Creating Practice Tracks for Your Choir or Vocal Teams
One of the best ways to help your choir or vocal team be successful with their music is to provide a powerful learning aid for them that continues beyond the weekly rehearsal times. I have found choirs will attain a higher level of excellence and be able to memorize music much quicker when they have listening aids to go with them throughout the week.
I have just recently begun an interim position of leading worship in a Baptist church that has an extremely talented choir. One of my goals is to broaden their music and style repertoire and to have them sing from memory often. To help them be successful, I took time to master rehearsal tracks for every voice part and make them available as mp3s or on a compilation CD for all the songs coming up in the next 10 weeks or so. I encourage them to listen to their music while commuting to work, while working around the house, and any other time they can.
Of course, you must get proper copyright licenses to do this project. See the section later in this post for needed information.
Producing the TracksProduce your own practice tracks for your choir or vocal team Click To Tweet
You will need a computer (some tablet applications may be sufficient for your needs). You will also need a MIDI keyboard to input all your notes for the voice parts. I input all my notes with a M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3 MIDI controller keyboard. It just plugs in to your USB port and you are ready to go. Or, if you prefer to sing the parts, a good USB microphone is needed. For an inexpensive, but highly-rated option, you could choose a microphone like the CAD U37 USB Studio Condenser Recording Microphone. A pair of headphones, good earbuds, or decent monitor speakers will be a great help as well.
For this post, I will describe the keyboard input method.
If you have a Mac, GarageBand is an excellent and easy-to-use application to produce the individual tracks. GarageBand is extremely intuitive and has multiple online tutorials to guide you through every aspect of your work. If you don’t have a Mac, no problem; take a look at some PC options here.
I prefer to start with the studio-produced demo of the song (same key and arrangement). Some publishers provide those on choral club CDs, by individual downloads at a cost, or by free downloads on their website. Start by importing the demo into the software as the top track. If you do not have access to the professional recording, you can create your own or search YouTube for a specific song, keeping in mind licensing concerns).
If you are producing SATB tracks, I would create eight additional tracks in the project, two for each voice part. In GarageBand, I select one of those tracks to be a grand piano sound that will play the person’s voice part. The other track can be a string ensemble or other instrument that can sustain a note better than the rapid decay of the piano note. This will help your singers to hear long sustained notes better against other parts that are moving.
I plug in my keyboard, put on my headphones, set up the soprano track to record (piano track) and start the process. The great thing about GarageBand and other applications is that if you miss a note, you can merely go back and edit the MIDI information without having to re-record the whole track or a smaller portion of the track. If more than one voice part is singing the same part, you can merely cut and paste the entire track or a portion of the track onto the other voice part as well, saving you some time.
Once I record the track, I play it from the beginning as I watch the score to make sure all notes and rhythms are accurate. If not, I adjust the MIDI data (bottom display in GarageBand) to change a note, rhythm, duration, or velocity (loudness). Once I am satisfied with the track, I can copy the track to the second track (string ensemble) so that both tracks will play the identical line. You can then adjust the individual track volumes to meet your preferences.
Once I am satisfied with all the parts I have produced, I then output the individual tracks to mp3 files for distribution. I first click on the tracks I want to be included in that exported file – the track and two vocal tracks associated with that particular voice part. I adjust the track volumes to get the sound I want. Then I export the song to disk. It will produce the mp3 exactly as you tweaked the sounds. Once you have exported that track, repeat the procedure for each track. After completing the soprano part, I move on to each of the remaining parts until all voice parts have been covered and re-checked.
Here’s an excerpt from this project:
(HINT: If the song is really fast and hearing some of those running lines is difficult for singers learning their parts, you can export a slowed down (same key) version to help your singers in addition to the one at tempo.)
|FREE DOWNLOAD: This is a GarageBand file that is configured for your use in producing practice tracks. Just drop in your audio file and begin recording the individual parts.|
Getting the Copyright Licensing You Need
Publishers for choral works you may be using generally are covered by one of these two licenses from CCLI and One License:
The CCLI Rehearsal license allows you to legally copy commercial audio recordings and your own custom rehearsal tracks, and share audio files via email, flash drives or on worship planning websites. The copies are intended for rehearsal purposes only and are not intended to remain as permanent copies for personal collections. Check out a link on this page for covered publishers.
The Practice-Track License from One License enables you to create practice CDs or MP3s for you choir or ensemble members. With this license, you are able to:
- Copy demonstration recordings provided by a Member Publisher;
- Copy commercial CDs or mp3s purchased from a Member Publisher or member record company;
- Record your own versions of covered songs for your ensemble (a specific vocal part, for example, or an accompaniment track);
- Burn CDs or distribute MP3s;
- Provide a link to a Dropbox or Google Drive file that can only be accessed by the intended musicians. (Also Planning Center, WorshipPlanning.com or other online worship management applications)
For a complete list of Member Publishers who participate, click here.
If your publisher is not covered by either of these licenses, you will need to purchase a license through other means. Check out this post for more information.