Saturday, May 28, 2016

Teaching harmony singing to children?

So here's a question that came in about teaching kids to sing in harmony:

I am involved the our Son-Shine choir ministry of our church, ages 4-10 (young as mature 2 year, maybe a delayed shy 12 year old.) How important is it to teach parts at this ages?
Or when should parts teaching begin?

I grew up listening to choirs, both in church services and in rehearsals (my father was a choir director and my mother sang). I acquired the skill through osmosis. I don't remember how old I was when I learned to harmonize, but I was definitely younger than 10. For kids who were not around choirs all the time, it might take longer.

The youngest choir I've ever directed was teens (the youngest was a 9-year-old who sang very well), and I was able to teach them some harmonizing. But I found an article where some music teachers give their recommendations for what ages are ready for what types of singing. The article suggests that most children are ready for real harmonizing (everyone singing the same lines, but on different notes) at about the age of 10 or 11.

There are two things I have recommended in the past when working with singers who don't have experience singing in parts:
  • Start with songs where the different sections are singing completely different lyrics and melodic lines. The singers will find it easier to hold onto their part when it's "independent" of the other parts.
  • My other technique is to choose songs where the soprano part is so high that the altos wouldn't be able to switch over to the soprano part. But that might not work with the vocal ranges of children.

The articles that I found that talk about teaching harmonizing to children suggest the same approach, starting with rounds and canons. Here are links to two article that focus on children – Part Singing: A Skill unto Itself and Building Part-Singing Skills in Children's Choirs.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


This week I was listening to some beautiful music by the famous King's College Choir, and I started to wonder about how much time they spend practicing.

I looked it up and saw that the older members have daily practice and the younger members have TWO practices a day.  Wow.

The rest of us don't live at boarding schools, so it isn't feasible to practice with our fellow choir members every day.  But practicing alone is really beneficial.  Doing it daily can be a challenge, though.

What are some times during your day that are good for practicing?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wrote a new article about doing solo songs as choir songs instead

I just added an article to my website.  If there's a song that you love that's done by a solo singer, and you want to teach it to your choir, these are ideas about how to arrange it: How to turn a solo gospel song into a choir song.  Check it out and share any ideas of your own!

Friday, July 25, 2014

I added a YouTube video about one song - "The Presence of the Lord Is Here"

I'm sharing with the world my suggestion for the best way to clap on this song (the beat changes a lot, so you need to alternate between two different clapping rhythms.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Links for warm-up exercises

A customer asked for ideas for vocal warm-ups.  Here are a few video sources with warm-up exercises.  Explore and experiment to find the exercises that work for you.  And feel free to share any other sources that you know.

Ron Cross, the Music Ministry Coach.  Ron specializes in information about the ministry of gospel music for praise teams, soloists, musicians, and also choirs.  He has lots of stuff to check out, but here is his warm-up video --

The other instructors here are not gospel-oriented, but they also have some warm-up exercise suggestions.

Scott Inglis-Kidger --

Eric Arceneaux --

Howcastartsrec --

Friday, May 2, 2014

Whatever happened to four-part singing?

This is a re-post from 2010 from my old blog that disappeared when the web host suddenly went away.  So glad I found it through the WayBack Machine!


I get on this soap box a lot. Why do most of our gospel choirs only have three vocal parts — sopranos, altos, and tenors? My father tells me that back when he was young there were always four parts in the choir at church — soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

Somewhere along the way, we replaced the bass singers with a bass guitar and started expecting all of the men to sing tenor. Webster’s Dictionary defines tenor as “the highest natural adult male singing voice”.  How can we ask every guy in the choir to sing in the highest possible range?

A lot of us have had the same experience in our own choirs as they describe in Wikipedia:
One nearly ubiquitous facet of choral singing is the shortage of tenor voices.  Most men tend to have baritone voices and for this reason the majority of men tend to prefer singing in the bass section of a choir.
Only in a lot of our choirs there is no bass section.  So after a while, men get tired of being told, “That’s not the right note.  It’s higher.  Go higher.”  And they stop singing in the choir.

