Sunday, December 29, 2013

Putting your house in order or how to clear up after a busy choir season

The choir season is over and the holidays are here. If your workspace is anything like mine, you’ll have sheet music scattered over the floor, piles of random notes from choir sessions, possible songs for the new season, CDs out of their cases, and various other flotsam and jetsam liberally sprinkled around the room.

messy office
photo by Jeffrey Beall

Time to get things sorted!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas everyone!

Many thanks to all of you who read this blog regularly. I couldn’t do it without you!

carol singers
photo by Mark McLaughlin

I hope you find something of interest here. If you do, please let others know about it!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

10 tips to get the whole family singing this Christmas

’Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la ... Instead of slumping in front of the TV this Christmas, why not get the whole family singing?

singing family
photo by Spinndoctor

Here are some tips for creating the perfect Christmas family sing-along.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Looking after yourself in a busy concert season

For many of us, this time of year is just one concert after another. It’s great to be doing so much singing, but it can have its downsides.


If we overdo it, we can get ill or lose our voice. How can we take care ourselves during a busy concert season?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

One unkind word can put you off singing for ever – how to protect yourself

There have been a lot of UK television programmes recently which have involved solo singing auditions: The Voice, X Factor, The Choir. Comments about the standard of singing have sometimes been off-hand, sarcastic, and even cruel.

flamenco singer
photo by keith ellwood

A comment about your singing voice can be taken as a comment on who you are as a person. How can you avoid taking criticism of your singing voice too personally?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Should you have auditions for a workplace or community choir?

Gareth Malone is back on UK television with a second series of The Choir: Sing While You Work. The choirmaster goes into five different organisations to form workplace choirs which then go on to compete against each other.


He auditions staff to create the choirs, but is that necessary to form a workplace choir?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What motivates you to turn up to choir week after week?

You can tell winter is on its way because it’s dark and cold when I set off for choir each week.

caught in snow
photo by Todd Shaffer

It would be much easier to stay at home in front of the fire, so what motivates you to wrap up warm, leave the house and brave the cold to get to choir?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dealing with choir members who are always late

It’s the final rehearsal before your big concert. The warm up is over and everyone is ready to go. But a handful of singers (the usual suspects) are not there. Late again!

running late
photo by lunarnature

What can you do about those singers who are always late to choir?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Be the best singer you can, but don’t forget there’s more to life

For some people being a famous singer or being in the best choir in the world or making a hit record or singing a piece perfectly in competition is the be-all and end-all.


But if you take it too seriously and it doesn’t work out for you, then what? There is more to life than just singing!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

How to catch up if you miss a choir rehearsal

Apparently there is more to life than just singing (can’t imagine what!), so occasionally you may have to miss a choir rehearsal (not me though!).

photo by nataliej

Here are some tips for catching up with what you’ve missed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How to cope with learning by ear if you usually read music notation

Many choirs use written notation to learn and perform songs. Over time singers can come to depend on having the dots in front of them.

These singers may then join a different choir or go to a singing workshop where songs are learnt by ear and sheet music is not available. How do they cope?

ear note
photo by Molly Germaine

Last week I wrote about how singers who usually learn by ear can cope when given sheet music. In this post I’ll show you how to cope if you read music and usually learn songs using sheet music, but are asked to learn a song by ear.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to cope with sheet music if you don’t read and usually learn songs by ear

As promised in last week’s post (Singers who learn by ear vs. those who use sheet music – what happens when they swap?), this is the first of two posts helping you cope with an unfamiliar way of learning songs.

Many people love to sing, but don’t read music. That shouldn’t exclude them from joining choirs or attending singing workshops.

sheet music
photo by Judy Baxter

In this post I’ll show you how to cope if you don’t read music and usually learn songs by ear, but are asked to learn a song by using sheet music.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Singers who learn by ear vs. those who use sheet music – what happens when they swap?

The Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network (NVPN) has done a great deal to dispel the myth that you have to be able to read music to be in a choir.

Children singing

There are now plenty of choirs around where people sing and perform to a high standard learning all the songs by ear.

But sometimes a singer who learns by ear might attend a singing workshop where sheet music is handed out. How will they cope?

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Help! How to deal with choir members who sing out of tune?

In open-access choirs (which don’t audition), you often find one or two singers who struggle to pitch notes accurately.

black sheep
photo by Jesus Solana

In a large choir, a few individuals singing out of tune won’t usually notice. But if it does become a problem, here are some actions you can take.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

How to set up a choir if you’re not a choir leader PART 2

Last week, Angela Gracey wrote about the first two key stages of the five involved in setting up a choir: getting organised and having a plan.

choral conducting
photo by Joe Strupek

This week she looks at the remaining key stages: finances, finding someone to lead your choir and your first performance and beyond.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

How to set up a choir if you’re not a choir leader PART 1

I’ve written before about how to set up your own community choir, assuming that you want to run it yourself.

