While Christmas caroling is not as popular as it once was, nostalgia and a lack of contact the past couple years has brought back a renewed interest. Even if you are still learning how to sing, it is something that is accessible to anyone who puts some effort and practice into it. We reached out to Shawn Leonhardt from 30 Day Singer and Guitar Tricks, who put together his best Christmas caroling advice.
Here are some easy tips and ideas to help you succeed in Christmas caroling:
1. Know your Christmas music
Christmas carols are made up of songs that are often hundreds of years old and are ingrained in our collective music memory or Christian hymns. Since the late 19th century there have been several holiday music revivals, one of the best known is the rock and jazz standard Christmas tunes of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Generally when you sing as a group you stick to old fashioned carols, but some modern christmas songs can be included like "Santa Tell Me" or other R&B Christmas songs.
Carols like “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” are reliable standards that most singers will know as well as more modern tunes like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.” Study different Christmas songs so you can make a good repertoire for the singers you recruit. It is important to pick appropriate songs based on the age group you are singing too, so research is necessary.
2. Finding singers
This can be a difficult aspect, as finding others to sing with might be hard depending on your circumstances. You may have to advertise on social media or reach out to friends who are interested and able to sing in front of others. Remember singing with an audience is not easy so it takes the right amount of confidence. Of course caroling doesn’t require incredible skills, just a willingness to participate.
But you will need to gauge the singers you find based on talents and abilities. If you have knowledgeable musicians that know their vocal range and whether they fit into soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone that is helpful. Otherwise you will need to adjust based on the level of each individual. You can use a vocal range chart to help you determine what members can sing which parts. You are planning this, so the arrangement of vocal strengths and weaknesses are all up to you.
3. Prepare the music
The arrangement and songs you use will depend upon the singers that you have. If you can create complicated harmonies with 3rds, 5ths, 6ths, and more than that will be incredible. But you may not have those skills, if so you at least need the lead melody line and lyrics.
Make any sheet music easy to read and provide a way to light up the music and notes. Be sure everyone that is participating can always see the carols as stress and nerves can affect memory. The easier and happier the songs, the better! Most listeners prefer the upbeat numbers which they are more likely to sing along to. Also be sure to have a couple backup songs in case you need to make changes to your set list.
4. Use a Christmas carol karaoke app
If you want to experience the joys of Christmas caroling but reading sheet music is not in your skill set, consider making it a Christmas carol karaoke. Karaoke apps like Singa have all the classic Christmas carols with lyrics that you can pull up on your phone or an i-Pad you can take with you. Karaoke can be less intimidating for potential friends who want to join who may not have musical experience as well.
If you want to turn it into an interactive caroling event, you can bring a speaker with a portable microphone for a mobile karaoke party and encourage your listeners to song along or sing a solo.
5. Use an Instrument.
Caroling is obviously meant to be sung, so just having multiple people is fine, but in modern times it is nice to have a light instrument accompaniment. Of course we do not want anything overwhelming, just enough to add some flourish and rhythm. And an instrument is especially helpful if you are going to sing more modern Christmas tunes that have rock and pop elements.
The best instruments to use are the classical guitar or ukulele, perhaps even the larger size ukes. Not only do people like to see these instruments played, but they also provide you and your fellow carolers with a chord reference to sing along to. And of course you can go all out and bring percussion instruments like sleigh bells or any musical extras to add to the ambience.
6. Practice and rehearse!!!
This is one of the most essential aspects of caroling after finding other singers. If you do not practice you will not sound good! Bands and singers sound great because they practice, life is not a musical where we all know the parts to every song. You must make time for rehearsal, if you do not take this simple step the magic that you hope to create will not materialize.
This practice time will also give you a good idea of what your group can handle. Perhaps you will find you can sing some more complicated pieces than you expected. Or you may also find the members that are not putting enough effort into it. If you want to succeed in caroling it really takes a group effort of participation. It is essential for everyone to rehearse as much as possible and give it their best.
7. Plan your route and bring supplies
Besides practicing you will also need to plan a route of where you plan to sing. This can vary depending upon your location and weather. Remember caroling doesn’t always have to be done outdoors, places like nursing homes are usually open to musicians and singers. Think outside of the box when it comes to finding places to sing, the timing will depend on if it is done door to door or at a hospital or community center.
If you are caroling outside make sure to bring warm clothes, hand heaters, and beverages to stay hydrated. Shivering makes it hard to sing so make sure you stay as warm as possible. Don’t forget to do some vocal warm ups! It will also likely be dark so be sure to take flashlights besides the ones you use for your music. A smartphone can both serve as music notes and a light if it is charged (just keep it turned off so no interruptions).
8. Dress the part
If you wish to dress up for the part you will also need to set time aside to prepare costumes and props. The more you put into the caroling the better chance of a good response. And one last tip that can make caroling more enjoyable and receptive, if possible bring kids along. Even the angriest Christmas curmudgeon of a Scrooge is going to find some joy in music when kids sing along!
The hardest part about Christmas caroling is finding the people to do it and the time to rehearse. Once you have that down it is easy to get motivated and in front of an audience to sing classic Christmas tunes. Pick the right songs for your group, stay confident, and you are sure to bring some holiday joy for those who still enjoy the old-fashioned art of caroling!