The Sticky Tricky Singing Call In Modern Square Dance

Singing calls are an obvious and straightforward way for a beginning square dance caller to start calling. The approach is to learn some of the lyrics of the popular song you choose to use – and it is easy—the idea is to practice the supplied figure which comes with the singing call record and then simply learn the melody using the words of the choreography rather than the words of the song. Sounds simple… not so much!

I can remember back when I first started learning to call (I was young and my voice had not even changed yet), mimicking the caller on the instrumental side of the 45 rpm record. It took me a year or so before I started to actually understand the basic mechanics of square dance choreography and the relationship of how the figure supplied with the record actually worked with the amount of beats and the melody of the popular song.

There are elements that make for a great singing call. The most crucial – does the combined choreography figure fit the timing of the 64 beat phrasing that has been the mainstay of singing calls, tracing it’s beginning to the traditional heyday of square dance?  Timed out figures are quite important to ensure that the dance is smooth and enjoyable.

And another method that has evolved over time is the interchangeability of choreography in a singing call. Using figures that square dance callers change throughout the song is an extremely effective way to provide both variety and appropriateness, that being square dance calls that match the level of the group for which you are calling.

Changing dance choreography within a singing call is not a required agenda, but this allows freedom to be both creative and more diverse and it will allow a caller to use figures of their own choice rather than to be restricted by any original sequence of calls that were provided with the singing call initially. Sometimes changing choreography for a singing call is necessary if a square dance caller wants to use the music, but the original supplied figure on the vocal version is for the mainstream level and the dancers at the group dance the PLUS level. This definitely would warrant the need for changing up the choreography for the group’s ability.

For the beginner, a new caller needs to have been practicing and spending some time with several singing call figures for every learned singing call for a minimum of several months. The end goal is to reach a plateau of comfort in presenting new replacement figures that are timed well with the singing call and learn how to place the commands in relation to the allotted time space of a 64 beat musical set of musical phrases so then the caller is not reading the calls off a sheet and begins to progress. By learning the melody, understanding the musical phrasing of the song and the timing structure, then the student caller will know the singing call thoroughly and then they can experiment with altering the choreographic figures within the song. This can take time.

This progression of learning will feel quite uncomfortable and rather strange in the beginning. A square dance mentor can help a new caller with guidance and suggestions about where to place the calls in relation to the music and how to add directional words to fit. The guidance of a square dance coach can help with learning to practice many different figures within singing calls and to find which sequences are better suited for the program and the style of song that is used.

New callers can research choreography written for singing calls from books and use other figures from other singing call records. This is a good start on learning to use and change out figures for other more useful ones. All callers need to work on writing their own sequences for a couple of different reasons. One reason is to ensure that your choreography works in terms of timing and resolution. The figures must end with Swinging the Corner on the end of the figure for the corner progression to work out.

I also recommend that you check the figures available with any square dance music you have purchased. Anything that has been written may not have choreography that works out. One call left out of a sequence will make it not physically possible to execute for the dancers. Or another thing that can happen is the figure does not resolve to “Swing the Corner” at the end.  Always check through the figures with square dance checkers before practicing those sequences with the singing call, and certainly before the choreography is used in a performance.

Recording your practice sessions is a requirement to ensure that singing call performance is smooth and to test different choreography patterns. Dance the practice parts that incorporate new calls to find out how well the timing is and how the different sequences feel to the dancer.

Square dance callers that teach square dance classes will find that new dancers do not have great reaction time in executing calls and succeed in dancing a correctly timed standard singing call figure. The solution to getting dancer success is to assemble figures that allow for more time in dancer execution, in other words, simply write figures that take less than 64 beats to dance and give the floor more time to move through the choreography. This is a better approach than pushing correct timing on calls that can create stress for newer dancers and encourage breaking down.

When calling a dance party a caller does not have to use singing call choreography that changes partners with a “Swing Corner” if the dancers are not ready to handle rotating partners around on a singing call. Easy is the key to calling square dance parties. Just use simple figures that work well  for beginners and have the dancers swing their partner instead of their corner each time. This simplified method of calling less should only be used until the dancers are ready and comfortable for a standard correctly timed figure. Then apply 64 beat figures to all singing calls to pull new dancers forward and keep them interested and comfortably challenged.

