-access in the sense that everyone is welcome and no experience is necessary.

My argument is that the vast majority of the world’s folk or traditional music has never been written down and it is learnt by ear in the cultures that it originates from. And that is my repertoire.

I teach by ear

I don’t use written music when I teach. I teach by ear, singing each part in turn and getting people to sing back until they’ve got it. This is partly due to the fact that a lot of the repertoire I teach comes from cultures where songs are passed down orally from generation to generation.

Of course, what I do is artificial. If you came from the same culture as the song you would have heard it repeatedly since you were a baby. Gradually you would have become more familiar with it until you knew it off by heart. At no point would you have seen either the music or the lyrics written down. You would have learnt everything by listening.

Trying to replicate that in a choir or singing workshop is fairly ridiculous as we’re trying to short-circuit years and years of repetition. But we try, and after a few weeks it’s surprising how much has gone in. More importantly, people retain it for a long time. All without seeing anything written down. (OK, maybe I do put the lyrics on the wall from time to time, but it’s not our native language!)

So what do we need music notation for? (Liz Garnett has also written on this subject recently: On Musical Literacy)

what is musical notation for?

There are forms of music notation dating back to Ancient Greece and before. These simple ways of describing music visually consisted of symbols representing relative pitch and note duration. The original urge to notate music was probably for several reasons:

  • to be able to pass songs and music over long distances as accurately as possible
  • to remind the singer of how a newly learnt song goes
  • to make sure that we’re all singing the same version of a song
  • to help with the learning of a song which has a fairly monotonous melody

In 8th Century Europe, monks in monasteries regularly used symbols (known as neumes) to put plainchants down on paper. Because the notation couldn’t express exact timing or absolute pitch, the parchments served mainly as a reminder to those who already knew a tune. They were not that useful to people learning a new tune if they had never heard it before.

Gradually systems of music notation became more sophisticated until we arrive at the five-staff system that most people are familiar with today. This system originated in European classical music, but is not the only system around. There are other forms of notation in, for example, India, China and Indonesia, as well as alternative Western notation systems (such as Solfège) and graphic and pictorial forms invented for specific experimental compositions.

In many of the choirs that I have run, the basses often invent their own notation, a version of early neume-based notations. The length of a horizontal line reflects the length of a note, and the vertical distance between lines shows the relative pitch. Like early Western notation, this is just an aid to memory and can’t be used to learn a song from scratch. The basses tend to invent it because bass parts often don’t have a recognisable tune so they need to know where notes go up and down and how long they stay on it (rather like plainchant).

Since music notation has evolved and can now express complex rhythms, absolute pitch, and accurate note duration, it can be used as a tool for learning and not just an aid to memorising a song already learnt. It was also a useful means by which music could be disseminated over long distances before the advent of recording devices.

what music is notated?

It is important to remember that much of the world’s music is not written down. The vast majority of music in the world is traditional or folk music which is transmitted orally. When early song-collectors (usually Westerners trained in music theory and notation) arrived they would have to notate what they heard because they had no recording devices.

However, not only is it very difficult for Western notation to cope with complex rhythms, microtones, unusual scales or modes, but the song-collectors would often ‘edit’ what they were notating to fit in with preconceived notions of ‘proper’ musical structure. Sometimes a harmony would appear ‘wrong’ or each verse might have a different rhythmic structure which would get simplified when notated, or a tricky rhythm might be mis-heard. Also, since these songs came from living traditions, the song might be entirely different depending on which day of the week it was collected or who was singing it!

The vast majority of notated music is composed by a known individual (rather than being created by ‘Anon’ and handed down over generations) and of Western origin. This gives a very distorted picture of the world’s music if we only pay attention to written scores.

learning to read

Rather like when the bible was only available in Latin, the fact that you have to learn to read music means that it is easy for an elite to arise. Those who could read and write music became musical gate-keepers who decided what people could hear and what music got passed on. Inevitably it became a class issue.

The middle classes, who wanted to behave and sound different from the ‘rough’ working classes, promoted the idea that ‘proper music’ (i.e. notated) was ‘high art’ and anything folk or traditional was somehow less worthy. Because traditional music was passed on orally and not written down, it didn’t count.

Andrew Emmet has written in a comment on this blog:

“We have a lot in common, but I know one of our differences is that you choose not to have written music available. To me this is like reading a story to someone, but never teaching them to read.”

The implication in Andrew’s comment is that only music ‘literature’ counts. Only stories (or songs) written down in books are worth reading or singing. Stories and songs passed on through the oral tradition don’t count.

But the oral tradition is a living tradition. Books are fixed and set in time. Sheet music is like an insect in amber. There is no longer scope for change, embellishment, or additions.

