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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!

Sheryl Williams

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
sound/visual/temperature/lighting distractions.
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
to silence.
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
same result.

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
administrative approval).

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

on September 20, 2002 10:00pm
How does one cope when it's an adult choir rehearsing for a puplic concert? The ones who do the most talking during the rehearsal are school teachers!
on October 5, 2002 10:00pm
We are a choir of approximately 60 elderly, middle aged, and "student" students at my local community college. My professor has everyone sing the tenor line, in their own range, or the bass line, or whatever is being practiced. Since we only meet once a week, we tend to be chatty cathies, which drives her nutty!!! So to keep us "busy" when she is drilling a section, we ALL sing the section. Good sight-reading practice, appreciate the other guy's efforts in what is being practiced, and then she doesn't have to turn up the wired headset thingee she has taken to wearing.
She is a former HS teacher, so she at first had trouble gripping the fact that we are mature adults and we didn't need to be run like HS. I mean some of us are in our 70's!!! The first year she taught us she turned alot of folks off and they didn't feel like returning this semster. We began some 12 years ago as a community chorus, no credit, as Community education. To attract her, they made the chorus a college credit chorus, but she kept comparing us to 17 year olds and would say things like she couldn't figure out why we couldn't memorize all our selections like the HS students did. Big difference when you meet 5 days a week VS one day a week. But we learn differently and ALWAYS manage to pull it together by the end of the semester and give 6 or 7 performances at the end of the term. The audience loves us, gives us standing ovations, so I guess we did something right!!!
So see, mature "adult" choirs can present the same "talkativity" as MS or HS!!!! Good luck!!!
on June 16, 2003 10:00pm
Our chruch chior is made up of middle aged adults , hs students, and a small group of middle school students we can never get rehershal started on time or hear what the director is sayign because all of the adults are always talking its not us students what should we do ?? please help
on October 6, 2003 10:00pm
I really like the "Frame of Silence" concept. Choir members should learn and understand that silence before, during, and after a piece is just as much a part of the work as the music itself.

This may also help with the background hum of talking if the director will not talk or work on music while other talking is present, but waits for silence to proceed. In the rush of the moment and the pressing need to "move along," it is quite tempting to constantly remind and shush the choir, but this can become extremely tiring for both the director and the choir members. Simple conditioning with the fact that nothing will happen unless there is silence may quite often be enough to solve the problem.
on March 11, 2004 10:00pm
One thing that I realized about my second year into choral conducting is that choirs, especially High School and college are much more advanced than you will think. Kids are always eager to learn, even if they try their hardest to prove the other way. I realized that bringing out works by Poulenc, and Messian - Works that really made the kids sweat as opposed to Everything under the sun by Thompson and Britten - really quiet them down. If they know that they have to sing a really difficult passage in a few minutes, they'll be looking at it. I would recomend putting at least two proffesional level pieces in every repetoire (preferably a capella). Part, Raminsh, Poulenc, Messian, Barber, Jenefelt, Whitacre, and Pershetti all have amazingly difficult repetoire that sounds really "cool" to young adults.
on March 26, 2004 10:00pm
Well, Scott, I can't recommend that you give advice to a teacher on how to run their class. But it might be helpful if you said something to the class, because sometimes students hear things better if it comes from another student. I wouldn't obsess too much about the 1s and 2s, though -- a better approach might be appealing to their sense of pride in wanting to do a good job, and fear of embarrassment if they do a poor job in front of others.

Congratulations to you for caring so much about this, and for finding such a forum as ChoralNet to post this on.
on March 26, 2004 10:00pm
I'm a Junior at my high school here in Kansas. The past three years, if I remember right, our concert choir has scored perfect 1's at contest-3 years in a row. But this year, I am so worried, AND EMBARRASSED! My freshman year, sophomore year, and my junior year, we have had three different choir educators. We have been known as one of the best high school choirs in our area. But this year, my choir teacher, Matt, and I are dissapointed-very dissapointed. We have gone from a "decently" well-mannered class last year, to a careless group of people. We had "musical" energy last year. This year, I can't guarentee that we will even get a "2" at contest. I have so many times wanted to just burst out and give my strong opinion. My teacher gave me the opportunity to choose a song for contest. I came up with "Festival Sanctus" by John Leavitt... We tried it out, and after a few days... we both gave up. The people in the class, not all of them, but most, just don't understand. The men for example, talk way too much! One day, Matt, our teacher, dismissed the girls, and kept us in the room to have a discussion with us. One of the (major) talking students said "the girls talk alot more than we do! Why aren't you keeping them in here?" I thought to myself, it's not the women talking LOUD, it's you. It really disappoints me to see this group of people not care at all. There are those certain people who really care. Most of the choir says "It's the director's fault." It makes me anfry when I hear that! Blaming it on the director is the worst excuse to come up with. I almost quit our madrigal ensemble because of the fact that hardle anyone cares any more! Music is dying in our school. It's a shame. I have had long talks about the concert choir and madrigals about the matter. It was especially pathetic after I came back from the 3 day KMEA Statewide Honor's Music Festival.

Should I express my feelings and opinions to the entire class of how I feel about the group as a whole? I hate to see this happen, because music is my life! What ways could I help... What actions other than detention and such, could the director take? Please help me!

