Singing In Tune: Intonation Ideas for the Choir

Singing In Tune: Intonation Ideas for the Choir

Vocalists often struggle with singing in tune. How do we know if we are singing the right pitch? Training the ear is important, but we can use technology to give us some new perspectives and confidence that we are heading in the right direction.The viral video dominating my Facebook feed this week was Mandy Harvey’s

The viral video dominating my Facebook feed this week was Mandy Harvey’s audition for America’s Got Talent. https://youtu.be/ZKSWXzAnVe0

Her lovely high voice and passionate singing captivated me. But the most incredible part is that Mandy is deaf. In the audition, she mentions briefly that she re-learned to sing after losing her hearing by using visual tuners and muscle memory.

Hearing people can learn from Mandy.

Tuners are readily available and tuning apps for smartphones offer even more functionality.

tuner

TE Tuner for iPhone

At a recent Vocal Resistance rehearsal, I showed the choir a few exercises for singing in tune. For these exercises, you will need a tuner and something that generates a steady tone. The TE Tuner app on my iPhone does both of these things well. The following descriptions will show how to do this on the TonelEnergy Tuner app, but they can also be done using any device that creates a pure drone and tuner.

Exercise 1:
Hearing what “in tune” and “out of tune” sounds like.

Turn up the volume on the phone. Open the TE Tuner App and select “sound” from the menu at the bottom. Touch the box that allows you to choose the instrument and select “SineWave,” “SquareWave,” or “Organ.” In the circle of pitches, find a note that is in a comfortable register for your voice. While the note is playing, slide your voice up and down until it “clicks” with the drone. When you voice is matching the pitch, you may notice that the sound coming out of the phone seems suddenly softer. This is called auditory masking, and it’s a good indication that you are singing in tune.

Play with making your voice a little bit higher or a little bit lower than the steady pitch. You will hear “bubbles” or waves that will increase in speed the farther away you are from matching the pitch. Being out of tune sounds like a helicopter landing and it has an unpleasant physical effect inside the ear. When you sing too high, you are sharp. When you sing too low, you are flat. To sing in tune, we must hear these “bubbles” and quickly move the voice to be more in tune. With practice, you will be able to know which way to move the voice (sharper or flatter) to eliminate the waves. In the meantime, when you hear that you are out of tune, slide the voice higher or lower. If the waves become faster, switch direction.

Experiment and be curious

Practice holding the note in tune as long as you can. Notice what happens as you get out of breath. Usually, the pitch will go flat as the breath support wanes. Notice what happens if you raise your eyebrows or raise your chin. Be curious about how body position will change pitch.

Once you have the hang of singing the same note as the tuner, singing in unison, try singing intervals. You may notice that octaves and perfect 5ths are the easiest to tune by eliminating beats. Other intervals are more difficult and require a bit more study. For now, work to match pitch accurately.

Exercise 2: Using a tuner

In the TE Tuner app, choose “tuner” from the bottom menu. Check these settings:

  • microphone button: don’t select any of the intervals
  • mode and range: set to VOICE-MEDIUM-NORMAL
  • Temperament: EQUAL

Sing any note and try to get the green smiley to light up in the center. Slide your voice up and down until the green light appears then try to hold the note as long as you can. It’s more difficult than Exercise 1 because now there is no reference pitch.

tune with TE Tuner

singing in tune with the tuner

Try singing a scale, but go slowly to see if you can make each note in tune. For a recent performance of “Quiet,” I worked with the tuner in this way on the opening intervals. I noticed that my low voice is unstable and I had to add a lot of air to keep the pitches in tune. Note that you will want to use very little or no vibrato when practicing singing like this. The tuner has difficulty with vibrato, especially when the vibrato is strong. Vibrato, after all, is a quick modulation of the pitch.

