After the initial fun of finding a name and a couple of songs to sing, many inexperienced and some semi-experienced quartets have difficulty translating that enthusiasm into a fantastic educational momentum that can mean the difference between a long-term success and a short-term dabbling into the art of quartetting.

For quartets where there are non-music readers present, if a member of your quartet can sing you a tape, things will come together much more quickly (professional tapes are available if there’s no-one in your group, or you don’t want to put extra pressure on anyone). Set your expectations before you start rehearsing – what you expect to be practicing at the following rehearsal (so you can all do homework) is a great way to wrap up a session, and can help focus you on the lessons of the day. If you’ve stated that you all want to be off paper (mostly at least!) with a song within two rehearsals, then everyone knows what is expected of them, and you’ll all feel like you’re pulling equal weight.

Once you have a general handle on the music and your phrasing/breath plan, it’s time to start the most important activity of your quartet life: duetting. Many leave this step until they’re fine-tuning for contest or an audition. My tip to you is do it as you are learning each new song.

By doing so:

  • the lead will have a chance to practice (over and over) her fluid vocal line, working on her interpretation and consolidating her technique in tricky bits, so that the other parts can match her sound and consistent (but musically flexible!) interpretation;
  • each part will fine tune their ears into the lead sound and feel where their part lies in relation to the melody, so that solid, vertical chord singing is encouraged, and you reach the best blend and unit sound possible;
  • each part can practice singing their part like the melody – it’s so easy to sing a harmony part as a sequence of notes, rather than lyrically as the lead does, but until harmony and melody match in flow, synchronisation and unit will suffer;
  • the 2 listening parts can tune their ears to the level of unity they are striving for themselves in helping the duetters to sing as one – it’s much easier to hear a mismatched vowel or badly aligned consonants when you’re not singing at the same time!

Bass-tenor, bari-tenor and bass-bari duets are….. interesting, especially if their are a lot of octaves in the duet, but the three lead-? duets are of primary importance while learning a song. Yes, this means the lead sings 3 times as much. That’s her job – her line is the most important!

Start with lead-bass (the most important duet of all), then do lead-bari, then trio lead-bari-bass, then lead-tenor, then trio lead-bass-tenor, lead-bari-tenor, then put all four parts together.

I promise you. It will sound fantastic.

New Quartet? Learning Songs
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