Category: Rehearsal Technique

Are you a process or a product style choral music educator?

After presenting an interest session with the Mansfield University Concert Choir demonstrating vocal techniques at the 2006 ACDA Eastern Division Conference in New York City, Frank Albinder commented: “I didn’t know that you were such a process person.” The comment inspired my thinking. Since then as I have read articles on teaching philosophy and observed conductors in rehearsal, I have considered whether the process of how students learn is as important as the final product or, in other words, the performance. If the performance is great, does it matter how we get there? My answer is “yes, it does;” in fact, the process can enhance the product!

I am really looking forward to presenting interest sessions on Saturday morning in Boston, “The Choral Rehearsal: Process to Product,” with the Mansfield University Concert Choir as a demonstration group. Throughout my twenty-six years at Mansfield, I have been passionate about vocal pedagogy and sequential learning as applied to choral rehearsals.

Successful performances are grounded in a creative, yet systematic, rehearsal process that builds confidence through vocal development, musical knowledge, and security in musical performance. My process involves layers of learning centered upon the elements of music: rhythm, pitch, harmony, texture, and tone color, combined with articulation, dynamics, and cultural understanding.

The interest session will focus on specific concepts related to each musical selection and will demonstrate rehearsal techniques that define an efficient and effective rehearsal process resulting in a musical product that is grounded in healthy vocal technique and musical understanding. Techniques such as count-singing using the Tometics method, pitch-reading based upon solfège, text-chanting à la Robert Shaw, and changing choral colors using head- or chest-voice will be incorporated. In addition, exercises for achieving choral blend through vowel formation, dynamic balance, and voice matching will be demonstrated. Here are examples of pedagogical approaches to tone color:

Bright-forward timbre: Laudar Vollio from Cortona laudario (13th c.)

A. Bright tone color
1. Begin with puppy whine
2. Vocalize on tongue vowels only: “nee-ay-ah-ay-ee”
3. Five tones descending on “nyae, nyae, nyae,” or “yellow”
4. Fast vocalises with initial consonants: V, Z, Y
5. Vibration towards the hard palate; soft palate not as involved
B. Application to music
1. Chant text on Shaw chord
2. Learn pitches with solfège in E dorian

Dark vocal color: I’ve been in the storm so long (Jeffery Ames)

A. Vocalize with dark color (compare dark and bright)
1 Sense an open throat – sip air through straw to feel lift in palate
2. Use lip vowels: ah, oh, oo
3. Sing five tone descending scale on “ee-oh” with Oreo cookie concept
4. Sing ascending/descending scales on “noo noh nah nay nee” with puckered lips
5. Put hands on cheeks for tall vowels and rounded lips
6. Pretend you have marshmallows in throat
7. Imagine Timothy Seelig’s concept of the woofer and the tweeter:
woofer– resonance in the pharynx with lifted soft palate

The Concert Choir and I will demonstrate the rehearsal techniques with repertoire selections by Monteverdi, Parry, Britten, Messiaen, Esenvalds, Memley, Ames, Runestad, and Hatfield, and a handout with teaching techniques will be provided. Hope to see you there!


Peggy Dettwiler is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Mansfield University, where she conducts the Concert Choir, Festival Chorus, and Chamber Singers, and teaches choral conducting and methods. She holds the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Dettwiler has served as a guest conductor and lecturer throughout the country and has given presentations at numerous NAfME and ACDA Conventions. She has produced two DVDs, one entitled, “Developing a Vocal Color Palette for Various Choral Styles” and the second, “Sing in Style.” Dettwiler made her conducting debut in Carnegie Hall in January of 2014 and presented an interest session at the World Choral Symposium in Seoul, Korea, in August of 2014.

Teaching Rhythmic Literacy in Rehearsal

Dr. Jason Bishop
R&S Chair for Youth & Student Activities

Like many choral conductors I’m sure, I begin nearly every new semester by making some change to my bag of rehearsal tricks. Whether it’s a small tweak or a major overhaul, exploring fresh new methods for addressing the same challenges keeps our rehearsals dynamic and deepens our understanding of our craft.

