Monday, February 13, 2017

How to give and receive starting notes 2: receiving your note accurately

There are many ways that starting notes for a song can be given out. There are also plenty of ways that starting notes can be confusing or misheard!


Here are some useful tips for making sure you start off on the right note. In Part 2 I consider how starting notes are received by the singer.

This is Part 2 of a series of three posts. In Part 1 I considered how starting notes are given out. Next week, in Part 3 I’ll look at all the ways in which giving and receiving starting notes can go wrong.

listen, listen, listen!

Last week I looked at the variety of ways in which your choir leader can give out starting notes for a song. This week I want to consider how, as a singer, you can receive those notes accurately and start the song confidently.

As a singer you will receive your starting note either by someone singing it to you or by hearing it played on an instrument. This usually happens live, but it can be from a recording or backing track.

Your job is to listen carefully. Sounds simple enough, but it’s amazing how often singers don’t listen!

You might be chatting to your neighbour or looking out for your friends in the audience. You might zone out due to nerves. You might hear the note, but not really listen to it. You might focus on a note meant for another part.

There are plenty of ways of not listening accurately.

Singing (especially performing) takes a lot of energy. It’s all too easy to be too relaxed and lose that state of heightened awareness you need to have when starting a song. Staying focused takes energy.

If for whatever reason you don’t truly ‘get’ your starting note, then simply ask your choir leader to give it out again. It’s much better to take time getting the start right than to head off into a song with loads of singers guessing their notes!

what to do once you’ve got your note

Once you’ve heard your note, try not to sing it out loud. Many singers panic that they will forget their note whilst the others are being given out so they start to hum quietly. Not only can this be very off-putting for the other singers, but counter-intuitively it makes it harder to remember your note. Much better to sing it silently inside your head.

Some choir leaders will ask their singers to sing the opening chord (I.e. all parts sing their starting note at the same time). This is a chance to make sure the voices are blending well, but it also gives you an opportunity to check that you’re singing the same note as those around you. If not, you have time to adjust before the song starts.

what if your note doesn’t come at the start?

Sometimes your part won’t come in at the start of the song. In this case you won’t be given a specific starting note, but will need to get it from those already singing.

If the song has been well-arranged, your starting note will often be the same note that another part sings just before you come in. And if not exactly the same note, it may be one above or below, or perhaps a third away.

But not all arrangements are that good! In which case it may seem like you have to pluck your note out of thin air. This is where rehearsals come in. Your choir leader will spend some time helping you find your note from what else is going on at the time until it becomes second nature.

when it all goes wrong

Even if you think you’ve heard your starting note accurately and believe that you can sing it correctly, there are plenty of ways in which things can go wrong. I’ll be looking at that next week in Part 3.

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Chris Rowbury



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Chris Rowbury


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