Carefully Crafting the Choral Rehearsal VI: Meeting Challenges

“Be yourself. Allow your students to see you as a real, thinking, feeling person for whom music has made a difference.” David Brunner


What went wrong? Ask yourself whether it was something you as the conductor did or failed to do. If you are the source of the problem, take steps to rectify the situation. Adjust your conducting or other directions to students accordingly.

If the problem was not your fault: Make the singers aware of the inaccuracy. Prescribe a solution and rehearse it; suggest alternative solutions until the problem has been corrected.

Deal with one problem at a time. Address the most crucial problem; its solution may subsequently solve other musical problems. Speaking the text may improve both diction and rhythm, but not pitch accuracy.

Isolate problems and fix them when they happen. Then have the choir repeat the phrase or section correctly.


Make the purpose of the rehearsal clear to the singers. When a rehearsal is stopped or a section repeated, tell the singers why. Involve them in the process of knowing and doing.

Be clear and concise when giving instructions. Have convenient and logical starting places (the beginning of a new section, rehearsal letter, etc)

Give voice part, page number, system, measure, beat (You might say, e.g. “altos, page3, 1st system, 2nd measure, 4th beat”)

Avoid telling too many things to too many people at one time.

Speak clearly and in language appropriate to students’ age level. Demonstrate by example. Use metaphors if appropriate, but sparingly. Be specific in your comments and instructions by telling singers what to fix and how.

Involve them in the total music-making process. While working on one voice part alone, give the other singers something to do, such as humming their parts, counting or speaking aloud to themselves, conducting, or listening critically. Ask questions that require keen ears and active thought. Help them become aware of the total fabric of the music and how their parts function in relation to the whole.

“Problems that arise in many rehearsals stem from the failed strategy of leaving students unengaged for parts of the rehearsal. When students are teaching themselves, they feel more ownership over learning and a greater sense of achievement for their success. They simply care more about what they are learning. Behavioral issues are greatly reduced when student are engaged in learning in which they are personally invested.” Bill Fordice, Clarke College, Iowa


Lois V. Guderian of University Wisconsin-Superior adds that sometimes, directors and students can develop an “It’s all about me or us” kind of attitude instead of “It’s all about them (the audience)” outlook.  “The first attitude can often arise when choirs and directors work toward excellence in musical performance. Try to also place the focus on the sharing and communicative aspects of choral performance. If an intimate connection between the group and audience is created, the “all about me or us” attitude never has a chance to develop.”

One way to do this:

Guderian suggests that before walking onto the risers, remind students (and yourself as the director) that the connection with the audience can begin before even stepping one foot onto the stage.

“Share your music with your audience. You have worked hard to learn the music, and you are beautifully prepared to share yourselves through the musical, expressive content of this music. Enjoy the music making and happiness that comes from singing well and sharing the music with others.” Lois V. Guderian, Ph.D, Coordinator for Music Education, University Wisconsin-Superior

Cultivate your sense of humor. It’s a stress reliever and makes learning fun.

Summarized from “Carefully Crafting the Choral Rehearsal” by David L. Brunner (director of choral activities, University of Central Florida, Orlando); published in entirety in Music Educators Journal, November, 1996.

Sue Rarus, September 23, 2008, © National Association for Music Education