But what if you’re not a musical director and you want to set up a choir?

community choir
photo by Garry Knight

Here’s a guest post by Angela Gracey outlining five key steps to starting a choir. Warning - this venture is not for the faint hearted!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How long is the ideal choir session?

There’s a gig coming up and you’ve still got work to do. Do you keep bashing out the notes until everyone’s perfect or do you rehearse ‘just enough’ and then go home?


Or maybe your choir doesn’t perform. In which case what’s the best length for a really good singing session? One hour? A whole afternoon? An entire day?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Fresh blood: the pros and cons of letting new singers join your choir

As choir starts back after a break, you might notice a few new faces in the ranks.

new recruits

Bringing in new recruits maintains the lifeblood of a choir, but what are the pros and cons?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Re-booting your choir: shake things up for a new season

Many choirs will be starting back soon after a long break.

photo by velkr0

This is the perfect time to shake things up a bit if you feel things have gone a bit stale.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why can’t we sing more songs in English?

I often get asked this at workshops after people have struggled to get their tongues around a few foreign songs.

foreign lyrics

I point out that my speciality is “traditional songs from around the world in the original languages”, then I tell them that foreign songs are easier to learn. Really?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What to do if you don’t have a ‘nice’ voice

Many of us don’t like the sound of our singing voice. Some people won’t even sing in front of others because they don’t want to inflict their ‘horrible’ voice on them.

photo by konch

Is there anything we can do if we don’t have a ‘nice’ voice?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Singing the wrong note is not the end of the world

How many times have you been standing next to someone in your choir section and realised that they’re singing something different from you?

covering ears

Are you wrong, or it it them? Actually, it (usually) doesn’t matter!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Use the long choir break to get better at what you do

Most choirs have a long break at this time of year (whether it’s your summer or your winter).

officially on vacation by Timothy Valentine

Apart from missing the singing and your choir friends, what will you do with yourself? Here are some ways you can use the break to your advantage (whether you’re a singer or choir leader).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How to learn effectively from a recording of a song in parts

Sometimes you might have to learn your song part from a recording rather than with everyone else in a choir session.

listening on headphones
photo by Kathy Cassidy

Here are some hints on how to do that in the most effective way.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to sing religious songs if you’re not religious (or it’s not your religion)

I sing and teach sacred songs from a wide range of religious traditions. But I don’t have a religious bone in my body.

religious singing

I have no problems singing about ‘spirit’ or ‘God’, but I do hesitate when ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ or ‘Krishna’ or similar specific words come up. Should I be singing such songs? How can I sing religious songs if I’m not religious?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Why does the first wrong note you learn stay with you forever?

Sometimes (yes, I admit it), I make a mistake when I’m teaching a new song. It maybe a wrong note, wrong timing or wrong phrasing.


Yet even though I correct it quickly, this first mistake stays in people’s heads. Why is that?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Raising the bar: singing with people who are more experienced than you

Many of us are wary of attending singing workshops or choirs when we feel that people will be a lot more experienced than us.

This is particularly true when you’re starting out as a singer, but that feeling never goes away!

Hobart choir

But singing with more experienced singers need not be frightening and can help you raise your game.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to use your audience to recruit choir members

To maintain a healthy, growing choir, you need new recruits, but often you feel like you’ve exhausted all your usual sources.

recruiting office

Here are some ideas for how to use your audience to recruit new choir members.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ask not what your choir can do for you – ask what you can you do for your choir

Kirsten recently left a comment on my post How to be a good choir member.

sweeping up
photo by Brandon Cripps

She suggested that a good choir member should “go beyond the music”, i.e. get involved with the practicalities of running the choir. Great idea, but it does have its downsides too.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Don’t try to help your fellow singers – it’s not your job!

Many’s the time I see Ann lean over to Gill (not their real names!) to help her get her part right. And every time I see a pained expression on Gill’s face.

photo by m_culnane

She doesn’t want Ann’s help and didn’t ask for it. And it’s not Ann’s job to give it any way.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Two big ideas to create the perfect choir or singing experience

Singing is very simple really: you open your mouth and the sound comes out.

Manchester amateur choral competition 2009
Manchester amateur choral competition 2009 by chaosmunkey

But we often allow our heads (and doubts and expectations and fears and ...) to get in the way. Here are two big ideas that can help singers and choir leaders get the most out of singing.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

How can you possibly teach songs without a piano??!!

“You can’t run a singing workshop here, we don’t have a piano.”

Broken Piano
photo by Thomas Quine

It’s amazing how many people can’t get their heads around the fact that it’s possible to teach songs without a piano (or sheet music). How is it done?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

10 reasons why your next singing workshop should be a residential one

There is something different and special about a residential learning experience.

residential courses
photo by Martyn Gorman

A whole day of singing is great, but to spend an entire weekend (or even a week) with a bunch of like-minded people, getting away from the rat race, is just magic.