Reading a book is one experience as is watching a movie. But seeing a live theatre production or hearing a great storyteller is something else. There is room for both, but one is not less than the other. It is, of course, possible to sing without being able to read music.

the notation is not the song

It is impossible to notate a song accurately whether it is a written version of a song heard ‘in the wild’ or the score created by a composer. If it were possible, then there would be just one, perfect, canonical performance of every song or piece of music in the world.

However, some people believe that the written score somehow represents a Platonic ideal that we strive to achieve. But we can never know exactly what the composer intended, or whether the piece of music we have in our hand is an accurate representation of the song it is notating.

next week

Next week I’ll consider the pros and cons of using sheet music, and in a later post I’ll consider what to do in a ‘learn by ear’ choir if someone insists on having the written score.

In the meantime, do let me know what your attitude is to sheet music. Do you use it? Do you find it useful or does it have its drawbacks? What kind of repertoire do you sing? Do you use an alternative system to the popular five-staff system? Do drop by and leave a comment.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Standing up for your choir (or do you use chairs and sit down?)

To sit or not to sit, that is the question. Whether ‘tis better to be standing whilst singing, or to rest one’s weary bottom on the nearest chair.


Photo by Malingering

I’ve tried both standing and sitting, and there are pros and cons either way.

why I prefer standing

When I started my first choir, there were only 12 or so people and we used to sit in a semi-circle whilst learning songs and stand when we sang. But in my one-day workshops I often get 70 or so people and by the time we’ve got the chairs out and tried to arrange them in a sensible way, a good ten minutes or more have passed.

I always start with a physical and vocal warm up any way, so people are already standing. Then we can easily move into simple steps to help keep the tempo whilst learning a new song. I always make it clear that individuals can sit if they need to (people might have injuries or illnesses that I’m unaware of), but I stand throughout. If I sit down, my energy levels drop and I fall asleep!

When I’ve been in workshops using chairs, people become extraordinarily attached to them. I was in one workshop where people arrived and sat in identical orange plastic chairs wherever they wanted. Then the warm up started and we all moved around the room at random, ending up scattered far from where we’d started.

The workshop leader then said we should pull up a chair. I watched one woman walk right across the room to get ‘her’ chair (the one she’d sat on when she arrived), carry it right across the room and sit on it. It was an empty chair, she hadn’t put her coat or bag anywhere near it. But because it was the one she’d used when she arrived, it had become hers!

Most of the time I lead workshops and choirs with people standing. Sometimes in smaller groups, or when we are doing difficult songs (so singers end up hanging around for a long time whilst other parts are being learnt) I will use chairs in a semi-circle.

the advantages of standing whilst singing

  • it’s better for breath control – the abdominal area is free, loose and available. On chairs people tend to slump.
  • you can change choir formation quickly – try out different arrangement of parts, do some dance steps, sing whilst processing, mix parts up, etc. etc.
  • it keeps people on their toes (literally) – alert and energised with no time to nod off.
  • singers have freedom to move parts readily – I encourage people not to get stuck singing the same part all the time.
  • it helps to avoid habituation – “That’s my chair”, “I always sit next to Ethel”, “The altos are always seated in this corner”. Habit is the enemy of creativity.
  • it’s easier to take rhythm and timing into the body – I always encourage engagement with the body when people are singing.
  • it avoids the hassle of getting chairs out – and of putting them away afterwards!

the advantages of sitting whilst singing

  • people don’t get as tired – although they may well nod off!
  • everyone can see the conductor – usually. It depends very much on how the seating is laid out.
  • it’s easier to keep tabs on how many in a part – if you put out a set number of chairs, you can make sure you get equal numbers of people in each part (although you’d be surprised how enterprising people are at sneaking their own chairs in or stealing them from another part!).

As you can see, I’m rather biased towards not being seated!

I’d love to hear about your own experience and how your choir or singing workshop works. Do you have more advantages (or disadvantages) that I haven’t thought of? Do drop by and leave a comment.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Handy hints for hesitant singers – 10 tips for singers new to choirs

It can be tough joining a new choir, especially if you’re an under-confident singer.

Little Little Girl 29

Painting ("Little little girl 29") by susie mendelsson

Here are ten tips to help you make the most of being in a choir.

