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I'm in a small choir where we typically have 5 people rehearsing in someone's front room, we haven't sung together much and none of us are very confident although we can all sing OK once we 'get going'. But, there's a real barrier (I don't think it's only me who suffers) where we're nervous and self-conscious - in such a small group every voice is very audible and you get into a vicious cycle where people sing quietly because they're not confident, which means they sound worse, and sing even more quietly.

What's your best tip/exercise/preparation to try and get rid of this before we get going so we can maximise our rehearsal? We already do some basic warm-ups.

Should we sing something familiar for fun, no focus on technique just enjoyment? Do some silly game jumping about? Do a vocal range/volume/sustain contest?

  • I don't like the sound of encouraging people to sing more loudly but singing with more projection is not bad. I wouldn't recommend a volume contest. Perhaps a weekly karaoke night - but not the kind where you have your own little room, the kind where you get up and sing for the whole bar - might help boost singer's confidence. – Todd Wilcox Dec 7 '15 at 16:38
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I'd do dynamics practice. Hold your hand out straight in front of you, and start the choir singing a chord or a single pitch in octaves. Then move your hand up and down; the choir must then get louder and softer to match the height. Get silly: bend down and put it right over the floor, and then jump up, waving it over your head. It's a good practice, and should break through the embarrassment factor.

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    I quite like that. To allay Todd's concern this isn't about screaming or straining, but when people are so quiet their voices crack - so just getting people to sing at something approaching a confident, comfortable performance volume – Mr. Boy Dec 7 '15 at 23:20
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Have everyone put in earplugs. Seriously!

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Yes, all you're ideas are good ones. Doing over-exuberant and goofy exercises are a great way to deal with nerves and it will likely be easier for everyone to dial it back then it is to ramp it up.

After you do some goofy group exercises and everyone is kind of relaxed, try having everyone do the goofy exercises individually. Once each person is comfortable with that, have everyone sing a serious song "overly loud" (but without hurting or straining themselves) individually. This should help each person get used to having their voice heard in front of everyone singing solo. Once that feeling of nervousness of being heard is calmed down, then everyone will likely be more comfortable singing together as a group and letting their own voices stand out.

This would be a great way to start off every session to get the awkwardness out of everyone's system right up front. :)

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A strong warm-up can always help, both to get the voices warmed to and to help your group feel more relaxed and comfortable singing around each other. Don't be afraid to make it silly, people feel less shy when they get used to feeling silly around each other.

You can get creative, here, but here's a couple of ideas off the top of my head:

  • sing a nonsense phrase (e.g. "plap plap plip plop plip") together to each note of a scale.
  • stand in a circle. One person sings a note, "ah", then the person on their left sings that note, and so on until everyone has sung. Try to keep the volume constant, each singer fading out as the next fades in.
  • get everyone to yawn and stretch (seriously), it helps to relax the throat and mouth muscles and helps to start making those longer vocal sounds. Also to fill your lungs properly. It can get quite "whacky", yawning from high notes to low notes, or opening your mouth as wide as you can. (Also, by evening, most people are really ready to yawn anyway)

As a side-bar, I am a tenor and can sing very loudly sometimes. I am wary of singing in a way which over powers the rest of the choir (Kind of the opposite of the issue you're discussing here, where everyone tries to hide behind everyone else).

Having this option, I think quite a lot about my volume in relation to the rest of the choir. The best technique I've found is to try and sing just above the level it's at (the mental image is a cork bobbing on water, at the top, but only just). This this encourages those who are a bit shy to rise to meet that level, which feels achievable, and those who are uncertain of their note are clearer about what it is (singing my part, of course).

If you all try to be that bobbing cork (not the seagul squalling above if all, or fishes hiding away beneath), you may find the group supports each other better.

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