Usually, the best practice for teaching music to a choir is to practice a song at several rehearsals before you have to sing it. And that’s the way that choir directors prefer to operate.
But sometimes there are situations where you don’t have that luxury. What do you do then?
The secret is advanced preparation. Even if it’s a last-minute situation for the choir, you are ready for it. You know that things like this will happen sometimes, and you already have a plan for what you can do. Here’s how you make your plan.
When do situations like that happen?
Now, I’m not saying that we should make it a standard practice to bring new material to a choir at the last minute. Quoting from my choir directing page: “Practice the song at more than one rehearsal. I find that choirs remember music MUCH better if they are able to rehearse on more than one occasion. Two rehearsals are pretty good, three or more are great. If you have only had one, you’re gambling.”
But sometimes you have to take that gamble. I’ve been in situations like that plenty of times. It often happens at conferences, workshops, and other meetings where several churches are coming together. They’ll have a mass choir that gets one rehearsal and then sings that same day. Since the singers are from a lot of different assemblies, there may not be any songs that they all know. And the musicians may not be the one you usually work with, either.
P. A. W. International Men’s Choir
As a director, you should ALWAYS be prepared!
Have music in mind that you can teach any time!
As a choir director, you should have a “teaching repertoire”, songs that you are ready to teach at a moment’s notice. And be sure that some of the songs in your teaching repertoire are pieces that a choir can learn in just one rehearsal and still perform well.
When I would go to those state conferences, I saw a lot of directors teach songs to the state choir. Some of them would decide to teach their very favorite song. But that favorite song didn’t always work out. Many times the state choir would learn a song in the afternoon, and then by the time of the evening service they had forgotten it completely. They couldn’t remember the words, or how a part of the tune went, etc.
Always think about whether a song will work well for a particular event. And for events where you have limited rehearsal time, you want music that will “stick”.
What kind of songs am I talking about?
What makes a choir song really easy?
These are the things to look for:
They should be easy songs for the choir AND the musicians to learn in one day. No complicated tunes or tricky harmonies, not a lot of words to remember, and chord patterns that are not difficult to play. It’s a challenge to find songs that are easy without being cheesy. When you find one, it’s a real treasure.
In order to widen the possibilities, you can include songs that would require more preparation for the lead singer. Often, you can find at least one person who either knows the song already or they are a quick learner (I believe that it’s OK to let a lead singer look at a copy of the words while they sing). And sometimes the director can just do the lead themselves.
The box on the right will take you to the list of my favorite one-rehearsal choir songs. And those suggestions may inspire you to think of other songs you know that would be just as easy for a choir to catch onto.
And see my tip below for how to prepare your materials so that you’re ALWAYS ready.
Kodak 20111 CD-R 80 10 Pack Paper Box with 10 Sleeves
Here’s a good way to be prepared for the next conference, workshop, or any situation where you might need to teach a choir song on short notice!
Get some blank CDs and burn yourself a collection of easy-to-learn choir songs. Then just keep the CD with you all the time along with your other music-related stuff. That way, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to teach a song in a short amount of time, you’ve got some good easy material at the ready. Just hand the CD to the musicians and they can start learning the song.
Index of one-rehearsal songs
I’ve got a few different song lists here. One list is very well known songs, another is songs that might not be familiar to everyone, and there’s a list of holiday songs.
These are songs that are very well known (that’s my own judgment; I hear them often, it may be different where you are). They are easy enough for a choir to learn in one rehearsal and perform well, but since they’re very popular, they might give the impression that you couldn’t think of anything to sing, so you just went for something that everyone knew. But if the choir is going to be singing a few different songs, including one that’s very common is OK.
Also, while these songs may be very familiar to us, they will still seem new to a choir of teens or kids. And it can be delightful to hear classic songs get a new breath of life that way. (I also have another web page that is specifically on the topic of working with a choir of young people).
“Your grace and mercy brought me through
I’m living this moment because of You”
The only things that’s difficult about this song is trying to sing it without crying. The choir does an easy chorus, and the lead singer has two verses. The melody on the lead verses is also easy, so even if your lead singer doesn’t already know the song, they’ll be fine as long as you give them a copy of the words.
A reverent worship song that starts out mellow and builds in intensity when it gets to the bridge. What makes it an easy one to learn is that the lead singer feeds the words to the choir as the song goes along, so there’s very little that the choir has to remember.
It starts off in unison with a gentle, soothing melody, and then builds more and more intensity by adding harmonies and key changes. They do six key changes and end up singing very high, but you can easily limit the key changes to make the song easier to sing.
A good, old-fashioned foot-stomper. The lead singer has two verses, but every line of the verses starts with “He is . . .” and then some attribute about God. Give your lead singer a little crib sheet to sing from and they’ll be fine. And the choir chorus and vamp are super easy.
I’ve used this song with good success with mass choirs at state conferences and district meetings.
“God is an awesome God
He is an awesome God
Great and mighty is His holy name
He is an awesome God”
This song came out in 2006 and spread like wildfire. It’s very easy for the musicians, since it has one chord progression that just repeats throughout the song. And the choir part is also very easy to latch onto and remember. There are some slightly intricate parts in the vamp that could be left out if you need to.
I first learned “God Is” at a pre-rehearsal for a national church convention. Several songs were covered in that particular rehearsal, but “God Is” was the only one that I could easily remember the next day. The rest of the songs took a few more rehearsals to really get a good grasp on. It’s also a favorite for my home church choir.
Key: Starts in F minor, then goes up in 1/2 steps several times. If you’re trying to make the song as easy as possible, of course, you wouldn’t want to do a gazillion key changes.
A classic. This is the song that first put Kirk Franklin on the map. I remember first learning it from Donnie Golder at a national church conference; I was crying by the end of it. And yes, we learned it in one rehearsal.
Usually, a song with this many words would not be a one-rehearsal song. But with this one the pauses at the end of each phrase are long enough for the director to mouth the words to the next phrase before the choir comes back in (that’s what Donnie did). Also, it has lots of singing in unison, the only harmony is in the chorus. The original recording includes a spoken-word lead, but that’s optional.
The same structure as Kirk Franklin’s first hit, Why We Sing. Pauses at the end of each phrase, just long enough for you to mouth the next words to your choir. And lots of unison. And beautiful. This type of song is one of Kirk’s best talents.
The lead singer has to know the verse, but that’s it. The choir chorus is only five words. A lively, happy song that everybody has a good time with.
The original version by Hezekiah Walker is only on iTunes.
Key: Starts in Db, then changes keys countless times. You probably won’t want to go as high as they do.
You may also be interested in this really nice bilingual version by the Heritage Christian Center Mass Choir. They have the chorus in English and Spanish and also lead verses in both English and Spanish.
Simple and lively with an old-school gospel charm. The lead singer sings the chorus first, and then the choir follows with the same chorus. The bridge and vamp are just variations of the same words and melody.
It starts with unison, which is always helpful. Only few words to learn. But beautiful and inspiring. Kinda goofy that it’s not available for purchase as a single. You can only get this song by buying the whole album.
Key: D, then Eb, then E. For most gospel musicians, D and E are not their preferred keys. They would probably like it better if you start in Db, then go to D, then end in Eb.
My home church choir loves this song. I usually try to teach songs at three rehearsals before we sing it in service. I did follow that policy with “Battlefield” as usual, but the choir took to it so easily that they would have been able to sing it the next day if we needed to.
Norman Hutchins has recorded two slightly different versions of this toe-tapper. The one on the Battlefield album is the easiest version. That’s the one on this Amazon link (unfortunately, it’s only available on the album, not as a single). There are only a few words that the choir has to learn and the tune and parts are very simple and straightforward. The lead has a few more words to learn, but they’re pretty familiar phrases. The version available on iTunes is from a different album and it has some additions and variations that are not quite as easy as the other version.
LESS COMMON one-rehearsal songs
These are songs that you don’t hear a lot (at least, I don’t hear them a lot out where I am). In my opinion, that makes them better choices than the really famous ones. I generally prefer NOT to have the choir singing a song that everyone in the church was already listening to in their car on the way to the meeting.
A fun, spirited song. I chose the Brooklyn Tabernacle version rather than the Barnes Family version because the Brooklyn Tabernacle recording features the choir more prominently.
The lead singer would need to be familiar with the verse or be given a copy of the words. The lead part is flexible enough that it wouldn’t matter whether the singer remembered exactly how they did it on the record, they can just sing it however they feel it.
An energetic (but not too fast) song with an easy choir chorus and vamp. The lead part is easy, too.
Tempo: Moderately fast
Originally by Edwin Hawkins
He’s alright with me”
Now this one would be for a choir that has strong singing skills but limited rehearsal time. The tune and words are very easy to remember, but the song uses some high notes to make its declaration.
“He’s Alright” was first done as a workshop song with the Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar Workshop. The original Edwin Hawkins album from that workshop is out of print now, but here’s a link for a version by Joe Pace and the Colorado Mass Choir.
Tempo: Moderate with a strong beat
But you can find the original Hawkins version on YouTube: He’s Alright
by the L.A. Mass Choir
“I’ve been redeemed
I’ve been redeemed”
For this one, you need a really good lead singer who can carry the song and minister to the congregation. The choir has a chorus and bridge that are short and repetitive but very beautiful. A good song for Easter.
“Redeemed” is a song that came through for me in a big way at a state church conference. There had been miscommunication and confusion the whole day about whether they were going to do a mass choir, where and when rehearsal might be, and who would conduct the rehearsal. About few hours before service time, it was finally decided that there would be a rehearsal and I would be one of the directors in charge. With no advance preparation, I came in to the rehearsal, taught this song, got a dear friend of mine to do the lead, and it brought the house down in the evening service.
A beautiful song that also carries a lot of emotion, especially if you preface it by talking about the story of Job. The chorus is easy and repeats a lot. The only potential challenge is the bridge, but that’s not too hard either.
I Just Can’t Tell It All
by the P.A.W. International Mass Choir
“I just can’t tell it all
I just can’t tell it all
I just can’t tell it all
He’s been so good, so good to me”
This is NOT the Edwin Hawkins workshop song.
An easy chorus that’s done first by the lead, then the choir. On the middle section also, the lead sings it first, and then the choir follows. The vamp is a lot of fun and if you wanted to make it even easier, you could have the lead singer introduce the vamp parts as well, doing it “audience participation” style.
Key of Bb
My Soul Is Satisfied
written by Alex Hamilton
Right now my soul is satisfied”
My Soul Is Satisfied is my favorite one-rehearsal song. It requires a good lead singer, but it’s super easy for the choir. They only have to say three words, except for the altos who say six words. The lead does all of the heavy lifting.
I used this song the first time I ever directed a mass choir at a church conference and it was perfect. I introduced it to the lead singer the evening before and let him read the words as he sang. The choir ate it up in the rehearsal, and when we did it in the service, they wouldn’t stop singing!
For years I’ve taught this song without knowing quite where it came from. But in 2009 I got an email from the gentleman who wrote it! He had done the song once with James Cleveland’s Gospel Music Workshop of America, but the GMWA album is out of print. But on his website he has a recording of it with his community choir. That album is called God Canby Rev. Alex Hamilton and the Voices of Inspiration. (Hear samples from “God Can” album)
Even though the James Cleveland album is no longer in print, somebody posted the GMWA version of “My Soul Is Satisfied” on YouTube. Thank you, StyleNMan!
Yup, I wrote this one. I specifically wrote it to be a one-rehearsal song for our District Choir. It has a lot of words which gives it some interest, but it’s an echo song. If the lead singer knows the words that’s fine, but they could also read the words as they sing, and the choir just repeats after the lead for most of it.
Tempo: Moderate with a strong beat
One-rehearsal songs for the HOLIDAYS
Most of the time we try to plan our Christmas and other holiday music well in advance. But if the situation arises where you need a holiday song that you can teach fast, what can you bring? One good song choice for Christmas is Emmanuel, which we talked about earlier on this page. Here are a couple other suggestions as well.
A lot of us grew up singing this song, but even a choir that hadn’t heard it before would do well with this as a one-rehearsal tune. There are enough pauses in it to give a director time to mouth the words to anyone who needed that, and the melody is easy and natural. This is a great one to do as a last song for a Christmas concert.
Key of F
Out of the recorded versions I saw on Amazon, the one by Mariah Carey was the best.