  1. everyone is in the same boat – looking around, you might assume that everyone else is comfortable, confident and knows what they’re doing, but you’re wrong! You’d be surprised how many other people feel the same as you: they can’t sing, they don’t know what they’re doing, everyone else is better than them, it’s hard, etc. etc. (see also, Everybody has a place in the choir)
  2. be patient – if you’re new to singing you might think that ‘proper’ singers can pick up a song by hearing it just once. They don’t. Even for a professional singer, it might take up to six months for a new song to really settle in. So after the first stab at learning a new song and when you get home you can’t remember a single word or even how the main tune goes, don’t panic. Slowly, slowly over the coming weeks and months that part of your brain where songs live will absorb the song until it feels like you’ve known it forever. (see also, The importance of being confused)
  3. you are vitally important – lots of new singers, especially those in large choirs, don’t think they count. “They won’t miss me if I don’t turn up”, “I’ll just stand at the back and mime, nobody will notice.” Wrong! If everyone thought that, there would be no choir at all. Everyone is a vital part of the greater whole. Everyone is equally responsible for creating that amazing sound. (see also, How to be a good choir member)
  4. sing loud and proud – and don’t care what anybody else thinks. If you’re going to make a mistake, make a BIG mistake then you can fix it later. If you always sing hesitantly, you will never know if you’re singing your part correctly or not. And if you don’t like your voice at this stage, you still need to sing out loud and proud so it will develop over the coming weeks. If you sing quietly every week, you’ll never get any better.
  5. stand at the front – it’s natural, as a beginner, to want to hide at the back. You’re nervous, don’t think much of your voice, and you’re not sure you’ve got the part right yet. But if you’re at the back you can’t hear the others in your part very well, won’t hear what your director is saying and maybe not even be able to see their hand gestures. Scary as it is, if you stand at the front, you have the whole of your section backing you up and reinforcing your part by singing into your ear. The director will also be able to see if you’re struggling with anything and be able to help you. (see also Hey, you at the back!)
  6. behave as if you know what you’re doing – it’s amazing, but if you just behave AS IF you are a wonderful singer and know your part inside out, then it WILL HAPPEN! Just go for it.
  7. smile! – to help even more with looking like you know what you’re doing. It will improve the resonance of your voice and your diction; even if you’re feeling miserable it will cheer you up; and it will cheer up those around you and inspire them to sing better.
  8. mind the gap! – there are two main gaps to avoid. One is the gap between you and the other people in your part. Stick close to them and work as a team. You’ll be amazed at how supportive that will feel.

    The other gap is the one between different parts. If you’re not comfortable (yet) with harmony singing, then standing right next to another part may well put you off at this stage. Make sure you’re embedded well in the middle of your own part until you feel confident enough to enjoy the way harmonies work. Then you can head for the gaps between parts and enjoy the singing even more!
  9. if it’s not working, change something – anything: where you stand within your part; how you stand (are you in a balanced, easy position or do you slump to one side with your hands in your pockets?); change parts – the one you’re in may be too high or low for you (although maybe just for this one song); your attitude – if at first hearing you don’t ‘like’ a song, imagine it will become your favourite and give it even more attention than normal; become someone else (pretend you’re Italian/ African/ a diva/ famous) as it helps to liberate you. The ultimate change is to change choirs if this one is not working for you.
  10. don’t switch off – when the focus has moved on from your own part and others are learning theirs, it’s all too easy to switch off and start daydreaming or (worse!) chatting. But this is a wonderful opportunity to stay focused (it’s less tiring than switching off) and hear the words one more time, check that you’ve got the rhythm right, sing your part in your head at the same time (to feel how the harmonies work), and if you’re getting pretty good at this choir lark, you can even learn another part.

So stick with it and you’ll soon find the joys of singing in a group. Check out The pleasures of being a choir member to see what other singers get out of being in a choir.

And please do drop by to leave a comment and let us know of any other handy hints that can help new choir members.


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is this blog for singers or choir leaders – you decide!

It’s been just over four years since I started writing this blog. My aim was to share thoughts and ideas that arise from my work as a community choir leader and to try to generate discussion on those topics. It’s not for me to say how successful I’ve been!


Over the years I have written some posts which are directed at singers, and other posts which are directed at choir leaders. Am I trying to write for two completely separate groups of people? Should I focus the subject of this blog on just one group? I need your advice.

If a singer checks in to find out how to sing better, or how to improve their breath support, they might be put off by a post about how to start a community choir.

If a choir leader reads my blog to find out more about how to lead a choir or how to choose repertoire for a concert, they might not be interested in how a beginning singer learns to match pitch.

So over to you! My question is, should I focus the blog and be clearer who it’s for?

I could:

  • alternate weekly between posts for singers and posts for choir leaders
  • write a blog just for choir leaders (or just for singers)
  • divide the blog into two: one for singers and one for choir leaders (rebranding I think they call it!).

There are pros and cons for each of these options (losing readers, more work for me, alienating everyone), so I’d like to hear what you, the readers, have to say.

Are you happy to read all the random things I throw at you, or is it a little confusing? Maybe choir members enjoy getting an insight into the world of their choir leader, and maybe choir leaders like to be reminded of the basics of singing technique every now and then.

What would you like this blog to be about? Do you have other ideas on how I might develop and improve the blog?

Do, please, drop by and leave a comment. After all, this blog is for you and I couldn’t do it without you!


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