Exercise 3: Resonance and Overtones

In the TE tuner app, select “Analysis” in the lower menu. Now you can practice singing in. tune and play around with a visual spectral analysis of the voice. Sing with different vowels, change the position of the tongue, open and close the mouth, place the sound in your nose or aim at the teeth. Notice how different vocal timbres are reflected in the graphs. Do you like a sound with more overtones? Can you still sing in tune but project more volume? This is a vocalist’s sandbox for playing with the sound.

voice tuner

spectral analysis

Have Fun and Share Your Ideas

For more ideas on how to use the TE Tuner, check out this video.

Be sure to close out of the TE Tuner app when you are finished by double clicking the home button and swiping up. The app will continue operating in the background, using battery power if you don’t close it completely.

What cool things did you discover about your voice? What other ways can we use technology (this app or something else) to improve vocal quality and intonation?

Choir Lesson #6: Stagger Breathing

Choir Membership Teaches Many Life Lessons

Singing in a choir allows us time to practice being together with a shared goal. In a previous post, I discussed 5 spiritual lessons of the choir. I’d like to add one more: the wisdom of stagger breathing

Last week, I sang onstage at a bar. For a person who is accustomed to singing at church or in a theater packed with toddlers, this was a big thrill. I ended up there in a most unexpected way: singing in a social justice choir. It’s not something I could have imagined 6 months ago, but sometimes life takes crazy turns. After the performance, I was talking to another member of the choir and she told me about this quote:

stagger breathing quote for the choir

Aimee Van Ausdall

When life swells to a crescendo of activity and we are swept away by the busyness, self-care is vital. When we feel overwhelmed, we must take a breath. Trust that the others will cover for you. Step back in when you’re refreshed so someone else can take a break.

Trust, Self-Care, and Longevity

Stagger breathing requires trust. You must have faith that the people around you will carry on the work without you. In turn, you have to complete the circle by stepping up when others need time off. You have to be aware of the people around you. If they are more out of breath than you, wait until after they have taken a breath to take yours. With practice, you’ll be able to sense when the person next to you is taking a breath and when you should take yours. We all have different lung capacities.

You have to realize when it’s time to take a breath. Don’t wait until you are completely and utterly out of air. Your breath might be noisy and it will take longer to come back in. I encourage my choir members to relax into the breath so the air rushes in effortlessly. Keep your mouth open and pretend to continue singing. The illusion is that the sound is uninterrupted and you’re in the right place to rejoin at the beginning of the next exhale.

Stagger breathing in a choir means that you don’t have to make the sound all by yourself. We agree to work together to make our song seamless. The audience never knows who is singing and who is taking a needed breath. This is empowering as well as humbling. When we stagger breathing, there is no soloist. Our goal is to make a harmonious sound that we can maintain indefinitely.

We practice stagger breathing in a choir. We apply the lessons in life.

Silence: Exploring 4’33” by John Cage

Where Does Silence Begin?

Claude Debussy famously quipped “Music is the silence between the notes.”

Or consider this wisdom from an old Zen koan: “It is the silence between the notes that makes the music; it is the space between the bars that cages the tiger.”

Holding silence is difficult, musically and personally.

As a music teacher, I have noticed that the most common rhythm mistake is not counting rests correctly. We want to make the rest too short or add extra time. The correct silence, entered with intention and ended with beauty, is not easy.

In the headlong rush of our lives, creating space for silence requires effort. We turn on the TV or radio to create distraction. The noises of the house, office, people, and street are constant. Inward quiet is even more elusive.

4’33”

Composer John Cage has said that his most important work is 4’33”, an exploration of silence. In this composition, John Cage has written three movements of no music lasting exactly four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The musicians simply sit on stage without playing instruments. The video below shows the soloist tuning her instrument and the conductor beginning each of the three movements.

The Musical Rorschach Test

How do you feel when listening to this piece? Impatient for it to be over? Curious about the sounds? Angry that people couldn’t be quiet in the hall? Perhaps you thought about the people at the concert who paid money to attend this concert.

I would argue that your perception of the piece reflects a bit of your subconscious. It’s like a musical Rorschach test. Everyone will see/hear something different. Your perception may change over time or with repeated hearings.

