Common Mistakes Choir Directors Regardless of experience, age-level, location, or ability of the choir, it seems that it is inevitable that we will make mistakes as choir directors.  How we learn from these mistakes can help our choirs reach their full potential and make us more effective than ever, both in the rehearsal room and on the podium.

One of the best things about being able to work with choirs from all over the country is being able to learn how much we, as choir directors, all have in common. I have noticed that many of us seem to make the same mistakes and we arrive at similar solutions, which help us learn and move forward.

These are not big mistakes, but the types of things that keep our choirs from reaching their full potential. The kinds of little things, that when overlooked and uncorrected, can drain the motivation out of our singers, undermine our own confidence, and frustrate our singers.

I recently asked the choral community to contribute mistakes that they make, have made, or see other directors make. What I found was that many of us , in fact, do make the same mistakes, but that we are also able to think of great solutions.

Below is a list of MISTAKES that we, as choir directors, all make, and solutions for each. (in no particular order)

  1. Choosing repertoire that is TOO hard
  2. Not preparing adequately
  3. Not giving the choir ownership of the music
  4. Not treating your collaborative pianist as a collaborator
  5. Watching music instead of the singers
  6. Talking too much in rehearsal
  7. Stopping too frequently
  8. Lack of clarity with spoken directions
  9. Not teaching that singing is different from speaking (diction)
  10. Letting the conducting get in the way of the music

Choosing repertoire that is TOO hard
Do less, better. If your singers are not performing to their potential, either give them easier music that they can perform well or take a closer look at how you are preparing the music. If there is too much difficult rep, the artistry and excellence start to suffer. Nobody enjoys not feel good about what they are doing, so think about who the music is serving, as directors; we owe it to our choirs.

Not preparing adequately
Prepare early and often. I remember a new teacher asking, “how do I know when I have done enough to prepare my music.” We could always do more, but many of us too often are underprepared to get in front of our groups. It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutia of the everyday; prepare early and often for what each rehearsal and performance needs the most from you.

Not giving the choir ownership of the music
Let your choir take responsibility for their singing. As a conductor, you have enough to worry about without having to think that you are responsible for everything they do. Listen to what they are doing.  When you give them feedback, hold them accountable for making the change you want. Then praise them for their growth.

Not treating collaborators as collaborators
It takes a village, so that all remember to be grateful to those who support you. I love the quote, “the person at the keyboard is the most important person in the rehearsal.” This is so true in so many ways, especially if that person is someone other than you. Take time to thank and appreciate your collaborators for allowing you to have the freedom to be in front of the choir.

Watching music instead of the singers
Memorize. Always have a score handy, it is like glancing at a rearview mirror when you drive. Take a quick glance, but keep your eyes on what is important, the choir. They LOVE when you make direct eye contact with them. So glance if you need to, but always keep your eyes on the road, or in this case the choir.

Talking too much in rehearsal
Communicate more, talk less. It is easy to get caught up in abstract concepts but remember conducting can be quite effective without speaking. It is powerful to stop a rehearsal and say, “we are going to do that again, this time watch me.” You’ll be amazed at how responsive your choir can be.

Stopping too frequently
Let the choir sing. Sometimes it’s tempting to stop the choir every time you hear something you do not like. Make notes in your score and decide how to deal with it later. It might be in the same rehearsal, or you may need time to plan a solution, but let the singers sing; it is why they are there.

Lack of clarity with spoken directions
Faster/Slower, Louder/Softer, Shorter/Longer. It is amazing how much change you can affect with ONLY those six words.

Not teaching that singing is different from speaking (diction)
Focus on vowel sounds, and consonants as being MUCH different from our spoken language. Sing just the vowels, sing just the consonants, then put it all together. Many issues can be fixed by getting the singers singing the same sound at the same time.

Letting the conducting get in the way of the music
Be musical. This looks different depending on whether you are in a rehearsal, a reading session, or a performance, but never forget why we wanted to be a conductor in the first place, it’s all about the music.

Many thanks to Kevin Flannagan, Mike Nichols, Craig Harmann, Andrew Schneider, Naason Hernandez-Canales, Drew Collins, Chris Frye, Sean Boulware, Craig Collins, Ana Lúcia Carvalho, Bert Fox, Shannon Barks, Alex Kovalsky for being part of the initial sampling and contributing to the list.


Add a mistake to the list

Have a mistake you would like to add to the list?

If you know of a mistake you have seen, or you have done, I would love to hear about it.

Add a mistake to the list