Helensburgh Dorian Choir

11 Tips To Improve Your Choral Singing

Your Posture

Stand (sit) comfortably upright with relaxed tongue, jaw, neck, shoulders and stomach. Check each in turn by tensing and letting go.

Your Breathing

Breath from the diaphragm. Allow the air to flow evenly as you sing.
Here's an exercise to practise doing this, and to expand your lung capacity: Take a controlled, even, maximum breath from the stomach. Allow the air to flow evenly out as you sing 'Ah'. Keep this going for as long as possible. Over a few weeks you will increase the length of time you can do this, your control, your lung capacity - and you will improve your singing.

Sight Reading

To learn how to sight read and improve your site reading, just do it - practise at rehearsals and practise with the music at home. Most Choir members are better at it than they realise. In addition, take simple melodies (from the internet, for example) and sing them from sight, then check them out at a piano etc by yourself or with a friend.

Perfect Pitch

This is the ability to recognise by ear a particular note in isolation. It's not an essential skill in choral singing. The ability to recognise relative pitch, however, is essential. This is where you recognise the interval between one note and another. Both perfect and relative pitch can be learnt through practise, and relative pitch will improve through attending the Choir's rehearsals and especially home practise with, for example, a piano.


We rehearse as a Choir for a relatively short time of 2 hours a week. It's really important therefore to attend all the rehearsals you possibly can. There are of course occasions when this will not be possible and we understand that. The 'Choir' is all of us, and we can only sing as the 'Choir' if we're all or nearly all there.
Remember it's good to make mistakes - all professional singers do, so what's good for them...
Take a pencil to rehearsals and note lightly on your score essential directions the conductor gives such as the mood of the piece, the dynamics, the repeats etc, etc.
As you rehearse over the weeks become more and more aware of the presence and singing of Choir members and the Choir as a whole (listen to hear) and how you best fit into it and enhance the quality of its sound.

Between Rehearsals

Get to know the words and music of the programme inside out. Aim for purity of vowels and clarity of consonants.
Practise aloud each week between rehearsals by yourself, with a piano etc or with an audio recording of your part of the musical score. (Practise CDs will be available a few weeks after we begin rehearsing a new programme. They can be obtained from your Section Representative.) In particular, practise most, the bits you have some difficulty with - look at the bits you can do well, less often. If you can, you could make a tape of the bits you find most difficult.


Be aware of the dynamics of the music you are preparing to sing. Do not open your mouth too wide when singing loudly. This tends to tense the throat muscles and produce a poor tone. Create the volume with an increased amount of air flow controlled from your diaphragm. When singing softly do not close the mouth too much as this tends to produce a poor tone. Create the sound with the appropriate amount of air flow controlled from the diaphragm.

Your Thinking

To sing a very high note mentally aim 'over the top' of the note. Sopranos and tenors can improve their singing by 'feeling' their head and face are full of the sounds they are about to sing. Similarly, altos and basses will improve their tone by 'feeling' the sounds in their face and chest.
Above all, know with certainty that through sufficient practise you will be the best you can be - and that is good.

Just before The Concert

It's generally recommended that you eat lightly and ensure you're hydrated - but not too much so.
Ensure you have clear lungs, throat and nose before 'going on'. Dairy products can sometimes contribute to a 'frog in the throat'.
Double check your music is in the right order.

The Concert

Look professional throughout the performance and until the last member of the Choir has left the performance area and is out of sight.
Watch the conductor. Hold your music so you can glance at it as a prompt and take direction almost simultaneously.
Listen to the Choir and fit in.
Smile whenever appropriate and otherwise be interested and including of your section, the choir, conductor, accompanist/musicians and audience.
Above all else, enjoy the experience.

A view from 1588

Here's a view from 1588 and an anecdote illustrating the importance the Elizabethans placed on sight singing.

"...Singing is so Good a Thing..."

The foremost composer of the Elizabethan age, William Byrd wrote a few lines on his views of the benefits and beauty of singing in general and choral singing in particular. Here is an excerpt from his observations which we hope you will enjoy...

"First, (singing) is a knowledge easily taught, and quickly learned, where there is a good master and an apt scholar.

"The exercise of singing is delightful to Nature, and good to preserve the health of man.

"It doth streangthen all parts of the breast, and doth open the pipes.

"It is a singular good remedy for stuttering and stammering in speech.

"It is the best means to procure a perfect pronunciation, and to make a good orator...

"Since singing is so good a thing,
I wish all men would learn to sing."

William Byrd - excerpt from 'Psalms, Sonets and Songs of Sadness and Pietie', 1588

An Essential Part of a Gentleman's Education

The Elizabethan musician, Thomas Morley, in his book 'Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke' quotes a letter he received from a young gentleman who was so embarrassed at his inability to sight sing when asked to do so that he made immediate arrangements to learn the art.

"The mistress of the house presented me with a part, earnestly requesting me to sing. But when after manie excuses I protested unfainedly that I could not, everie one began to wonder. Yea, some whispered to others, demanding how I was brought up: so that upon shame of mine ignorance, I go nowe to seeke out old frinde, Master Gnorimus, to make my selfe his scholler."