Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Choir Member's Companion

The Choir Member's Companion

by Ginger Wyrick

See All Formats & Editions

The Choir Member's Companion is designed for use by individual choir members in a local church adult choir. The book is intended for choir members to better understand musical symbols, terminology, and symbols used in choral music. CONTENTS: 1. Introduction to Choir Membership 2. Basic Music Reading Skills 3. Musical Road Map 4. Basic Vocal Techniques 5. Sight-reading


The Choir Member's Companion is designed for use by individual choir members in a local church adult choir. The book is intended for choir members to better understand musical symbols, terminology, and symbols used in choral music. CONTENTS: 1. Introduction to Choir Membership 2. Basic Music Reading Skills 3. Musical Road Map 4. Basic Vocal Techniques 5. Sight-reading New Music 6. How to Mark Your Music 7. Preparation for Worship 8. Preparation for Other Performances 9. Glossary of Musical Terms and Symbols

Product Details

Abingdon Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
2 MB

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

The Choir Member's Companion

By Ginger G. Wyrick

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 1997 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-2870-9


Basic Music Reading Skills

Music is a language consisting of symbols much like the alphabet. As a language student must learn the sounds of each letter (symbols), how to spell and speak words, and how to organize words into sentences in order to communicate, so too the musician must learn symbols and what each represents, and practice the "language" as written music to achieve musical communication. This basic "musical language" remains the same regardless of the final product.

The following symbols are fundamental to reading music. You should develop proficiency with these terms, symbols, and meanings. You will enjoy singing even more when you have a mastery of the components of music. (Additional terms are located in the "Glossary of Musical Terms and Symbols.")

The Staff

The staff may be extended up or down by using ledger lines.

Treble Clef (G clef): Indicates pitch by identifying the G line (line 2). This clef is used by treble singers (soprano, alto, and children with unchanged voices), the upper register of the piano, and all high instruments (such as flute, oboe, and violin).

Bass Clef (F clef): Indicates pitches by identifying the F line (line 4). This clef is used by bass singers (tenor, baritone, bass), the lower register of the piano, and all low instruments (such as the tuba, trombone, and double bass).

Treble Clef with subscript 8: Indicates pitch similar to the regular treble clef but sounding one octave lower. This clef is used by tenors.

Grand Staff: Combines two staves, one treble and one bass, for musical notation. (Middle C lies between the two staves and can be attached to either.)

Bar Line: Organizes the beats (counts) of music. Located throughout the entire piece to indicate measures.

Measure: The contents between two bar lines.

Double Bar One: Identifies the end of the music.

Pitch Notation

Note Anatomy: Each note has a head. Most notes have a stem; some have a flag (or flags), which may appear as a beam to make reading easier.

Musical Alphabet: Music uses only seven letter names for pitch. The letter names repeat as you move up (sounding higher) and down (sounding lower) the scale/staff.

Pitch Notation: Each tone is indicated by placing a note on the musical staff. Notes may appear with a line dissecting the note head (line note) or between two lines (space note). The clef determines the pitch order on the staff. Notice that when you combine the line and space notes of one clef the pitches are in musical alphabet order.

Closed Score Notation: Music written on the grand staff with each voice part identified by the direction of the note stem (e.g., bass clef stem up = tenor).

Open Score Notation: Music written on many staves. Each voice part has its own staff (e.g., top staff = soprano, and so on).

Note: To conserve space and printing costs, a composer/publisher may alternate between open and closed scoring in one piece. This often occurs when the accompaniment is alone or when a soloist is singing. It is easy to overlook these changes in an anthem, so look ahead!

Half Step: The smallest distance between two pitches.

Whole Step: The distance of two half steps combined.

Accidentals: Symbols that alter the tone of a note by moving it by half steps.

Sharp: Raises the pitch a half step.

Flat: Lowers the pitch a half step.

Natural: Returns the pitch to its original tone.

Pitch Movement:

When a pitch moves up on the staff the tone is raised:


When a pitch moves down on the staff the tone is lowered:


The pitch remains the same when notes are repeated:


Intervals: The distance between two pitches. An interval may be measured on the musical staff or by its tone. To identify the interval, count the given pitches and all lines and spaces between them. Note: notes may sound together (stacked on top = harmonic interval) or individually (one note after the other = melodic interval):


Triad: A chord made of three ("tri-") tones. It is built on a root note (which names the chord), a 3rd above the root, and a 5th above the root.

Chord: Three or more notes that sound together. Chords may be consonant:


or dissonant:


Scales: Almost every piece of music (or section of music) is based on a scale. Musicians learn to sing/play scales as a basis for all music. Two types of scales dominate Western music: major and minor. Each scale is based on a pattern of whole (W) and half (H) steps. Note: the minor scale has several forms; the illustration is one example called "natural" minor.

