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Beginning singers: Tips on training inexperienced Adults

Date: Thu, 9 Oct 1997 20:32:07 +0100
From: Peter Hill
Subject: Choral training for inexperienced adults (long compn.)

Thank you to all who contributed to this topic. It has all been a great
help, and I hope this compilation will be also to all those who asked to
be copied on the results. Although there is quite a lot of material
here, it really does seem as though, from the formal academic point of
view, not much has changed to modify the comment originally quoted from
the Costanzo and Russell paper. But we are practical musicians, surely,
and will try something that works even if there is no theory to back it
up ;-)

I have taken the liberty of editing some of the contributions slightly,
for brevity, and some of the information quoted is second generation,
i.e. I have followed up a hint given by a contributor and then included
the replies. One word of caution: I have not yet seen most of the
commercially published material mentioned, so cannot vouch for the
quality directly. Items are numbered 1.1, 1.2, 2.1 etc as there appeared
to be a number of valid sub-threads. Where possible I have quoted non-
snailmail addresses, and both European and US sources if known.

0.1 Original query
Some months ago we made a search in the musical and educational
literature on the topics of (music OR singing) AND (education OR
training) AND adults (those are Boolean ands and ors) and found an
extremely limited response. However amongst the sparse set of hits the
following text occurred:

"A philosophical base and a foundation of research
for methodologies in choral music education do not
exist at the present time". (Costanzo & Russell;
Methodologies in Music Education; 1992)

This was a bit discouraging. However even more discouraging is that
since then we have been unable to discover any effective refutation of
the assertion quoted. It seems remarkable that very little
background research or useful information exists when these topics
are combined. An exception can be noted for the isolated topic of
voice production, but apart from this virtually all the material
we have been able to discover is concerned with young students or
choirboys/girls. There seems to be an implicit assumption (in one or two
cases explicit!) that after the age of 25 it is too late to do
anything other than sit quietly and listen appreciatively. Of course it
is possible to quote individual examples of good practice, but
comparative studies seem to be absent.

Can any members of this group please introduce a ray of light in our
darkness, and perhaps point to useful material?

1.1 ****************************************************************
I know of no body of instructional material or a specific
training course, however I am a member of a community chorus that
embodies exactly what you speak of.
Our chorus grew out of 2 church choirs that came together to
perform "The Messiah" at Christmas time. We have an elected Board of
Directors, voice section leaders, volunteers who take care of the gritty
details such as setting up risers, ticket
sales, seasonal social get togethers, costume management, etc.
But back to the training -- any member of the community may
join, there are no auditions except for solos. Many of the people are in
their 40's or 50's when they start. Some have previous experience in
church choirs, secondary school choruses, some don't. We are all
taught voice techniques, reading music, choral harmony, appreciation
for the various periods & composers; using the music being rehearsed
for the next concert. So now we are learning the music for the
Christmas Concert, for instance. Our current director is a very
talented and accomplished tenor himself, singing in a Master Chorale
as his schedule permits. Our 2 previous directors also were very able
to teach as we went along, as is Ken.
So rather than learning from a syllabus we are creating the
lessons as we continue in the chorus. The value of this experience to
me personally cannot be measured. I thought I was forever sentenced to
the sidelines - the "sit quietly and listen appreciatively" you
But I dared to try. I lip-synced a lot of my first concert so I
wouldn't embarrass the others ;-). Now, after 3 years X 3 concerts and
6 holiday performances of "The Messiah" I am a creditable member of my
section, I can even help the "newbies" with musical notation, I am
singing the great music to the glory of God, my soul soars!
If you would like to know more of Ken's methods, possibly I can
put you in touch with him and you can hear about our chorus from the
director's point of view. Nancy

2.1 ********************************************************************
I think the "Advance" series is great. It was designed for directors to
take a short period of rehearsal time to cover basic lessons. It works
for adults as well as classroom settings. For more information, you can
contact the author, Allan Petker, at "apavane(a)"
Allan Jeffries

