Is using choral rehearsal tracks cheating?
The better question may be:
Are you cheating your singers by giving them choral rehearsal tracks? Well the answer to both questions depends on how you answer my 3 question quiz. Before taking the quiz, I think it’s important to define Choral Rehearsal Tracks.
What are Choral Rehearsal Tracks?
Choral Rehearsal tracks consist of a professionally sung demo of a choral piece that also offers the individualized vocal parts for singers to practice along with independently. All parts are properly aligned to one another, which can make these tracks an ideal tool for a virtual recording. Professionally recorded rehearsal tracks are sung with shape, articulation, dynamics, and beautiful tone. On top of that, singers have several ways to practice with:
- the full, balanced recording
- their part alone
- their part in one ear and all other parts in their other ear
- all parts except their own part playing, so they learn to hold their part
Take the Quiz! – SHOULD YOUR SINGERS USE CHORAL REHEARSAL TRACKS?
A choral rehearsal track can be a tremendous aid or it can be a debilitating crutch for your singers and choral program. These 3 questions will determine whether it’s in your choir’s best interest to use choral rehearsal tracks. Choose the answers that best describes your choral program:
1. How often do your singers work on ear-training?
a) they do quite a bit during each rehearsal
c) we don’t have time in rehearsals to focus on this
2. How often do your singers sight-sing in rehearsal?
a) they sight-sing daily, either with exercises or they sight-sing choral music with little or no spoon-feeding from the piano
b) they occasionally sight-sing, when we have time
c) we don’t have time to sight-sing in class
3. How often do your singers sight-singing at home?
a) they perform weekly sight-singing assignments for homework
b) they occasionally have some form of literacy for homework
c) they wouldn’t do this work at home
If you answered A to all three questions:
If your singers collectively can match pitch, sing a scale relatively in tune, differentiate step-wise pitches from skips, can master the aural training sheet, and are sight-singing daily, then choral rehearsal tracks can truly be a beneficial aid. Singers who have mastered ear-training will be able to retain more than just pitches from a choral rehearsal track. Singers who can sight-sing will improve their reading while listening; this will help them to further develop literacy as they hear refined singing and notice more and more nuances written into their choral score; they will be engulfed in articulation, dynamics, phrase shape, and the context of how their part relates to the entire piece.
If You Answered B or C to any of the three questions:
If your singers do not learn to love sight-singing and it is not part of your choir’s culture, choir rehearsal tracks will impede the growth of your group. Sure, they will benefit from having a part to practice with at home, but they will be missing the understanding necessary to grow. In the end, they will become less attentive in class; the “real” information will be received at home from the choral rehearsal track itself. The track, in this case, will represent spoon-feeding and a co-dependent relationship instead of it’s intended goal of independence.
Your singers will not truly benefit from the intended value of a professional choral rehearsal track if their ear is not developing and they can’t sight-sing.
When to Properly Use a Choral Rehearsal Track
In a traditional choral setting, I recommend having choral rehearsal tracks available for singers after a piece has been effectively introduced and rehearsed. An introduction could be a few days of reading through the entire selection, or ensuring the ensemble conceptually understands the piece. When singers have successfully read the music in class, they can more effectively utilize the choral rehearsal tracks as a practice tool.
Strong sight-singers can effectively use a choral rehearsal track at any point in the learning process. I know of several high school a-cappella groups that give their singers the choral rehearsal tracks to their singers prior to the first rehearsal, and expect the singers to come prepared with their parts learned. Usually in these programs, those singers are strong sight-singers who focus on aural training and sight-singing skills daily within their main choral ensemble. As a result, the choral rehearsal track becomes an aid to enhance and speed-up their sight-singing and develop musicality, rather than a note and rhythm-learning crutch.
Virtual Choirs and Choral Rehearsal Tracks
Choral rehearsal tracks are the optimal resource for making a virtual choir recording. The easiest way to ensure a successful virtual choir or a-cappella recording with by using choral rehearsal tracks as your foundation; each singer will by guided by the choral rehearsal track in their ear. The quality level of your choral rehearsal tracks makes a world of difference in the musicality of your singers.
If you spoon-feed the choral parts in class and are reliant upon your top singers to carry your section, I would not recommend adding choral rehearsal tracks into your program. Instead, focus on ear-training, sight-singing, and music literacy.
If your choral program values ear-training, sight-singing, and music literacy as a core value, I highly recommend adding rehearsal choral tracks into your program.