Practice Parts for Singers
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 990
    In my small schola, I have some new members who aren't great readers and are quite hesitant with our tid-bits of polyphony. In the distant past, I had a similar collection of folks and did make tapes (oh, how primitve) of their parts. I'm willing to do this again and am wondering what is the best small-scale way to do this? The ideal would be a web site with the full work and each part separately (Taize does something like this for folks who want to learn the songs), but that's not in the picture now.

    I'm not going to do it with the chant because I want tighter control on how we approach that music. However, I don't want to waste rehearsal time running individual parts repeatedly. My first thought is an mp3 of each part, minus the words but something each could sing along with. Any suggestions or experiences to share?

    Many thanks.

    PS To those who suggested warm-ups - the effect of a short course of breathing and intonation work is paying off handsomely. It also gets everyone focused on the project at hand before we work on actual music. Readers who missed these should look for them somewhere in the discusson listing.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    The problem of shy entrances on polyphony is huge. It vexed our schola for a very long time. it's not so much that they didn't know the notes but that they were hesitant to sing them. The only thing I can say is that time will take care of it. It took us about 6 months to a year before people would be reliable in this respect. Then another problem developed: relying on me for entrances. So then i had to wean them from that. I'm really not sure that tapes would have done it. It was mostly mental/pyschological in our case. It's scary to sing without accompaniment, and even excellent singers have to get used to it.
  • john m
    Posts: 134
    I use Cakewalk Home Studio to produce practice CD's. For a capella motets I usually have one track of all the parts either played on a keyboard instrument or imported from Sibelius 4. Then I sing each part along with the instrumental track (which ensures accuracy of tempo and entrances), recording each part on its own track. Use of headphones instead of external speakers during recording keeps the parts from bleeding onto other tracks. To prepare practice CD's for specific parts, I mute the instrumental track and increase the output of the pertinent vocal part to bring it into relief, so the singer can hear the part distinctly and still hear the context. If I want to get really fancy I layer on several takes of each part to get a semblance of choral sound, and then warm it up with a bit of reverb. Mix it down to a WAV file and it's ready to burn onto CD.

    Since I'm a baritone/tenor, the soprano and alto parts are of course an octave low. If this is a problem for the singer, Cakewalk can kick the part up an octave, although it comes out sounding like Alvin and the Chipmunks.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,193

    I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the value of working on individual parts in full rehearsal. I say this for several reasons: 1) there may be some musical or technical issue that comes to light that others in the group would benefit from hearing you work out; 2) with a bit of creativity you can figure out ways to rehearse parts so that it becomes a learning opportunity for other sections; 3) one can also use the option of "sectional rehearsals" where one section is held back while others are dismissed from rehearsal a bit early.

    I shy away from the use of canned rehearsal aids for many reasons, not only because I'm technology-challenged, but more importantly by working live in rehearsal, I get the opportunity to teach the music hidden behind the notes. I also get the opportunity to hear what people's voices are doing, not just what notes they may be missing.

    Perhaps it's my own little quirk, but ISTM that we've reduced so much of what we do in our lives to the level of "self-help"; books on CD, DIY DVD's, even "interactive" CD-ROMS and tutorials that are supposed to teach us how to speak a new language or how to use a software program. Whatever happened to the personal touch? I'd rather learn how to do something by interacting with flesh and blood than a screen or a speaker. It's just my two-cents.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749

    Your two cents are valuable. Part-recordings can be valuable additions to all-part rehearsals, but no substitute. Singing along to a recording doesn't give the sense of working to a common purpose with specific voices under the guidance of a choir-trainer - of balance, co-operation and achievement - that comes from regular, all-part rehearsal. Though if individuals want to use them to come better prepared to those rehearsals, that's great, and a sign of committment to getting it right.

    As to what to do when other parts are being rehearsed: if singers don't know your their own parts, they can sing them in their heads (difficult at first, but it comes with practice); if they do, they can improve their sight-singing by substituting other parts.
  • john m
    Posts: 134
    I agree that is is essential for singers to listen and learn during the rehearsal of other sections in order to form a unified whole - but I have no problem with exploiting the available technology to help singers come to rehearsal with their parts prepared; that, as Ian has noted, is the advantage of a practice aid such as a CD. The time otherwise spent pounding out parts can be put to better use in building up a blended ensemble.

    Rehearsal a capella is also very important - insist that singers sing their parts independently of the organ, even in works that have an organ accompaniment. Then the organ part becomes what it is meant to be: an accompaniment, not a crutch.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    I've been doing practice CDs for our schola for a couple of years now. Some people use it, some don't. It's just another aid. I started putting the recordings on our website, which is useful for people who are travelling and can't get the CD.

    I had one case last year where the schola was joining our four-part choir for one song, so I captured a recording of the entire choir, and then laid another track over the top of it with me singing the bass part more loudly. That was useful for some, especially those who weren't accustomed to singing harmony.

    When we actually sang during Mass, I ended up directing the schola while the DoM accompanied, so that my guys would not be thrown for a loop by the lack of a director. But it really was just for comfort because we only had a short chance to practice together, it wasn't really necessary.
  • Whatever format one uses to create audible aids, it is a lot less bother if you save the file as a WAV or mP3, and then attach those files to emails. Most everyone should be online now (I didn't say everyone, okay?) and that saves the hassle of dup'ing CD's.
    The files should open in Windows Media or Real Player in any case.
    One thing that I do with polyphony in live rehearsal, of course, is to often sequence the parts using different synthetic voices, ala Cello=baritones; Fr.Horn=tenors; clarinet=altos; flute=sopranos. (Or everything is sequenced on individual tracks using the general string pad.) After they've, hopefully, learned the part (helped by the sonority distinctions) you wean each section by silencing each track until you're a capella. Just an idea.
  • Years ago, I used to cobble together MIDIs in the following manner in addition to the usual SATB master file:

    1. For people to learn their notes in isolation:

      • S only, A only, T only, B only

    2. For people to sing their pitches in harmonic context, without help:

      • ATB, STB, SAB, SAT

    3. For people to study their pitches in relation to another voice:

      • SA, ST, SB, AT, AB, TB