Scott Haines, HS Bass
on June 1, 2004 10:00pm
Ok I'm a HS senior now! yay! .. um try this .. this method usally works with my band class because we are a military sytle band our director has the right to put us at "attention" we have to stnad stright, feet together with our insturments at attention position. We do this until the director decides we can sit down again and be a band .. I think this is good for choirs too .. especially if kids don't like to stand or aren't used to stnading up. everytime you have to interupt rehershal after a point put them at attention make them stand there like statues until your ready to continue

I'm goign to be majoring in muisc education so i'm picking up things form different people so that when I start teaching in a couple years I can use these different methods

Hope this works
on June 2, 2004 10:00pm
I stand in the very back row, about ten rows back, in a large adult choir. There will always be people who chat too much but usually the discipline of the other people around will wither away the chatting.
The time it gets out of hand is when general tolerated talking breaks out because we cannot hear what the director wants or we are unclear.
Also when anything is handed out the copies run out at the back row.
I think directors would be astonished at the content of adult talking.
In my experience it is not flirting or chatting about last nights TV or whatever the director imagines. It is usually What page did he say? or book sharing or chair swopping etc.
I think choirs love discipline and a good way to keep on top is to give really clear loud instructions and immediately clarify any breakout of confusion before it spreads to general chatting.
This does require a huge amount of energy and never allowing your concentration (on them) to lapse because of poor preparation or whatever.
Good luck
on July 2, 2004 10:00pm
Similar idea to one on this page. I've found 'Pass the Shhh' is a very effective exercise with students of all ages. Students at the front 'Shhh' the person next to them, and it travels around the group like a quick game of Chinese Whispers. Turning shushing into a game avoids unpleasantness, doesn't single out individual chatterboxes (who, remember, may just be excited and keen)and can become an expected ritual that the kids initiate themselves after a while - with just one 'Shhh' cue from you. It's best to accompany the sound with a gesture or stance that is immediately recognisable to the students as the game. I also find, being small in stature, that raising my position in the room when I want quiet helps a lot. I stand on a low chair/box when it's time to get down to business, and that's the kids' cue. When I'm at their level I'm happy to talk too!

on August 15, 2004 10:00pm
This year we have a new Choral Teacher at our HS. He explained to us on the first day of school that when he wants us quiet, he will begin counting from 5 back to 1. But he'll only say down to 3 because he believes that we should already be quiet by then. It's now the 8th day of school, and whenever he uses it, we have always been quiet by the time he reaches 2. If we don't, he's warned us, he'll lecture the hole period, instead of singing. Which is good because we'd rather sing than hear a lecture. Try that, it's still working for him.
on September 21, 2004 10:00pm
Subject: Choir clown

I am a director of an adult choir, ages 18 through 70. We are small, but mighty. However, I have a new member, who is the "choir clown." He is making it very difficult to lead the choir as he is always cracking jokes and constantly talking. When I ask him to be quiet, he always has something to say which ends up in the majority of the choir laughing, including me!!! I have been told that he is deliberately chronically late just to see what I will say. I have yet to say anything to him, as I feel like that will just compound the problem! I don't want to be nasty. After all, we "are" a church choir!! How do you deal with a person like that?
on September 25, 2004 10:00pm
I just got hired to teach grades 5-8 choir. Unfortunately, music is required for all, but there are no options for those who don't want music. Therefore, if they don't play an instrument, they are forced to default to choir. Every grade is a mixture of enthusiastic singers and rebels. In addition, there seems to never have been any rehearsal discipline taught in this school. I am new to this school and have only taught middle school choir one year elsewhere (where it was an elective and all who sang, wanted to be there!)

I need some powerful ideas to start teaching the basic discipline of just stopping the talking...during AND between rehearsing. I don't like giving detentions or being harsh, I want them to enjoy music.......but I am about ready to turn ugly!
on October 8, 2004 10:00pm
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have perused this column with its calumny for several years without addressing the problem. But, here is perhaps the most elegant solution which I learned from Thomas Sokol who ran Cornell's Choruses while I was a student (Music Major) there.


One step further--



BENEFITS: All learn to sightsing painlessly.
All sing the entire rehearsl.
Saves time when doing works by Bach, et al., as all singers learning the part of one voice often have the same a quite similar part in their own voice. The Director then says, "Remember when we did this in the alto? Here it is again in your own part!"


Visit to hear results of this.

on November 16, 2006 10:00pm
I also have all sections sight sing or read all parts. If I'm working with sopranos every one reads or sings the sopranos part and etc for each section. This will aid greatly in sightsinging.. Every one knowing every ones part is also very beneficial when it comes down to putting the complete piece or work together. I don't think there is a way to get the complete class or group quiet at all times during or between rehearsal.
Another way to get better cooperation is to find the leader in the group.
This person can be very beneficial to the success or failure of your group.
on September 18, 2007 10:00pm
I have no accompanist. The last one retired and they can't find a replacement. My beginning choir has been made into a dumping ground. I have 63 kids!! I only ordered 55 books. I have to get music with accompniment CDs (Essential Rep) that still hasn't even been shipped. My advanced chorus are acting like a bunch of monkeys that don't know how to rehearse. I am going to make them do a contract. I am trying to teach them solfege, but they want me to teach them their parts by ear. I'm sooooo frustrated. Talking is only the half of it. Once a week I have to stop and have a "talk" with them about the issues and trying to get them involved even though the next week is worse. I hate to tell them I'm not taking them anywhere for competitions until they shape up...but that's the truth of it.

No wonder people quit teaching public school.

What can I do until my damn music comes???