Vocal Transformation for Your Choir

Vocal Transformation for Your Choir

By Christine C. Bass


Photo via Christine Bass
Photo via Christine Bass


Many choral directors are frustrated with the dual task of teaching repertoire and teaching voice.  How can you do both?  What vocal techniques can be translated right into repertoire study?  How does the individual singer’s vocal development affect the choir?


Let’s dig in to some of these questions:  First, I firmly believe that your primary role as a choral director is to teach great vocal technique and apply that to the repertoire.  That being said, it all starts in the warm ups.  I typically spend 10-13 minutes on warm ups in every rehearsal.  I may not do all the warm ups in the beginning.  Perhaps partway through when we are moving on to a new piece I would add an additional warm up to address specific issues in that particular piece.  But overall warm ups with great vocal technique is key to developing a great choral tone.

 Knowing that the singers must receive a three pronged logic to really grasp a concept is important.  They must understand the concept logically, kinesthetically and aurally so that they can truly master it.


  • Begin with posture: I use the Alexander Method, six points of balance.  The singer’s instrument is their body so it must be aligned.  There are several approaches to work on posture, but it is the first thing I do in every rehearsal.  It is helpful to ask the singers to close their eyes and get into alignment then open them when they think their posture is correct.  Pay special attention to the ‘ears over the shoulders’ idea, we see far too many chins jutting forward in choirs.


  • Next I move on to breathing. In the beginning of the year I take time to go over anatomy and explain the reasons behind taking a low, open throat breath.  After that I just move through a quick series of exercises that enforce the ‘singers breath’ that I am looking for.  We work on breath management techniques as well.  One breathy voice can be heard in throughout an entire choir.


  • Now we are ready for the voiced warm up, I use slides and vocal sighs before singing to ease the voice in gently.  Finally I build my warm ups from small intervalic exercises to that of a 5th, then to an octave.   This gives the singers time to build towards bigger intervals and more expanded ranges.


  • Within the voiced warm ups I work towards engaging the breath and support at the onset of the tone.  Then working through with a warm vowel.  Relaxed facial muscles, jaw, neck and head are a must.  Learning how to approach intervals is crucial as well.  Moving up and over the ascending note instead of just reaching to it is a concept that many untrained singers need.   Lifting the sound as you descend or repeat a pitch is another area of need.  Releasing the sound and letting it spin, creating volume from resonance and support and not pushing are all important.  All of these add up to elements that will help your choir sing their best.


Photo via Christine Bass
Photo via Christine Bass


I am a believer in using kinesthetic movement with my warm ups.  The external movement strengthens the physical concepts you are working towards and also gives you a terrific window into how your students are grasping the concept.  If they model the movement well, then that is success.  Many of these movements can then be added to the actual repertoire during rehearsal to bridge the muscle memory within the actual piece. 

 I have found that support and line are some of the hardest concepts to get across simply because the untrained singer does not think they need to put that much energy into their singing.  Once that concept has been solidified the tone is on its way to real beauty.

 There are many more considerations: vowel shape and color, resonance, agility, internalizing rhythms, line, phrasing, syllabic stress.  Perhaps if you have a specific problem or area you would like to know about you can just blog me and I will do my best to answer you.


About the author:


Christine Bass is a distinguished choral director, guest conductor, and clinician, and the Choral Director for the Women’s Choir at Temple University. A teacher for almost three decades, she has presented workshops on vocal technique, recruiting male singers, and differentiated instruction for NJEA, NJMEA and ACDA (American Choral Director’s Association) high schools and universities.

She was named New Jersey MENC Master Music Teacher and received the Governor’s Award in Arts Education. She conducted All South Jersey Chorus, New Jersey All State Chorus and in 2009 Christine was honored to conduct the ACDA All National High School Honors Choir in Oklahoma City, and in 2010 South Carolina All-State Women’s Chorus. She has served on the NJACDA Board as the Repertoire & Standards Chair for Male Choirs. Christine has been selected for Who’s Who of American Teachers and Who’s Who of American Women. She was featured in the September 2007 edition of “Choral Director” magazine


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