Singer behavior: How to cure Talking during rehearsal
Dear Choralist Friends:
Thank you so much for your suggestions and requests to post the results.
Good luck to all this year!
Results: Talking during rehearsal
I learned from Dr. Lynn Bielefelt of USC to start rehearsal by doing instead
by yelling or shushing.
Get the attention of a noisy room by singing a pure "oo" on a reasonably
pitch, and teach them to join in on the unison and watch for a cut-off. This
at school I always used a tuning fork A to set the pitch, and after a couple
weeks several kids were able to find the A BEFORE I played it.
Begin something that requires their watching, like a hand-clapping rhythm with
stops so they have to pay attention. I also find that allowing some
enthusiastic bubbling is OK at times, but keeping them busy is best.
The kids are
talking because... Try to complete that statement with non-judgemental
observations of your students' rehearsal experience.
There are all kinds of reasons for talking. Until we understand the reason
for their talking, I think a solution might only be temporary or a gimmick.
So here are some possibilities:
The kids are talking because...
choir is a happy place to be and they enjoy being with each other.
choir happens at a time in the school day when being social is more
they are not clear about the most effective way to rehearse.
there is not a clear sense of what it takes to be prepared for
they are unaware that rehearsal can be fun/tolerable any other way.
they have not developed their focus skills in a group setting.
there are a few kids who tend to be leaders, but lead in unhelpful
ways - like chatting.
the choir room feels chaotic due to
they are generally rude and disrespectful.
the pace of rehearsal is too slow/fast/predictable/unpredictable.
there is not a clear set of expectations expressed by the conductor.
there is not a clear set of expectations expressed by the choir
etc., etc., etc.,
Remember, music is our life as conductors. Music is one of many things our
singers do. They will not make the same commitment and investment simply
because we do. They are doing something that brings pleasure socially,
intellectually, spiritually, etc,. or perhaps there's a cute guy/girl in the
choir that they want to be near. Our job is to share our passion and hope
they begin to see how rich the musical experience can be.
Rehearsal etiquette is learned. So is the skill of staying on task and
being able to be engaged in the music when not singing. Likewise, it is a
skill, an endurance issue, when we ask students to be part of this very
different activity - an activity in which we are asking them to make noise
in a very vulnerable manner (singing in public among peers), and then ask
them not to make noise (talking) at the same time.
There are not any similar activities in their school or home life. Not
since kindergarden and first grade have they been involved in such a group
oriented learning situation. Most other subject matter is at least to some
degree individualized. It is not effective to have the entire math class
solving math problems aloud in unison for an entire class period. It is not
conceiveable for students to read aloud in unison for an entire history
class. In other words, choir is by its very nature quite different from
every other school activity. So the way in which we understand talking,
what it means about their choir experience, and how to help them develop
joyful self-discipline is going to be catagorically different.
Suffice it to say that after 22 years of experimenting, reading, asking,
failing, and observing, I am very empathetic to your concern. And after all
that experience, I feel I am just now beginning to find the keys to
effective rehearsal management. I do not have a chatter problem in
rehearsal any more and we run a very joyful rehearsal in which kids leave
singing and smiling. Of course just when I think I've got it down to a
science, we'll have a rehearsal in which all bets are off. However, more
often than not we are doing better and better.
Try completing that statement above with as many phrases as are appropriate.
It may give you some clues about where to start in finding effective
With my MS boys' chorus, I started the "Bank of Werlin." I bought a bunch of
play money, and kept an envelope on the piano. At various points in
rehearsal I'd offer cash - for example 'I'll give 20 bucks if someone can
solfege line 5 alone.' Every dollar they earned went into the envelope. They
also lost money for delays in rehearsal (though I kept the emphasis on the
positives as much as possible). They were allowed to come in before or after
school to count the money any day. When we reached a thousand dollars, we
had a pizza party. I was very honest with them about the 'kid bribery'
aspect of all of this, but we still enjoyed it. Best wishes.
I direct a middle school choir in which I have experienced the same problem.
