Research Strand

Our research strand is a new initiative for 2019 and comes ahead of the launch of our new peer-reviewed academic research journal promoting research informed practice. Abstracts from all of the papers being presented can be found below, along with links to further information on the speakers.


Keynote Speach

Brains Singing Together

Dr Katie Overy
Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, University of Edinburgh

The motivation to sing together is ubiquitous in human culture, develops naturally in infants and is enjoyed in a variety of contexts throughout the lifespan. Singing brings together language and melody in a powerful combination and involves complex auditory-motor processing skills. Singing is thus a fascinating but challenging topic for psychology and neuroscience researchers. How can we begin to understand the neural basis of singing? What can be measured and what cannot be measured? What can we learn from such research? 


Communication for Conductors: Insights from Qualitative Research

Michael Bonshor
University of Sheffield
Michael Bonshor

Learning about groups and their individual members by asking them directly about their ‘lived experience’ is one of the main ways of studying psychological processes and their practical outcomes. Dr Michael Bonshor used qualitative methods, including interviews and focus groups with choral singers, to obtain over 40 hours of verbal information about factors affecting their confidence levels in rehearsal and performance.

The principal themes include the impact of verbal and non-verbal communication upon choral competence and confidence. The effects of verbal feedback are influenced by the amount, frequency, content, style and source of the feedback; the authority invested in the conductor’s perceived role as a musical expert adds particular weight to their criticism and praise. Similarly, non-verbal communication from conductors has a strong influence on performance quality and confidence amongst singers. This presentation suggests a number of confidence-building approaches to providing verbal and non-verbal feedback, which will be of particular interest to conductors working with amateur choral ensembles.


The choir as they experience it: approaches, mindsets and priorities of eminent choral conductors and educators.

Dan Miller
Independent teacher

A presentation of research enquiring into the approaches, mind-sets and priorities of a number of eminent choral conductors and choral educators. Following in-depth interviews and corresponding literature review, this presentation distils and compares some fundamental principles as put forward by the conductors themselves, covering a variety of topics including creating choral excellence, awareness of singers’ focus, conductor development and choral inclusivity.


Irregular pitch drift in performance of a capella choral music

Richard Seaton, Dennis Pim, Allan Jones and David Sharp
Open University
Richard Seaton

This paper details recent research into irregular occurrences of pitch drift when choirs perform a cappella repertoire. An on-line survey, in-depth interviews, and correspondence with choral practitioners informed the methodology used to determine the extent and irregularity of pitch drift. Experiments involved a cohort of choirs performing the same unaccompanied music at regular rehearsals. The paper concludes with a review of the outcomes and possible causes or irregular pitch drift.

The results from the performance confirm that the degree of pitch drift does indeed vary irregularly from rehearsal to rehearsal. This was subject to some variation between choirs with several choirs tending only to drift flat whilst others drifted sharp on some occasions and flat on others.

There was evidence that the variation in attendance at rehearsals affected pitch drift.  However, the changes in the environmental factors from rehearsal, such as temperature, humidity and barometric pressure do not appear to be contributory factors to irregular pitch drift. Moreover, no correlation could be determined between the degree of pitch drift experienced by the choir and the acoustic parameters of their rehearsal space.

The pitch discrimination abilities of the singers taking part in the survey showed them to be no better or worse than those of the general population. Furthermore, choirs that audition their singers did not necessarily enjoy a lesser degree of pitch drift.


“That was a bit of a stodgy start!” (Director Pete)
The functions and effects of verbal imagery in choral rehearsals

Mary Black
University of Leeds
Mary Black

The phrase in the title is just one of those encountered during my doctoral research into the contexts and efficacy of verbal imagery in choral rehearsals. The investigation was completed over five years and adopted a multi-method approach, using used videoed observations, questionnaires and interviews. Twenty-one directors and over 330 choir members across 15 choirs contributed to the research; sung responses to the imagery were examined in their rehearsal context and the data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The research established the types of imagery employed and whether and how they were understood by singers. The research defined what role imagery plays in choral directing and provided implications for choral directors’ practice.

The presentation will focus on three main questions:

  • What is verbal imagery?
  • What is the function of verbal imagery in choral rehearsals?
  • What are the implications for choral directors?

Nine functions and effects-of-imagery were identified, of which five will be examined:

  1. Imagery functions as a mnemonic – an aid to memory.
  2. Imagery can substitute for technical terms.
  3. Imagery can affect the response in several ways simultaneously
  4. Imagery can be generated from the text and used to illustrate it.
  5. Imagery is used to change the singer’s thinking.

Imagery is influential in developing singers’ understanding of the concepts involved in choral singing and in enabling singers to create and modify vocal sounds in response to their director’s requests. Choral directors can employ these findings to inform their thinking and practice, combining imagery with other rehearsal techniques in the knowledge that it is a useful and effective strategy.