Chorbasics – basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

If you can’t read music, but use the sheet of music only to read the lyrics, then you will sometimes wonder in the choir rehearsal why the others suddenly continue singing at a completely different place than you would have suspected. A wild leaf starts – where are they now??! – And by the time you find the spot, the others are already somewhere else.

To recognize the flow of a piece, you don’t even have to be able to read music yet. You just need to know how a sheet of music is structured in general and know some symbols and signposts that are included in the sheet of music. If you remember the meaning of these signposts and mark them in color on your sheet music, you will be on the safe side as far as navigation on the sheet music is concerned.

1. Which note and text line is mine?

This is the first question you should clarify with every new choir piece. The whole sheet is full of notes, but mostly only a fraction of it is for you and your voice pitch, the rest is sung by the others.1 There are two different ways of representing the different voice pitches on a staff:

A) The detailed version

In a polyphonic chorus, the individual voice parts are notated one below the other. In mixed 4-part choral writing, the top row of notes is for the soprano (high female voices), the 2. Row for the alto (lower female voices), the 3. row for the tenor (higher male voices) and the 4. Row for the bass part (low male voices). According to the voice ranges used, there are also many other possibilities; in the example shown, it is a choral movement for soprano, mezzo (for mezzo-soprano) and alto with an additional solo. At the left edge, the staves are connected with a bar or a bracket to form a note block (see fig. 1).

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

1.) In some choirs, the singers of each voice range receive their own music sheets, which contain only the notes they have to sing. What may seem comfortable at first glance turns out to be a shortcoming in the medium term: the singers cannot grasp the overall context of a piece in this way and also do not learn to orientate themselves across vocal registers and to help if necessary. This is rarely found in pop and jazz choir arrangements.

So if you sing "mezzo" here in the example, you always need only the 3. Row of the note block (resp. the song text, which is written under the 3. (the first line) and go on to the 3rd line at the end of the line. Row of the next block of notes.

B) The sparse variation

In some pieces, two (or more) voice parts are represented in one staff, e.g.B. Soprano and alto. If you are only interested in the text of the song, it doesn’t matter, because the text is usually the same for soprano and alto. But if you also want to read the notes, then sing the upper notes as a soprano and the lower notes as an alto. So the order is the same as in the detailed version: z.B. in the mixed 4-part system, soprano above, alto below, in the lower stave tenor above, bass below (see fig. 2).

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

2. And where to go from here? "Continue from bar 35":

If you get this prompt during choir practice and don’t know where it is supposed to be: Each staff line is divided multiple times by vertical bar lines. Usually there are small numbers above the bar lines of the soprano part, that is the bar numbering. Sometimes there is only a bar number at the beginning of each note line, the rest you have to think of then. Repeat mark If a passage in a song is to be sung twice in succession, this is indicated in the notes by a repeat mark: a double bar line with two dots in front of it. Often the z.B. the case when a piece consists of only two or three verses and a chorus, which are always sung alternately. Then the repeat sign is at the end of the chorus and means: go all the way back to the beginning and sing the second strophe. If pieces are more complex in structure, you may encounter repeat signs in other places as well. They are then at the beginning and end of the passage to be repeated. In the next episode, we’ll pick up right here, because there are even more waymarks in sheet music that can help you not get lost while singing.

Score 02: Navigation on the score sheet (part B)

In the last episode we introduced 1. the bar numbers and 2. introduced the repeat sign. However, there are a few more signposts in the music sheet that indicate the intended flow:

3. The "little houses" (volta, voltaic brackets)

Many songs – mostly the more interesting ones – not only consist of the same verses and the same chorus, but also vary the passages towards the end.


You sing a verse with a chorus, then there is a repeat sign. So you go back to the beginning and sing the second verse, again with chorus.

But now the second chorus should end a little differently, so that it creates a transition to the next passage, which now has a completely different melody than the previous song parts. For this "a little bit different", the little houses (officially: volta or volta brackets) were invented, which are always marked with a small dotted number. There is a repeat sign after the first box, then the second box follows.

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

So in this example you sing from the beginning to the end of box 1. Because there is a repeat sign, you go back to the beginning and sing the same thing again. But the second time you skip box 1 and continue singing in box 2 instead. So far clear?

You can mark them in color on your sheet music or draw a roof on top of them, so that you can recognize them more quickly as little houses when you sing. Martina does it all the time.

4. A, B, C boxes (sog. "study sign")

Some pieces of music have so many different parts, which are repeated back and forth in such a lively way, that repeat signs and little houses alone are too confusing to show the sequence of events.

The solution: each new passage is given a box at its beginning with a capital letter (the continuous, z.B. A, B, C etc. are used). You will find them – if there are any – mostly above the soprano voice.

Some arrangers do not use A-B-C boxes, but instead write the bar number in thick and bold in the box of the corresponding passage. This makes the search easier when you turn the page back in some cases.

The letter boxes divide the piece continuously into individual passages, but if you then sing the piece in the order in which it is intended, then z.B. the following sequence would result:

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

5. Capo

Capo literally means head. If at a certain point in a piece of music "Da Capo" or D.C. then you should go back to the beginning from this point and start again from the beginning. Simple repetitions (repeat signs) are not repeated again in the "Da Capo". Exception: "Da Capo con rep." (con repitione = with repetition).

6. Coda

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

Some songs have a separate final part, the coda (Italian: coda). tail). The coda sign marks the place in the notes where the final part begins. "Da Coda" therefore means: "Jump from here directly into the final part".

7. Segno

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

The symbol Segno (pronounced: Senjo ) simply means "sign. If you find it in a piece of music, mark it and search further. Because where there is a Segno symbol, there will later also be somewhere the abbreviation D.S. (Dal Segno = "from the sign") appear, usually with an additional double bar line – please also mark.

If you want to sing the song now, then sing over the Segno symbol loosely until you reach "D.S." land. Then you return to the segno symbol and continue singing from here.

Sometimes there is not only "D" in a song.S.", but "D.S. al Fine" or "D.S. al Coda". "Fine" and "Coda" mean almost the same thing, namely end and end respectively. End part. So if you start at "D.S. al Coda", you return to the Segno symbol and continue singing from there to the end (where "Fine" is written in the sheet music) or to the end (where "Tail" is written in the sheet music). jump at "Coda" into the final part (the coda). Which begins again with a large coda symbol.

8. Common combinations of abbreviations

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

The best way to learn all the presented signs and abbreviations is to mark them in color on your sheet music and to write them down. add your personal explanation. And if you have a quarter of an hour, you go through your marked sheet music and try to remember what the symbols all mean. You will see: With time something sticks!

Sheet music 03: What’s on a sheet of music

So dear ones. The first two episodes were for those who don’t necessarily want to learn sheet music, but still want to orient themselves in sheet music, so they know when to sing which text. Now it goes on for the curious who want to know a bit more and the brave who don’t necessarily want to, but still think it might make sense to know more. In this episode we get an overview of what is on a sheet of music. Before we get lost in any details, let’s take a look at the big picture and its most important elements.

On a sheet of music you will find … (s.a. Figure on page 2)

Staves: always five lines make one staff. In polyphonic choral arrangements, the staves for the different voice parts are grouped together by a bar / bracket on the left margin to form a block of notes. Clef: This is always at the beginning of the (first) note line. It indicates in which pitch the following notes are to be sung. A topic all of its own, which need not concern us for the time being.

Time signatureThe clef is followed by two numbers, usually 3/4 or 4/4 in choral pieces, but sometimes also 4/8, 6/8 or 5/4. These numbers indicate the time signature on which the song is based. The time signature is important to get into the right rhythm when singing. If you don’t find any numbers behind the clef, then there’s probably a stylized C instead. This is a symbol for the 4/4 time signature.

Bar lines: They divide the staves into sections of equal length in time. This facilitates orientation within a staff. Besides the simple bar lines, there are also some that have a special meaning, like z.B. the repetition sign you already know.

Sheet musicAfter the time signature, I start with the notes: open or filled ovals/circles, sometimes with, sometimes without note stems, flags and crossings. A note always says two things: 1. how high or low the note is that you are supposed to sing. You can see this by their (higher or lower) position in the staves. 2. how long you should sing this note without interruption. As a rule of thumb you can remember: The more there is to a note (throat, filling, flags), the shorter and faster it will be sung.

Pause sign: Each song has rests (you want to catch your breath). Some pieces have long, others very short, effective rests, and for each rest length within a measure there is a separate sign. Together with the note lengths, the rests determine when a note is sung.

Chorbasics - basics for all choirs in rock, pop, jazz and gospel

These are the most important elements you will find on a sheet of music. Depending on which piece you are looking at, you will also find some other "small stuff": Signs and notations that z. B.:

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