Do your best… or not.

I think every choir director has felt frustrated from time to time that their singers are sometimes less than 100% involved in rehearsal. Everyone has their own level of tolerance for rehearsal complacency, and mine is… well… very low. I expect singers to be engaged and active ALL THE TIME. To be fair, nothing works at 100% all the time – least of all young students – but we can strive, we can wish, we can try.


I often say to my students “The only two options you have when singing are (A) singing your best or (B) singing less than your best. When you are in rehearsal, you can’t do anything other than A or B. You can’t do your math homework, clean your room, play video games, listen to the radio or anything else. You can only do your best or do less than your best.”


To illustrate the absurdity of underperformance, I will pull two bills from my wallet: a twenty- and a one-dollar bill. I walk in front of the choir, asking each student which they would rather have. Inevitably, every singer picks the twenty. Then I tell them: singing less than your best is like picking the one-dollar bill. It makes no sense. You could’ve easily picked the twenty, but you didn’t. It’s silly.


Another way to explain this is in terms of time. Every second of your life is spent doing something. There’s no way to get that time back. You are, in effect, trading a piece of your life for whatever you do in those moments. When you are in rehearsal, you are trading a piece of your life in exchange for the rehearsal. Whether you sing well or poorly, you still forfeit that amount of your life. If the cost is the same, why not go for a better product?


The answer is that most students grow complacent. When they expend the extra energy to rehearse with 100% effort, they begin to get tired… physically but also mentally. I call BS on this. Everything makes you tired. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise I do with my students each year:

  1. Hold your arm straight up over your head, as high as it will go. Reach for the sky!
  2. After some time, your arm will begin to feel tired. Go ahead, relax your arm just a bit, maybe 4 inches. Immediately, your muscles will feel some relief.
  3. Now hold your arm still in this new position. Soon, you will feel your arm growing tired again. You’d better let it down a bit farther, maybe another 4 inches. AHH! Sweet relief!
  4. But wait… after a few minutes, your arm is getting tired again? Is there no end to this? Where can you put your arm that it won’t get tired?


The only place your arm won’t get tired is hanging straight down, pointing at the floor. Doing what? Doing nothing. And… the dirty little secret is that even in that position, your arm will get tired if you don’t move it. It will just take longer.


If your arm will get tired in any upward-reaching position, you might as well reach for the stars! If you get tired, you can relax slightly, but still reach very, very high. When that gets tiring, don’t move downward… move back up! It is the variation that keeps your muscles fresh, but all variation should be done within a very small margin – all at the top of your capacity.


Help your singers understand that they can only gain from increasing their rehearsal effort. It costs no more money to work hard, takes no more time, and actually won’t even tire them out faster. Excitement in rehearsal is generated by results, and since working hard yields better results – the end result of working hard is that the singer is less tired, less bored, less frustrated.


It might take some time and also presenting this concept from many angles to have the lesson sink in, but don’t give up. Do your best as a teacher to help them understand this valuable lesson… or not.


2 comments to Do your best… or not.

  • Kaylee Piatt  says:

    Hey Brody, I am in current Vega and my favorite part is how you said it costs no more money to work hard, takes no more time, and won’t tire anyone out faster. Wow! That makes it pretty hard to not work hard since it even gives the group better results! I have been thinking about this a lot during practice lately. Great article!

  • Bethany- Age V member  says:

    I have this all the time but i love your articles they really help me. Keep posting!! 🙂

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