How to Direct a Choir

Directing a choir is not a casual endeavor. Choir directors need to have an extensive background in music and singing to avoid bringing harm to the students in the choir. Inexperienced and unqualified choir directors can actually harm student voices. Students wrongly classified or taught to sing out of their range or with too much volume can damage their voices. Schools often see choir as an inexpensive way of including music in the program. However, it is best to hire a singer, even part-time, to direct your choir and avoid harmful mistakes.

Step 1: Audition the students and test their range, ability to sight-read and musical memory. A good singer can determine the approximate range of the student simply by asking them to prepare a piece ahead of time for the audition. To test the student’s musical memory, play several pitches at the piano and have the student sing the pitches back. The better they do on the audition, the higher they should rank in their section.

Step 2: Organize the students into sections. There should be at least five groups of singers in a full choir. From highest to lowest, arrange the singer by soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass.

Step 3: Prepare the music for a concert by conducting the ensemble through several test pieces. These pieces may not make it to the actual concert. When singing, stop frequently to correct balance issues. If a section or student is under-singing or over-singing, ask them to listen to the ensemble and blend in. If this does not work, ask them directly to sing quieter or louder to blend in.

Step 4: Practice daily warm-ups and chorales to improve the sound of the ensemble. The focus of these exercises is to get the ensemble listening to each other and to develop an ensemble sound. When necessary have the ensemble hold a chord and bring out individual sections as necessary. With the desired sound obtained, have the ensemble stop singing and see if they can match the same sound again. Over time, this will help the choir improve their sound.

Step 5: Schedule ahead of time the pieces that the ensemble will rehearse. The students should know in advance what pieces will be practiced and on what days. This allows students time to practice their parts accordingly and prevents the excuse that students didn't know what to practice.

Step 6: Schedule section rehearsals to isolate problem areas and work individually with performers. In the rehearsal, you should discuss proper breathing technique, the sections' role in the ensemble and rehearse difficult areas within the music.

Use body language extensively as a choir director. The best conductors know how to use their entire body, especially the face to indicate expressions and cue choir members. Warnings Choir directors for schools should have a degree in music performance or music education. It is irresponsible to have an unqualified teacher direct a choir.


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