I’ve been seeing a LOT of questions and posts describing the same problem. Usually, it goes something like this: “Help! My singers won’t sing out, and I’ve tried everything! What do I do!” This challenge, exacerbated by recent disruptions in singing routines, requires careful consideration and thoughtful strategies.
The problem with this question is that there is no “quick and easy” solution. There are lots of possible reasons for this, and none of them can be cured overnight. The real challenge is figuring out what exactly is at the root of the problem; once you know that you can go about fixing it. But getting to the root can also be the challenge–sometimes you just have to try some different things, and see what works.
In this post, we will delve into the five common reasons your singers might be holding back, and provide some comprehensive strategies to help them overcome these obstacles. Let’s dive in!
- Lack of Confidence in Their Vocal Part
A lack of confidence in their assigned vocal parts can leave singers feeling unprepared and hesitant. Would you want to sing out full-out if you didn’t know your part? I know I wouldn’t!
To address this issue, consider creating practice tracks tailored to your repertoire. These tracks can be as simple as voice memos or more intricate multi-part recordings using software like GarageBand or Audacity. If you’re not confident in your piano skills, enlist the help of a local accompanist or a musical colleague to create these tracks. Alternatively, encourage section leaders to record their parts; this gives them some of the responsibility, which they are often more than willing to take on, and it takes some of the burden off your shoulders. This also gives your singers a tool that they can use to practice outside of rehearsal, so that they can be more prepared, and confident, when they come to rehearsal.
- Feeling Self-Consciousness About Their Voice
Singers who feel self-conscious about their vocal abilities may hesitate to sing out, fearing judgment or critique from their peers. Singers often see the act of singing as very personal, and something that is at the core of who they are. If they haven’t had a lot of training and/or experience singing, they may not be willing to “put themselves out there” by singing out in front of others.
One way to address this issue is by incorporating vocal technique training into your rehearsals. If you don’t feel as comfortable teaching vocal technique (not everyone does, and that’s okay), consider inviting a local voice teacher or vocal coach to conduct short workshops or mini-lessons on aspects like proper breath control, resonance, and articulation.
If you do feel confident in your ability to teach vocal technique, allocate a portion of your rehearsals to explore these fundamental skills together. Additionally, you can utilize a resource like my Vocal Technique 101 Teaching Unit, which provides video lessons and assessments to enhance your singers’ understanding of vocal technique and boost their confidence.
- Need for a Supportive Environment
Singing can be a deeply personal activity, and singers thrive in environments where they feel supported and valued. To foster such a culture within your choir, consider integrating team-building activities into your rehearsals. These activities encourage interaction, cooperation, and unity among your singers, strengthening their sense of belonging and camaraderie.
Another strategy is to plan a choir retreat or social events throughout the year to provide opportunities for singers to connect on a personal level. These experiences create a safe space for them to express themselves freely, knowing they have the unwavering support of their fellow choir members.
- Fear of Making Mistakes
One of the biggest challenges I see in my singers is their fear of making mistakes in rehearsal. The fear of making mistakes can paralyze singers and inhibit their willingness to sing out. No one wants to look bad in front of their peers, especially if they think they are going to be made fun of for it.
Combat this fear by instilling a growth mindset within your choir. Emphasize that mistakes are natural and essential for growth and improvement. Create an environment where mistakes are met with understanding and encouragement.
When you, as the choir director, make a mistake, openly acknowledge it, laugh it off, and use it as a teaching moment. Encourage your singers to adopt the same mindset, reassuring them that errors are stepping stones on the path to excellence. Incorporate growth mindset posters or quotes into your rehearsal space to reinforce this perspective.
This isn’t to say that you should hold your singers to high standards of musicianship–you totally should! But there’s a big difference between a lack of preparation–that’s unacceptable–and making a mistake in rehearsal. That’s just being human.
- Lack of Investment in the Music
Singers may hold back when they don’t feel a strong connection to the selected repertoire. To address this challenge, consider involving your choir members in the repertoire selection process. While you, as the director, make the final decision, offer your singers the opportunity to provide input on a curated list of pieces. Play recordings and share sheet music for each option, allowing them to listen and evaluate. Encourage them to provide written feedback explaining their preferences. This approach empowers singers to feel heard and invested in the music, even though the final choice remains in your hands.
Alternatively, engage your singers in a programming project where they are tasked with selecting a complete repertoire for one ensemble concert. Provide specific guidelines, such as diversity in composers, time periods, and stylistic elements. This project not only educates your singers about the complexities of music programming but also fosters a deeper appreciation for your artistic choices.
Regardless of our repertoire, we have to find ways to help our singers become more invested in the music we are performing. One strategy that can help do this is to have your singers do an analysis of the meaning of the text for a piece of your ensemble’s repertoire. Have your singers discuss what they see as the main themes of the text, and then talk about how they might relate to these themes in their everyday lives. The more they can relate to a piece of music, the more they will be willing to invest in the process of telling the story of that particular piece of music.
Empowering your singers to sing out confidently is a process that requires patience, understanding, and strategic planning. It’s not something that you can typically solve overnight. But by addressing these particular rehearsal challenges, you create an environment where they can thrive and give their best effort in every rehearsal and performance!
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Leading a choir doesn’t have to be a DIY endeavor–it’s better when it’s done together! Come join an awesome online community of choir directors just like you over at: