Sunday, January 23, 2011

10 things to consider before choosing or planning a singing workshop

Instead of writing this, I should be planning a one-off two-hour singing workshop for this Saturday. I’m also starting to think of what I’ll do with my new singing group when it starts next week.

 singing flier

Of course, these are very different beasts. The kind of work I’ll do in my one-off two hour workshop will be very different from what I do in ten weeks of two-hour evening sessions.

The content and outcomes of a singing workshop depend on lots of different elements. This is important both for those who plan workshops and for those who attend them.

I reckon there are ten things (at least) to consider before you start planning your next singing workshop or before you decide whether to attend one that you’ve seen advertised. After all, you want to make sure that the experience is what you and everybody else expects!

Here are ten questions to consider and some brief notes on how the answers might affect the workshop planning and those who attend the workshop.

  1. one-off or ongoing?
    If a workshop is a one-off then it needs to be self-contained, but if it’s part of an ongoing series then you are able to develop and grow over the weeks. You can begin learning a song in one session knowing that you have plenty of time to go over it and learn other verses later. Vocal training is easy to incorporate as you can see people’s voices develop over time. Ongoing workshops also give a group of singers time to gel as an ensemble.
  2. short or long
    One hour? Two days? A whole week? Obviously you’re not going to get through many songs in a one- or two-hour workshop, and they’ll have to be easy ones too. An extended workshop gives you more scope to tackle complex songs and to really bed a song in. More singing, less learning!
  3. taster or self-contained?
    Is this a taster to try and hook you in to a bigger project? Then the workshop leader will be on their best behaviour and try to dazzle you with their skills and fascinating repertoire! Things can be left hanging as a device to tempt you back.
  4. themed or general?
    Is the workshop around a specific theme or targeted at a specific audience, or is it just a general singing workshop? If it does have a theme or specific audience in mind, then you know what to expect and things should stay within the advertised guidelines. But if it’s a general workshop, then anything goes – certainly as far as types of songs go.
  5. open-access or prior knowledge needed?
    Can anyone attend, or do you need to know how to read music for example? If the publicity states that a workshop is open-access then you wouldn’t expect there to be any musical jargon used or assumptions of previous experience. Anybody should be able to attend, but this doesn’t mean that it’s a beginner’s workshop. If prior knowledge is needed, then it should be stated very clearly on any publicity.
  6. small or large group?
    Will there only be six singers or 100? This will affect the repertoire of songs, but also the style of teaching and intensity of the work. With a large group the work will not be focused on individuals, and a big sound can be made. With a small group there is a chance to focus on individual skills, fine-tune harmonies, and maybe even do some solo work. Small groups mean that you are more likely to feel exposed, whereas you can hide more in a large group.
  7. mixed or homogeneous?
    This can apply to gender (men-only), age (under 16s), experience (musically-trained), vocal range (sopranos only), and more. This obviously affects the kind of songs being tackled and the possible arrangements (equal voices, SATB, etc.).
  8. freely chosen or imposed?
    It could be that the workshop is part of some corporate team building exercise that is compulsory to attend, or it may be that you have chosen it from a whole range of other workshop options. If it’s imposed, then you can’t assume that everybody wants to sing or is even comfortable singing. It may also be that the group will be composed of a very wide range of abilities. If people have chosen to come, then you can assume they are up for whatever you throw at them.
  9. familiar faces or strangers?
    Does the workshop leader know the singers and vice versa? Familiarity with the way a workshop leader works and familiarity with the capabilities of a particular group mean that you start from a common base of knowledge and experience. Things might not have to be explained in as much detail, jargon can be used, conducting gestures won’t need to be explained, etc.
  10. existing group or random people?
    Are the people attending the workshop already part of a group or choir? If you attend a workshop that is predominantly people from an existing group, it can be all to easy to feel like an outsider. If you’re trying to lead an existing group that you haven’t worked with before, you might find them resistant to ‘new’ ways.
  11. free, cheap or expensive/ one-off payment or term in advance?
    People’s attitudes to a workshop change depending on how much they’ve paid to attend. Certainly their expectations will be higher the more expensive it is. And if it is a series of ongoing workshops, asking people to pay for a number of sessions in advance can improve attendance and commitment. If people pay one session at a time, then the first cold rainy night that comes along can easily persuade them to stay at home!

OK, I lied, there aren’t ten things here, but 11! In fact there are almost certainly many more factors that you should consider before planning or choosing to attend a singing workshop.

I’d love to hear other suggestions. Do please drop by and leave a comment.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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