The most important sixty-eight minutes of my week as a choir director is during choir practice every Sunday afternoon. If your choir is anything like ours, there is always more work to be done, more songs to be learned, and never enough time to practice. This is why it’s crucial for choir rehearsal to be run efficiently and effectively. Here are a few tips that might help.
1. Plan Your Practice
Just as you would put together a cue card for a church service, put one together for your practice. Know exactly what needs to be emphasized on each song. One song you’ll sing from top to bottom and put it away. Another song you’ll work parts on the tricky key change or the big ending. Another song might be brand new, and you’ll be introducing it for the first time. Know just how much time to spend on each song so you don’t get to the end of a practice only having worked on two or three. Notate all of this on your practice cue card—and then stick to it.
2. Balance Your Music Selection
There are three types of songs that need time each rehearsal: songs that have been in the choir’s repertoire for a while that only need to be sung through one time, songs that the choir may have sung once or twice that need attention only in the difficult sections, and songs being learned for the very first time. Have a good mixture of all three types. As a side note, always have new music you are practicing. This is what keeps your choir members coming back.
3. Keep Practices Moving
I’m all for having a great time in choir practice and for being personal with your choir, but don’t tell so many stories and jokes that you never get anything done. One idea that I have found helpful is to have an efficient way to teach parts. There’s nothing worse than going over one part at a time while the other three-fourths of the choir sits and listens (or in reality, talks to each other). While the pianist plays the bass part, have the basses sing at a good volume while the other three parts sing softly. Even though the other three parts haven’t been played out on the piano, it’s still good practice for them. Then move up to the tenor. Have the tenors sing out this time while the basses, altos, and sopranos sing softly. Continue this until all four parts have practiced. This allows every section to sing their part four times instead of just once. Mix it up some too.
4. Emphasize the Spiritual
A spiritual choir sings better. Take two to three minutes each practice to give a devotional thought that is applicable to the choir. This might seem like a lot of time since you are already limited and have a lot of work to do, but you and your choir will benefit from this spiritual investment. It could be a general topic such as worship, or it could be something specific to a song they are practicing, but look for ways to grow them spiritually. After all, there’s nothing quite like preaching to the choir.
5. Develop the Choir Musically
Everyone has a story of how they became the music director. Unfortunately for many of us it did not involve extensive choral training. But don’t let this be an excuse. I am an instrumentalist who has had to learn and grow in my understanding of the voice. You may not learn all there is to know, but learn enough to help your choir musically.
I believe there are four key areas to focus on musically that will benefit your choir and improve their singing abilities: music notation, posture, breath support, and tone. Go online, read books, and watch choral DVDs. Teach yourself, and then find simple exercises that you can share with your choir. As your choir makes small improvements individually, you end up with large improvements overall.
6. Keep it Fun
Your choir members are volunteers. Choir practice needs to be something they look forward to attending. Always look for ways to express gratitude for their sacrifice of time and willingness to serve. Have a prayer and praise sheet just for your choir so they can be praying for and rejoicing with each other. Give them time off after a big event. Your choir rehearsal is precious and valuable time. Come to it with a plan and a positive spirit to help equip the saints for the work of the ministry.