Often it takes a while for beginners to learn how to sing in a choir. Learning to sing harmony takes practice and exposure over time. Usually, the more experienced members of the choir will be role models and influences to the newer members as they learn how it all works. get the best coaching in Gesangsstunden St. Gallen for the choir.
But in some cases, such as a brand new church ministry or when working with a youth group, you might not have any experienced members. What is the best approach for those situations?
This page takes a look at strategies for working with a beginning choir and also has some suggestions of the type of songs that work best for a choir that’s just starting out. You can click here to go straight to the list of suggested songs for a beginner gospel choir.
Prepare them to work
Get a feeling for where the choir members are mentally and spiritually. If they are excited and earnest about ministering in the choir, they will be ready to do the work that it will take to become an effective choir.
If they’re more casual about it and think of it only as a fun activity or something to do with their friends, set them straight. From the very beginning, impress on them that they are working for God and God wants their very best. Make sure they understand that a choir is not the same as a glee club.
As the choir director, your demeanor during rehearsals will help them understand what is expected. Even if you’re not a preacher, take a little time to talk about the spiritual impact that gospel music can have both on the hearers and on the performers. When they see how seriously you take your work, they should get the message.
Let your choir know when they’re doing well
Even beginners can be excellent at their own level
You’re not expecting them to sound like Hezekiah Walker’s choir when they first start out. So make sure that they don’t fall into discouragement comparing themselves to choirs they hear on the radio and elsewhere. When they are working to their best ability and reaching the level of accomplishment that you are looking for, make sure you let them know. “Excellent! That was really good.”
At the same time, you don’t have to put up with sloppy efforts. If you’re doing arrangements that are appropriate for their level of skill, you can expect them to do a good job on them. Practice them on it until they’re getting it right. This helps them understand that singing in the choir is not a casual activity.
Some ideas for choir directors who need to teach music to an inexperienced choir
Look at songs that are primarily done in unison. There are a lot of gospel choir songs that have little, if any, harmony singing.
Some songs that are written in harmony might sound fine even if you do them in unison. Try to judge how important the harmony is to the song. Some songs would sound bland and empty if you took away the harmonies. But other songs have enough interesting features going on in the words, the melody, or the rhythm that they will still be strong without the harmonies.
Choose melodies that flow pretty easily.
In music instruction, they talk about lyrical melodies and angular melodies. An angular melody is one that includes wide jumps from one note to the next, like this tune:
A melody like that can be difficult to navigate. That’s angular.
A lyrical melody is one where each note is only a small interval away from the note that was before it and the note that comes after it. So it’s an easy, gentle path getting through the melody. Like this tune:
Speak to my Heart
Easy and gentle. That tune will be much easier to sing. When you’re working with a choir of beginners, choose songs with lyrical melodies that will be easy to sing.
Change the key! If the key the song is usually in is not suited to your choir, change it. A lot of songs that are written in harmony give the main tune to the sopranos, so if you’re changing a song from harmony to unison you will probably need to change the key (otherwise, the whole choir would have to sing soprano notes).
Examples of good choir songs for beginners
Below are examples of gospel choir songs that use a lot of unison and would adapt easily to a choir of beginners. They have some harmony parts as well, but in my opinion, these harmony parts could be redone as unison and the song would still be strong.
I hope these examples are a springboard for you to think of other songs you know that have the same advantages for a new choir.
Adding more complexity
When your choir is ready to bring it up a level
As they get more experience, start to introduce more challenging music. Here are some ideas:
Consider starting with two-part harmony before you go to three-part. If you assign a part to the high voices that is clearly out of range for the lower voices, it will be easier for the lower voices to keep to their harmony part.
It’s often easier for different sections to stay on their parts if the parts are not mirroring each other. Try a song that has a section where the sopranos, altos, and tenors are each singing different words or different rhythms. Here’s an example:
Say the Word
This passage has two things going for it. First, each part is singing a different rhythm. Second, the soprano part is high enough that only the sopranos would want to sing it. It’s unlikely that the altos would start sliding up to the soprano note.
(Full song is Say the Word by Rodnie Bryant.)
If possible, it could help greatly to give them practice CDs where they can hear their part all by itself and drill it over and over. I have a whole page about making practice CDs for your choir. It takes some work, but if you have the resources it could be very valuable. There are also practice tracks for some songs that you can download from ChoirParts.com.
Start rehearsing a song well in advance of when you intend to sing it. The more time the choir has to get familiar with the music, the better.