The Think System–12 Strategies For Using Audiation With Your Choir

Here’s a name that has instilled dread in many a music education student:


Edwin Gordon.

Remember Gordon?  I had a music ed class in college that was all about Gordon’s work and Music Learning Theory.  It was interesting stuff, but also pretty thick material.


It gave me a headache.


But Gordon’s work is really the basis for much of what we do as music educators.  And a large part of his work has to do with audiation.


I won’t get too far into the science and research behind audiation and Gordon’s stages of audiation, but here’s a basic definition:


Audiation is the sensation of an individual hearing sound when it is not physically present. 


Take any song that you know: Happy Birthday, for example.  Now, without singing or playing the song, sing (think) the song in your head.  That is, essentially, audiation.

What we’re really getting at is the ability of a singer to hear (really, to “think”) music in their head without singing it.  It’s an incredibly important skill, as a singer must be able to think a pitch before they can sing it. Makes sense when you think about it, right? (pun intended LOL)


Today’s post will give you some ideas as to how to get your choir started with practicing auditation.  By practicing audiation, not only are you helping to develop their “inner hearing”, you will also see their sight reading skills improve.  And, you are also giving them another tool to use in their “practicing toolbox”. Singer is self-conscious about practicing at home with other family members around?  They can practice by audiating–won’t bother anyone! 🙂


Here are some ways to practice audiating with your choir:



Warm-ups are a great low-stress opportunity to practice audiation.  


1-Depending on the warm-up, you can simply have your singers leave out a particular beat or solfege syllable.  Here’s an example:


We will sing the following warm-up as a round–

I will then have singers leave out a particular syllable–”Mi”, for example.  When singing it in a round, it becomes a lot more difficult than my singers think it will be.  They underestimate how important one little syllable can be! We will then do it a second time, adding a second syllable to leave out.  When they finish, you can then check the pitch to make sure that they stayed in tune while singing the exercise.


Music Literacy and Sight Reading


2-As part of our rehearsal routine, I will often use hand signs and go through 4-note patterns with my choir.  After setting the tone for “Do”, I will silently sign a four note pattern, and then the choir will sing it back to me using solfege.  Staying right in tempo, I will then go on to the next exercise.


When first practicing this, I will always start each pattern on “Do”.  As the singers get the hang of it, I will then start to make the patterns more difficult by starting on a different syllable and by using larger intervals in my pattern.  You can also have your singers sign the pattern as they sing, giving them extra practice with solfege hand signs!


3-If your choir doesn’t really have experience with hand signs, you can instead sing a four note pattern on “doo” or another neutral syllable, and have the choir echo the pattern using solfege.  In this example, they are using their audiation skills to make the connection and “translate” into solfege, which is another important skill when it comes to sight reading.

Depending on your sight reading routine, there are a number of ways to use audiation.  As your choir is singing through a sight reading excerpt, you can:


4-Have them sing only specific beats of each measure.  For instance, they only sing beats one and four.  Once they can do that consistently, change to only beat one.


As they get more proficient, you can change it to only beat one of every other measure.  You can even have them try to audiate the only excerpt, and see if they can find their finishing note!


5-Make the different sections in your choir go back and forth!  For instance, only sopranos and tenors sing the first measure, altos and basses sing the second measure, third measure is back to sopranos and tenors, etc.  Not only does this force them to listen intensely, it can be a lot of fun! And if your choir likes little competitive games, this is perfect 🙂


6-Pick a specific syllable for your singers to leave out while they are sight reading an excerpt.  Want to increase the difficulty? Pick a common syllable (Do/Mi/So) to leave out, or if you are sight reading multi-part exercises, have each voice part leave out a different syllable!


Repertoire Rehearsal

Here are some ideas from my Choral Rehearsal Techniques Flashcards set that you can use to practice audiation:


7-”Sing It and Audiate It”: This one is incredibly helpful during the learning process.  Need to isolate a part for a particular vocal section, but don’t want the other singers sitting there just chatting?  Give starting pitches for ALL vocal parts, and then have the other singers audiate their part while the one section you want to isolate sings their part.  If the section singing needs more context, have the other sections of the choir lightly hum their part while the other section sings.


8-”We Lost the Beat”: If you want your choir to emphasize beat 1 and beat 4 more, have them leave out beats 2 and 3 and sing only beats 1 and 4.  When they have the hang of it, add beats 2 and 3 back in, making sure that beats 1 and 4 are still more prominent. If you are working on music where you want to de-emphasize beats 1 and 4 (for instance, music from the Renaissance), have your choir sing beats 2 and 3 and leave out beats 1 and 4 to balance things out.


9-”Freeze Chord”: If there is a particular chord where your choir is struggling with intonation, have them hold their pitch on the previous chord.  Have your singers stop and only think their next pitch, and then have them sing their next pitch and assess if they have done so accurately.  You can then go back and forth from the two chords, and have your singers practice that transition from one note to the next. Finish up by singing through the surrounding measures, so that your singers can use the greater context to remember what they have worked on.


10-”The Think Method”:  Give the choir starting pitches to an excerpt, and have them audiate as you conduct.  At the end of the excerpt, or when you get to the first chord of the next section, have the choir sing their note.  


11-”Pick the Beat”: Have the choir sing an excerpt, leaving out a specific beat in each measure.  To increase the choir’s level of listening, have the different voice parts stagger which beat they are leaving out! For instance, sopranos leave out beat 1, altos beat 2, tenors beat 3, basses beat 4.


12-”Wait Your Turn!”: Divide your choir into evenly-balanced small ensembles. Depending on your seating arrangement, you can have your singers physically stand together, or you can have them number off and sing from where they are.


Sing through an excerpt in your repertoire; group one starts singing at the beginning of the excerpt, with the other groups audiating.  Then, at your signal, group 1 stops singing and group 2 begins where they left off. You can go through a whole piece of music, jumping from one group to the next, which really requires intense focus and listening from those singers not singing.


(If you are interested in picking up a set of my Choral Rehearsal Techniques Flashcards, you can find them HERE.)


I hope this post has given you some useful ideas for incorporating audiation into your choir rehearsals!  Like any new skill, audiation takes practice. But by making it a part of your rehearsal process, audiation can have a great impact on the skill level of your singers.


In what ways do you use audiation with your singers?  Post in the comments below, or send me an email at: and let me know.  I’d love to hear from you!

Have a great week!


And for more great content and a fantastic online community of choir directors, head over to our FREE Facebook Group, The Choir Director Corner Community!  You can find it directly at:

Leave a Reply

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