What Is Choral Singing?

Choral singing goes by several different names, all meaning basically the same thing. You may hear the terms choir, chorus, chorale, ensemble, harmony, or part-singing. All indicate that a number of people are singing together at the same time but on different musical lines. In one single passage of music there is a division of parts, all of which are sung together to form that one passage. One part may sing the basic melody of the music while the other parts sing the harmony, which are complementary lines of music that make up the chords. The easiest analogy is to think of an orchestra or band. There are many different types of instruments, such as violins, flutes, trumpets, and percussion, which may all play at once but not exactly the same notes. As well as having its own musical line, each instrument also has its own distinct range and timbre, but the goal is that they blend in one harmonious whole. The notes they play create chords that are constantly moving and changing, all the while shaping the melody you hear.

Just as in the orchestra, there may be more than one person on a single part. The most common division of voices in a choir is four parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (listed from highest voice to lowest voice). If there are only four people singing, each sings one of these lines. But if there are sixteen people, four people sing the soprano part, four sing the alto part, and so on. Large choirs may consist of well over 100 people singing up to ten or more different parts. Voices also have individual timbre and range, but choral singers work toward unifying their collective sound so that no one voice will stand out.

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