Rorschach test ink blot silence

Rorschach image

I first became aware 4’33” by John Cage in graduate school. A friend programmed it on his master’s recital. My reaction was, “That’s brilliant! Five minutes of music that he doesn’t have to prepare on his recital. Why didn’t I think of that?!” It seemed like a trick, a joke.

Now I am much more interested in the audience’s participation in 4’33”. In the video above, we hear noises during each movement and an explosion of sound between movements. This piece is successful because the audience has preconceived notions of what they are to do in a recital hall, ie. sit still and listen. But the hall is not silent. It never is. This helps me to remember that the audience is part of every performance. The audience creates an energy in a concert hall. Indeed, the audience is integral. Without an audience, the performance is just a rehearsal. Sometimes the audience is adding to the soundscape, as is made clear in 4’33.”

Finding the Stillness

In the days ahead, I challenge you to find some silence, realizing that it is never truly without sound. The beating of the heart, the hum of machines, are with us always. It is not necessary to silence the world, only to find peace among the sound. This is the spiritual practice of silence.

Find a stillness, hold a stillness, let the stillness carry me.

Find the silence, hold the silence, let the silence carry me.

In the spirit, by the spirit, with the spirit giving power.

I will find true harmony.   -Carl G. Seaburg (based on a Unitarian Transylvanian text)

 

The Judges

Banishing Negative Self-Talkangry judges

For the first several years after I started my job as music director, I had a lot of anxiety about the job. I often came home on Sunday afternoons and cried. My husband will tell you that I would spend hours obsessing over something I said or something that I did in rehearsal that might not have come out right. My imaginary judges were constant companions.

Saturday nights were the worst. I would spend a lot of time preparing for the Sunday morning rehearsal, learning every single part. There were many sleepless Saturday nights and many anxious nightmares. The negative voices in my head were deafening. I told myself “You’re not good enough for this job. You don’t have the skills to lead a choir. The choir members don’t like you.” The judges in my head were loud and persistent.

Slowly, I came to realize that this kind of negative self talk was not making the music better. In fact, it was holding me back from joyful expression.

Now, 13 years into the job, I would like to say that the judges are completely gone, but they aren’t. I still have moments of self-doubt. But I’m learning to stare the judges in the eye, ask them to be kind, and listen to the constructive ideas they have for me.

I think most musicians are familiar with inner judges.

We must have a certain amount of self-reflection to correct mistakes during practice. Because music eaves us very vulnerable when performing or working with a teacher, negative self-talk can cause performance anxiety.

A loud inner dialog takes up a lot of space in the brain. We can only remember four to seven things at once. Playing a musical instrument or singing uses a lot of bandwidth as we shift from thinking about the body to the music to the instrument. If the brain is overloaded with inner conflict, the music will suffer. There is a limit to how many things we can be doing and remembering at once.

The first step in solving any problem is to recognize what the problem is.

Notice as you go through your music practice and your day what narrative is going on inside yourself. Listen to the voice within. Are there particular things that trigger negative self-talk?

A Soprano on Her Head

In her book A Soprano on Her Head, Eloise Ristad offers ways to confront the judges. She suggests an exercise, asking us to imagine the judges as people sitting around us.

If we stand in the center of our circle. We can look around at each judge with a sense of detachment and curiosity and find out what each one is telling us. We can also take the initiative and talk back to them; we can ask them to be more supportive and just stop tyrannizing us. We can let their cold imperiousness turn the judges into ice, then let a tiny warm glow at our center intensify little by little until our judges begin to melt away….

We can lessen the power of these nagging, bothers some judges that continually defeat us and stifle are spontaneity. We aren’t doomed to constant censorship from these commentators on our every act and thought. There’s even a chance that we can come to terms with them and find the good in them.

In her book, Eloise Ristad offers many exercises for diminishing the effect of these judges, including asking them to speak kindly or taking their power away. If your inner judges are loud, I urge you to read her book and work through the exercises Ristad suggests in Chapter 2.

When you hear your judges, counteract their negativity with affirmations.

“I am good enough; I am doing enough; I am loved.”kids playing music

Reflection can be a useful tool for growth, but it must be done with love and compassion.

