Monday, December 29, 2014

Busily doing nothing – 5 reasons why downtime is important for singers and choir leaders

Feel like you’re on a treadmill? Constantly learning and practising and planning but never arriving? Not enough time to catch your breath between concerts?

photo by Roger Gordon

Then you need some downtime! That is, time spent doing things completely unrelated to singing and choirs. Here’s why.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas carols are dying out – but are they really?

There have been two articles in the UK national press this week, one bemoaning the fact that we don’t sing Christmas carols together as much as we used to, and the other celebrating the thriving culture of pub Christmas carols in Yorkshire.


The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. Let’s look at the evidence.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why a choir can never be truly democratic

Ever asked your choir members how they think things are going? Is there a large committee helping to run your choir? If so, you’ve realised that a choir is not a democracy!

show of hands

A choir is more like a benign dictatorship. Here’s why democratic choirs don’t work.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Songbooks and other resources for choirs (that will also make great presents)

I’ve written before about finding songs for your choir (Where do you find all your songs? and Easy songs for your choir and Finding songs for your choir). But times move on and new books get published all the time.


Here’s a round up of songbooks and other resources that are either fairly new or which I haven’t mentioned before.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The differences between a ‘natural voice’ choir and all the rest

You may have come across the term ‘natural voice’. You may also have realised by now that I am a member of The Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network.

Caroline's book

But what exactly is the ‘natural voice’ and how do choirs run on ‘natural voice’ principles differ from other choirs? You’re in luck! Caroline Bithell has just written an amazing book that answers all your questions. Let’s look at what’s in it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Using world songs in the classroom: a teacher’s guide to sourcing songs and how to teach them

Some teachers find themselves having to lead singing sessions at their school, but don’t have that much experience of using songs from the world music repertoire (‘world songs’) or of teaching songs by ear.

children singing

Here is a short guide to using world songs in the classroom with some handy references to warms ups, song sources, and how to lead choirs.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Choirs and copyright: a beginner’s guide for the bewildered

[NB this post is about UK copyright laws. Although the situation will be similar in other countries, the various copyright and performing rights agencies and websites will obviously be different]

I wrote extensively about copyright way back in 2010 (see my series of seven posts Songs and copyright), but I still get emails every week from choir leaders asking me questions!


I’m certainly no expert, especially since I don’t use sheet music, but I thought I’d revisit the topic and try to spell it out in simple terms. Here goes!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Is how you label yourself as a singer holding you back?

We all have an image of the type of singer (or musical director or choir) that we think we are. There are things that we can do and things that we can’t (or won’t) do.

labelled person
photo by iamstarbuck

But what if the way we see ourselves is out of date? What if we’ve given ourselves the wrong label? How can we move forward?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Want to sing but are scared of being judged? Here’s what to do

Sarcastic remarks from X Factor judges. Teachers telling kids to “stand at the back and just mime”. Being made to stand up and sing solo to get into your workplace choir. Scary!

judges scores

And enough to put anyone off singing! However, there are plenty of other ways of singing with others without the fear of being judged or ridiculed. Here’s what you can do.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Want to develop your voice and sing better? Be silly and play!

Trying to increase your vocal range? Want to develop a richer tone to your voice? Puzzling over voice placement and timbre?

silly faces
photo by The-Serene-Mage

Before you rush off to find a singing teacher, try being playful with your voice for fun.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Is one of your choir sections thin on the ground? 10 ways to find more singers to fill the gaps

Many of us are in choirs where a particular section needs bolstering. In my case it’s a lack of altos, for others it might be too few tenors.

mixed choir

Here are 10 ideas for beefing up a particular voice part.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Keep it to yourself! – why colds, singing and choirs don’t mix

’Tis the season to be poorly. A warm rehearsal room is the ideal place to spread coughs and sneezes, especially with all that deep breathing and standing close together.

Sneeze by James Gathany

So what should you do when you come down with a bug: soldier on or stay away? It depends how bad it is. Let’s look at your options.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Using feedback forms for choirs and singing workshops

You get what you ask for, so be careful how you seek feedback!

photo by Howard Lake

When designing feedback forms, less is more. Here’s why.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How to get your choir to pay attention to you (and stop chatting!)

At the beginning of each choir session it’s as if the singers have not seen each other for years. They’re chatting away having a fine time of things.

showing off
photo by barçalunacy

Trouble is, you’ll have to put an end to that in order to get started. How do you get their attention with all that noise?

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to sing – 10 habits of successful professional singers

In my recent post How to sing – the definitive guide, I pointed out that lots of people Google “How to sing” instead of just getting on and doing it.

Garoar Thor Cortes
Garðar Thor Cortes by David

If you’re serious about singing and want to get on with it, here are 10 habits you can develop which come from successful professional singers.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Your singing experience depends on how you feel, not just on what you do

On the face of it, a workshop or concert can be a resounding success.

glum dog
photo by Andy Armstrong

But ask individuals about how they think it went and some people will think it was terrible.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Keeping choir attendance up – stick or carrot?

