Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best posts of 2012: did you miss these?

2012 is drawing to a close so I thought it would be a good time to look back at my most popular posts for the year in case you missed any of them.

photo by

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Get your family singing this Christmas – turn off the TV!

Fed up with the family slumped in front of the TV every Christmas and not communicating?


Then turn off the TV and start singing!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Singing is for life, not just for Christmas

“Hark the herald angels sing”. A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge. Slade’s “Merry Christmas everybody”. “White Christmas” on TV. Midnight mass at the local church.

carol singers

For many people Christmas is the only time of year that they sing or go to see a choir perform. But singing is not just for Christmas, it’s for life!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

How to keep the old songs in your repertoire from going stale

It’s that time of year again. Out come all the Christmas songs that everyone loves – songs that you’ve sung hundreds of times before.

moldy bread
photo by John Bencina

But how can you stop them from going stale and keep them fresh for performance?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Why choir leaders aren’t millionaires (even though we charge a lot)

Sometimes I get paid over £100 per hour. That makes me a millionaire right?

Photo by Ian Britton from

Wrong! I don’t get paid that every hour I work. In fact, I would say I spend over 80% of my time in the office not being paid, and only a few hours each week actually doing any paid singing work.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Polished songs or deeper learning experience – which is better in a singing workshop?

At the end of each workshop I now record the group singing through all the songs I’ve taught. I then make the recording available to the participants.

mixing console
Photo by Dennis AB

But I’ve been getting comments about the quality of the recordings. People are asking me to record the songs as soon as we’ve learnt them rather than at the end of the day when people are tired.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Do you have to be a good singer to lead a choir?

I read an article in the latest Sounding Board (the journal of community music from SoundSense) about the University of Sunderland’s new BA in Community Music at The Sage Gateshead. Part of the course involves students “performing in an event which showcases them as musicians”.

singer songwriter
Photo by Phil Strahl

This lead me to wonder: do I have to be a good performing musician (i.e. singer) in order to be able to lead a singing workshop or to run a choir?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to build a choir from scratch in under an hour

I was recently asked by BBC Radio Suffolk to create a choir from scratch to perform in a concert in aid of Children in Need: The Big Night Out Community Choir.

Big Night Out Community Choir 2 Nov 12

60 strangers gathered in a church hall and after just three hours we had a choir with three songs in four-part harmony (plus dance moves!) ready for public performance. How did we achieve that so quickly?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The secret to great singing that teachers don’t tell you

There is one vital ingredient to being a good singer.

mirror image
Photo by Peter Smile

It’s not innate talent or vocal range or ability to read music or quality of voice. And it’s something that most singing teachers won’t tell you about.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why do I end up singing the tune when I should be singing a harmony?

You’re learning a song in four-part harmony and you think you’ve nailed your harmony part.

acappella singers
© Copyright Basher Eyre and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

But when all the other parts come in, you end up singing the tune instead. What’s going on?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Energy conservation for singing leaders: how not to get carried away

Last week I wrote about how, as a singer, you can pace yourself in choir rehearsals and singing workshops.


This week I want to consider those of us who lead choirs and singing workshops. How can you avoid using all your energy up too quickly?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How to pace yourself in choir rehearsals and singing workshops

Have you ever been swept along by the enthusiasm of a singing session only to feel drained at the end or with a sore throat and aching legs?

Really, really tired by Evers' Project 365 Blog

Have you tried a full singing day only to duck out at lunch time due to exhaustion?
How can we – as singers or choir leaders – pace ourselves better?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

What do words add to music?

I caught a scene from the movie Spartacus the other day. The character played by Tony Curtis was asked to perform a song. He then proceeded to speak a poem. What exactly is a ‘song’ then?

dum de dum

You can have music without words, but can you have a song without music? When music is wedded to lyrics, is it greater than the sum of its parts? What do words add to music (and vice versa)?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

How will your choir cope if you don’t turn up?

Everyone likes to think that they’re indispensable.


The truth is though, when you’re not there your choir will manage fine without you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Planning for a new choir season

It’s that time of year again. Summer is over and choir starts back very soon. We choir leaders will be thinking about which songs to teach for the next season.

song book

How do we go about planning each term? What guidelines are there for choosing songs?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

How close should a vocal arrangement be to the original song?

I’m in the middle of doing some voice-only arrangements of Queen songs for a weekend workshop I’ll be running at Farncombe Courses in the Cotswolds this September (I want to break free: the songs of Queen). So I’ve been listening to a lot of Queen recordings lately!


It’s made me wonder: how close do I need to stick to the original recordings when doing voice-only arrangements?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Corsican polyphonic singing

While you read this I will be in sunny Corsica on holiday!

corsican poster

For years I’ve been meaning to attend the annual Rencontres de Chants Polyphoniques de Calvi (literally: Meetings of polyphonic songs) organised by the Corsican singing group A filetta. This year I’ve managed it!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Easy songs for your choir 2: rounds, chants, call & response

Last week I wrote about what makes a song ‘easy’.