Singing calls are easier than hoedown calling. They are more fun in some ways. But they can be tricky. And sticky. And it takes a lot of work and preparation to be able to perform a singing call well!

Have a great day!

Shaun Werkele


Please do not hesitate to reach me if you are learning to square dance call and you have a question! I would be glad to help!

Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The coaching information provided here serves as a source for square dance caller education, training, and perspectives on dance. Future articles will be developed to improve the programs of square dancing and how those learning to square dance call can help contribute to the preservation of both modern western square dancing and traditional square dancing and to aid in the growth of the square dance activity.



Modern Western Square Dance Calling: How to Sing Better & More Effectively

How to Sing and Call Square Dance in a More Modern and Lively Fashion

One huge dynamic of striving to be an entertaining and uplifting modern western square dance caller is to be, well, more modern! Vocal sound is an effective way to convey many things with your calling instrument, your voice. Vocal efficiency is paramount to developing a style and presence as an entertainer and there are things that you can do to learn how to capitalize on this that will  add to your overall promotional “package” as a square dance caller. Singing more effectively is an important element in the calling pool that callers must draw from to sound more lively and sound more modern. Following is a set of pointers to aid in becoming better at displaying your craft. Take some time to experiment with this set of directions and you can improve your vocal abilities faster and with less stress.

Start Your Practice Session With Proper Warmup Exercises

Practicing is much more effective if you use some plan of how to warmup your voice and setting goals or even specific material you want to work through. Vocal approaches can be different, but some techniques are useful only as exercises and some can be incorporated into your songs that you use and they can enhance your performance of those songs vocally. By using different dynamics you can transfer more of the feel of the song in terms of better relating to the idea behind the lyrics. And you can better intensify , strengthen, and elevate your singing calls to a higher place than otherwise might have been conveyed. A slow song typically will need a softer approach and there are several techniques you can use to improve your performance. Check out this article that I presented a while back for tips on singing square dance calling. Use some of these ideas listed below and see how they improve your vocal approach song by song. I have listed below some of the best ways to further improve the quality and the best types of square dance songs to apply these techniques:


Think of Your Practice Time As a Workout – BECAUSE IT IS!

You should warm up your voice with some sigh-hums and then work on counting to a metronome or drum machine. You are stretching and warming your vocal chords and tightening up your timing and you should think of this as warming up as if you were about to do physical exercise. Work on some simple phrases that you might use when you call and put these to some patter music. Next, work on some memorized material that you know well. After you work through some of these pieces, both hoedowns and singing calls, you are ready to move on to  improvising and working on new ideas. Finish with your newest ideas and this will round things out.

Use Vocal Expression

This is a way to convey feeling in your vocal performance. Expression is the most important element of vocal singing outside of singing notes on pitch and in time to the music. This is where singing takes a powerful effect upon the audience, even square dancers, because in the end, they are listeners first. Try to ‘project’ your voice forwards and outwards by visualizing the note reaching the back of the square dance hall.

When you sing the lyrics of a song, do they animate a story for you? Can you visualize the theme and is there a lyrical storyline? Use a normal speaking voice and say the lyrics aloud and work on seeing yourself as if you are talking to someone else. If they were your lover or friend how would your inflection and tone of voice contrast to someone you might not know very well?  If it is a love song or ballad, imagine how you would like to express those emotions to that person. Singing with feeling will always make a noticeable difference in your efforts to entertain on a grander scale.

Here is a very powerful and fun exercise that enables you to improve your vocal expression. The melody or notes you select are not important when you try this, but focusing on emotional feel is how you can reach a more expressive way of singing all the time! So that is the object here, being more emotionally expressive:

Pick an emotion you want to relate to the dancers in your singing call. Now think about what the opposite is of that original emotion. Without any music, speak the lyrics in the song, first, for example, in a very sad tone of voice. Then in an elated and joyous manner repeat the same lyrics and really focus on the opposite feelings that you sound when you speak during the exercise.

Once you have tried this method, you should be able to recognize the physical differences that happen in order to project sadness and happiness in the shape and opening of your mouth and how tone will color singing. See if you can determine the tonal color that you sonically create with your tongue that helps to create emotion. This is how you can sing with more emotion than you probably ever have before! This is a sound effect that you can apply to any syllable in a word or entire musical phrases that you can sing in any song. The aim is to push your ability to sing with more feeling in a manner that feels comfortable, is pleasing and emotional, and, by the way, it enables your vocal chords to operate at an optimal efficiency. Another goal of this exercise is to find the most relaxed ways for your voice to sing and remain relaxed, without stress and potential damage to your vocal chords. Additionally, keep yourself relaxed and in a good posture and you will sing better and more naturally.

