Monthly Archives: October 2013

Magic Choral Tricks Table of Contents from #203 to #286

The categorization is a work in progress. Here’s the list of what the letter abbreviations mean:

T = Tuning, B = Breathing, S = Synchronization, L = Leadership, PS = Placement/Sound, N = Nerves, M = Mental Focus, Pr = Presentation, E = Energy, H = Health, HWK = Homework

And here are the postings in order from #203. Just google Magic Choral Trick #__, and the link should be available to click on

203. The Bloom Gesture
204. Rip it Up Fabulous Singing – At the Party After the Gig
205. More Spinning
206. Avoid Finale Sopranos and Altos
207. Eyeballing
208. Thought Balloon
209. Singing Outside of Your Range
210. Your Face is Not As Active As You Think
211. Cheek Wings
212. Choirs and Social Consciousness
213. Pancake Flip for Pitch
214. Refreshing the Thought
215. Where’s the Tonic Chord?
216. Why Choirs Sing Flat
217. Onion Skin Stacking
218. Oversinging
219. Staying Healthy for the Gig
220. Our Toddler Minds
221. Staying Conscious
222. The Believable Breath
223. Directors and Mockery
224. Keeping the Voice Supple
225. The Prayer Hands Slide
226. Singing in Klingon http://www.kli.org/tlh/sounds.html
227. Singing at Funerals
228. The Fifth is King
229. Our Singing Brain and Our Speaking Brain
230. Giant Beach Ball Breath
231. Choreography – Pitfalls of Rehearsing While Speaking the Words
232. Cheek Wings of the Mind
233. Power Poses – Rich Sound
234. The Front Row
235. Target Pitches
236. Cheering Up
237. The Wavering Pitch
238. Finger Under the Chin
239. Swing/Back Beat………………………………………………………………S, Pr
240. One Thing
241. A Reminder About FBI
242. Reach For the Sky, Lion
243. Leadership with Integrity
244. Cheekbones Up
245. Nights When the Numbers Are Down
246. Intention and the Superpower of Noticing
247. The Game of Excellence
248. Ready Set Go!……………………………………………………………………………………………….E
249. Directors – Subtle Hand Signals……………………………………………….L
250. Soft Palate Stuff………………………………………………………………..PS
251. Video Lessons in Humility…………………………………………………….Pr
252. Collection………………………………………………………………………M, E
253. They Don’t Really Need Me There…………………………………………….L
254. Toes and Rose……………………………………………………………..…..Pr, PS
255. Hand Signal for a Tall Throat………………………………………………….L
256. Complete Magic Choral Tricks List…to Date
257. Thoink…………………………………………………………………………Pr
258. The ‘Ah’ Snarl………………………………………………………………..PS
259. Visualization………………………………………………………………….HWK
260. Being Present…………………………………………………………………M, E
261. Before the First Note…………………………………………………………E, Pr
262. Always ‘On’…………………………………………………………..…..…E, Pr
263. Mental Intensity……………………………………………………..……….E, M
264. Question Mark ‘s’…………………………………………………………….S, Pr
265. Science Makes it Loud…………………………………………….…………T, PS
266. The Face Peel……………………………………………………………PS
267. Pitch Revisitation………………………………………………………..T
268. Diligence and Talent……………………………………………………..L
269. Performance Day…………………………………………………………E, M
270. Quiet Intensity………………………………………………………PS, E, M, Pr
271. Your Back Story…………………………………………………………..Pr
272. Nothing Pays Worse Than a Free Gig……………………………………L
273. Revving Up the Sound Machine…………………………………PS, E, M, Pr, L
274. Brass and Woodwind Voices…………………………………………….PS
275. Descending Onion Skin Stacking…………………………………………T
276. Why?………………………………………………………………………………………………………..Pr
277. The Chorus Culture………………………………………………………..L
278. Snit Thinking………………………………………………………………PS
279. Tall Filling the Vowel……………………………………………………..PS
280. Hurry Up and Wait Tip……………………………………………………L
281. Mooing Your Way to Legato…………………………………………S, E, PS
282. Standin’ Up Type Sittin’ Down……………………………………….E, PS, M
283. Lip Roll Warm Up………………………………………………………..PS
284. Rushing ……………..……………………………………………………L, S
285. Dragging………………………………………………………………….S
286. Toilet Paper Breath Gauge……………………………………………….PS

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Magic Choral Trick #286 Toilet Paper Breath Gauge

This trick from Mark Baxter worked really, really well last night with my men’s Barbershop chorus.

Actually, to be truthful, we didn’t even use real toilet paper – just toilet paper of the mind. They imagined the exact amount of drag that could be exerted on the toilet tissue to keep it taught, but not to let it break. With every phrase we mimed the exercise that Mark Baxter demonstrates in the video. (below)

Not only was everything smoother and more legato, but as Harry, one of my basses, pointed out, getting the hand that’s doing the mimed dragging back to the starting position in time for the next phrase helps everyone to time the breath more cleanly. And the breaths happen quickly and efficiently without anyone actually thinking about them.

Magic Choral Trick #285 Dragging

We all know that feeling. For directors it’s like picking up the entire choir and hauling it bodily over to the next beat. And for singers in the choir it’s like having to do that with your voice. Exhausting, utterly draining and not fun.

But no amount of director flailing, and exhortations to ‘sing on the beat’ is going to actually solve this problem.

Here are five of the main things that keep a choir sludging along further and further behind the original beat.

1. Breaths between phrases are too slow.

2. Eyes all down in the music, and the singers are not actually watching (or noticing) the beat.

3. Target vowels late on downbeats because the initial consonant or consonant blend is too slow – usually because of too much mouth movement.

4. Director’s beat is not clear. Sometimes this is because different body parts are giving different cues – and the singers wonder if they should be paying attention to the face, the shoulders, elbows, wrists or finger tips. In an effort to communicate legato, some directors like to incorporate all these limb parts into a sort of body wave.

5. Directors just giving up and allowing an extra beat every so often

Here’s what will help:

1. It’s possible to take in a lot of air quickly and silently if the soft palate is raised. However, like all useful singing techniques, it needs to become habit. This can be rehearsed in isolation, then incorporated into songs with reminders from the director. Sometimes I tap my solar plexus to remind my groups about breathing.

2. If your choir uses music, ask them to raise it up to upper chest level, and hold it flat – so that they can see all the director cues clearly. From a director’s perspective this is also much more satisfying because it dramatically increases the amount of eye contact you have with your singers – and you’re less likely to get that useless and redundant feeling.

3. Working on target vowels during every single warm up increases awareness of what they are, and how they need to be sung. It’s then a good idea to rehearse a variety of consonants, and consonant blends, followed by target vowels, so that once again, the habit becomes ingrained.

Night = Nah…………..eet
Flight = Flah…….……eet – with the ‘L’ being just a very fast flip with the tip of the tongue.

4. Directors – If the body wave is part of your style you’ll need to change this if you want your choir to sing in time. However, you may not have any idea what you look like and what movements you’re making. Video youself. Then if you can’t fix the issues yourself, find a coach. Just a warning here – if you get coaching in front of your chorus, get a coach whose interpersonal skills you trust. Also – regardless of how tactful the coach is, you may need to swallow a fair amount of pride. But this is a huge opportunity for the singers in your group to watch someone taking, and using constructive criticism in a spirit of enthusiasm and excitement about learning new stuff.

5. Never give up, never surrender!

Oh, and once again, have your chorus practise at home with a metronome – at the tempo that’s been decided.

Magic Choral Trick #284 Rushing

Tempo problems are not tough to fix if you can figure out exactly which issues are plaguing your chorus.

Rushing happens mostly in uptempo songs for a few basic reasons:

Excitement – a song with a previously rock steady tempo can just up and gallop away from you on the contest stage. Once the race for the barn has really taken hold, the only thing you can do is watch in amazement and dismay.

Being unaware of exactly when each phrase should end

Forgetting about target vowels and diphthong resolution (because it’s hard to think that fast)

Being unaccustomed to thinking of subdividing a beat – so the eighth notes rush

Here’s what has helped my groups:

1. Have everyone do their homework – singing through the song at the tempo that has been decided – along with a metronome. You don’t have to buy a pricey one. Some phones can now get a metronome app, and there’s always the free http://www.metronomeonline.com

2. Make sure everyone in the chorus knows exactly how many beats the last notes in each phrase should last – especially in the spots where the song’s tempo like to race. Then directors – have a specific signal for reminding the singers to focus carefully on the number of beats. (I use a counting fingers signal – right in front of my chest, so the audience can’t see it. Also, I find that actually beating time all the way through an uptempo tune deadens a group’s awareness. They stop really seeing me – which makes it difficult to haul them back from the brink if things start to get a little nuts.)

3. The work on Target Vowels and Diphthong Resolution never ever stops.

https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/magic-choral-trick-5-target-vowels/

https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/magic-choral-trick-171-perfect-diphthongs/

Keeping my singers’ awareness focused on these two related things has made more of a difference to every facet of choral singing than anything else in my now almost 40 (Aaarrgghh) years as a choral director.

Because these concepts are so important it’s a great idea to incorporate Target Vowel and Diphthong Resolution exercises into the warm up as a way of entrenching the Target Vowel habit.

If singers are chewing off the ends of each word instead of keeping the target vowel open and ringing for as long as possible, the song will rush. Synchronization will be affected, and the chords won’t ring.

4. It’s also useful to incorporate a beat subdividing exercise into every warm up – especially alternating between quarter notes and eighth notes. If you use some sort of physical movement in time to the beat, it helps to lock these rhythm patterns into the body – which frees up the mind to think of things like dynamics, emotion, target vowels, synchronized diphthongs, choreography, tuning, vocal placement, whose fifth you need to be locking in to, laser eyes on the director……….

Magic Choral Trick #283 Lip Roll Warm Up

Lip Rolls get the breath moving, improve legato and help place the sound further forward in the mouth – and so are a great addition to any warm up.

Here’s my original post about them:

https://betterchoirs.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/magic-choral-trick-67-lip-roll/

As I mention in the blog post – you can Brrrrrrr a few lines of a song to help with placement, but here’s an entertaining Lip Roll warm up exercise.

Everyone starts on the 5th. I’ll write it out here using scale degree numbers. The long underscores show that the note is sustained.

(Sory folks – haven’t yet figured out how to copy and paste Finale files onto this blog)

Barbershop version – everyone starts on exactly the same pitch – not an octave apart

Tenor 5 5 6 7 8 2 3 (2, 3 = 9, 10)
Lead 5 5 6 7 8____
Bari 5____________
Bass 5 4 3 2 1____

SATB choir version

Sop 5 5 6 7 8 2 3
Alto 5 5 6 7 8____
Tenor 5____________
Bass 5 4 3 2 1____

This exercise can be done in several different keys during the warm up – keys either ascending, or descending by half tone. For example – do it first in the key of C, then sing it in D flat, D, E flat etc.

Just a heads up though – there are always several people in every group who will quit early because they say it makes their lips too buzzy or itchy. I try to cut them some slack. Everyone else will probably be having fun, because of the slight craziness of the exercise.

Magic Choral Trick #282 Standin’ Up Type Sittin’ Down

For Barbershop choruses, who have most of their repertoire memorized, standing on risers for most of the rehearsal is optimal – especially since visual presentation is so much a part of the style.

Even my Med school choir stands for the entire rehearsal, because they’re young, it’s good for the energy in the sound and also, there aren’t enough chairs.

However, when my Barbershop choruses are working on songs that are not yet off the page, they sit.

The mental engagement is less, the sound is less vital, and tuning suffers.

Here are some things that help.

1. In flat seated chairs with no arm rests, you can sit with the lower spine against the back of the chair, one foot on the floor in front of the chair, and one foot on the floor slightly to the side of the chair. (Yep – I hear you – not great in a short skirt. So unless a short skirt is a vital part of your choir social life, something more practical would be better.)

2. Church pews are really difficult. They seem to be designed to slide you back into a somnolent posture. Perching the sit bones on the front edge seems to work best.

3. Fold down theatre style seats also seem designed to encourage a kind of passive apathy – and there’s really no room to sit on the front edge if you’re holding music. This is the kind of seating that we have in my women’s chorus rehearsal space.

What worked really well the other night was using the ballet/pilates imagery of thinking of pulling the belly button in and back and attaching it to the spine. Instant improvement in the sound. This at least helps straighten out the torso in seats where this does not happen naturally.

Magic Choral Trick #281 Mooing Your Way to Legato

Two weeks ago my Women’s chorus was fortunate to be chosen to be guinea pigs in a short Skype coaching venture with singing judge and coach, Lynn Randall.

And while Skype as a coaching medium is not optimal, she was able to give us some great suggestions – like Mooing. We’ve been using this trick now for a couple of weeks, and it’s working well – especially in uptempo songs where a smooth legato line is more difficult to maintain.

Very simple.

Start by singing a phrase or two to a very tall, lots of space in the throat, smooth ‘Oo’

The synchronization will not be as clean as it should be – so that’s where adding the M comes in. Now sing those same phrases to Moo Moo Moo – keeping the same tall ‘Oo’ feeling. Have everyone focus on remembering what the Mooing feels like.

Now sing it again to the lyrics so that it has the same sort of feel as the Mooing.

It’ll be more legato, there’ll be fewer energy leak holes (the places where great chords die) and the synchronization will be much better.

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