By David K. O’Donnell
When you come to sing on Sunday, you must be ready to sing. If you don’t have the opportunity to vocalize before you leave, you should be singing in the car on your way to church. Also, don’t make it a “practice” to stay out late on Saturday evening. “Early to bed” is a great motto in preparation for Sunday mornings.
Be On Time
This is absolutely critical ‘ especially for Sunday mornings. It’s important on Thursdays, but essential for Sundays.
Know Your Music
In any choir, this is important. But when we are singing for the King of Kings, it is not even an option. If you are unsure of a part, take your music home and review it. Even if you don’t have a piano, it will help tremendously to review your music.
This is very important. Because the choir sings a lot of music during the year, you must consistently review the various aspects of your music and the many different dimensions of being in the choir.
Spend time on Saturday evening preparing for Sunday morning. Let the words of the music live in your mind each day/week.
What Preparation Means
Preparation involves two sub-points:
* Thursday Rehearsal
* Sunday’s Service of Worship
In some respects, this is the harder of the two. Most of us have to work the entire day and then come to rehearsal. Some suggestions:
* If possible, plan ahead and make Thursday a lighter day ‘ or at least try to not work past 5:30. Also try to get to bed earlier on Wednesday evening.
* Vocalize ‘ sing exercises or, better, hymns ‘ in the morning, either before you go to work, or in the car before and after work.
* During rehearsal, watch your posture. Singing is a physical activity. The better your posture, the better your singing will be. This is why we try to “stand” a lot during the rehearsal ‘ it helps your voice.
Don’t stay up late on Saturday night. Try to arise by 6:30 on Sunday AM; begin singing as soon as feasible. Again, “vocalises” are good, but singing hymns is an excellent way to prepare ‘ both spiritually and physically. Then, arrive at church by 9:00 AM and participate fully in the choir warm up. If the entire choir cooperates in this, our pitch and sound will improve greatly!
* Plan ahead for Thursdays/Sundays
* Vocalize before you come
* Watch your Saturday night activity.
* Be on time: Warm-up is essential
Let me expand on why proper “warm-up” is essential for good singing: signing involves muscles, tendons and ligaments. Just as an athlete has to “warm-up” before an event, so must a singer. If the singer does not take the time to properly warm up, two things will inevitably happen:
1. The vocal mechanism will be stiff causing the chords to vibrate in an inefficient manner. This is why singers who don’t warm up properly usually sing flat. No matter how good your instrument, you must use your voice for at least 20 minutes before each rehearsal in order to properly “stretch” your vocal chords”
2. In addition to singing out of tune, the voice must be warm in the “high” notes are to be sung on pitch and also the “low” notes. Again, using the analogy of an athlete, the extreme part of each person’s range must be “exercised” if the notes are to be sung on pitch.
The choir begins at 9:10 and then sings for 20-25 minutes before going into the service. If you do not participate in this “warming process”, you will encounter significant difficulties as you sing the various anthems, descants and service music.
In addition to not singing the notes on pitch, lack of warm-up will significantly hinder the ‘mental’ aspects of singing. The mind as well as the voice must be attuned to the morning’s assignment.
Singing in the choir is a great privilege ‘ but one that comes with great responsibilities.
Another important aspect of preparation involves “breathing”. An important adage related to singing is:
As the breath goes, so goes the tone!
Some voice teachers spend a lot of time talking about “singing on the breath.” That is, as you sing, concentrate on the air that is coming out of the mouth during the singing process.
As you sing ‘ that is, when your vocal ‘chords’, or ‘folds’ vibrate ‘ you create a column of air that the ear interprets as a particular “pitch.” It’s important to also state that the size (not speed) of the air column determines the “volume” of the tone.
The air that causes the vocal chords to vibrate comes, of course, from the lungs. The air from the lungs is a result of the action of the “infamous” diaphragm ‘ a “thin, inner-tube-like muscle” that surrounds the midsection.