2.2 ********************************************************************
Kindly send me a snail mail address and I will see that some information
is sent your way. There are three volumes so far. Each volume has a
series of graded lessons to be taught in a classroom setting. They were
designed for the choral classroom and each lesson takes about 5 minutes
to go through.
The volumes are sold with a duplication license so that one purchase is
good for life. Volume I is called Names, and covers names of notes,
staves, clefs for the choral instrument, 24 lessons, $24.95. Volume II
is called rhythm and covers rhythmic terminology, 40 lessons, $34.95.
Volume III is called Intervals and is explained in 26 lessons, $34.95.
Hope it fits your needs.
Allan Petker

2.3 ********************************************************************
Available in Europe from: Banks Music Publications, The Old Forge, Sand
York YO4 1LB, England. (but not yet vol. III). Phone +44-1904-468472.
E-mail pending.

3.1 ********************************************************************
I am using "Group Vocal Technique" with
my volunteer church choir. I have found it to be very useful with many
examples to employ. There is a book, video and rehearsal cards.
Group Vocal Technique by Frauke Haasemann and James M. Jordan
ISBN 0-937276-11-1
Hinshaw Music, Inc.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919-933-1691
Fax: 919-967-3399
It's a great book, all you'll need to get your volunteer choir on the
right track!
Bob Meyer St. Thomas More
4580 Adams Rd. Troy, MI US

4.1 **********************************************************
I read your post and I too am concerned. I recently tried to do
some "research" into the area of adult education and music. I am the
director of a Community Chorus and my very limited search came up with
references mostly having to do with adult education and night school, or
job re-training, etc. I am particularly interested in how adults
learn. There is a lot of research about how children learn, or learning
theory and brain research is quite popular. But what happens to adults
as we get older and try and introduce them to musical concepts?

Ken Pendergrass

John Howell writes
May I suggest that you are looking in the wrong place. When you
search "educational literature" you are going to find literature by
people who are involved in education--i.e. teaching young students. And
publishing "educational" articles and books in order to get and keep
their tenure! And your Boolean search suggests that you are relying on
existing databases--perhaps a good substitute for a true literature
search sometime in the future, but hardly now.
Just let me suggest that there is at least one organization that is VERY
heavily committed and VERY active in teaching healthy vocal production
and healthy singing habits to adults, but you'll never find any of their
literature or recommended materials with the kind of search you did.
The organization is Sweet Adelines International, and they are pushing
hard to upgrade the healthy vocal skills of some 30,000 adult women
worldwide by building good vocal production into their competition
scoring and by making excellent instruction available in every Region.
I'm sure there are others, as well, who are too busy DOING to waste
their time WRITING about it!

5.2 (Query back from compiler to JH)

5.3 Reply from JH ******************************************************
Don't confuse the style, which by its very nature does indeed use a
restricted harmonic vocabulary, and which by its very nature is closely
allied to the popular singing styles of the past hundred years rather
than the classical tradition, with the vocal production. (Whew!! What a

I have often advised potential voice students to work, and work hard,
with the best teacher they can find, even if that teacher is teaching in
a style that is not the student's area of interest. Good vocal
production and good singing habits are matters of technique, and can be
applied to any style.
When you learn to type you can take that technical skill and write
sonnets or write dirty books. When you learn to sing you can do opera,
Broadway, or jazz and do it with healthy production and a greater chance
of surviving.

I've only been directing a Sweet Adelines chorus for a little over a
year, and I'm still learning things that my other, extensive musical
background never taught me. The majority of excellent, successful Sweet
Adelines vocal coaches have never studied voice formally with what you
and I would call "voice teachers." Instead they have spent 20 years or
more learning from other Sweet Adelines and accumulating an enormous
amount of practical knowledge backed up by sound theory.

These same successful coaches are excellent at doing what is commonly
done in a "master class" situation. They can listen to a chorus, a
quartet, or an individual sing, recognize all the problems that may be
present, but focus in on the one thing that needs to be done FIRST in
order to deal successfully with any of the other problems. And more
often than not it is the fundamentals, like breathing, that need work.
The chords don't ring in a passage. Why? Because the vowels don't
match. Why? Because the throats are not relaxed. Why? Because the
breath support is not there. Why? Because healthy breathing habits are
not being used.

