Monday, December 17, 2018

Have you become too dependent on your choir leader? You might be denying your own abilities

I’ve been noticing something interesting recently: when I move away from a part when I’m teaching them a song, they tend to fall apart.


Since I’m not actually doing anything for them at this point, I wonder what’s going on.

the process of learning a song

I only teach songs by ear.

I build the harmonies up gradually, trying not to leave any one part standing around doing nothing for long. See How to teach (and learn) a song by ear and Learning songs by ear.

After correcting a few minor glitches, the song comes together and everyone is singing in harmony.

I might leave the song for a while (an hour or so in a short workshop, or maybe a week or so in a regular choir) then revisit it.

I usually then go over each part to make sure they remember it correctly.

I stand in front of the part and sing with them, as well as indicating with my hands when the notes go up and down.

This doesn’t take long as singers usually remember their part quite well.

Just to make sure, I continue to stand in front of the part and listen a couple of times just to make sure they’ve got it.

At this point I don’t sing or use my hands to indicate.

Then I walk away to bring one of the other parts in.

At that point, the part I’ve just left usually crumbles!

what’s going on?

Somehow the singers in that part are giving their power to me, even though I’m not actually doing anything to help them. I’m just standing in front of them listening.

But they are assuming that they can only sing their part when I am there. My presence (not their own abilities) is what is enabling them to remember their part and get it right.

I’ve seen this a lot in the community choirs that I’ve run in the past.

We may have a song in our repertoire that we’ve been singing for years and that everybody knows inside out. So I suggest that they don’t actually need me to stand in front and conduct.

There is usually panic: “We can’t do it without you!”

Even if I stand in front of the choir without conducting at all, it somehow makes the singers feel safe and confident.

And when I compliment them on their singing after a concert, they say “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

But of course they could.

how to reduce singer’s dependency

Are there ways of getting singers to believe in themselves more and not rely so much on their choir leader (or other singers)?


Here are a few:

  • regularly step away – as a choir leader running a regular group, the more frequently you step away from the front and just let the choir sing on their own, the more singers will realise they can do it without you (see Your job as a choir leader is to disappear).

There are plenty of other tricks and techniques to help singers lessen their dependency on others, I’m sure you can think of loads!

I’d love to hear about your own experiences – either as choir leader or singer. Do drop by and leave a comment.

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox!

Click to subscribe by email.

Chris Rowbury



Monthly Music Roundup:

Chris Rowbury


Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox!

Click to subscribe by email.


found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may like to ...

... to say thank you.





Monthly Music Round-up: