Magic Choral Trick #359 Stuff That Goes Wrong on Beat 4

Because in English there are so many unaccented pick up words that appear on beat 4, the opportunity to drag and be out of synch happens frequently.

Here’s what can go wrong on and around beat 4

1. Breath before beat 4 is too slow, or at least unsynchronized

2. Different amounts of mouth opening for breath

3. For many singers the mouth is wide open for the breath and it stays that way for the singing of the pick up note, so more sound comes out and the pick up word is accented and generally slower.

4. Because the breath and pick up note are now out of synch, the disorganized sound creates inertia and it feels like we’ll never arrive on beat one of the next bar.

5. Directors get very discouraged, their right shoulder begins to hurt from pulling their singers along and they just want to go home and open a bottle of wine.

We tend to think that the real problem is people not feeling where beat one is – but it’s just that there are so many technical land mines to dodge before you ever get to the next bar.


Here’s what I propose

– Practise breathing in very quickly through a relaxed, neutral mouth shape – and an open throat. An open throat means that the breath won’t be noisy.

Breathe in – then kick the air out in 12 – 16 loose-lipped exhalations. Rest for a few seconds, then repeat. The reason for so many exhalations and then the rest is that you don’t want your singers to hyperventilate and pass out. Bad form.

The object here is to create a habit, so this needs to be done often.


– Once the breathing is fast and synchronized we can turn our attention to the pick up word

As I know I’ve mentioned before, the pick up word, or words always need to be sung through a completely neutral mouth shape, even if the word’s target vowel is one that would normally require forming – like ‘Oh’. If mouths are open wide, then synchronization gets compromised, an unimportant word/beat gets accented, and we lose forward motion. (And we’re late for beat 1, director unhappy, shoulder problems, drinking…)

During warm up it would be good to introduce a bunch of phrases that have one or two pick up words (or syllables).

A few seasonal suggestions:

It’s the most wonderful time

O come all ye faithful

Away in a manger

O Christmas Tree (Tannenbaum)

In a Lowly Stable (published by Boosey and Hawkes – blatant ad for my husband’s music)


– Then with the addition of a little Gear Change (see previous blog post) leading into beat one, the transition from one bar to the next will be more fun for everyone!

About janetkidd

I've been waving my arms in front of choirs now for more than 35 years - and these are descriptions of all the very best things I've learned. I direct a Women's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Men's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Med School choir, and for a few weeks each year - Big Choir (about 100 voices) - which performs at an annual fundraising concert. Hope at least some of these Choral Magic Tricks will be useful to you - and thanks for reading. Janet

Posted on December 12, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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