10 Secrets for Running a Successful Choir Rehearsal

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Success? Rehearsal? Have you met my choir?!

I know, I know. Choir members can be chatty and they don't always show up on time and sometimes it feels like you stand up in front of them and say the same. things. every. week.

I get it.

But success doesn't mean everything will be perfect. It doesn't mean setting unrealistic expectations for your group or holding them to unfair standards. Success is simply the "sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out" (Robert Collier).

And it starts with you.

Jim Rohn wisely said, "Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better" (source). What can you do today that will set you up for success in rehearsal this week? What can you do in rehearsal that will set your choir up for success?

Here are a few helpful tips and strategies for running a successful rehearsal, this and every week:

1  |  Plan, plan, plan.

Choose which pieces you want to rehearse and put them in order. I usually rehearse Sunday's anthem and service music first, then 5-6 anthems from the folder (progressing from new or newer to more familiar), ending with something the choir knows well (maybe next Sunday's anthem). Strive for a balance of new, in progress, and familiar anthems to keep your choir interested and engaged (source). Also, alternate slow, lyrical anthems with more upbeat ones, for contrast.

Decide how much time you want to spend on each piece in advance and keep track of time as you go. Include one thing you can cut if you run short on time and one thing you'd do with an extra five minutes. (source)

See this post for more rehearsal planning suggestions.

2  |  Talk less (sing more).

Think about other ways to introduce or reinforce musical concepts: vocal model, hand sign or gesture, facial expression, movement, etc. Keep your directions very short and to the point. Try giving musical feedback in seven words or less! (source)

3  |  Keep them engaged.

The best way to do this is to keep them singing as much as possible. When you need to stop, give feedback immediately to preempt chatting with their neighbor. If you need to work with one section, give the others something to do - everyone sing this line together, or sing your part silently, or listen for _____.

For newer anthems that have already been introduced, start with the newest or most challenging section rather than automatically starting at the beginning every time. Avoid singing repeats or sections they know really well - spend your rehearsal time on things that need rehearsing.

4  |  Listen critically.

Don't limit your listening to notes and rhythms. Listen critically to the quality of the sound, tone, balance within the ensemble, breath, phrasing, dynamics, and vowels and consonants.

5  |  Look for ways to teach more effectively and efficiently.

When introducing a new musical concept, keep it simple.

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

Use kinesthetic teaching as much as possible. This will help keep your choir engaged and improve retention (source). Encourage singers to take ownership by arriving on time, marking their music, listening, and staying focused in rehearsal.

One of the most helpful ways to introduce something new is by using the whole-part-whole sequence: Present the whole anthem first before breaking it into sections and working on details. If your choir is not quite ready to sightread through a new piece, play a recording and have them follow along.

Put your warm-ups to work! Use them to prepare or reinforce new concepts and reference them later on in the rehearsal (another incentive to arrive on time!). See my favorite choral warm-ups here.

6  |  Make your choir members feel valued and respected.

Make a point to always start and end rehearsal on time. This shows respect for your choir members (remember, they're volunteers!) and shows that you are serious about the work you do in rehearsal. Don't wait for everyone to arrive, as this will teach them that they can come in 5-10 minutes late and not miss anything.

Move quickly between pieces. Don't give them too much time or they will lose focus and get off-topic. Write the rehearsal order on the board or hand singers a printed half-sheet when they arrive so they can put their music in order before rehearsal begins (an incentive to arrive a few minutes early!).

7  |  Be specific.

If you ask your choir to sing something again, give them a specific reason - think about something, change something, adjust a vowel, shape a phrase, listen to each other, etc. Simply saying, "Sing it again" will result in them either singing it again mindlessly or changing things on their own.

8  |  Be prepared.

Think about efficient ways to pass out new music and collect old music. If you have a folder/box system (read more here), you can pass out music quickly and easily before rehearsal. When singers pick up their folders on their way in, they'll have all the music they need.

Anticipate your choir's needs by having a jar of freshly-sharpened pencils, a box of tissues, and a bowl of cough drops nearby for those who need them. Also, make up a few extra folders so you have something to grab when new singers come to rehearsal.

9  |  Make it musical.

For some of your singers, choir rehearsal may be the only opportunity they have to make music each week. Make it as musical as possible! Introduce musical concepts before notes and rhythms, or at least in conjunction with them. It's much harder to work on phrasing, breath, and dynamics once you've pounded away at the notes and rhythms for a few weeks.

Work on developing musicianship and vocal skills that singers can transfer to other pieces. Music is music and so much of what we teach and work on in rehearsal is applicable to other pieces - vowels, good breath, tone, vocal technique, diction, etc. Encourage your choir to develop transferrable skills by reminding them of this.

10  |  Never stop learning.

You are more than just a choir director - you are a musician, a singer (maybe not a soloist, but that's okay!), a teacher, and spiritual mentor (source). Be the best version of all of those things by continuously pursuing knowledge, skills, and education.

Take advantage of continuing education opportunities in your area. Go to a conference. Attend live music events. If voice is not your primary instrument, practice singing and using your voice (source). Reflect on your teaching and ways to improve.

What are your best-kept secrets for running a successful rehearsal?

Read more:
7 Tips for a More Productive Choir Rehearsal
How to Plan a Productive Choir Rehearsal
6 Tips for Effective Choir Practices
5 Quick Rehearsal Planning Tips
Choir Rehearsal Game Plan