This semester, if you find yourself seeking a different method for teaching rhythmic literacy or strengthening rhythmic accuracy, I might suggest you check out  Takadimi.net, which provides multiple resources for employing the rhythmic literacy system known as Takadimi in your classes and rehearsals. Developed by Richard Hoffman, William Pelto, and John W. White in 1996, Takadimi is a beat-oriented language for teaching rhythmic literacy that fuses some of the best attributes of more familiar rhythmic systems (such as Kodály or Gordon) into a self-contained methodology. One of Takadimi’s key features is that it eliminates the possibility of duplicating syllabic patterns for distinctly different rhythms, thereby allowing singers to associate common rhythmic figures with combinations of syllables that are unique to those rhythms.

At Takadimi.net, you can read the article unveiling the system in the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, as well as access different teaching tools, read teacher testimonials, download a concise and very useful handout for summarizing the system, and more. I give credit to Carol Krueger, a well known musical literacy guru in our field, for inspiring me to learn more about this system. I began using it in my own rehearsals about a year ago at every level, and it has yielded tremendous results.

I look forward to seeing many choral friends at the national conference in Salt Lake City next month. In the midst of enjoying inspirational concerts and informative sessions, be sure to go watch the conducting competition, make an appointment with one of the 40+ conductors offering Face-to-Face sessions, and attend the Youth & Student Activities Roundtable on Saturday morning. See you in Utah!

Engaged Rehearsals

Joy Hirokawa
R&S Chair, Children’s and Community Youth Choirs

Engagement. We hear this buzzword a lot. Are you “engaging” your choirs in rehearsal? What does that even mean? They are singing, so they must be “engaged,” right? But we all can tell when our singers are not engaged. The bored face, the glances around the room, the slumped posture, the tuning out as soon as a different voice part is being rehearsed. So, how do you get them engaged? Here are some suggestions for you to try that work with any age, elementary through adult!

  • Rather than tell them where the problems are in a particular section of music, ask them to tell each other (or tell you). Ex. “Choir, last time we rehearsed this piece, we had some problems. Take one minute to remind others in your section where some of the problem spots were for your particular part.” Then after one minute, “Choir, is there any place that you would like us to review for your section before we try it together?” This provides an opportunity for them to mentally review the material and audiate their part (a great form of individual practice), and to alert them to be aware of problems. They will tell you exactly what they need, and you will ultimately save on rehearsal time!
  • Utilize peer critiquing. Ex. “Altos, please listen to the Tenors as they sing this section, paying particular attention to their diction. At the end, give them a thumbs up, thumbs in the middle, or thumbs down.” After the tenors sing, “Altos, how did they do? (show thumbs up, middle, or down). Can you specify what they did well and why? How about what they need to do better?” Then, of course, provide an opportunity for the Tenors to critique the Altos! This provides some friendly rivalry and competition, but also teaches the choir what to listen for and what they might need to improve upon within their own section.
  • Point out interesting things for them to listen for that might not be in their part, and how their part interacts with those interesting musical events. Ex. “Choir, listen to what is going on in the accompaniment here. (Have the accompanist play.) How does this contribute to what we are doing in the vocal lines?” Then, of course, be sure that you are drawing their attention to the accompaniment at that particular spot when they sing with the accompaniment.
  • Use questioning to lead them to understand the music rather than telling them about the music. Ex. “Choir, I am going to sing this phrase two ways. Tell me which way you like better, and why.” Then model the phrase musically/unmusically, with good diction/poor diction, round vowels/collapsed vowels, or any number of comparisons so that by comparing, they will understand what it is you are working towards. Ask them to tell you why they prefer one over the other.
  • Discuss how phrasing influences the meaning of a text and let them be part of the interpretive process. Model a phrase with text emphasis on different words, and discuss which phrasing they prefer and why. This may take a few minutes, but my experience has been that when a choir is involved in the process, the group seldom has to be corrected on the phrasing again!
  • Always insist that they sing musically – even when doing warm ups, reciting text, or singing solfege!

These are some of my favorite techniques that help keep the choir engaged in the entire rehearsal process. I have found that these approaches give the choir more ownership of their music, provide more engagement in the rehearsal because there is always something to listen for, and ultimately, save rehearsal time!