At my own church, I’m trying to recruit some of these guys back into the choir.  It’s not easy though.  The contemporary gospel songs we sing are usually written in three parts, so if I want to add a bass part I have to create it myself.  If I take the time to do that and then no basses come to the rehearsal, it can feel like a waste.  And if a bass singer shows up on a night when I didn’t prepare a bass part, then I have to make up a part on the fly, which is no fun at all.

But I’m going to keep trying.  Our next church concert is going to be at Pentecost, and I’m going to prepare bass parts for all the concert songs and see if I can get at least two basses to sing with us.  We’ll see if it works.

Right now at, I have a client who has requested a song that’s in four parts.  I just finished it for them.  I hope their choir has a good time performing it.

And I found this on YouTube — the original version of a gospel choir standard, “No Greater Love” by the Gospel Music Workshop of America.  I had forgotten that it includes a bass part.  You can hear them singing by themselves at the 4:50 mark.  Don’t they sound nice?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Easy choir songs: How to choose them and when to use them

 As a choir director, you want to have lots of different types of songs in your teaching repertoire. The more songs you know, the more you will be able to choose just the right one for a particular choir or a particular event.

One category of songs that you need to have at the ready are easy pieces, because there will definitely be times when you need to be able to present an easy song in a rehearsal.

There are two types of easy songs that are good for different situations.
  • Some songs are easy in the sense that they are good for singers who have limited skills. If you are working with a choir of young people or inexperienced singers, you want songs with the following characteristics:
    • Lots of unison. It takes time for people to develop their skills in harmony singing, so look for songs that are mostly in unison. And sometimes songs that are usually done in parts will still sound good in unison if they have a good melody and strong lyrics.
    • An easy melody that doesn't have a lot of jumps or high notes.
    • Simple rhythms. Nothing super fast and nothing with tricky syncopation.
    Now, for this type of easy song it's OK if the song has a lot of words. If you start teaching the song far enough in advance, your choir will be able to get plenty of practice and learn the words. In fact, having a lot of interesting and inspiring lyrics is a good way that a choir can bring a powerful presentation even if they are not ready for a lot of fancy harmonies.
    Teaching the right kind of easy music to a beginning choir can help build their confidence and provide them with positive singing experiences that will encourage them to continue on in choir ministry.
    Also, if you're working with a choir that is new to you and you're not sure what their skill level is, you can start of with an easy song or two and then you can see if they are ready for more complex material.
  • Other songs are easy in the sense that they can be memorized quickly. You may be working with an experienced and talented choir, but you have limited rehearsal time (this often happens with mass choirs at conferences and workshops). Or if you're selecting new music for a concert and you have chosen some songs that will be very challenging for your choir, you will also want to choose some easy songs to bring balance and not overwhelm the choir. The kind of songs that will be quick to learn are songs like these:
    • A “catchy” melody. You know how some popular music gets stuck in your head after you hear it just a little bit of it? That's the kind of tune to teach to a choir if you want them to learn a song in just one rehearsal. Usually, a catchy tune will have short musical phrases that get repeated a lot. Those are the easiest kind of tunes to remember.
    • Call-and-response songs. These are songs where the lead singer sings a line and then the choir either repeats the same line or sings something that answers back to whatever the leader said. With call-and-response songs, as long as the leader remembers what to do next, everybody else can just follow along.
    • Songs with few words. There are some beautiful choir songs where the choir only has to sing five or six words. The rest of the message of the song is covered by the lead verses.
    • Songs with words that are familiar to everyone. If the lyrics to the song are taken from an old hymn or a well-known passage of scripture, the choir members will already have the words memorized.
    Another way that these “quick to memorize” songs can be useful is when you want to encourage the congregation/audience to participate. After a hearing a couple of repetitions, everyone in the room will be able to sing along.
    For examples of songs that are quick to learn, check out this web page: Best one-rehearsal songs for gospel choir.
    Music doesn't always have to be complicated to be good.  Simple but beautiful music can be an important part of your choir's repertoire.