Magic Choral Trick #136 Slow Motion Chords
From the time we begin to sing in choirs we’re encouraged to think of our part as a horizontal, flowing line. This is a very fine place from which to start. And it’s also ultimately where we want to end up – with every singer being really conscious of phrasing.
However, somewhere in the rehearsal time between these two points, because choirs sing in harmony, we need to become experts at also thinking vertically.
Directors – Slow Motion Chords may not make you popular in the short term, but eventually when your choir is locking in the chords and raising all kinds of goose bumps, they’ll thank you. Well, maybe not, but they will appreciate your determination.
I’ve been known to spend up to half an hour on cleaning up the chords in the first 8 bars of a song. Singers are often reluctant to begin this exercise – but after a while, when the chords are working, being in the presence of this kind of ringing sound is thrilling.
In case you’re unclear what I mean by Slow Motion Chords – it’s just singing beat after beat in slow motion, giving the singers’ ears time to listen to the chord and make any necessary adjustments. Of course, this works best with a piece that’s already homophonic, and not something contrapuntal.
Once they hear what the chord should be, I ask them to see if they can lock it in immediately with a clean attack, clean pitch and crystal clear target vowel – on my beat.
In addition to tuning, and helping singers to balance a chord, this technique also requires rock steady singing of each note – so unbeknownst to the chorister, they’re also working on support, and keeping the target vowel relaxed and free. Both of these are vital to sustaining both the vertical chord, and the colour and sweep of the vocal line.