As I wrote recently (It’s summer – where have all the choir gone??!!), patchy attendance at regular choir sessions can be very frustrating.

stick and carrot
donkey photo by Clay Junell

If you’re a community, or amateur, or singing for fun, or casual choir, how can you keep attendance levels high?

Monday, September 01, 2014

If not now, when? – start singing NOW!

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready.” Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie
photo by Fido

Especially when that day may never come when you truly feel ‘ready’. So start singing now!

Monday, August 25, 2014

How to sing – the definitive guide

“How to sing” is one of the most common requests I get. The answer is simple: open your mouth and let the sound out.

The_Idea_of_North FLIPPED
photo by Spekoek

I’m not being facetious, it’s as simple as that. But when someone asks that question, they’re usually hiding a deeper one. Let’s look at what they really want to know and see what the answers are.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How many breaks should you have on a singing weekend?

People pay good money to come on a singing workshop and want to sing as much as they can.

But everyone needs a break. How do you find the balance between singing and time off?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Where do you find all your songs?

This is a question I’m often asked at my singing workshops, especially by people starting out as choir leaders.

listening device
photo by James Vaughan

There is often the assumption that I must have travelled to all the countries that I teach songs from and maybe even speak the languages. Not true!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Your job as a choir leader is to disappear

In David Zweig’s recent book he talks about Invisibles: people who are unseen when their job is done perfectly (who only draw attention to themselves when things go wrong).


It got me thinking that most of a choir leader’s job is invisible to the wider public. So why not just disappear when the next concert rolls around?

Monday, July 28, 2014

If some singers want more and some want less, then you must be doing something right!

I aim to please everyone in my choirs and singing workshops. I know it’s an impossible task (see Keeping a choir happy – you can’t please everyone), but still I try.

big and small
photo by DurhamDundee

But how do you know when you’ve got the balance right and you’re keeping the majority happy?

Monday, July 21, 2014

It’s summer – where have all the choir gone??!!

The evening’s are lighter, the weather is warmer, the songs are amazing, the singing’s as good as ever – it’s summer!

school attendance
Sunday school by Ansel Adams

So where has everybody gone? Why are people not turning up to choir?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Never let the fake perfection of pop singers put you off singing

A Britney Spears recording has recently escaped into the wild which demonstrates that without Auto-Tune her singing can be less than perfect (Experience the shocking power of Britney Spears without Auto-Tune – which may have been removed by the time you read this!).

102.7 KIIS FM's Wango Tango 2013 Concert at the Home Depot Center in Carson California on May 11, 2013

Shock horror! Pop singers are only human so don’t be put off by their apparent perfection — it’s all smoke and mirrors.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Regular weekly choir or drop-in singing group? – the pros and cons

Some choirs and singing groups meet frequently, often once a week, requiring a high level of commitment. Others meet less frequently and work on a drop-in basis with no requirement to attend every session.


There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of group. Here are some pros and cons.

Monday, June 30, 2014

If you’re looking for new singers, don’t expect them to come to you

You’ve put your fliers out, spread the word, mentioned it on Facebook, but still you find it hard to recruit new singers.


If you’re asking someone to try something unfamiliar, you need to make the effort to take it to their home territory – don’t expect them to come to you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Singing – the more you do it, the worse you get!

You work on a song in choir week after week, but slowly things seem to get worse. You worry about getting the words right, you can’t seem to remember the second part of the melody, your voice stops hitting the high notes.

head in hands
photo by Alex Proimos

What’s going on? Here’s what I think ...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dress to impress – choosing suitable outfits for your choir

As many regular readers will know, I hate a choir in uniform.

However, it is a good idea to have some kind of unifying dress code and also to show your audience that you’ve made an effort. Here are some ideas to consider.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Taking over an established choir – a guide for choir leaders

Choir leaders don’t last forever so there will come a time when a choir needs to find a new one.


If you’re the person who gets the job it can seem daunting to take over a long-established choir. Here are a few tips to help with the transition.

Monday, June 02, 2014

How do you get to the truth of what your singing ability really is?

There is often a mismatch between how good you think you are as a singer and what your abilities really are.

pub singer

Some people vastly overrate their singing abilities (just watch X Factor!), whilst others with a fine singing voice really think they sound awful. How can we reveal a more accurate picture?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Choir? Chorale? Ensemble? What’s in a name?

Many of you know that I avoid using the ‘C’ word: choir. But there other similar terms that I find just as bad: chorus, chorale, chamber choir.

First baptist choir

What’s in a name? What does it tell you about the singing group? Does size matter? Can you have a chorus of four people, or does that become an ensemble? Let’s take a look ...

Monday, May 19, 2014

What makes a ‘good’ singer? – it’s all about context

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I believe that everyone can sing. If you want to know more, you can read “Everyone can sing” – what the hell does that mean??!!

singing to an angel
photo by Hollywata

Given that everyone can sing, what might it mean when someone says one singer is ‘better’ than another? What makes a ‘good’ singer any way?

Monday, May 12, 2014

“Darling, your technique is showing” – don’t be a singer who is all style and no substance

It’s usually the case that professional singers have had some sort of training in a particular singing technique.

game show host
photo by Kevin Cease

But dontcha just hate it when that’s all you see when they perform??!! All style and no substance. The point of technique is to not let it show.