Practice Vocal Dynamics

Using exercises that emphasize differences in vocal dynamics can be used once in a while, but care needs to be used in experimenting with different volumes of the voice when singing. Vocal damage can occur, so this is not a technique that should be consistently used as a vocal exercise, just helpful ideas aimed at exploring singing mouth shapes and tonal sounds and how they are affected by volume.

Begin by singing a short set of lyrics normally. Then soften your voice to a low and expressive whispering quality. Try adding an airy and breathy style and feel how this affects the song and how that is conveyed. Now change the dynamic by singing much more loudly, almost to a yelling and dynamic and exxagerated stylish projection of voice. Pay attention to how the vocal chords in your larynx respond to this difference. Try moving your tongue in different places within your mouth. Try opening your mouth as wide as you can while you sing the lyrics. Take the other road and keep your mouth as closed as you can and still be able to sing the lyrics. Try this at both  a loud and soft volume spectrum and then take this technique one step further: sing as sexily as you can and as sweet and naive as you can.

Be careful not to strain your vocal chords. If you are straining, stop the exercise and drink some luke warm water and sigh hum until your voice feels smooth and light. You might have to quit singing for a few hours, and maybe rest your voice for a day.

This post will give you the best tips on using a microphone properly. You will want to record your vocal dynamics to see what you find to be most effective and pleasing to the ear when you perform. Some things to pay attention to are your expression, dynamics and your diction.

Diction really is a fancy way of saying pronounciation. Your mouth, throat and tongue all come into play to allow for you to enunciate clearly and create different sounds. Key in on how all of this works for you. Feel and hear how your voice works and how you can drive your voice with authority or with very little expression.

Keep in mind that the art of square dance calling involves a combination of both talking or speaking voice and actual singing. Sing lyrics and speak them. Try to match the compelling strength and energy in both of these very different dynamics, as well, yet strive to keep your phrasing relaxed and natural, just as you would in a normal conversation. Almost all great songs that have been recorded have this quality about them.

Record Your Vocal Session and Analyze It

The idea behind recording yourself as you practice is simple: it allows for you to critique yourself, find the areas you need to improve on, and what specific approaches you can make to maximize your potential. It is very necessary that you use a quiet and private area to practice and to record yourself. Set up a practice space that does not disrupt others yet it allows you to be most effective in your practice time. Follow the warm up schedule and then work on singing using some of the above ideas. Training your voice and assembling a great performance takes time and lots of positive energy that you combine with emotion and great vocal dynamics that fit the songs you select for your dance program. Have patience and gradually improvement will come. Review your recordings of your songs after you practice each one and look for areas to improve on.

Remind Yourself About What You Need To Work On Next Time

After you review your recording, make a list of things that you will want to work on the next time. If you have a song that you are having trouble with, try to figure out exactly which part is giving you problems and work on that part only, first with music, then without music, then with music and you will work through improving that trouble spot for yourself. The next time you practice, the song should be much easier to express emotion, with a natural vocal delivery and a smoother and tighter performance. For a little more information on this try:

Always Set Yourself Goals For Improvement

Do write down your vocal goals, at least one long term overall vocal improvement you want to make and one short term vocal approach you want to use in a specific song and then decide what you need to do to truly improve and tackle those goals. It is important to do this – you certainly will not want to practice the songs the same way every time without a plan for improving upon your performance. This is how you can create a more modern, exciting, and entertaining approach to perform your songs and at the same time maximize your practice time!

Shaun Werkele


Please do not hesitate to reach me if you are a learning square dance caller and you have a question! I would be glad to help!

Have a great day!
Mission Statement: The purpose of this post is to create a greater visibility of the square dance activity for future dance population growth on a national and local level. The coaching information provided here serves as a source for square dance caller education, training, and perspectives on dance. Future articles will be developed to improve the programs of square dancing and how those learning to square dance call can help contribute to the preservation of both modern western square dancing and traditional square dancing and to aid in the growth of the square dance activity.