Kew Gardens (73)

This week I’ll look at specific types of easy songs: rounds, chants and call & response songs.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Easy songs for your choir 1: what is ‘easy’?

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


Linda writes:
“Because I like to sing, my work has asked me to do a lunch time fun singing workshop for my colleagues. I would dearly like to do this as it would be fun, but I have no idea where to start and what songs to teach.
I imagine when you say rounds it is 3 blind mice etc. but I don't know what a call & response song is or a chant. Could you please start me off with a few ideas?”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

It’s too hot to sing! – choosing the right space to work in

Summer has finally arrived in the UK. We’ve been praying for sunshine for so long, but now it’s just a little TOO hot (30deg C)!

too hot
Photo by enfad

Too hot to do anything really other than lay under a shady tree sipping Pimms. Certainly too hot to sing.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What songs matter to you the most?

The Guardian has recently started a project called Six Songs of Me that asks which songs matter most to each of us on a personal level.

Alanis Morissette
Photo by MvanM

I thought it might be a fun idea to do the same kind of survey here, but in the context of songs we have sung ourselves – whether we learnt them from our Mum, at school or in a professional choir.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Don’t sing because you’re happy — be happy because you sing!

Staring at a blank page waiting for the muse to strike. Slumped in a chair waiting to feel energised enough to go jogging. Feeling down and the last thing you want to do is to sing.

smiling singers

Sounds familiar? Next time, rather than waiting to feel the urge, take action and the feeling will follow.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why too much rehearsal can be a bad thing

I went to see a concert by Village Harmony this week. It was over an hour long and included an amazing variety of songs from around the world: Georgia, USA, Bulgaria, South Africa – including some pretty smart dance moves! No lyrics and no sheet music in hands.

Singing safari 2012

There were about 20 singers who’d come together only a week before to learn around 30 – 35 songs. They worked for up to seven hours each day to learn the songs. That’s about one song every 1½ hours. A pretty impressive feat.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Does your choir need a constitution?

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


Sue wrote in to ask:
“As a self-funded community choir, do we need a constitution?”

The short answer is “No”!

Unless ... you're applying for funding or opening a business bank account. In which case you will also have to have a committee with posts such as treasurer, etc.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to cope when singers miss choir sessions

What’s great about a group of singers who meet regularly is that you can grow and develop together, improving skills and techniques week on week.

Photo by Listen Missy!

But what happens if not everyone comes to every session?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

How long does it take to learn a song?

Of course it depends on how complex the song is and how many verses there are.

passing time
Photo by Frodo Babbs

But how long does it take to really get a song under your belt so you can sing it confidently without referring to either lyrics or sheet music?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

How to answer the question: “What note is that?”

We’re in the middle of learning a song. People are struggling a bit. Then someone asks: “What note is that?”

musical notes
Photo by photosteve101

A seemingly simple question, but how on earth do you answer it?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Your music theory questions please

I’ve been planning for a long time to write a beginner’s guide to music theory and jargon for singers who learn by ear.

music theory

I’m going to try very hard to write it this summer. Honest!

So ... I’m asking for your input.

What musical jargon or concepts would you like me to explain?

I’m just going to cover those bits of theory that a singer in a community choir who learns by ear might encounter. I’m not going to deal with written music (so nothing about repeat signs, key signatures, treble clefs, etc.).

Do leave a comment and let me know if there’s anything particular you’d like me to cover, whether it be ‘thirds’ or ‘semitone’ or ‘pitch’. Any questions welcome, no matter how elementary they might seem.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why the singers in your choir still love you even though they look bored

Even though I’ve been teaching for almost 30 years, I still get affected by that glum-looking face in the third row.

glum men

... and it's not just the men!

Just one frown amongst a sea of smiling faces is enough to make me doubt myself. But what might that glum face mean?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Arranging songs for your choir 2: the basics of arranging

Last week I wrote about choosing suitable songs to arrange.

Tuesday 19th September 2006 Menorca, Sa Mesquida.
Jigsaw pieces - a selection
on bridge at Sa Mesquida

This week I want to get down to the nitty gritty of how to create an arrangement.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Arranging songs for your choir 1: choosing the right song

A friend of mine asked the other day: “How do you find songs? And how do you do vocal arrangements of them?”


Well, it’s a long story and I certainly can’t teach song arranging in a blog, but I can give a few pointers. There’s quite a lot to cover, so I’ve split the subject in two. Second part next week.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Singing: what a difference a man makes!

A woman came up to me last Saturday and said “I like coming to your workshops because there are always lots of men”.

Men's singing workshop 2012

Keen singers from The OK Chorale

Little did she know that only a week before there had been 45 women and just one man enrolled on the workshop!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Beginners choir or established choir: time to re-evaluate?