Too much judgment holds us back from experiencing life in the moment. It keeps us frozen in the past because we are afraid of failure. Negative self-talk often causes performance anxiety for musicians and it prevents us from fully expressing ourselves artistically.

Finally, I believe that recognizing and counteracting judgmental self-talk is a kind of spiritual practice. It has helped me be happier in my career and in my personal life. But I have to keep practicing because the judges change form as I face new challenges. I try to stay aware of the voice within me, ever vigilant that my judges are fair and kind.

3 Listening Lessons for the Choir… And for Life!

3 Listening Lessons for the Choir

As part of an ongoing series about spiritual practice and music, this blog post will focus on the art of listening.

Music practice is an awesome place to explore larger ideas. When we practice music, we create time for working on ourselves as well as our songs. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum, and so it’s my hope that these skills will translate into other parts of your life.  This deepens our connection with music and offers another kind of spiritual practice.

1. Listen to yourself.

With a critical, but not judgmental ear, listen carefully to the sound you were making. Ask yourself “Is this the best tone I can make today?” If not, play around with all of the variables to see if changing one thing makes the sound better or worse. Concentrate on the physical action of the body. Assess if you are moving from a place of comfort or discomfort. When practicing, focus your complete attention on the music. Can you relate to the mood of the piece? Always be searching for ways to connect breath to sound and stay active with your listening. Practice non-judgement by not allowing the negative voices to diminish you. Instead, turn the inner judges into voices that offer encouragement and gentle, constructive observations.

2. Listen to others.

Try focusing on a different vocal part, perhaps even one across the room. Or listen to the singers on either side of you. Can you listen so intensely that your neighbors sound louder than you? Be mindful of the blend of the entire choir. Notice when the group wants to change tempo, change dynamics, or where people are taking breaths.

3. Be playful and curious.

By engaging your inner child, the music will always stay interesting. Imagine that you have ears in the far corner of the room. Try listening from those ears, not the ones on your head. Listen to how the sound is bouncing off the walls or people or the furniture in the room. Maybe you will notice if something is sympathetically vibrating. Continue to play with all of the variables in your body that change the sound. Give yourself permission to think out of the box. For example, how does the sound change if you curl your toes in your shoes?

listening to a soprano on her head

A Soprano on Her Head

The playful approach to music-making is inspired by Eloisa Ristad and her book A Soprano On Her Head. It is an inspiring work that has been an inspiration for my teaching since I first read it in 1996.

Other blog posts related to this topic:

Hearing vs. Listening

Reinvigorating Flute Practice

Music as a Spiritual Practice

The 5 Spiritual Lessons From Choir

Being a member of a choir can be a deeply spiritual experience.

Every choir is an intentional community of individuals with a common purpose. We come together to inspire and be inspired, to create music, and to be moved. The choir seems the perfect metaphor or symbol of community and shared vision.

We come to rehearsal as a single voice, then merge it with others to create something powerful. A single voice is amplified in when we sing together, but the choir doesn’t exist without each and every voice. Breathing together, speaking together, moving together, becoming louder… together.

The five lessons we can learn from being in a choir:

1. Show Up

It’s impossible to have a choir with just one or two or even three people. Choir requires personal commitment and trust. We have to trust that our friends are also going to show up for rehearsal. Members must be reliable and committed. It’s a good place to develop and practice grit, which has resonance in other areas of life.

2. Be Prepared

The singers sitting next to you will appreciate the time and effort you have put into preparing your part. Perhaps more importantly, you will have confidence and will enjoy the rehearsal better. When the director doesn’t have to teach the notes, she can use rehearsal time to craft a musical performance. Together, we can study the phrases for the proper dynamics and breaths. We can discuss the words and the text painting the composer used. Music is so much more than the right notes and the right rhythms. Your home practice will make rehearsal easier and the performance more meaningful.

