STOP–Collaborate and Listen! Using “Listening Circles” to Improve Listening and Collaboration in Your Choir

Okay, first off…..if you’re reading the title of this post and you can’t figure out what the reference is, here’s a hint:

We’re talking rehearsal techniques today, and specifically, “Listening Circles”. These go by lots of other names, including “Listening Squads”.  A bit of background before we dive in:

My choirs typically stand in four rows, either in mixed formation, or in sections (for instance, altos in the front row, sopranos second row, basses third row, tenors 4th row). Especially when we are in mixed, I will often have them stand in circles in their sections if I feel like they need reinforcement of their vocal parts.

This is where the “Listening Circles” come in: with the singers standing in a circle in their section, I will have them number off. Once they have numbered off, I will instruct a specific number in each circle/section to listen as the rest of the ensemble sings through the musical excerpt we are working on.

Once we finish singing, the sections will stop and get feedback from the person in their section that was listening. They will discuss what went well, and also what still needs to be worked on. I will give them a couple minutes to problem-solve and sing through any trouble spots, and then I will designate a different number to listen, and then we sing through the excerpt again.

When I started using Listening Circles, I wasn’t quite sure what my singers would think. My first thought was that they wanted to sing, and wouldn’t want to be the person that listens while the rest of the section sings. However, the exact opposite happened! They LOVE the opportunity to listen–they notice things that they normally don’t while singing, and they enjoy being able to give the rest of their section feedback and having the opportunity to help their section improve. I even have to watch the baritones, because they will FIGHT over who gets to listen! (What is it with baritones, anyway? 😉

What I’ve also noticed is that using Listening Circles improves student engagement in rehearsal–whether they or singing or listening, they are totally engaged and working to do their very best. It really gets them thinking, and they have great discussions about the different aspects of the music and how they can improve as a section.

And if you wanted to take it one step further–once they have finished the collaboration process, have each section number off 1 to 4. I then have them split up into 4 four circles–with each circle now consisting of its own little mixed ensemble–and each circle sings the excerpt for the rest of the ensemble. Great opportunity for an assessment, and also an opportunity for you to cover some National Standards. 🙂

To assess their progress, when we are finishing up the process I will have them move back to their mixed formation and have the whole ensemble sing through the excerpt again. When we finish I will ask them what went well, what they still need to improve upon, and how they will go about preparing for the next rehearsal.

If you are looking for a way that you can collect some data, or you just want to get some feedback from your singers, a simple Exit Slip will do the trick. It only takes students a couple minutes to fill out, and you get some great information on how the rehearsal process went for them, and what they will be focused on for the next rehearsal. Here’s a link to the PDF of my Rehearsal Exit Slip:

So remember friends–don’t forget to STOP, collaborate, and listen!

Would you be interested in jumping on a Zoom call to talk through a current challenge in your teaching? I’ve got some open blocks of time, and would be happy to visit with you. I would love to help and find out how I can serve you better! Simply send me an email at:

or drop me a message on the Choir Director Corner Facebook page!

Have a great weekend!


P.S. If you’d like to dive deeper on different topics related to directing a choir, our membership group, the Choir Director Corner TRIBE, is exactly what you are looking for! The TRIBE includes online masterclasses, the most recent being “How to Assess Your Choir Members Individually, Authentically and Efficiently”. This masterclass includes 13 different rubrics/handouts that you can use to incorporate assessment into your rehearsals. No need to reinvent the wheel! To find out more about the TRIBE, just click HERE.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *