Monday, October 31, 2016

How to draw out the reticent singers in your choir

When a nervous singer turns up to your choir or someone comes to your singing workshop who’s never sung in public before, it’s all too easy for them to hide at the back.

photo by Homini:)

Here are some ideas for encouraging under-confident and first-time singers.

If you run an open-access choir or singing workshop (I.e. no auditions or experience needed), you can find complete novice singers coming along and mixing with those who are more experienced. You might even encounter the occasional reluctant singer who has been persuaded to come along by their friend!

It can be daunting to turn up to a choir or singing workshop and feel that you’re way out of your depth, especially if you’ve had a bad singing experience earlier in life.

The temptation is to stand at the back and make yourself as quiet and invisible as possible.

How can we draw these nervous singers out so they feel part of the team and free to explore their voice?

start at the very beginning …

Start as you mean to carry on by creating a safe, fun, creative space for everyone.

This begins with the warm up which should ease the transition from everyday life by being fun, imaginative, playful and freeing. There should be a feeling that nothing is ‘wrong’ and everybody’s in the same boat. Everyone in the room is being loud or silly at the same time.

Move people around a lot so singers don’t end up being stuck next to the same people all the time.
Ease into ‘singing’ by making lots of unusual noises, strange harmonies, and a wide range of notes.

Make it clear that this is not the “same old” and established singers are just as likely to find the warm up hard/ strange/ challenging/ surprising as novice singers. Don’t habitually do the same warm up each time. Keep singers on their toes!

… a very good place to start

When you move into singing songs, try to keep the same fun, creative, safe atmosphere that you established in the warm up.

Begin with simple unison songs or rounds or two-part harmonies. No singer is ever experienced enough that they can’t learn or discover something new from the simplest of material. Simple songs can offer a range of challenges at many different levels.

By this time any novice or inexperienced (or simply “new to the choir”) singers will start to feel part of the team and that there is a level playing field.

embrace new singers

Make sure your established singers are encouraged to be welcoming to any new singers. Have a little word with them about being humble (they were a beginner once!), not being judgmental and being supportive (but not telling new singers what to do!).

Literally embrace the nervous singers in your group by making sure they are front and centre. Not to put them on the spot, but to counteract their natural tendency to hide at the back.

It’s much easier (but counter-intuitive) for an under-confident singer to stand at the front and centre of their part as then the sound of the other voices in their part is surrounding them and helping them to keep on track.

keep up the good work

Just because you’ve spent a lot of time trying to integrate new singers into your group in the first session, doesn’t mean that the job is done. You need to keep on top of things every session and regularly check in with the less experienced singers to check that they’re integrating well and keeping up without feeling pressured.

Have a quiet chat with individuals, observe carefully during the session, add warm ups and material that keeps everyone on their toes (not just the new singers) and move people around frequently.

further reading

You might also find these articles useful:

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

How welcoming is your choir?

Integrating new choir members: a guide for new singers, existing members and choir leaders

Joining an established choir: a guide for how choir leaders can help new singers

Hey, you at the back!

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Chris Rowbury



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