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6th and 7th Grade Choruses- How to Get Them on Parts

So, I am a first year teacher, and while I have worked with HS groups before, this is my first time teaching middle school. I have some boys even in 6th grade chorus whose voices are starting to change. We typically sing SA music, and some of that is getting to be a struggle. I'm really not sure what to do get those boys focusing on pitch, or what repertoire to choose come next semester when they'll be further along in their change.
I also have a 7th grade chorus. My sopranos are very confident, as are most of my guys, but my altos do not sing out, and typically migrate to melody under pressure. Please help! I will take any advice.
on October 20, 2014 6:21am
Hi Angelica,
The absolute key to success, in my opinion (which is a veteran opinion) is that you must teach literacy to your students, particularly in middle school, through whatever sight-singing method you know best as you FIRST objective, with performance being a by-product of their literacy. The caveat is that performances will be better in the long run than you ever anticipated by doing this.
 I use "do-based major, la-based minor" sol-fege, but numbers work too. My students learn EVERY piece on sol-fege first. I use Finale to generate a voice-part only score and I never touch the piano in class. I use a pitch pipe. I alternate between giving them all the sol-fege up-front and then giving them versions without sol-fege and making them fill in the syllables as formative and summative assessments. They learn their parts on sol-fege and then I slowly begin integrating opportunities for them to sing in two parts. I let them listen to recordings of the piece periodically, so that they recognize that the final goal is to have text.
Usually, I divide the classes simply by alphabetical order, half on soprano and half on alto, and then switch them every other piece. In middle school, there are very few real voice divisions, and most music is written with that in mind. Once the piece is learned on sol-fege, I introduce the text on the Finale-generated voice score, directly under the sol-fege. We add text, and if there are problems with notes, we refer back to sol-fege. By the concert, there is a very high degree of accuracy. 
I have my students 25 minutes per day. The onus for work is on them. It is a paradigm shift, certainly, but it works. 
As for boys, I do have the benefit of having them in a gender-specific young men's chorus, which allows us to explore cambiata literature and talk frankly and openly about the challenges of the voice change. I allow them to sing the same SA lit as the girls, but they are encouraged to make adjustments to sing in whatever octave works for them on that day. 
Good luck!
Timothy Michael Powell
Applauded by an audience of 4
on October 21, 2014 6:07am
Angelica, with the slight, an ever so slight exception, I could not agree with Timothy more.  Like him, I have many years of teaching (42) of which 35 are in the middle school level.  Timothy's advice is spot-on!  He ought to be teaching practicum classes in a music college.  I would look at Three-Part Mixed music as well as SA.  I would do this only if I had boys who could sing down to the fourth line F in the bass clef with ease and comfort.  I would then use Three-Part Mixed music because they can sing it with ease and because it prepares them for when their voices begin their large lowering.  The draw-back is that it might be confusing because your theory is probably treble clef based.  But if you use computer generated scores, the bass clef part could be written in the treble clef.  Repertoire?  Go to J. W. Pepper and Son on the web, click the Music Lists button and type in Mid. Sch. Repertoire.  This is my list 100 works, a basic repertoire for middle school.  It contains all settings available for a listed composition including SA and Three-Part Mixed music.  Also included for every work are the composer, the publishing company, the difficulty rating, Peppers and the publishing company's catalogue numbers, the ACDA listing of pertinence, and suggestions for performance.  The Difficulty Ranges extend from the easy to the very difficult, so much so, that even elementary and high school may benefit from this list. I would always start with rounds.  Three rounds that your students will love are Lowell Mason's O Music ( . Do NOT take this fast.  Many conductors do this by mistake.  Perform it a cappella or with piano.  I prefer a cappella with a soloist singing the song in its short entirety first followed by the round.  Sing it in the same key as the next work for several benefits.)  Audrey Snyder has a wonderful three-part treble round, Fog ( ), which is perfect for solfeggio usage and which lends itself to rhythmic learning perfectly.  The text is by the famous poet Carl Sandburg (Chicago Poems).  Again, have the choir or a soloist sing the song through before beginning the round with or without accompaniment. (SSA; Peppers # 1741693 or Alfred's number SV8931; $2.25).  I am currently using this work with a middle school honors chorus.  Finally, I would teach the Alligator Song as part of my warm-up routine ( ).  I have used this work with my middle school choirs, middle school honors choruses, and high school honors choruses.  They love it!!!  I cannot imagine that elementary would not also.  If you need theory sheets and/or warm-up sheets let me know.  As Barbara Doscher always said, "Never damage the human voice!"  A MUST READ is her book on vocal pedagogy - absolutely.  It will aid you incredibly.  Always teach as if this is your most important lesson for whatever the reason.  Best of God's blessings!  John H. Briggs, Sr. (Jack)
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