Monday 4th January 2016
The new year is a great time to join a choir - especially if your new year's resolution is to learn a new skill, socialise more or even to be healthier and happier! This post shares our top tips on finding the right choir, settling in, finding your way musically and how best to enjoy the experience of singing with others.
Here’s what you need to know when joining a choir!
Find your choir home
Do your research so you join the right choir for you - check that the location, times and - most importantly - the repertoire will suit you. Most choirs (like ours) will let you come to a single session before signing up to a whole term, so you might even want to try a couple until you find one that feels like home! Atmosphere will also be crucial - at Starling Arts we value a community spirit where people are just as important as the music.
Find out more
Once you’ve selected your choir of choice, check out what they do and how. Watch videos, read blog posts, go to their concerts and follow them on social media to get a sense of what you’ll be doing and the general vibe of the group. We find this helps people fit in when they arrive as they'll already feel part of it.
Plan your journey
It sounds obvious, but making sure you know how to get to your first rehearsal is vital. Use a tool like Citymapper or follow any directions given so you’re not stressed when you arrive and can focus on enjoying yourself rather than feeling self-conscious for walking in the door 15 minutes late!
Joining an established choir can seem daunting - but our advice is to throw yourself in. Arrive a little early and speak to other singers or the team. Ask questions: find out what the choir is like, how long they’ve been there, what they like about it, what concerts are coming up and if they have any advice for you (they were new once too, after all!). We find that making these bonds early on helps everyone to feel comfortable - which in turn leads to more confident and enjoyable singing!
Stop worrying about ‘your voice’
So many people say to us ‘I’d love to join a choir but I can’t sing’. But the experience and quality of your voice is one of the least important things - that’s the great thing about a choir where a collective sound is key! In ours choirs you’ll never have to sing solo unless you want to, so when singing in your parts or with all of the choir, take time to enjoy contributing to the group sound and notice that the audience shouldn’t be able to hear one voice above any other within the choir's blend. You'll soon find your voice improving, and with it your confidence, too!
Try, try again
Even if you’ve sung in choirs all your life you might not get every note right all of the time. So don’t worry. If there’s a tricky section, ask for clarification or a clue (like a famous song with the same interval). Then listen to rehearsal tracks when you’re at home or on your way to work to get those pesky bits in. And if in doubt, ask and listen to others in your voice part.
You’ll normally be given copies of sheet music or lyrics, and we advise you bring a folder to store the music, a pencil to make notes as you’re given them, and a bottle of water. If you can, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake can help keep you hydrated and make sure you can fully experience the benefits of singing in a group.
We use four main voice types in our choirs, although there are further divisions.
Starting at the bottom:
- Bass - a male singer with a low, rich tone
- Tenor - a higher male voice, usually with a lighter tone
- Alto - a lower female voice
- Soprano - the higher notes from the women - sopranos often sing the tune/melody
The basses will sing the bottom line of music, and then other voice parts are labelled accordingly, with the sopranos singing the top line. It can help to highlight your line so you know which one to follow.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure which voice part you are when you arrive at choir - just ask the musical directors and they’ll help you find somewhere comfortable. Don't be afraid to move if you find things are feeling too high or low for you, but remember that things will get easier the more you sing.
What makes a Choir
Our choirs’ musical arrangements (the way each song is organised for many voices) can take many guises. Examples are SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) or SSA (where there are two soprano parts and one alto part). Sometimes there is more than one of each voice part - for example we often sing in Soprano 1 and 2 configurations. In these cases group 1 are always the higher of the two!
- Be positive and encouraging to other singers and they will reciprocate!
- Go out of your way to get involved with socials and events
- Put in time to learn your lyrics and practice your harmony lines between rehearsals
- Let your choir leaders know in advance if you are running late or need to miss a session
- Ask for help on any tricky sections
- Throw yourself in to warm ups and exercises - even if you initially feel out of your comfort zone, it’ll soon feel natural
- Use rehearsals as an opportunity to leave your stresses behind! Put your phone away and forget about work. Dedicate the time you spend at choir to yourself and the music, and choose not to dwell on external stresses or problems while you could be feeling better with a good sing!
- Fret about being perfect first time - that's what rehearsals are for
- Judge yourself against others - we all pick things up at different speeds and have our own strengths and weakness - don’t do yourself down because someone seems like they’re doing 'better' than you
- Be afraid to ask if something’s not clear. Choir leaders would always rather know what people are struggling with so they can tailor their teaching accordingly
- Be afraid of any new musical language you hear in choir - you’ll soon pick it up and if you don’t understand something, just ask!