The Importance of Balance

The Importance of Balance

Posted: April 06, 2018

It is often said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that is certainly true with a choir.   How many human activities are there which can match the choir for sense of community and depth of personal satisfaction?  There is no instrument so direct as the human voice. If we recorded every member of our choir separately and played the recordings back simultaneously, it would not sound the same as the whole choir singing in real time together!

Why is that?

A key aspect of choir singing is that the sound produced is the result of lots of voices singing together. Because of this, it’s not enough that each singer be good; the quality of the overall sound that a choir produces has to be kept at a high standard. Specifically, the choir’s members must listen and be able to adjust their balance, tonal quality and ultimately blend.

Balance, tone quality and the blend

Blending in a choir is key to getting a unified sound. It’s all very well when individuals can sing confidently, but if certain voices are sticking out, it’s not a choir anymore.

Blending well can be achieved in two ways: Balance and Tone Quality.

1. Balance

As a director of a choir, it is important to listen out for discrepancies in balance amongst different parts. By “balance” here I mean the relative volume of each part. Depending on the piece of music, the volume of each part shouldn’t necessarily be the same. Good balance does not mean every part has the same volume. It means every part is singing at appropriate volume.

One common rule of thumb is that the melody should be most prominent. Usually this is in the Soprano part, or whichever part is singing in the highest register. At times though a lower part such as the Baritones might briefly take the focus. As a choir director don’t be afraid to ask for “more baritone line” for example, if you want to bring out an important phrase, or ask for “less basses” if they’re overpowering everything else.

As a singer, you should always be aware of the balance your choir is aiming for in each section of each piece, and stay conscious of how your own singing is contributing to that. Are you and the others in your section singing too loudly or too quietly? Adjust your volume and maybe have a word with your fellow singers or the choir director if you feel something’s out of balance.

2. Tone Quality

Tone quality consists of the following:

  • The overall style of tone.
  • This can range from a very pure, broad, resonant tone as used in classical choral music, to a narrower, concentrated sound used more in pop and gospel music.
  • The vowel and consonant sounds (“enunciation”) used.
  • To make the members of a choir sound more like one person, a general agreement of how to pronounce words must be established. Again, this varies depending on the style of music performed.

Tone quality is much harder to perfect in a choir than balance. It’s mostly up to the singers themselves rather than the director to improve it, because it requires them to not only listen to themselves and each other, but to adapt their voice accordingly. This awareness and response is extremely important in all types of singing, whether performing with a choir or as a soloist.

Listen to each other

There are various tips and tricks which can be used to encourage choir members to listen to each other and improve their tone. There’s nothing more harmful to a choir’s blend than singers who sing too loudly, seemingly oblivious to the other singers and the overall sound of the choir!


Choral singer with tongue root tension

Choral singer with tongue root tension



Don’t be this guy

This skill is more habit-driven than anything, so you should regularly encourage choir members to listen to themselves and their own part more if there is a section or phrase in the music where they are the most prominent. One very important example is if they are singing a section by themselves. While this is happening, the other parts should be listening to them, even if they are not singing anything themselves. It’s a common beginner mistake to “switch off”, when in fact you should be paying attention to how the music continues in absence of your voice part’s contribution and to develop inner hearing during these occassions.

While another part has the solo or is the most prominent, singers should be continually comparing that part’s sound to their own, and applying the directions given in the music score and by the director.