It is a large muscle that is constantly in use ‘ without it, we all would die. But the size of the diaphragm-movement required in singing is significantly greater than in normal breathing. Therefore, it requires much greater energy for singing than for speaking! In addition, there are several abdominal muscles located just below the diaphragm that are also involved in the breathing process.
Breathing, then, is just as vital to the singing process as the vocal chords. As you sing or “warm up”, in preparation for singing in the choir, you are exercising all of the muscles involved in the breathing process. In the long run, this is just as important to singing as using your vocal chords. And it is why standing or ‘sitting correctly’ is absolutely necessary to great singing!
Here are a few more observations about “warming” and strengthening the process of breathing. As you are preparing for Thursday’s rehearsal or Sunday’s service, you can use the breathing muscles in a variety of ways. Here are some tips for preparing the breathing mechanism:
Remember: you must concentrate on expanding your midsection “all the way around your middle.” (Sternum to ribs-in-back)
Some teachers advocate “panting”; or you can “lift your elbows outward” in rapid succession, exhaling every time the elbows expand. Another exercise is to take a good breath (remember: make that midsection expand!) and then expel the air in several short puffs, allowing the midsection to “go in” slowly. A fun exercise is to take a good breath and then utter an extended “zzzz” sound for as long as possible. (I once knew a professional trombone player who could do it for almost a minute. Incredible!!)
One more breathing technique is to take a deep breath (lots of mid-section expansion!) and then hold it for several seconds ‘ and then release the air slowly. (Perhaps over a count of five) You can easily walk about the office or home doing this exercise.
But you’ll notice that you CANNOT do these exercises slouching or sitting with your legs crossed. (But you can do them lying on your back!) A straight back is essential to good breathing and hence, good singing! Again, this is why the initial warm up on Sunday morning is so important. You are forced to stand and properly warm-up your mechanism.
Prepare, practice and then perform to the best of your ability. You can do it!! It will take some time, but you will receive eternal rewards!
While preparation for singing in the choir is important, maintaining the proper posture while singing is also important.
To help develop good posture for singing, practice this exercise: Place your fingertips on the crown of your head (elbows out). Notice how your ribcage is raised. Slowly open your arms and continue in a downward arc until they rest at your sides. Try to maintain the raised rib cage as you lower your arms.
An expanded rib cage increases breath capacity and provides the ability for air to flow steadily through the vocal chords, which in turn will help your pitch and tone.
But at the same time, allow your neck and upper torso to remain flexible. You should be able to “say no” as you take your breath and begin singing.
One last exercise:
Raise your arms overhead while inhaling; then exhale your air on a “zzz”: while slowly lowering your arms to their original position ‘ maintaining a raised rib cage throughout.
The Necessity of Preparation
While many in the choir will not avail themselves of this advice, those who do will make a much greater contribution to the choir’s ministry each week.
One further suggestion
‘Sing along’ with hymns on the way to rehearsal and Sunday worship. Any CD or cassette tape you use is good. But do sing music that make you sing strongly: that is the point! The CD ‘Great Hymns of the Faith’ contains many different styles of hymns. It is available here (Great Hymns of the Faith) But regardless, do sing. Don’t be shy: SING!
* You’ll never sing well without preparation.
* Preparation takes time and planning
* Preparation for Sunday begins on Saturday evening.’ You must have adequate rest.
* Preparation for Thursday requires ‘schedule’ planning.
* You can prepare for Sunday/Thursday’ by singing hymns in the car!
* Think ‘good breathing’ as you prepare.
* In singing, ‘as you breathe, so you sing!’
* Good posture and good breathing go ‘hand in hand’.
* When singing:
‘ ‘Stand as much as possible
” Sit with both feet on the floor
” Keep your back straight
” Expand your ‘middle’ and do not raise your shoulders!
This article ‘Be Prepared’ written by David K. O’Donnell, was excerpted from: www.songandhymns.com web site. October 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes ‘Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.’