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Author Topic: Help with Choir - teaching harmony  (Read 2381 times)

Offline stix_clgi

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Help with Choir - teaching harmony
« on: November 19, 2013, 10:49:51 PM »
Hey yall, I need some advice from the MOMs and choir directors in trying to teach harmony to the choir. I hope my opening is not too lengthy, but I feel like I have to explain first to help you help me.......

So I've been the mass choir director for almost two years (more like choir president since I don't actually "direct" anything) Recently our presiding Bishop was explaining to us how a congregation singing in harmony can really strengthen and unify the church and that we should practice doing it all the time. I've taken it upon myself to teach choir parts to different traditional p&w songs. We can sing our choir songs, and I don't generally have trouble teaching those types of songs (recent hits, H. Walker, Milton Brunson, Keith Pringle, John P. Kee, etc). 

My question is simply, how do I explain what harmony is? I'm not a big theory person, but I know that I can play the 1,3, and 5 notes together in any scale and have a major chord or harmony, but the choir members don't necessarily know what notes, keys, scales, and chords are, ya know? They all hear pretty well, and even the ones who don't hear can sing a part with their respective sections. Most of the choir members have either grown up singing in church or are older and been around church long enough to have a basic understanding of what harmony sounds like, even if they can't explain theory-wise what the term means. But I'm trying to explain the term lol. Okay, so like how would you explain harmony to a lay-person?

The goal is to get them to understand how this works, so that they can pick up their part even if it's just the opening or offering song of a service, when the choir is not actually up singing. Right now, we mostly sing everything in unison :-).

Thanks in advance yall! I have a lot of questions, but I'm still trying to research before I ask them here. God bless!
Precious Lord take my hand
Lead me on, help me stand

Offline JoanHall

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Re: Help with Choir - teaching harmony
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2013, 11:32:23 AM »
So, you're wanting to teach this to the entire congregation, not just the choir?  That's a tall order.

I have done things where I stood before the congregation and taught them the parts to one particular song and then they sang it.  But to learn how to find the parts for themselves on any song they would need to either: 1) come to a class where you (or someone) sat down at a piano and lectured about scale tones and chord structure and then did activities where they practiced harmonizing, or 2) learn it the "natural" way, like the choir members you have who have been in church all their lives and learned how to do it instinctively (but that process takes time).

If your Presiding Bishop just means that congregations should be exposed to harmony singing so that can learn over a period of time, then I would suggest that you have a few of your strongest choir members (or the Praise Team) on mikes during those opening songs and offering songs so that people can hear as much harmonizing as possible and begin to learn it.

If, on the other hand, the idea is to do real academic teaching to try and get up to speed on it quickly, that will be a challenge.  When I look around at the music theory material that's available online, it all seems to be geared toward learning both ear-training AND reading music.  I really wanted something that explained theory from the ear-training side without a whole bunch of sheet music, but I couldn't find anything.  I finally decided that I would need to put together something myself.  I got started with the first video early this month (it's here on my blog: Taking the next musical step).  That's the only one so far.  The plan is for the videos to target choirs who want to expand beyond the basics, but there will be instruction first about how the basics work so that they understand the foundations.  I feel kinda weird sharing this since the series isn't completed and I don't know how good it's going to turn out to be, but I haven't found anything else.  If anybody else knows some other resources for non-music readers, please share.

But even if you find a great resource, is the entire church membership going to come to classes or sit through a series of instructional videos?  I hope that's not what they're expecting of you.

Offline JoanHall

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Re: Help with Choir - teaching harmony
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2013, 11:43:36 AM »
OK, sorry.  I just re-read your original message and on second reading it sounds like you want to teach the theory stuff just to the choir so that the choir members can do it on any song, even if they haven't been "taught" the song.  That's seems more feasible.  I still don't know of any good resources that don't involve reading music, but I would recommend that if you do some theory study on your own, once you have the foundation on it, then you would be able to translate what you learn in a way that your choir members would best understand it.

There are lots of websites that teach theory, including musictheory.net and teoria.com.  You would especially be interested in the parts that discuss scales and scale tones, chord building, and chord progressions.

Offline stix_clgi

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Re: Help with Choir - teaching harmony
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2013, 04:53:09 PM »
OK, sorry.  I just re-read your original message and on second reading it sounds like you want to teach the theory stuff just to the choir so that the choir members can do it on any song, even if they haven't been "taught" the song.  That's seems more feasible.  I still don't know of any good resources that don't involve reading music, but I would recommend that if you do some theory study on your own, once you have the foundation on it, then you would be able to translate what you learn in a way that your choir members would best understand it.

There are lots of websites that teach theory, including musictheory.net and teoria.com.  You would especially be interested in the parts that discuss scales and scale tones, chord building, and chord progressions.

Thank you for both of your responses and the websites, and yes, I'd like to teach this to the choir first. Honestly, my church isn't that big (maybe 50-60ppl) so the choir makes up a big portion of the congregation when they're not up singing, i.e. during p&w.

I started researching last night and found pretty much everything you described, and it seems rather daunting, but I think it's only because my personal theory/reading knowledge isn't that strong. So it seems we'll be learning together. I'm fine with that, it just feels overwhelming sometimes because while I'm learning as much as I can, at the pace I can, I still want the choir to progress and become stronger, with the ultimate goal being to please God and bring a blessing to the listeners. I'm trying to not let my own limitations hold back the choir ya know?

I'm going to watch your video tonight. I appreciate you sharing it even though you may have a few misgivings about it. I think being able to learn theory from the ear-training side will help a lot of MD's, choir directors, etc who are like me...kinda got thrown into the position or accepted it because no one else would :-).

I'll be back, I know it, but thanks for pointing me in the right direction!
Precious Lord take my hand
Lead me on, help me stand

Offline lemongreenday

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Re: Help with Choir - teaching harmony
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2013, 09:27:04 PM »

Well i definitely liked reading it. This information provided by you is very constructive for correct planning. I like your work for providing information to the other.
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