Monday, May 05, 2014

What to say if someone asks you if they can sing

A friend asks you to comment on their singing or asks you if you think they can sing at all.


What can you say without hurting their feelings or putting them off singing entirely?

Monday, April 28, 2014

When you sing, forget everything you’ve ever learnt

In your singing lessons and choir warm ups you’re bombarded with exercises and technical advice about posture, breathing, enunciation, pitching, tension, placement and so on.


All good stuff. But when it comes time to sing you need to forget it all. Seems crazy? I’ll show you why it’s important.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Teacher of songs or song polisher – which kind of choir leader are you?

A while back I went to a singing workshop led by an internationally acclaimed workshop leader. I was very disappointed at the lack of teaching skills on display. But in the end the sound we made was amazing.

choir leader
photo by Allan Harris

I realised that some singing leaders are great teachers of songs and some are great polishers of songs, but not everyone has both skills.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Can open-access choirs cater for every kind of singer?

As a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network I share their belief that everybody can sing and nobody should be excluded from music-making. Which is why no ‘natural voice’ choirs hold auditions or use unnecessary musical jargon.

odd one out
adapted from a photo by Brian Robert Marshall

But can such open-access choirs ever be truly inclusive? I don’t believe they can and I think we need to be clear about that when promoting our work.

Monday, April 07, 2014

How to choose soloists in your choir: audition or self-selection?

Rather than everyone singing all the time, many choirs ring the changes by creating smaller ensembles within the larger choir or have occasional solos.

choir solo
photo by Shelly Mags

In a non-auditioned, open-access choir, what is the fairest way to choose singers to take on these roles?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Singing in a choir – balancing individual freedom with the demands of the team

Those of us who love to sing often love to sing at the top of our voices. It’s joyous!


But when you’re part of a choir you have to rein in those tendencies for the greater good of the overall sound. How do you achieve that balance without feeling restricted?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Process vs. product: are you along for the singing ride or just the final performance?

Learning and polishing a song can be a long process. Some people find it a chore and can’t wait to get to the end result: a public performance.

ABBA, Brussells May 09 (1)

But others enjoy the ride, going deeper into the song, finding the nuances, becoming immersed in the whole process and not having any particular end in sight. However, process and product don’t have to be different things.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Never tell someone they can’t sing – it is brutal, damaging and untrue

Most of the people who come to my singing workshops are in their 50s and pretty much all of them have a story to tell about the time someone told them they couldn’t sing.

photo by TrueDragon13

Many of the stories date back to the time when they were at primary or even infant school. What amazing power a throwaway remark like “Just stand at the back and mime” can have!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Helping singers learn to hold a harmony part on their own

If you’re in a choir you’ll be used to singing your harmony part surrounded by others singing the same thing. But it seems much harder to hold a part by yourself when you’re in a small group.

birds singing
photo by Eric Kilby

In this post I’ll show you how easy it is, how it’s your own head that gets in the way, and I’ll also outline a process that your choir can use to help train singers to hold a part on their own.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

What’s the opposite of a “Singing for fun” choir?

Certain people are rather dismissive of “Singing for fun” choirs. If it’s for fun then it can’t possibly be of any quality.


Then I got to wondering: what are their choirs like? What’s the opposite of “Singing for fun”? — “Singing for boredom”? “Singing for misery”? I know which choir I’d rather be in!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Avoid toxic choir leaders – the end does NOT justify the means

There are some workshop and choir leaders who work through fear. They are not particularly nice people, but they do get good results.

photo by Craig Sunter

Yet it is possible to work compassionately and with fun to get the same results. That’s my kind of choir leader!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Joining an established choir: a guide for new singers

Joining a new choir is a bit like going to big school: it’s exciting, but a bit scary and it will take a while to learn the ropes.

First day at school
photo by VisitCopenhagen

Here is a guide to help you take your first few steps as a new singer in an established choir. Next week I’ll be writing a guide for choir leaders and choir committees on how to ease new members into established choirs.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Why some singers find it hard to learn by ear (and what you can do to make it easier)

Some people really struggle when it comes to learning a song by ear. Often it’s singers who are used to using sheet music, but not always.

learning by ear
photo by bokeh burger

I’ll explain why I believe some people find it hard and then I’ll outline some strategies for getting better at it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

You can’t franchise charisma – why your choir leader is special

The fact is that pretty much anyone can lead a choir. Some do it better than others and some do it worse, but it’s not rocket science. However, your particular choir leader is special and brings something unique to your choir.

Pink Singers July 2013 (3)

That special something can’t be copied or franchised. Choirs are all about the people in them – including their leader. I’ll show you some lessons that can be learnt from this, whether you’re a singer or a choir leader (or a business opportunist!).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Don’t peak too soon – effective rehearsal planning for your next concert

The OK Chorale have just started back after a long Christmas break. This term we’re working towards our annual spring concert. I need to plan an effective rehearsal schedule.

Singing Safari at St Peter's 2013

Our singers are all amateurs with busy lives, so what’s the best way to organise rehearsals so we peak at the right time?