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Magic Choral Trick #228 The Fifth is King

There is no sound as thrilling as human voices singing in harmony, flat out, with perfect ‘lock and ring’

Which is why I prefer the sound of an a cappella chorus.

The secret ingredient is the locked in Perfect 5th – which, because of the way that pianos are tuned (with all 5ths slightly smaller) isn’t possible for a choir singing with piano accompaniment.

When a fifth is big enough, and suddenly locks in, the eyes of every chorus member pop open. And suddenly, we’ve all seen the light. This is probably why parallel organum (singing in parallel 5ths and 4ths) was so popular with all the religious orders. It just feels so good!

Here’s an exercise we used last night.

We sang the first 5 notes of a scale slowly, and carefully – up then back down. You can use the numbers from 1 to 5, but doh re mi fah soh is better because it gives the singers clean vowels to lock in to.

I then divided the chorus into 2 parts (top 2 voices, and the lower 2) and had the lower voices sing the 5 note scale slowly in the key of A flat. After they’d drilled that a couple of times, I had the upper voices practise singing their 5 note scale in the key of E flat.

Then we put the two together and sustained each pairing of notes until the 5ths locked in.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, once the 5ths are all locked in, you can hear the 3rd of the chord ringing, even though no one is singing it yet. When you then want to lay that 3rd in gently, the singers will hear exactly where to put it – and Ta-Dah! No more out of tune Major 3rds.

This may sound like a lot of work, and initially it is. However, we singers soon get addicted to the physical rush that a dynamic, locked in 5th gives us, and (like the bar pressing rats we all learned about in Psych 101) the part of the brain that gets stimulated gives us a hunger for more, and more, and more…

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