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.