Basic Music Reading Skills

Key Signature: Appears on the grand staff after the clef symbol. It may contain sharps, flats, or nothing at all. The key signature tells the musician on which scale the piece is based.

The Circle of Fifths is a quick-reference chart to determine a key signature. To find a minor key, locate the major key signature and lower it by three half steps. (For example, if the key signature contains one flat, the related major key is F, and the actual minor key is D.)

Major Keys

Rhythmic Notation: Indicates the duration of either sound (notes) or silence (rests). The following diagram illustrates the relationship of each value.

Dotted Notes and Rests: A dot may be added to a note to increase its value by one half.

Examples of dotted notes and their corresponding rests:

dotted whole note dotted whole rest
dotted half note dotted half rest
dotted quarter note dotted quarter rest
dotted eighth note dotted eighth rest

Special Notations

Tie: Two identical pitches connected by an arched line. Sing the first pitch and hold it for the combined duration of both note values.

Duplet: Two notes sounding in place of three notes of equal value.

Triplet: Three notes sounding in place of two notes of equal value.

Meter: Indicates the organization of beats/pulses in a given piece of music. Meter may be grouped as sets of two (duple), sets of three (triple), sets of four (quadruple), or as a combination of these.

Time Signature: Appears on the grand staff following the key signature. Indicates the organization of beats/ pulses within a measure.

The time signature contains two numbers, each having a unique role. The top number determines how many beats occur in one measure; the bottom number indicates which note receives one beat. For example:

4 -4 beats per measure 2 -2 beats per measure 6-6 beats per measure
4 -quarter note gets 1 beat 2- half note gets 1 beat 8-eighth note gets 1 beat


Musical Road Maps

Composers use symbols, terms, and abbreviations to indicate to the performer where to go and what to do. Knowledge of these makes reading easier and enhances the ultimate performance. These symbols may be easily overlooked or difficult to see at first glance. Train your eye to look for the composer's instructions, and highlight anything difficult to remember.

Repeat Sign: Indicates to perform a section of music again. When the repeat sign appears alone, return to the beginning and sing as indicated. When the symbol appears with amate repeat only the material contained between the signs and then continue.

First and Second Endings: Sing to the first ending until you reach the repeat sign. Return to the corresponding repeat sign and continue singing as indicated. On the second time through, omit the first ending material, sing the second ending material, and complete the song.

Da capo (D.C.): Sing until you reach this symbol, then return to the beginning of the music and continue as indicated.

Dal segno (D. S.): Sing until you reach this symbol, then return to the sign and continue as indicated.

al fine: This may appear attached as D.C. al fine or D.S. al fine. On the repeat, sing only to the Fine (pronounced FIH-neh) sign, which indicates the end of the music.

al coda: This may appear attached as D.C. al coda or D. S. al coda. On the repeat, sing only to the coda sign then jump to the coda section of the music and continue singing.

Tempo Markings: Composers indicate the speed of a piece with words (often in Italian) printed above the opening measure. Common tempos include: adagio (slow); andante (slow walking pace); moderato (moderately); allegro (fast); and vivace (lively).

Dynamics: Abbreviations and symbols that indicate degrees of loud and soft.

Other Symbols

pianissimo very soft
piano soft
mezzo piano moderately soft
mezzo forte moderately loud
forte loud
fortissimo very loud
diminuendo gradually softer
crescendo gradually louder
accents stress a note singing it louder

Ritardando (rit.) and Rallentando (rall.): Gradually slowing.

Slur: Arched line connecting two or more different pitches. Sing these notes legato.

Fermata (slang: bird's eye): Watch the director! This indicates to lengthen the note value at the discretion of the conductor.

Caesura (slang: railroad tracks): Grand pause dictated by the director.

Breath Mark: Take a breath as indicated within the score. If no marks are in the music, insert this symbol (when appropriate) during rehearsal as a reminder to breathe.

No Breath: Sing the musical phrase without a breath. If no marks are in the music, insert this mark (when appropriate) during rehearsal as a reminder not to breathe.

Rehearsal Letters/Numbers: Composers and editors use oversized letters or numbers to mark sections throughout a composition. Directors use these symbols to identify specific locations within the music. This allows the director to move quickly during a rehearsal. Be aware of this notation in each piece.


Basic Vocal Techniques

The body is your instrument. Just as a violinist protects and cares for his or her violin, so must you protect and care for your instrument. Learning to sing correctly is important to your sound and your vocal health. Caution! Incorrect singing may have harmful effects. Do you experience any of the following?

• hoarseness after rehearsal

• dizziness when singing

• tight or achy shoulders

• tight jaw

• pain when singing

If so, you are doing something wrong. Be aware of your singing habits—good and bad. Work to eliminate the poor habits and maximize the good ones. This chapter is designed to introduce you to good singing habits.

Singing requires physical and mental activity. The passive singer looks disinterested, appears lost in the music, and ultimately creates weak, poor sounds. To produce the best tones the singer must constantly be aware of posture, breathing, and diction.


