"Yolanda Adams 2007Feb11" by White House photo by Paul Morse - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Public domain photo of Yolanda Adams

So there’s this solo song that you really love and you want to have your choir do it.  How do you go about it?

Adapting solo songs for choir can be a wonderful way to expand your choir’s repertoire.  Here are some thoughts about how to do it well.

You want to be sure first that the song is the type of music that will work for a choir, then you have to figure out how you will arrange it and assign parts to your choir.

Yolanda Adams 2007Feb11” by White House photo by Paul Morse – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Is this song a good choice?

The first thing to think about is whether the song will be a good fit for your choir. Some solo songs don’t translate to choir as well.

  • If the entire song is made up of very loose rhythms and lots of vocal riffing, it would be hard for the choir to stay together.  An example of a song like this is “I Need You Now” by Smokie Norful.  It probably wouldn’t work that well for choir.  But if it’s only a few portions of the song that are like that you can have a lead singer do those portions and bring in the choir on other parts of the song.
  • If the tune makes big jumps from high notes to low notes (in my opinion, any jump that is an interval of a 5th or larger), it can be hard for people to find their harmonies.  But again, if it’s only sections of the song that have those kind of jumps, then you could do those parts in unison and do the other portions of the song in harmony.

Doing the arrangement

But if you’ve got a song that you think will adapt well for a choir, here’s a basic approach for doing your arrangement:

  • Decide which section is going to sing the melody, the main tune.

The most common way that gospel songs are harmonized is that the sopranos sing the melody and the altos and tenors harmonize underneath the sopranos. But sometimes it’s done differently. You can decide which section is going to sound best carrying the main melody for your particular song.

  • Decide what parts will be in unison, what parts will be in harmony, and what parts will be done by a lead singer.

This is the place to let your judgment and your musical ear guide you. Here are some guidelines, but you might decide to break any or all of these rules.

    • Passages that have a very loose rhythm are better if you have just one person sing that part.
    • Passages where the melody has big jumps from high notes to low notes are better if they’re done in unison (however, if you have a very skilled choir, doing those passages in harmony can be very exciting).
    • Singing in unison can also be good sometimes if there is a particular line where you want to get the audience’s attention and put extra focus on a particular part of the lyrics.
    • Going from a unison part into a harmony part can give a feeling of excitement, motion, and power.
  • Figure out what the notes should be for the harmonies.

    • This is something that takes experience. For this you need to understand the chord progressions that are associated with the song.
      • If you have been singing in choirs for a long time, you might be able to hear automatically what the harmony notes should be.
      • If you don’t have that kind of experience, you can look at the chords that the musicians are playing to help you figure things out (if you don’t play an instrument yourself, working together with a musician could be very helpful). The singers who have the melody will be covering one note in the chord, and the other parts would fill out the rest of the notes to make the chord.
  • Take notes on what you’ve done.

    • You want to be able to remember how your arrangement goes so that you can teach it without stumbling. There are a few different ways that you can make a copy of your arrangement:
      • If your read music, you can make a sheet music version.
      • If you’re familiar with scales and scale tones, you can make a copy of the words to the song and write the scale tones that each part sings right above the words.  (Here’s an example of the kinds of papers I make for myself to teach from, using scale tones. — SAMPLE TEACHING PAPER. It’s for the song “I Will Bless the Lord” by Hezekiah Walker).
      • Or you can make a recording of yourself singing each part (just like does!) and use those as a reference when you’re teaching.

If any of you have more tips about how to adapt solo gospel songs into choir songs, I hope you will share.  Leave a comment!

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