You know the feeling:
Same old, same old.
It’s easy to slip into a rut in rehearsals from time to time, but I think we can all agree: these are not things we want to feel or experience.
We don’t want to feel like we’re just going through the motions each week; we want to feel excited and energized to sing and learn and make music together.
We don’t want to keep doing things the same old way; we want to expand our creativity and mental engagement and continue developing our musicianship in the process.
Can you relate?
Feel like your rehearsals have gotten a bit monotonous lately? Here are a few reasons why this may be happening, plus some helpful strategies for getting out of that rut and back to making music with creativity and enthusiasm.
5 Reasons Why Your Rehearsals Feel Monotonous (and How to Fix Them!)
Your warm-ups are running on autopilot.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of doing the same warm-ups each week. You get into a routine, the patterns are familiar and don’t require much explanation, and they get the job done.
A word of caution: by repeating the same vocal patterns (often in the same order) week after week, your choir members may begin to tune out and lose focus. They may let their minds wander because these patterns are so familiar to them, they don’t require much active thought. As such, you may see (and hear) lack of engagement and focus in their faces and in their sound (e.g. shallow breaths, poor posture, spread vowels, vocal sliding between pitches).
Mix up your warm-ups each week. Put them in a new order to keep everyone on their toes and paying attention and introduce a new pattern every month, or so, to focus on a specific aspect of vocal technique or choral singing.
For a few ideas on what kinds of warm-ups to include, see 50 Awesome Choral Warm-Ups for Church Choirs.
You're rehearsing every anthem the same way.
When it comes to teaching a new anthem, there are a few ways to go about it:
Sing through the full piece before stopping to talk about anything
Sing through one section at a time, stop to give feedback, then sing it again, or
Break the piece into sections and rehearse each part alone (if needed) and in combinations.
The trick is to balance these approaches throughout your rehearsal with the various pieces you’re working on. Your rehearsals may begin to feel a bit monotonous if you take the same approach to every anthem you sing through. Let me hear just the basses. Now, let’s do basses and tenors. How about basses and altos. Okay, now basses, tenors, and altos...
Mix up your rehearsal strategy for each piece based on what it needs and where it is in the learning sequence (brand new, in progress, polishing phase).
For instance, I would recommend using the first or second approach with a piece that you’re reading through for the first time (even if it’s something the choir has sung before). Use the third approach for pieces that are in the middle of the learning sequence - the “in progress” phase. This is when you can zoom in and work on details, review parts, sing things under tempo, speak the text in rhythm, etc.
For anthems in the final polishing stage, try singing the piece straight through before stopping to give comments or ask questions. This will help them learn that all-important skill for music performance: keep going no matter what.
For more ideas on how to rehearse an anthem, see My Step-By-Step Process for Rehearsing a New Anthem.
You’re giving your choir the same reminders every week.
You know those things you feel like you say every week? Don’t sing the “r", round that vowel, take a deep low breath - don’t gasp!, pay attention to the dynamics...
If you’re getting tired of hearing yourself repeat these things over and over, it’s likely that your choir is also growing weary of them. Now, that’s not to say that they aren't important - those are all very valid reminders to give your choir! The trouble is when they become so repetitive that your choir members begin to tune out and not listen anymore.
Think about new ways to engage your choir and give them a little more ownership in the learning process.
Ask lots of questions: How did we do with dynamics that time? Did you remember to take a deep, low breath before that entrance? Invite them into the reflection process: How did that go? What can we do to improve our sound the next time we sing?
This small shift will help you offer those important reminders, but instead of giving them all the information, you’re helping to promote learning and musical development among your singers.
You’re spending too much time on one thing.
Whether it’s an anthem you’re rehearsing over and over, a concept you’re trying to explain, or a series of tricky rhythms you’re drilling, too much time on one thing can lead to dwindling attention spans, lack of energy, and boredom.
Even a small thing like sitting for an extended period of time can cause people to lose focus.
Mix up sitting and standing throughout your rehearsal to keep people physically and mentally engaged in what you’re doing. Keep a quick pace, and be wary of spending more than 5 minutes, or so on one section or concept.
Your choir members aren’t experiencing flow.
Educational researcher and psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi said that flow is a balance between perceived challenge and perceived skill. This means that in order to experience flow (or “optimal experience,” as he called it), we must sense a certain amount of challenge in a given task, but also feel confident that we have the skills we need to meet it.
It’s a fine line, though. If the task is too easy, we won’t feel the need to go all in, to be fully and actively engaged. But, if it’s too hard, we’re likely to get frustrated, feel like we can’t do it, and give up.
There are a few things that might be hindering flow experience in your choir rehearsals:
singing music that doesn’t offer enough of a challenge, either because it’s too easy or because it’s already very familiar and doesn’t really need rehearsing
stopping and starting after every few phrases, not singing long enough to really get into the piece and feel momentum
singing music that’s too challenging for your group and not taking the time to help them develop the skills they need to feel confident in their abilities
Strive for music that offers just enough of a challenge to keep your rehearsals interesting and your singers engaged, but be sure to balance the challenge with helping them develop their skillset and musical independence.
Also, try to keep everyone singing as often as possible (the fewer interruptions, the better!). Keep your spoken directions short and to the point and avoid working with just one part at a time. If you need to isolate a part for a few minutes, encourage everyone else to hum their part or sing with the section you’re rehearsing, for support (and a good sight-reading opportunity!).
If you’ve been feeling like your rehearsals are a bit monotonous lately, I hope these simple tips and strategies are helpful to you. I’d love to hear: Which one resonates with you the most? What small change makes the biggest difference for your choir?
P.S. Looking for even more ideas and inspiration to reinvigorate your teaching this year? I’d love to have you join me for a free (yes, free!) online workshop I’m hosting next week:
Join me for Music Education Basics: A free 5-day workshop
Music Education Basics is for church musicians and music educators, designed to give you clarity in your teaching and a fresh dose of inspiration and practical teaching ideas you can use right away.
The workshop will be hosted online January 21-25, 2019. Sign up today and get the workshop materials sent straight to your inbox each day!