3. We Need Every Individual Voicechoir

A choir needs the high voices and the low ones. We need the ones that project and the voices that blend. Directors love the folks who sight read flawlessly and those that practice the music at home. Sometimes a young, clear voice is right for the solo; other times we want the voice that is a bit rough around the edges but experienced. Each week, the choir sound may be slightly different depending on who is singing (and who has a cold.) But that’s the beauty of the choir: it is a living, expressive entity that requires a crowd and always has room for one more.

4. Synergy

The choir is much more than the sum of its parts. We blend our voices and are carried by the music. We’ve all had the experience of a performance that was astonishingly better than the practice. “Performance magic” is one of the most spectacular things about being a member of a musical group. I don’t know where the magic comes from but without warning it tuns a song into a holy anthem.

5. Make the World a Bit More Beautiful

The choir is a microcosm of the world we want. It is a group of individuals coming together, people transforming dots on the paper into art that resonates in the soul. We sing when we are happy, we sing when we are sad, we sing when we are angry, and we sing for inspiration. We lift each other up in a spirit of caring and of shared purpose.

When we raise our voices together, we can change the world. And when the revolution comes, I’ll be singing with the choir.

Con Text: Poetry and Music

Context

What makes vocal music different from instrumental music? Of course there are obvious differences like the lack of fingerings or bow marks. But the most profound difference is that vocal music has words. Singers are interpreters of text.

Vocalists breathe with the phrases of poetry. We must know what the important words are to highlight them musically. And we must also understand the content to build to the climax and resolve the falling action.

As performers of poetry and prose, we have an intimate relationship with the subject matter. Rehearsing the song, the words implant in the mind. Later, the subconscious brings the words to our lips when we are cleaning the house or driving in the car.

Music is a memory device

The other night, I was listening to Bryan read poetry to the kids before bedtime. He began reading an Emily Dickinson poem. I joined in the recitation, the poem readily spilling out, though I had no idea that I knew this poem. It is the text to “Hope,” one of the anthems our choir loves to sing. For the rest of the night, I couldn’t get the words and music out of my head. It’s strange how musical memory works – one little nudge brings back the whole thing in an instant.

Or consider too how you know your ABCs. To this day, I still can’t alphabetize files without hearing the Alphabet Song in my head. It’s so much harder to recite those 26 letters minus the musical cues.

The blessing of practice

text

Seasons of Love

This week, my church choir is singing “Seasons of Love.” I can tell you there are “five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes” in a year. More profound questions lurk behind the text. What would it mean to celebrate and remember every single moment? If we measured in love, how much would there be?

It is a gift that vocalists have to think about the text. We, perhaps more than the audience, benefit from the profound mysteries revealed in the poetry. We have time, through rehearsal, to take a deep dive. Vocalists have the unique pleasure of understanding text painting (the composer’s use of melodic and harmonic devices to color words with a particular emotion.) The music is in our bodies, goes through our bodies, resonates with our bodies. It’s physical, emotional, intellectual work.

I am reminded of Jason Robert Brown’s song “The Music of Heaven.”

“I come with my armor in place,
Emotions in check.
And thinking I’m smarter or just more realistic.
I sit with my frozen smile,
All the while reluctant to trust what I’m told,
Cynical, cold.

Challenging music of heaven to open a crack in my chest.
And let something glorious in.
Music of heaven should puncture me, suddenly blessed,
Let the music begin…

And I sit there with dry eyes and cold hands
Judging and standing apart
Dry eyes and cold hands,
Waiting and wondering, when will it open my heart.
When will it open my heart?
When will I open my heart?”

Music breaks us open. It finds its ways into the smallest crack of our hearts. But it is also possible to stay indifferent, to not let that crack open up. Musicians have to turn toward the music, to be vulnerable, to open our hearts. That is the only way that we can have a truly meaningful performance. This is a gift we give the audience, of course, but I wonder if it isn’t something we do for ourselves too. Aren’t we changed by the study, rehearsals, and performance?

The voice within

I know I’m not alone in experiencing music that comes to me unbidden. When my grandfather died, the family was at his bedside. I don’t know where it came from, but the song “I’ll Fly Away” began in my head. I started humming it, then quietly sang the words. My sister joined in, then our mother. We opened a window. Singing with my family in that moment felt so right.