Here are ten reasons why your next singing workshop should be a residential one.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Instant choir – just add people

Most choirs rehearse for months to perfect their songs before they perform.

Children in Need choir PRESS
the Big Night Out Community Choir for BBC Children in Need 2012

But there is an alternative: gather a bunch of strangers together, teach them a set of songs quickly and then perform them before they forget. This approach has many advantages ...

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The joys of outdoor singing

Well, spring seems to have finally arrived here in the UK and our thoughts turn to picnics and summer music festivals.

Lakeland Voices Tarn Howes
Lakeland Voices at Tarn Howes on a summer evening singing walk

Whenever I run a workshop on a sunny day people always ask if we can sing outdoors and I always say no because it’s hard to do well (see Performing outdoors – tips and tricks). But David Burbidge has been singing and walking outdoors regularly for many years and writes here about the joys of doing both together.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stop chasing after songs for your choir – learn to respect, research and relax

There are people out there desperate to find more songs for their choir.

field recording
photo by Victor Grigas

They record everything at singing workshops, go to song swap sessions at every opportunity, exchange songs over the internet, and pester workshop leaders for their arrangements.

They can’t ever get enough! It almost becomes an obsession to capture songs in any way they can.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What exactly is the point of your choir?

I often get people writing to me for advice about choirs.

Some of them don’t agree with the direction their choir leader is taking them, some find the repertoire too hard, some have trouble with singers next to them singing out of tune, some worry about getting their part right for the next concert.

photo by Jeff Lutz

But before I can answer I need to know what kind of choir they belong to. What is the point of their choir?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Why being a confident singer is not always a good thing in a choir

I’m all in favour of confident singers (see How to be a confident singer). The problem is there are two kinds and one of them can be disruptive in a choir.

photo by truu

There are confident singers who know what they’re doing; and there are those who don’t. It’s the latter who can cause real difficulties.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

How to run a choir without driving everyone nuts: the first seven years

This is a guest post by Betsy Sansby who co-leads the One World Community Choir in Hopkins, Minnesota, USA along with Alan Dworsky.

One World Community Choir
The One World Community Choir

Read on to find out what Betsy has learnt so far in the seven years since she started her first community choir.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How to promote your next choir concert to reach more people and get a bigger audience

Over the last two weeks I've shown how to sell more tickets for your next concert by using your own choir members and also by widening the net.

promo shot
photo by One_Glass_Eye

But if nobody knows about your concert in the first place, all of that is irrelevant! So how do you let people know your concert is on? And how do you persuade them to come?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

How to sell more tickets at your next concert: widening the net

Last week I suggested ways to use your choir members to help sell tickets for your next concert.

Box office
photo from

But over time, you can’t rely on friends and family and will have to widen the net. Here are some ideas on how to sell tickets in other ways.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

How to sell more tickets for your next concert: use your choir members

You’ve put all that hard work into rehearsals, so now you need to sell some tickets to actually get a decent audience.

concert tickets
photo by planetschwa

You might think that promotion comes first (more on this in a future post), but your best resource for selling tickets is right on your doorstep: your own choir members.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Size matters: how to work effectively with large choirs

If I get 30 singers on one of my weekend workshops someone will say “Gosh, what a large group!” whilst another says “Quite low numbers then.”

massed choir
photo by tsheko

‘Large’ is in the eye of the beholder. But however you define it, working with a large group has its own problems.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don’t play a recording of a song to your choir before you teach it to them

I’m often asked by choir members to play a recording of a song before I start teaching it so they can get an idea of how it sounds.

Photo by ~~Tone~~

Yet at a recent workshop people said that the easiest song to learn was the one that they’d never heard before. So should I play a recording first?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Can you remember a song while standing on one leg?

I teach a song in the morning and it’s sounding pretty good.

photo by kalavinka

Then after lunch I get the group to stand facing a different direction and it all goes wrong. What’s happening here?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

If there’s too much talking in your choir, something must be right

I read once that if there’s a lot of talking during the break in a workshop, then it’s a good sign because it means everyone is happy, enjoying themselves and getting along well.

photo by aavarnum

I think the same applies to a choir: if there is plenty of social chit chat it’s a good sign.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Ask questions – your choir leader (probably) won’t bite!

When I was a student, I’d sit in lectures scribbling down everything that the lecturer wrote on the board. Like most people there, I understood very little.

ask question

This one guy would put up his hand and ask the lecturer a naive question and the rest of us would breathe a sigh of relief. That’s what we wanted to ask, but had been too ashamed to!

The lecturer would patiently answer the question with no trace of condescension.

That’s when I realised: there are no stupid questions.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You are the most important singer in your choir

Yes, you! No matter what size your choir is, you are by far the most important singer in it.

crowd surfing

Without you, the choir would simply not function. We couldn’t do it without you!