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.