There have been other times of heartache that other songs have come to me, rolling in like a storm or like sunlight breaking through the clouds. Unexpected. Perfect. Songs like “All Will Be Well,” “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, or “Something Told the Wild Geese.”

There seems to be a song in the jukebox of my head for every situation, every emotion. There are days when I feel like my life is one big musical. There’s something magical about the subconscious finding the right song for the moment.

A picture in my studio has this poem:

“An awe so quiet I don’t know when it began.
A gratitude had begun to sing in me.
Was there some moment dividing song from no song?
When does dewfall begin?
When does night fold its arms over our hearts to cherish them?
When is daybreak?” -Denise Levertov

What songs are playing in your head? If you turn up the volume and listen, is the song trying to tell you something, trying to open some crack in your heart?

A challenge to my choir and all vocalists

choir practice- I'm on the left with a drum

NUUC Choir

The church choir offers the perfect opportunity for spiritual growth through music.

When you are working on choir music, I challenge you to think about the lyrics. What do the words mean to you? Can you relate to that experience? How does the music help carry the message? As a performer, how can you help the audience feel and understand the text? And finally, I wonder if we can find ways to be more willing to receive the blessings of music.

I think Jason Robert Brown was onto something. “Let the music begin.”

Music as a Spiritual Practice: My Path

Music as a Spiritual Practice: My Path

The Beginning

spiritual practice at church

Covenant Presbyterian Church

Like many people, I first began to connect music and spiritual practice while a young child. I attended a large, stone Presbyterian church with my mother. The church was well endowed and had a huge organ, robust choir, bell choir, several children’s choirs, and occasionally an orchestra. It was a rich place for music.

My favorite service of the year was Easter. The church was full of people, the altar adorned with lilies, and the choir was resplendent in their robes. At the end of the Easter service, organist Trudy Faber would take the organ to its full volume and open the trumpet stops. I remember the sanctuary filled with sound, feeling the floor vibrate under my new white shoes. Even now, just thinking about it, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. As I listened to the organ in the grand sanctuary while gazing at the stained glass windows and flying buttresses, I felt divine ecstasy. This was an awe-inspiring experience that forever linked music with spirituality.

Music still has that power over me. When I am moved by music, I feel its spiritual force within me and a reconnection with the divine.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I don’t know where I got the idea to play the flute, but my mom remembers me telling her that I wanted to play and insisting on it until she relented. Practicing the flute was a pleasant escape from the intensity of my home. While other teens were talking on the telephone or listening to the radio, I was playing the flute in the safe cocoon of my room. This is where I learned how to be alone to be comfortable with silence, and to direct my own learning. (Just to be clear, I had no guidance on how to practice and consequently had terrible practice habits that wasted a lot of time.)

Practicing also cultivated grit because my commitment to the flute was unwavering. In fact, I never missed a day of practice during the entire four years of high school.

Much later, I would learn to meditate. I have come to understand that my music practice is a meditation, reaching that same place of calm and flow.

Music has also opened me up to a range of emotions. For a melancholy piece, I must channel the composer’s pain and reference difficult moments in my life. On the other hand, jubilant music makes me feel energized. Little by little, music has expanded my emotional intelligence. It helps me to simply sit with people who are sad without trying to “make things better.” I am learning to be present with uncomfortable feelings… without trying to change them. Performing music demands that a musician stay present and fully engaged, no matter the emotional intensity.

Music practice can be a spiritual practice. I learned how to be still, how to listen, how to commit mind and action to a singular goal. Music cracked open my heart to the joy and suffering of life.

University Studies

degree

MM from CU

The Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Top Chef… the judging tables in these shows are less intense than music school. Universities accept only a fraction of students who audition. Fewer make it through the first year. Every week, professors offer criticism in lessons and studio class. Then there are the yearly juries and solo recitals. Music students are required to make fast progress while working through stage fright and self-doubt.

