The Toggle Principle

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I have mentioned the rehearsal tactic of using a 'toggle switch' in various posts on coaching visits and rehearsals, but it occurs to me that it deserves a post of its own. Not least so that I can link back to it when I mention it in future without having to explain it again every time!

The way it works is that you designate an object or spot in front of the ensemble as a switch, which toggles the group between two different states every time it is operated. In theory it can be operated by anyone in the ensemble, though with bigger groups sometimes you need to limit access to those towards the front who can get to it easily.

Examples of states I have used this to toggle between include:

  • Bubbling and singing the words
  • Bubbling and singing to a 'vvvv'
  • The two halves of a divided choir
  • Standing on one leg and standing on two legs
  • Singing out loud and singing the music silently in your head
  • Singing expressively and singing mechanically

So you see it can be used to exercise all kinds of different aspects of choral craft, from vocal production to developing the inner ear to performance skills.

The educational principle that underlies it is the Inner Game idea of Will. It requires participants to take conscious, active control of varying the dimension subject to toggling: now I do this way, now I do it that way.

Hence, one of its key uses is to give a group practice at developing a skill. You can show people how to do something, and they can get the hang of it when they are thinking of nothing else, but in order for it to become embedded in their habitual ways of doing things, it needs repetition. So a toggle that exercises it, applied to a whole song, gives an extended run at controlling that skill.

Another of its uses is to replace the run-through as a method to keep repertoire fresh in memory. Any group that maintains a performing repertoire needs to make sure they revisit it all on a frequent enough basis that they have it mentally at hand when they need to perform it. But just singing through a piece periodically is a rather passive approach. Applying a toggle to it makes the singers stretch mentally - you can't just sing along with your memory, you have to operate upon the music.

And this active relationship with the material is enhanced by placing the control of the toggle switch in the hands of the singers. It is not just the director who makes decisions about what happens when, it can be anybody. And because it can be anybody, nobody knows when the next change is going to come, so it keeps everybody on their toes.

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