I find if the rehearsal pace is faster it definitely helps. I also find that
getting rid of some of the "problem" students who are only there for a social
hour is also beneficial. But I have yet to really keep them so focused
throughout the rehearsal that I don't have this problem.
My rehearsal style is very relaxed and enthusiastic, and I am also very
happy with the sound of my choir. However they do get wound up!! If I can
separate friends as much as possible that really seems to help. And having
a real tightly planned rehearsal with very little opportunity for talking is
always a smart move.
I also have very large choirs. My methods come from my Marching Band
upbringing. I have all the chairs labeled with coordinates S-01, A-17, B-13,
A-11, etc. I also have index cards labeled with the same stuff on the blank
side. I meet the students at the door, introduce myself, and give them a
card based upon my spot judgement on their voice type. It's not terribly
important at first that I'm accurate, we do all unison singing for the first
two weeks until I've heard them all anyway. What's important is that the
students have a seat assignment. The same index card i give them is the one
they give me their info on. That night, I make my seating chart.
During rehearsal, At the beginning, until they are trained, you must wait for
them longer than you think. If you talk while they are still talking, they
will learn that they dont' have to be quiet when you are talking. there are
a few things you could try:
1) giving them a signal, like raising your hand to get them quiet (and
2) incorporating inhalation and exhalation on "Shhh" in your warmup. When I
have all 200 of my students together and they are talking, I say "Breath in,
and out" The "SHhhh" of the ones listening get everyone's attention more
than my voice.
3) Wait one beat after they are quiet to begin speaking. Let them get used
4) Timing them each time, adding up the time, and rewarding them for reducing
the time it takes for them to quiet time with relevant activites, favorite
song, listening to music, worksheets, games (musical notation bingo), etc.
The rewards take a lot of creativity on your part.
You are the most important element in their "training" being positive. You
will have to be patient and firm. Your rehearsals may go more slowly than
you desire at the beginning, but eventually it will pay off as they learn
that they won't progress if they are talking. They want to sing, that's why
they are all there, they just sometimes forget that.
Also, accepting that they will always talk immediately after you stop will
help your blood pressure immensely. It's part of their age.
We all have the same problem, there's no solution really. .
I HAVE used certain tactics like TALK TIME, I have set a time, say 3 minutes
of talk time half-way through the lesson. This helps, also sends a message
that other times are NOT talk times.
But generally, I just keep the kids really BUSY, I go from one thing to the
next without losing a moment's time, one piece to another, solfegge singing
books, dictation paper, instruments (handbells and other things). And I
really don't pay any attention to their chatter between activities. Of
course, you have 70 kids??? All together?? That's unreasonable, and probably
an echoing room? I never have more than 30 kids at a time.
I also try and get them involved in organization activities, distributing
music, moving music stands, getting out instruments, moving furniture,
putting things away, taking attendence etc. IMHO it's useless talking to
talkative kids to tell them to shut up, they're not listening, give that
up!! Just don't talk yourself, OR, talk very quietly and keep busy doing
stuff. They'll become curious and pay attention. If you are at the beginning
of a new school year, it'll probably take a while for them to catch on to
your new methods.
I must admit, it's not an easy chore, I have my own systems that work
terrifically, mostly with me, just a glance with my eyes wide open shuts up
half the crowd, but it's a very personal thing and I have the same children
year after year, so they are motivated and they know me and my methods! This
probably is different from your situation. Anyhow, take it in your stride
and the kids won't even enjoy talking among themselves after a while.
I don't have that many at a time, but as you know it doesn't take many
to make the unnecessary noise! What I do, and I don't remember who I
"stole" this from, is to NOT use the piano but start a tone on "loo" and
gradually everyone joins me. I try to give as many non verbal signals
as possible at the beginning of class to get them to focus on musical
sound and being part of the group. Differing my rhythm claps also is a
pretty good attention getter. So, nothing earth shattering or anything
you probably don't already know, but it works for me.
Have you tried using echo clapping to begin or echo singing to get their
Move quickly into rounds or partner songs to warm up and get going. When you
catch someone being quiet when they're supposed to toss jelly beans. Have a
question of the day that they anticipate and toss candy when it is answered
correctly. Maybe more than one question to start and they never know when
it's gonna happen or how many per day. You give them the information at the
end of class for the next day or give them learning information during the
lesson of the day that they must apply in the question.
Several techniques I've borrowed from people more clever than I
1. clap a rhythm and have them clap it back, make it very simple at
first, persist no longer than a few minutes, switch to sing a
fragment D R M F Sol have them sing it back and hold the last note
while you sing the next fragment- make it very simple.
Have them get into a great posture, close their eyes and breath in
for the count of five, hold for a count of five ande release for a
count of 5,
Use the hand up in the air to re-establish quiet. Your hand goes up,
as they see it, each hand goes up until all hands are up and
everyone is quiet
Make it a shared responsibility- If the person next to you is
talking, ask her to stop.
Good luck. Many concentration games and activities will lead to the
I have a similar size group (Gr. 7 & 8) and I know exactly what you mean!
I have tried lots of techniques with varied success. One that worked well
for me is challenging them to have a "singing rehearsal" only--either
singing or silence which includes director also. (I cannot speak either!)
I post the class plan/order of songs on the board and as soon as they are
assembled, we begin. If I need to communicate during class, I use the board
for quick, simple directions (one or two words). Mostly, we just sing
through material we're working on. It's great for the last rehearsal of the
week. The focus is on making music, either a cappella or will
accompaniments, if they are ready. I have my singers keep individual
journals where they write about their choral experiences. Feed back I get on
our silent rehearsals has been great. Sometimes I ask them to do it for
shorter periods, (last 10 min). If you focus on moving quickly in rehearsals
and don't give them time to talk between songs or whenever they stop,
eventually you can train them.
I tried something many years ago that really grabbed my 5&6 grade chorus. We
had a rehearsal with no vocal directions from me, I used only solfege hand
signs, gestures, and facial expression. We had been doing some solfege as
warm ups before this so the group had a good grasp of the basics. I wrote
out a simple tune on the chalk board using only drmfsltd ( don't remember
what the tune was was now) and pointed while they came up with the melody in
strict half notes. Then I clapped out each rhythm (4 stanzas each 4
measures) and signaled the chorus to repeat them. Then indicated one stanza
of tune one line of rhythm,etc....
The students had such a great time, learned a lot in a short time because
they had to concentrate hard and asked for this activity to happen regularly.
After that day we did all warmups in this manner, and they got very
proficient at sight singing hand signs, which transferred beautifully to to
sight reading printed music.
Depending on your personality and rehearsal style, I have a couple of
To keep the pace quick and everyone involved, I often just have the whole
class repeat what we just did. For example, if we just finished warming up
and I say to sit down and talking starts, I have everyone stand up again.
When everyone is standing and quiet, I have them sit down again. I we
just finished singing, sing the last chord again, then cut off and go on if
they stay quiet. I also use sitting up if I am talking and they lose focus.
I throw in a quick "sit up" then keep talking while the sit up. In a few
sentences I say "sit back" quickly and go on. ADVANTAGES: This keeps
everyone involved. It makes it kind of a game. The students look at the
offenders and provide pressure. You don't get on to individuals or have to
keep records. Using this, if an individual is constantly talking, I would
remove them to a table or desk and I have a page-long essay about behavior
in a rehearsal and the good of the group for them to copy.
I also do use conduct marks, etc., but it is a pain in a class that large
and really slows down rehearsal. However, it does keep students
individually accountable and I take off their grade (since they are not
mastering rehearsal skills) instead of their conduct grade (with
I have also used a modified conduct mark system where I just tally instances
of disruption without keeping track of who it was. I then had a chart of
"class average" grades. 5 or fewer in a week = A+, etc. Then there was a
scale of rewards (5-15 minutes free on Friday, bring a coke, etc.) applied
to the whole class based on the number of disruptions for the week. I only
used the a couple of times with a specific class or two, but their focus