Sunday, April 5, 2015

Musical Monday - How Do YOU Work with Varying Levels of Vocal Ability?

Image result for choir clipartOne thing I know for sure is that we are all SO different in our approaches to learning & teaching music.  There are many "schools" of music that espouse a particular training method and for many of their students it is probably great.  I would imagine that most would accept only those whose personalities or learning styles worked with the method chosen.  However, most of us have choir members from all backgrounds and so ONE method is not usually going to work.  Whether you are an auditioned choir or a volunteer choir such as ours, you will have variations in abilities represented.  The more experience I gain (yup, short for getting older), the more I embrace differences and welcome the challenges they present.

1. Love them ALL - As a young teacher, I know I had a mind set of what was and wasn't acceptable and expected everyone to come up to MY expectations.  I got over that quite quickly, thankfully because I realized neither the singers nor I was having much fun.  I learned really fast that I needed to work with people where they were to take them where we needed to be and not to be cross because they weren't there when we started.  DO READ THAT AGAIN!!!  You have to love your singers where they are enough to want to guide them to the next level.  When they all start out at varying levels now that is the challenge.  And guess what?  They will never ALL be on the same level and ain't that grand?

2. Choose the right songs - Choose music they will enjoy singing & you have won half the battle.  If you choose music you love and they start to sing it and you find yourself slogging through, it is probably wise to put that one aside for a while.  Oh yes, I remember the Music Festival days when you had to sing "Hast Thou Seen But a Bright Lily Grow" whether you wanted to or not.  My answer to that was to get myself on the music committee and help choose the music.  Oh yeah.
When they have some say in what is chosen whether it be a committee or just being able to put forth suggestions, they will embrace the music much more willingness to work at the tough stuff. Then you can throw in a tough one and they will work hard to make it happen.
Choosing arrangements that work is important too.  Check out what I said in How Do You Choose An Arrangement that Suits Your Choir.

3. Hearing the parts - NEVER tell someone to sing softly.  If they aren't getting the right sound, they know it only too well.  Help them learn to listen and be more adept at tone matching.  Give them lots of opportunity to do so. I was talking to a lady one day and she mentioned our Embro Thistle Singers looked like fun but she couldn't sing.  I asked her if she sang to the radio or CD's.  She looked surprised.  I told her she was probably a great singer but she just hadn't learned to tone match.  I challenged her to put on a song she loved and listen to it a number of times.  Then, to sing along with the song until she was getting more than half the sound right and to keep doing that until she was actually singing along.  Once she got good at that, start out with the music on then turn down the volume and try a part of it alone - usually the chorus.  She was thrilled and said that was just what she was going to do.  Imagine, she had never been taught.  So implement, in choir and for homework, similar exercises and see what happens.  It is the confidence that is built that allows the singer to sing well.

4. Singing the right notes - Every song and/or arrangement has tricky bits for one part or another.  Again, it is really important that you choose those arrangements for success.  So how do you help the less capable singers learn a part without losing your quicker learners?

  • go over the parts separately only after a general sing through.  I have often told you that we listen to the same arrangement by various choirs to give them the gestalt or whole idea first.
  • I often ask all parts to sing the part we are working on.  Here is a fun way to teach falsetto or octave singing.  That way no one is sitting with nothing to do and it is a sneaky way to do more sight reading.
  • when parts are really tricky, we break up into ladies and men and go to separate rooms (sometimes that room is an adjacent stairway with a small keyboard).  We haven't done that for a long while as the reading skills have increased greatly.  The choir members are the ones to tell me whether they want to separate or not and I listen.
Our choir is very aware that we have different levels of ability and they honour that.  When someone gets a part they have struggled with, the other singers give them recognition.  Sometimes it is funny and sometimes it is serious depending on the personality involved etc.  We respect each other.  Heaven knows I make my quota of mistakes and I expect my choir to keep up the tradition.  If they aren't making mistakes we aren't making progress.  Period.  It is how you handle the transition from oops to WOW! that matters.

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