When I started my first ever choir, WorldSong, it was an open-access beginner’s choir and anyone who wanted to sing could join.

practice jan 05 4

Over time, as people stuck with the choir, the singing and the singers got better. We weren’t really a beginner’s choir any more. But beginners still wanted to join!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

There's always one! – coping with different singing abilities in a small group

Sometimes in a small group there is just one person out of step with everyone else.

odd one out - poppy

Photo by Trish Steel

In a large choir, it’s not too much of a problem, but the smaller the group, the more noticeable it is. How can we deal with this?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Normal service has been resumed!

Some of you may have had difficulty finding this blog these last few days.

My apologies. I changed website host and have only now just managed to link the blog to my website address.

Did ya miss me?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

When is singing jargon not singing jargon?

Jargon is a useful shorthand for people in the know. But for those outside our world, it can be confusing or even meaningless.

fridge magnets

We might think we’re being clear, but how can we be sure that everyone understands what we’re trying to get across?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Training to be a choir or singing workshop leader

I often get enquiries about how you train to become a choir or singing workshop leader.


I don’t offer courses myself, but there are a few around. But do you really need training?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Singing is all about listening

I wrote last week about people who think they can’t ‘sing’ because they think they need training or singing lessons first (Your singing voice: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!).


We focus so much on our mouths and what comes out of them, that often we forget one of the most important aspect of singing: listening.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Your singing voice: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

I wrote a post a a few years back called Do you need singing lessons in order to sing?

head thrown back
Photo by Anna Strumillo

My main point was that many people are frightened to sing in public before they’ve had ‘training’ or ‘proper’ singing lessons. But can’t you just sing without any ‘technique’?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Can you be the wrong age to sing?

Here in the UK the arts seem to cater for just three age groups.

young and old

Photo by vintagedept

If you don’t fit into one of these, then woe betide you!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Does ‘world music choir’ actually mean anything?

When I’m promoting a singing workshop or recruiting for a choir, I want a shorthand way of describing the kind of songs I teach.

Photo by Amir Taj

There is such a range of different ‘choirs’ out there (which is great!), that we need to distinguish between them so people can make an informed choice. But does ‘world music choir’ actually mean anything useful?

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Invent a singing workshop (and win a free place)

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for singing workshops.

lumberjack song

© Copyright Paul Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I’ve pretty much covered all the bases so far: gospel, Eastern European, sacred songs, ABBA, Beatles, Beach Boys, Paul Simon, 60s California, World Music, Sing Africa, Rhythm and Voice, Songs from the British Isles, Men’s harmony singing, Classic Pop, Songs from the  60s, and more  ...

I’m running out of ideas, so I thought I’d hand it over to you.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Does a community make a choir, or does a choir create a community?

I’ve written before about how hard it is to get a cross-section of ages and genders in your choir (How to recruit singers to truly reflect your local community).

Portuguese harvest

But maybe that’s because we don’t have strong communities any more – at least not here in the UK.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

First choir rehearsal is great, then it’s all down hill!

It’s the first week of the new choir. Everyone is having fun, songs are being learnt at a cracking pace, the whole room is in tune with each other, things are really cooking!


© Copyright Peter Ward and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Then the following week everything goes pear-shaped and things fall apart. It’s as if everyone has lost their way, has forgotten how to sing and can’t remember any of the songs! What’s going on here?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The social side of singing: any excuse for a tea break!

When I’m booked to run a singing workshop for someone, I always make sure that I get there early. I usually arrive to find people milling around, chatting and drinking tea.

tea break

The hardest part of the day is to then get them singing!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Don’t sing what you don’t know (or don’t like)

“I hate this song!”
Well, don’t sing it then.
“No, it’s OK, I’ll do it”.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Can I call myself a ‘singer’?

One place I work at, they call my workshops ‘singers weekends’.


Somebody once told me they couldn’t come on one because they weren’t a ‘singer’.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to practice a choir song on your own (and a big concert’s coming up)

A concert is looming and there are a couple of songs you don’t know that well.

singing practice

Photo by _foam

You’ll need to put in some practice at home, but how do you rehearse on your own?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Singing workshop”: a building where songs are repaired?

I was at a business meeting recently and we were asked what we did. I explained as well as I could.


Photo © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence

A guy came up to me in the break and asked: “Yes, but what actually happens in one of your sessions? And what is a ‘workshop’ any way?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

How to plan and run a singing workshop

Planning a singing workshop is a lot like planning a regular choir session.

singing rehearsal

Photo by Pink Singers

The main differences are that a workshop is usually a one-off and the participants will usually be strangers.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How to sing a song in a foreign language

“Great, a new song to learn.”

Chinese song

Photo by Michael Wu

“Oh, no, it’s in ‘foreign’. Help!”