I am very fortunate to have an Associate Director who is an excellent
voice teacher. Her "warmups" are 40 minutes of group voice lessons.
I've committed the rehearsal time to long-term improvement. My chorus
knows that we will not improve our competition scores unless we do this
work and improve our sound, so they take this work seriously. (No,
competition is not everything, but it can a serious motivator if kept in
And when I think back a little more than a year to my chorus's poor
sound, physical stamina, and vocal stamina, and listen to them now at
the end of 2 1/2 hours of reheasal, singing absolutely in tune, with
mostly good vowels and mostly open throats and mostly good breath
support, I KNOW what can be done with "untrained amateurs" and I'm
enormously impressed by what THEY are doing.

5.4 ********************************************************************
Sweet Adelines International (SAI) is an organization of about
29,000 women in 617 chapters who sing four-part harmony.
Sweet Adelines International
PO Box 470168
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74147
Phone: 1-800 992-SING
email: SAdelineHQ(a) (was SAdelines(a)
5.5 ********************************************************************
SPEBSQSA (men's equivalent):
Harmony Hall
6315 Third Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53143-5199
Voice: 800/876-SING (N.America), 414/653-8440 (International)
FAX: 414/654-4048 (Harmony Hall)
Sheridan Rd. FAX: (memb., admin, orders, shipping): 414/654-5552
Home page on the web:
General email

6.1 ******************************************************************
I am in the process of totally revamping my vocal techniques course. I
believe that if all the music ed. majors are only going to have one
semester of voice techniques, it needs to address vocal development from
early childhood through adult.

I want to structure the course in sections:
1) the unchanged child voice
2) the changing male and female voice
3) the young adult (fully changed) voice
4) special problems of adult voices (overuse, aging, affects of
progressive diseases, etc.)

I have the compilation from earlier this year on #1 and #2, and am now
looking for texts and articles in all the areas to flesh out the course.
I am happy with the adult vocal techniques book I am using
("Fundamentals of Singing for Voice Classes" by Charles Edward Lindsley)
but would like to have the students also have at least one other text
dealing with the other areas, especially the first two. I haven't
decided if Cooksey is what I want to use and would welcome your
Regards, Patricia

7.0 Other recommended texts / media *************************
7.1 *************************************************************
Discover your Voice, by Tona de Brett. Manual plus CD. Published by
Schott as number ED12498.
Europe; Schott, 48 Great Marlborough St., London W1V 2BN, England. Tel:
+44-171-437-1246. Fax: +44-171-437-0263.
US; EAMD Corpn., PO Box 850, Valley Forge, PA 19482. Tel:
7.2 **********************************************************
Sightsinging made really Easy, by Brian Beck. Manual plus tapes.
533 Oakcrest Lane, Coppell, Texas 75019-4082. Tel:+1-214-462-9248.
7.3 ********************************************************************
Improving Vocal Techniques through the Warm-up. M Knight, editor.
Manual published by SPEBSQSA, as in entry 5.5 above.
7.4 ********************************************************************
A Road to Better Singing, by Paul Mayo. Manual and tape.
Published by SPEBSQSA as above.
7.5 ********************************************************************
The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green and W T Gallwey. Pub. Doubleday
ISBN 0-385-23126-1. A psychological approach, but not specifically
7.6 ********************************************************************
There was a further reference to a CD - James Bowers' Masterclass (from
Canada?), and a video by the King's Singers, but I do not have more
information on these. Any clues would be welcome.
This is the end of the compilation. Any errors or misinterpretations,
please shoot the compiler, not the quoted author. Further comments,
suggestions, amendments, criticisms are earnestly requested and welcome
(but bearing in mind Zoltan Kodaly's comment quoted below please). Many
thanks again to all.

Peter Hill, Humber Harmony Chorus | While singing in itself is good, the
Grimsby, England. G7IOY | real reward comes to those who sing,
peterh(a) | and feel, and think, with others. This
| is what harmony means. (Z. Kodaly)
on October 14, 2003 10:00pm
This is a blessing to me for my desire is to sing a sweet song to my maker and to live a life that brings life-worship to Him.
I would like to learn more about this and if possible get a scholarship to learn more about music which help my church in Kenya to grow and draw near to God the more.