While many teachers tried to be constructive with their criticism, the voices in my head were more destructive. Am I good enough? Do they like me? What if I shake/get sweaty hands/can’t breathe? Facing these fears has been difficult. At times, the negative self talk was deafening, paralyzing. My playing suffered from performance anxiety. So I took classes in Alexander Technique and performance anxiety. I developed a tough skin.  Eventually, I learned that obsessing over these minor details did not serve the music. We do our best and then we move on.

Confronting self-doubt is a kind of spiritual practice because it leads to love and forgiveness.

Post-Graduate

flute studio in 1997

studio photo 1997

After graduating with a masters degree in flute performance, getting married, and moving back to Ohio, I worked to build a career in music. Very quickly I learned that there were lots of other people trying to do the same thing and they were just as driven, just as talented (often more talented.) It was thrilling to land a good gig but it also sent me into a spiral of over-work, self-doubt, and anxiety. Teaching, however, has always been something I love. I have a terrific home studio of flute students, teach classes for preschoolers at recreation centers, and work as a music director for a wonderful church, which is aligned with my spiritual beliefs. This wasn’t the career I had envisioned, but I have a passion for it. All of these jobs allow me to help others find joy in music.

Finding my place in the music community has taught me humility and given me a sense of purpose.

Growing a Soul

Meditation, prayer, ritual, yoga, fasting, and writing are all examples of common spiritual practices. I believe that studying and performing music can also be part of a spiritual practice. For some people, the point of spiritual practice is achieving a closer connection with a higher power. For others, it is liberation from this world. But for me, the goal of any spiritual practice is to grow a soul. Music has been part of my life since the beginning. I am aware of ways that it has shaped me into the person I am today. The lessons I am learning are about

Traveling a spiritual path means greater self-actualization. Music continues to reveal new ways to explore the journey.

Choir Practice Ideas

Choir Practice.

Many of my blog posts have focused on practicing the flute, but today we will look at some special considerations for choir practice.

As a musician who wears many hats, in addition to teaching private flute students, I also direct an adult church choir.

choir practice

NUUC Choir – I’m on the left playing a drum

Choir practice is the focus of my weekend. At our church, choir rehearsal is before the worship service on Sunday mornings. Choir practice goes much more smoothly and we are able to achieve a higher level of performance when everyone comes to rehearsal prepared with their parts. Instrumentalists are used to learning their parts at home, but singers sometimes wait until rehearsal to learn the notes.

Vocalists in a choir will enjoy the music more by spending a little time each week practicing at home. Choir directors are grateful when singers come prepared with their parts. When we don’t have to teach notes, rhythms, and pronunciation, we can focus on musicianship and ensemble.

The following article has lots of good ideas for choir members. You don’t need to be able to play the piano to practice your part!

Practicing Choral Music: Ten Ideas for the Singer Who Doesn’t Think They Can Practice on Their Own

I completely agree with Doreen Fryling that silence is imperative for mentally working on parts, or “audiating.” Many people are surprised to learn that my husband and I don’t have music playing in the house most of the time. In fact, I never have background music playing when I am in the office. I may actively listen to the piece I am preparing, but I find other music to be very distracting. Background music further robs my brain of the blank space needed to work on music subconsciously. If I listen closely to my brain, there is almost always some music being tossed around up there. Right now, the house is completely silent, but our newest choir piece is “playing” in my head.

Utilize Online Resources

YouTube is one of the best resources for choirs. I use it a lot to discover new music, prepare my weekly rehearsals, and get performance ideas. When I find a particularly good video, I pass it on to my choir. Even a bad YouTube video is helpful. Recognizing what doesn’t work in music is an important step in developing good musical taste. Sometimes we even post a YouTube video of our performances. This is a video that we made for Kiya Heartwood, the composer of “Higher Ground,” when we rehearsed and performed the arrangement she made for us.

As for foreign language pronunciation, there are many good online resources. Here’s one for Ecclesiastical Latin, for example.

What are your practice routines? Are there any resources, online or otherwise, that are particularly helpful to you?