There are many choirs out there that share certain characteristics: they are made up of 20-150 mostly amateur singers (sometimes lightly auditioned, sometimes not at all), they spend a number of rehearsals learning one or more pieces, before performing them (usually from the score).
One of the great thing about these kind of choirs is that they welcome members of a wide range of musical ability and experience – somehow, when you put them together for enough rehearsals, they produce something that an audience can enjoy.
I have enjoyed singing in choirs like these for the past 25 years, and over that time I’ve picked up a few tricks that I find useful in learning my music – hopefully some others might find them useful.
- You’re not expected to be perfect.
- A big part of learning a piece of music is getting the music line and the words ingrained in your memory, so they come naturally. Everyone is capable of doing this; don’t feel bad if it takes you a bit longer than other people.
- If you can, take the time to look at your music and/or listen to a recording between rehearsals – you will learn much faster.
- Your score (sheet music) is going to be an enormous help in learning the music. Look after it, and write notes in it (in pencil – make sure you bring one!).
- Try not to miss rehearsals (and try to be on time – warm-ups do make a difference).
- Enjoy the process of learning music and singing!
- If you’re not feeling confident, sit next to someone that is confident (a lot of choirs have a section leader who can help). Or if the person next to you is putting you off, subtly make a point of being next to someone else next rehearsal.
- This is the tip that I struggle with most – but try to stay focussed during rehearsal. If the conductor is rehearsing another voice part, don’t check your phone or chat to your neighbour, ideally follow look at the part where you’re about to come in.
- Don’t worry too much about making mistakes – rehearsal is designed for trying your best, and working out what you do and don’t know. You won’t learn as fast if you’re scared to get things wrong. (and it should go without saying that you shouldn’t laugh if other people make a mistake!!!)
- Don’t expect to get everything right the first time. I tend to prioritise knowing which bar I’m in over getting the exact rhythm right, rhythm over notes, and notes over words.
- That said, once you’ve been through it a couple of times, if you are still struggling with a section of the music, it is worth asking the conductor to go over it – some bits of music are unintuitive, and hearing them played on the piano can help a lot.
Listening to the music between rehearsals
- You can really benefit from listening to both midis and/or full recordings between rehearsals, to get your brain familiar with how the piece goes.
- Midis recordings play just the notes, making it easier to get the note that you’re meant to sing. Often you can get ones for each voice part – for example, ones with the tenor part highlighted which can be really helpful.
- Youtube often has midi recordings, and you can often find them on https://www.stmaryssingers.com/all-titles.html, http://www.cyberbass.com and http://www2.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page .
- There are a few apps that take midi files and allow you to play back pieces. For example, I swear by an ios app called learnmypart that lets you upload and play midi files, adjusting the balance (eg highlighting your voice part) and speed, and even looping over a section that you find tricky.
- Full recordings are excellent for getting a sense for how the piece is meant to sound.
- I find Spotify and youtube great for finding full recordings of most pieces that you’ll sing.
- And obviously many pieces are available on CD.
- Only write in your score using a 2B or HB pencil (particularly important if the score is borrowed).
- If you’re score has unhelpful markings left over from a previous singer, it is worth taking the time to erase them, otherwise they’ll keep confusing you.
- Mark in which line of music is for your part. Obviously it often isn’t hard to work it out as you go, but anything that saves you half a second over a page turn is worth doing:
- I often mark in the note that my next line starts on, so at the end of one line I know whether to go up or down (in this example, the next note for the tenors was an f):
- In places whether the rhythm isn’t obvious, it is often helpful to write in the beats.
- One of the challenges in reading music is knowing where to get your note from, either from your own part earlier or from another voice part. It is worth circling a note that you can use:
- Anywhere that tends to catch you out, make a note of it. For example, if there’s a spot where you’re always tempted to come in early, circle the rest. If there’s a place where you need to sing higher than you’d think, mark it in. If you come in at the very start of the next page, write it in.
- If there are places where you have to avoid speeding up or slowing down, write a note. Or just put in a symbol to watch the conductor.
- If there are dynamic markings you keep missing, circle them.
- Mark in any other instructions your conductor gives you (eg breath instructions, pronunciation tips):
- If you’re new and feeling a bit lost with notation, feel free to ask the person next to you.
I hope some of this is useful – but whatever happens, don’t stress – singing is meant to be fun!