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We had several queries from vocal groups for tips and advice on how to improve their practise sessions. Vocal harmony groups have always been popular throughout history and range from 'Accappella' groups like Barbershop Quartets to the more modern girl/boy groups like 'Spice Girls', 'S Club 7' and 'Boyzone' who concentrate on melody, harmony and movement rather than playing a musical instrument like a band.

To aid those of you who are experiencing problems with structuring your rehearsals, we have supplied some general ideas and guidance that you may find useful.

The first step is to work on your voices both individually and together in seperate sessions.

Learn from each other by watching and listening to the way you sing - do you breath, stand, relax correctly? Is there emotion in the voice, does the voice sound natural or forced? If there is a problem can you identify it - can everyone pitch their voice to the right note easily?

When you rehearse experiment with harmonies and backing vocals in various keys, to all sorts of songs - use a wide range of styles to practice to, make sure you work on timing. The starts, breaks & stops are important and if you are singing together you all need to start and stop EXACTLY at the same time, also singing a 'round' (where one person sings, the next comes in partway through or across the other singer) has to be precise - have fun with it & record EVERYTHING for later review.

If you are also playing instruments you should split the rehearsals - 1 vocal practice (sing accappella) & the other with instruments. If you are including dance moves the same applies but split into 3 sections - a vocal accappella practice, then do a dance walkthrough (mouthing the words, NOT singing) then a full vocal/dance rehearsal with and without backing music.

Practising in this way will help you to concentrate on the voices and 'fix' the lyrics, pitch, timing, key changes in your mind plus prepare you for the inevitable day when your asked to perform at the drop of a hat without the aid of instruments or backing track!

When you listen back to the recordings, learn to identify each others voices, strengths & weaknesses, which songs suit all of you & those that don't!

When writing and recording your own songs it is easier to sound great as there are no other singers to compare vocal style with ;-) However, if you haven't already done so grab as many cd's of REALLY GREAT SINGERS in all styles and sing along to a few tracks, DON'T try to imitate their voices - it's always best to use your natural voice rather than 'soundlike' someone else (unless you aim to be a 'Tribute' act/artist) but do record your efforts and compare how your performance relates to the timing similar, where are the breathing points, are your notes smooth or rough, clear or out of breath?

Buy a couple of backing tracks or karaoke disks of your favourite songs and try to re-interpret the songs in your own way to suit your voice. These are ways to help you to learn about your voice and what it is capable of.

Try to join a singing workshop, amateur musical theater or similar group to gain make up, costume, performance and stage experience. Find a singing teacher who is sympathetic to your style of music (the basics of singing are the same regardless of style but it helps if your teacher understands the style of music you wish to perform), many teachers will allow group lessons which will help to cut down the cost if you all go together.

Take a critical listen to your demo song - could it be improved? How? Play it to strangers (without telling them you sang it if possible) watch their reaction, ask them what they thought & use their comments to improve the way you write or produce the song. Listen to tracks of popular artists who write in similar styles - how does your song compare? Make sure you and your songs sound original.

Play your demo at various volumes on all different types of stereo's including the car! (they all sound slightly different but if the mix is right it should sound good anywhere.) Does the song (and your performance) sound great after the 1000 time? If it does then your on the right track - if not time to work on the bits that need improvement!

Image is very important nowadays so you need to think carefully about how you present yourselves when performing - do your clothes/hair/make up suit the way you look and sound - if not well hey we girls love to experiment & you can get away with practically anything on stage, so be outrageous or different or match what you wear but always:
Make sure its comfortable to move around in
Your comfortable wearing it on stage

Get someone to VIDEO your dress rehearsals and live performances so you can see how you look & work together from an audiences point of view. If possible video all rehearsals or practice in front of a mirror.

You'll need tons of patience, especially when working with other people although it helps if they are friends. There's bound to be disagreements and differences of opinion so you should work out a 'code of practice' - an agreement that songs that cause arguments get thrown out & any disagreements forgiven & forgotten about before you go on stage are two items that should be included. If you start getting tired, bored or snappy in rehearsals - your all overdoing it - take a break, go out, have fun & come back to it another day when your refreshed.

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