Whether sitting or standing, the body should always be alert and ready to sing. Notice the similarities between these two postures.


• Feet slightly apart with the weight of the body forward (feel as if you are about to stand)

• Body tall with hips, spine, and head directly in line with one another (feel as if you are standing from the hips up)

• Chest naturally elevated to enhance breathing

• Shoulders back and relaxed

• Arms held naturally by the side of the body

• Head square on the shoulders as if being lifted by the crown of your head


• Feet shoulder-width apart with the weight of the body slightly forward

• Knees slightly relaxed (locking the knees creates tension throughout the body and may cause one to faint)

• Body tall with the hips, spine, and head directly in line with one another

• Chest naturally elevated to enhance breathing

• Shoulders back and relaxed

• Arms held naturally by the side of the body

• Head square on the shoulders as if being lifted by the crown of your head

We breathe to sing. One does not happen without the other. As adults we have skillfully trained ourselves to breathe incorrectly. Watch a baby sleeping or observe a dog panting. The inhalation and exhalation are very different from adults; however, they are doing it correctly. Just as a balloon expands when filled with air, our bodies should expand when we inhale. As adults, we tend to draw in our stomachs and raise our shoulders to demonstrate that something is occurring. That "something" is improper breathing.

Although breathing seems natural since we do it continually without effort, breathing to sing carries additional benefits. As you learn to breathe correctly you will soon discover:

• you have more air to use when singing

• singing technique becomes easier

• you concentrate more on musical elements

• you stand taller

Basic Breathing Techniques

• Maintain correct singing posture. Review the section on posture.

• Relax the face (jaw) and throat muscles. Tight muscles get in the way of breathing and singing. Relaxing creates extra space your body uses to inhale quickly and efficiently as well as to make beautiful tones.

• Inhale silently through the nose (and mouth).Breathing should create no sound. Gasping for air is inefficient to the singer and distracting to the audience. Breathing through the nose filters and warms the incoming air.

• Entire torso should feel expanded (including your ribs and across the back). Inhalation fills the body (not your shoulders) with air. To maximize your breath capacity, keep the body expanded as you sing.

• Upper body (including shoulders) remains relaxed and naturally elevated. Check your posture! Lifting your shoulders or chest when inhaling restricts your breath capacity as will collapsing the shoulders, chest, or spine when exhaling. Allow breathing to occur low in the body.

• Set the mouth in the position of the first vowel sound. Anticipate the first vowel sound (even if it appears after a consonant). Sing the consonant through the vowel shape.

Breath Support

Now that you have all of this newfound air, what are you to do with it? Don't hold it—use it! Controlled exhalation provides the singer with enough air to make beautiful sounds and complete the musical phrase. This is best discovered by practice—learning what it feels like to do it right and aiming for that physical response with each breath.

Begin by discovering your diaphragm. You cannot see it, you cannot touch it, but you can know when it is working! (Cough to feel your diaphragm at work.) The diaphragm is a muscle below the lungs (ribs) that assists your body in breathing: it gets out of the way when you inhale and helps push air out when you exhale. Your goal is to fill the lungs with air and control its use. Aim for a steady stream of air as you sing—not too much and not too little.

When exhaling, imagine yourself as a tube of toothpaste. If you squeeze at the neck of the tube only a small amount of paste is released (and the tube is crimped). However, if you roll the tube from the bottom you are able to extract all the paste neatly. That is our goal as singers. A slight "tucking" sensation occurs around the hips to begin exhalation. The air is used from the lowest point in the lungs first and slowly works its way up until it is fully expelled. The shoulders, chest, neck, and jaw are not involved in exhalation and should remain relaxed (and out of the way). When you tighten the jaw and neck, or allow the shoulders and chest to collapse near the end of the breath, you are "crimping" the tube and making your job very difficult.

Stagger Breathing

You will hear this term often as you work through music. It is sometimes referred to as a "catch breath." This technique is used to make the musical line appear seamless. When you feel yourself running out of air, quickly inhale as your neighbor continues to sing. When everyone "takes turns" breathing, the phrase is never broken to the listener's ear. Do not complete the syllable or word to breathe—simply inhale and resume singing on the vowel. It is important to breathe while others are singing a vowel. You may have to omit the following consonant or pitch, but no one will ever know. Avoid breathing at bar lines.


Excerpted from The Choir Member's Companion by Ginger G. Wyrick. Copyright © 1997 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ginger G. Wyrick is Director of Choral Activities and is on the faculty of Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the author, composer and editor of several products from Abingdon Press: Church Music for Children; Church Choir 101; The Choir Member’s Companion; Joseph: What a Life (session plan writer); and 52 Arrival Activities for Children’s Choir. Ginger is active in several music organizations including Chorister’s Guild, American Choral Directors Association, American Guild of Organists, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, and others.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews