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THE SINGERS TOOLKIT
An Incomplete Guide for Baffled Choral Singers

|Introduction| |Can't Sing - Tone Deaf?| |Hitting the Right Notes| |Breathing Well| |Singing in Tune| |Useful Practical Tips| |Find a Choir|

Introduction

Anyone can sing, and can sing very happily in a choir without knowing anything about music notation. However, although you could learn Russian or Turkish without knowing their alphabets, your appreciation of the language would be much greater if you could read it.

The information on this site won’t make you a sight-reader (that takes practice and/or the accident of birth), but it will clear up much of the confusion that can occur if a choir is score-based (uses printed music extensively) by setting out the basic information for understanding the whats, hows, and whys of printed music. It doesn't cover everything, (you can only do so  much during a COVID-19 emergency) but a lot of what you need to know is here.

If a conductor barks out, “Tenors, I want a fortissimo on the G double flat, then a diminuendo until the staccato wedge,” that will no longer be a confusing fog of technicalities.

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Can't Sing - Tone Deaf?

Everybody can sing? Well, 99.999% of people can as tone deafness is very, very rare. Singing is just an extension of normal speech. If you can hear how other people modulate and inflect the way they talk (how their voice goes up and down) and you do the same, you are not tone deaf. However, if talking is a stroll in the park, singing in a concert is like running a marathon; it requires stamina, muscle tone, and an understanding of how to use your whole body to the best effect. For example, you may give an occasional squeak of surprise but, in normal life, you won’t be using those upper notes time and again and be expected to hold on to them.

Singing is a combination of muscle control (especially, what you do with you vocal cords and lungs), the ear (listening to what you are doing and what is going on around you), the brain (checking up on the previous two points and anticipating what’s coming up).

Singing in a choir is also a team effort, so you have to be prepared to use your voice at the extreme ends of its abilities when the situation requires.

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Hitting the Right Notes

This depends on practice. If you have done no more than sing in the bath, or hum as you weed the garden, you are likely to have just been using those notes which come most comfortably to you. Singing in a choir demands a much wider range of notes and finding these takes practice and (just as it’s easy to miss scoring 180 in darts without putting in some hours of preparation).

It’s easy, initially, to miss the note, especially if it’s a high one (requiring much more physical effort). This is when it’s important to listen to yourself and others. If you hear that you are higher (but probably lower) than the voices around you, make some adjustment to what you are singing. If you still can’t find the note, stop and listen until notes within your range return. Your range (the number of notes you can sing) will extend as your voice adapts to the extra demands being made upon it.

If you feel that you need some practice in hitting the right notes, please FOLLOW THIS LINK.

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Breathing Well

In normal life, you can take a breath when you want to, not just when some external circumstance allows. Assuming that you are standing or sitting in a good position (not hunched up with the chest and stomach compressed but with the back straight and your shoulders back) you should be able to take enough breath to avoid breathing in the wrong places. This does, however, depend upon noting in rehearsals where breaths should be taken and, in performance, conserving or managing your breath until you get to these places.

You can find more about breathing well HERE.

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Singing in Tune

If you are breathing well and listening, this becomes easier with practice. However, beware of top notes (it’s easy to shave the peak off a melody and then be under pitch), long notes (as not much seems to be happening, they tend to sag), and last notes (you may be running out of breath or the concentration lapses).

If you want to practise a bit on your own, FOLLOW THIS LINK.

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Useful Practical Tips

Always take a pencil to rehearsal. A conductor may give a thousand performance instructions during a term and you won’t be able to remember them all. Write down what he or she says in the score to remind yourself (use a soft pencil if it’s a hired printed score, some other conductor with another choir may have other ideas).

If online or on-disk rehearsal tracks become available, use them. They are a valuable resource for reinforcing your knowledge of the notes between rehearsals.

Try to be on time for rehearsals. During the course of a term, the equivalent of a whole rehearsal can be lost waiting to get everyone assembled or, if you always miss the warm-up period, valuable time when you could be improving your technique and knowledge is lost.

Ask questions when in doubt, either of your singing colleagues** or the conductor.

** But discreetly, please. A welter of personal consultations going on can wreck the progress of a rehearsal.

REHEARSALS - as much as possible, ATTEND THEM. The better you know the music, the more you will enjoy the performance. One of the most miserable experiences is standing in front of an audience trying/hoping to perform something you don't really know.  This is especially true if large numbers of the choir have been lax about rehearsing. Or, if everyone else is well-rehearsed, your bungs and blunders may show up and ruin all their hard work.

Even if you are a very competent singer, it's very frustrating for the conductor, and wastes a lot of the choir's time, if the same instructions have to be repeated time and time again for singers who weren't there the first three times they were given.

REHEARSAL TRACKS - if they are provided for you, or you can find them online - USE THEM. The better you know the music ... etc, etc.

THESE PAGES - can be accessed at any time, at any place. Unless you have an exceptionally good memory, a casual read through of these pages won't help you very much.

It's worth coming back to them to check on the essentials if they become a bit rusty.

LEARN MORE - as the title to this site implies, these pages are no more than a survival kit; a basic compass and chart for the choppy seas of choral singing. If you are really interested, it's worth having singing lessons and/or learning to sing-at-sight properly.

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Find a Choir

If you want to find a choir in your area, this LINK might be useful.

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