Monthly Archives: February 2019

Magic Choral Trick #382 Cello Bowing

Legato is always a tricky concept for amateur singers. Here’s another kinaesthetic technique that I use.

Have your singers sing a slow 5 note scale 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1, using the numbers as lyrics. (Think half notes at about mm 80)

If you notice any energy leaks or lack of synchronization try having them physically mime bowing each note along with you, as if they were playing a cello – one note per bow.

1 – Down bow – as if you’re bowing a note, drawing the bow out to your right

2 – Up bow – as if you’re moving the bow over the string across the body towards your left side

3 – Down bow – to your right

4 – Up bow….etc

It works well when they understand that there’s always some resistance – a bit of grip on the string by the bow because of the rosin on the bow hair. So it takes even, deliberate pressure and pull to create a lovely cello sound.

Once they can imagine this, vowels in the ‘lyrics’ will become more defined, and longer, without your singers having to deliberately think those thoughts.

Yes, of course, they should know about target vowels and diphthong resolutions to words – but if they are physically bowing each note those things tend to fix themselves.

Once the singers become accustomed to physically bowing the phrases they’re singing, sometimes all it takes to bring back the legato into a phrase is for me to mime the bowing as I direct.

And those pesky pick up beats that inevitably get accented when the singers’ brains stop working can be radically altered into something much more pleasing by me miming the pick up as a short, but smooth up bow.

Magic Choral Trick #381 Doug’s Tuning Trick

Doug, who sings in my men’s chorus, arrived at rehearsal the other night with something new he’d discovered for bringing a pitch up to where it needs to be.

He was working with Tonal Energy Tuner on his phone ( https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tonalenergy-tuner-metronome/id497716362?mt=8 ) and was sustaining a pitch – but having difficulty with the accuracy.

He says he tried tapping his forehead, which worked a little. But then he began to draw circles – with a light massage touch, just above the space between his eyebrows, and amazingly, the Tonal Energy Tuner told him he’d raised the pitch, and was no longer singing flat.

“Cool!” I said, “Let’s try that with the chorus!!!”

So throughout the evening, on sustained chords at the ends of phrases I asked all the guys to do this ‘third eye massage’, and amazingly, the chords began to lock in more quickly than usual.

I tried it the next night with my women’s chorus, and it worked for them too!!

Of course some of my singers wanted an explanation – and though I have a few theories, I feel that it’s immaterial. (In the same way that understanding electricity is not a prerequisite for turning on a lamp)

What does interest me though is the technique’s possible continuing effectiveness. And after the singers have internalized the feeling of the light circular third eye massage, would it be enough of a trigger for in tune singing if only I were to do it?

Regardless – thanks Doug for your willingness to share the weird stuff!!!

Magic Choral Trick #380 The Positive Miracle

All of my choral director working life, people have been paying me to hear what’s wrong, and to fix it. So when a coach challenged me to give only positive feedback I was at a complete loss as to what to say. At first, the weaknesses were the only things I could hear.

I’ve now brought this challenge to most of my groups, and to a singing workshop and initially, they’ve all had the same issues as I had with giving feedback on only the positive stuff. Only compliments – not even any inferred comparisons or ‘buts’. Not easy when every one of us has been taught to be critical of every performance we hear.

So here’s an exercise to incorporate positive feedback into a rehearsal.

Ask the Basses (or any other section) to come out in front of the group, and sing a section of one of the repertoire songs. But before they sing, tell the rest of the group that you’ll be asking for only positive feedback and that they should listen for something that they love about the Basses’ singing.

When the Basses have finished, ask the members of the rest of the group what it is that they loved about the Basses’ performance. Sometimes if something I’ve heard (or seen) isn’t mentioned I contribute too.

After about 4 or 5 comments from the group, ask members of the Bass section to repeat the compliments about their singing. The acknowledgement of what was said makes the compliment more real for the recipients.

Now have the Basses sing the section of the song again, and notice the improvement – just from having ‘owned’ a few compliments.

These days I’m experimenting more and more with building on the strengths of the group and paying much less attention to its difficulties, and a miraculous thing is happening. The issues, the ones I used to hear to the exclusion of everything else, improve dramatically when I work primarily with the chorus’ strengths.

And even when specific difficulties do need to be addressed, the more I can couch the change I want as an opportunity, rather than suggesting that the way they’re singing it is a failing, the better the results.

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