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My only full ensemble class only meets at 7:10 a.m.- help. me. please.

Hello all!
    As you have gathered from the title of this post, I have one academic (they are graded) large group ensemble in new school I am teaching at in the fall; yes, the class meets, 5 days a week, at 7:10-7:55 a.m.  This is not a co or an extra curricular ensemble, this IS the choral program right now.  Collgeaues, administration, community, and students all want to build the choir program up; I signed on to help them get there.  I am gathering knowledge/research/data to support moving it into the school day with the "other" academic classes. 
   I am trying to gather hard data regarding, what we all already know as trained professionals, the times of day which best facilitate/support learning the performance art of vocal music.  
1) Has any one seen a study, has done, or is doing a study supporting best practices for the time of day our students vocalize? 
2) Are there any resources that you all might know about where I can gather information regarding the science behind WHY we know that singing so early is not the best way to teach our students healthy vocal technique?
I thank you for reading this post and any information you might be able to give or point me towards!
Replies (21): Threaded | Chronological
on June 25, 2015 8:10am
Hello Claire,
This is cruel and unusual punishment– for all concerned!
Time of day aside, given the timetable, your students will arrive in the classroom many of them having just gulped down breakfast– cereal (with milk)/bacon and eggs, toast and peanut butter, fast foods etc. They can not help but sing on a full stomach, and that, regardless of the time of day, should rule out any serious attempt – day in and day out for five days a week – to get them to sing. A cursory search of ‘singing on a full stomach’ and "nutrition and singing' will give you a lot of ammunition to counter this curious timetabling.  There’s an interesting video dealing with this problem at I’m sure you can search out more learned articles on the effects of eating just before singing, and these would carry more weight than anecdotal information.  It is commonly known, of course, that singers should avoid caffeine (which weakens vocal muscles) dairy products (which produce mucus) and fast foods (which contain a lot of salt and dry out the throat) especially just prior to singing. (Sounds like ‘breakfast’ to me!) I do not know where your school is located, but in cold (wintery?) months students could be thrust from a cold environment into a warm one and this would even be harmful to then overly used vocal chords. 
Good luck with all of this. If the early morning plan becomes written in stone it may even offer you an opportunity to get students to eat more healthily. On the other hand, I’ll bet you dollars to sugarcoated donuts that after a semester of this foolishness something will happen that will persuade the administration to find a better time of day for singing other than after an early morning meal.
Unusual punishment indeed!
on June 28, 2015 7:41am
Donald, thank you for the reminders on wholistic vocal health.  The reminder that our voice is our entire body is one that I plan to run with this Fall. thank you for your time!
on June 25, 2015 10:22am
I think we all definitely hear your concern.  ( I assume this is H. S. level?)
However, technically, I don't think that the actual time of day makes much difference.  [ The angle of the world on it's axis, or amount of sunlight, as far as I know, does not tilt voices out of kilter :)  ]   I do recall a discussion of this, responding to a college-level Director who was concerned...get ready for it.... about a 10:00 class. :)
What will make a big difference is how you ( as their vocal role model) and they, take care of and prepare your voices.
What will be important is:
Have they gotten (1) adequate rest, including vocal rest, the night before?  ("You [early class]  are in a unique postion; you have to do it like the pros, now!"  However, these measures truly should be taken by all singers, always....whether opera, choral, folk, jazz, rock, choirboy-Britten ....6am Sunrise Services, hot-afternoon funeral singing, or Midnight Mass ...  matters not....We're expected to do it all, with equal aplomb. )
Is each student carefully (2) hydrating, beginning at home in the morning?  (Yes, they get to use the rest room first!)  Our sinuses drain differently at night, since we are lying down. But according to my ENT, this is good - our vocal folds need that constant gallon-jug-a-day lubrication.
Has each student begun a (3) gentle, steady warm-up  - almost from the time they arise? (I have done this, and am finding it especially helpful/necessary as I age.)  Even inflection hums [mouth closed,  relaxed-open jaw] can be done quietly, without distrubing others in the household.  They should start with their comfortable, easy range, and gently, gradually add notes.  (Stop and drink water before breakfast. After breakfast, drink enough, and/or gently water-gargle, so that residual food particles do not impede natural vibration.  [Sorry if this sounds a little yucky; it's just reality  - and maybe a better reality than the sound/feeling of singing through all that....yuckiness :)]  As they move through the morning, and most of the household is awake, they can sing aloud, (just mp or mf, certainly not louder) but it is not absolutely necessary.  Hum-inflection and (4) practicing abdominal breathing  (shoulders/chest are not involved here ! :)  will go  a long way toward preparing them to sing in your rehearsal.
    Remember that with coffee and  tea, though the warmth may feel pleasant on chilly morns, the caffiene may "jitter up" the folds unnaturally, causing problems later.  Sodas do the same, and add unnecessary stickiness.  Milk can coat the throat too much; stick with clear juices and water.  Salmon, rainbow-mountain trout or soy bacon cook in about 7 - 8 minutes, and are a delicious source of start-your-day protein, substituting the need for coffee/energy drink.  Just dress for the weather; scarves are always in fashion, esp. for singers!  (Note Pavarotti photos. ;)   If the water in your area is "boring", sulfuric, etc., flavor it w a little lemon, or a very small touch of mint.  (No chocolate till later in the day, and wash that chocolate oil out w water.)
Singing on the bus is not recommended.  They will likely try to sing over the loud motor/road noise/students conversing, and push their voices.  They will arrive vocally tired...or shot.  :/
What they can do on the bus is practice "miming" the diction in your assigned songs, or other songs.  ["Can you all sing 'Deck the Halls' without waggling your jaw on the 'fa la la' ?]  Gently touch the jaw to test that, and afterward, to monitor/gently intimidate over-chewing the words. Remember that the tongue can do the work [pronouncing the " l " ] that the jaw was doing. Happily, this also leads toward memorization, but not in the wrong key! :)   .... since they are not actually singing.
Your leading them in a similar warm-up will also be key.  Remind them that their preparation/care in the morning will allow you to shorten their warm-up, thus spending more time learning music, and having fun!
Most folks don't exactly cuddle up to appreciate early alarms.  More likely, we "cuddle down"  under that comfy pillow! :)  But ponder the advantages:
Students, early in the day, {like adults] can be less-burdened by academic issues, social concerns, etc. You get them before their backs/necks are crunched/swollen from bending over computers, books, (hopefully not cell phones! ) , carrying backpacks,  etc.  All those things, piled on later in the day, serve to add ennui and impede healthy air-flow for singing.
As long as you keep yourself warmed-up and prepared, they may, literally, get the best of you [ receive your best teaching] ... you are fresher as well, n'est-ce pas ?
Maybe read a quick inspirational quote, as you tack it to the board for the later classes.  Find something in your soul that can "be their sunrise".  You might find that your "Early Birds" actually sing best!
Best Wishes,
on June 25, 2015 11:06am
Thank you Lucy for your ideas on working with the morning time!  Yes, it is a high school ensemble, 9-12 students.  I appreciated all of your reminders of proper vocal technique and care that I can pass off to my students.  Working with that early time is something that I will be doing this year.  And, in many of our worlds, it may not be the only group we have but many of us utilize that early morning, before school time slot as that precious time we can use to support their vocal development(lessons, solo/ensemble prep, extra rehearsals etc.)
    Do you know of any articles that discuss what biologically happens to the vocal folds when we eat that sugar, don't get enough sleep, or drink milk?
Thank you much for your experience and ideas!
on June 26, 2015 11:11am
Hi Claire,
There was a pilot study done in the early 2000s (published in the Journal of Voice), "A Pilot Survey of Vocal Health in Young Singers." While they do not comment on whether morning singing is inherrently bad or damaging, their findings suggest that a surprisingly large number of high school students will be singing through some sort of vocal issue that could be worse in the morning (especially post pubescent girls). Indeed, hoarseness in the morning was found to be one of the most statistically significant indicators that a student will have issues with their voice; more significant than whether they studied privately or not.
From the study:
“Vocal difficulty is common among young choral singers, with older adolescents particularly at increased risk... Laryngologists should be aware of the high incidence (over half) of self-reported vocal difficulties among children in choirs, and of risk factors including dysphonia in the morning, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and female gender following puberty.”
By requiring students to regularly sing very early in the morning, we may exacerbate underlying vocal issues present in a significant percentage of your young singers, vocal issues that may otherwise not preclude healthy participation in a choir. Not all, but certainly many students would be negatively impacted by this choice.
Not a slam dunk, but I think most singers recognize that there are limits to the quality of singing possible in the morning. While church choirs do require earlier (not 7 usually) morning singing, professional groups (almost) never do.
Good luck,
Ian Howell
Vocal Pedagogy Director
New England Conservatory of Music
on June 28, 2015 7:45am
Ian, thank you for another journal resource.  I plan on educating my students about appropriate vocal health earlier this school year (usually I do it around Homecoming when there is much screaming in the stands).  Thank you again! 
on June 26, 2015 12:21pm
I am so exited for you-- even thought the hour is early, you have them 5 days.  I only have my groups 2 days a week with a third meeting every other week so I have to be very very efficient with my time.  Good luck!  In my experience those willing to come early are very devoted.
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on June 28, 2015 7:47am
Laura,  I have been in a rotating block schedule and had a variety of time constrants in past positions; so I understand that side of the coin completely.  I am excited about the students who will be in my classroom because, I think you are right, the ones that sign up to come that early truly want to be there!  thank you.
on June 26, 2015 5:26pm
I think it's interesting that you have support for a lot of things, but not for moving choir into the school day. I would suggest that if this is a new idea for the school you're working in, find examples of schools where this is done. It would not be hard to do. Show how students who participate in choir are still well rounded, academically successful, and how that strengthens the whole experience. Also, let them know that you are open to the idea of additional ensembles outside the school day, but that having an in school option would be another way to reach students and get them involved. I wouldn't even worry so much about the time of day. Until you have a during the school day option, choir isn't really a subject worthy of study. It is an extra activity. Get in the school day. As you build the program, then you can work out the details about when to have it.
on June 27, 2015 2:46am
Dear Claire,
While I don't have research for you, I second Lucy's great advice on how to help your students be successful at that time. When my choirs were scheduled for our first block (starting at 7:17) a few years ago, physical warm ups were invaluable. We did stretches, group dances (I.e. "Cupid Shuffle"), and vocal warm ups with movement incorporated. We moved throughout rehearsal - standing, sitting, changing positions, etc. All of these helped to perk up the students' energy levels so that they could sing more efficiently. Good luck to you!
on June 27, 2015 5:24am
I had a full career with your situation.  My best retired director advice is "grow where you are planted" and don't complain.  Certainly, discuss your feelings with administration when appropriate, but stay positive and focus on your students who sacrifice to sing at an early hour.  Previous posters offer studies about the negatives of singing early and I applaud their kindness to help you.  However, most administrators won't understand because they have their own set of problems.  You will get farther with them by doing an outstanding job at whatever hour is possible.  Your students and parents can be a partner for change, but do so in a positive manner.  Quotes from various sources helped me throughout my career.  I offer two for your consideration.  Also, the brief advice from Laura Bernet (above) is valuable.  Her situation is worse than yours, but her words refelct a positive attitude.
  1. "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." Robert Brault
  2. "Grow where you are planted" CM Shearer
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on June 27, 2015 8:34am
So sorry, I forgot to say in my earlier post...I agree with many of the things listed above, but I have had to really plan for my early class as to where I "start them" and how quickly I can move them physically forward in singing.  I find that even the warm ups for this early hour have to start very slow and easy, and then we always do a round or two in addition to warm ups to transition from warm up mentality to music learning, and surprisingly, they are usually ready to be fully aware and singing more quickly than I thought.  I almost always start with whatever slower pieces I have with this group, but move through them fairly quickly.  Good luck to you, I am sure that once you establish a routine, everything will go great for you. 
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on June 28, 2015 7:40am
I agree with those warm ups.  I am guilty of maybe having too long a warm up :-/ Slow and steady provides a good and healthy foundation :-) thank you. 
on June 27, 2015 12:09pm
Claire, I too had this situation one year when I was at a private school with a high school choir of about 25. The rehearsal was prior to the regular class starting time. The administration was in a bind with the schedule and there really wasn't any way around it that year. Fortunately, it was only that year. A lot of great advice has been given already, but the most important bit of advice I can give is to make sure that you are teaching them to sing with good open, relaxed vocal technique, support, etc., and make sure that they get a good warm-up. I think it's also very important that the guys learn to use head voice and blend it down so that they're not routinely "reaching" for upper notes by "belting." I took one rehearsal in which I had only the guys come in and we worked at that. It proved to be a significant development point for the choir from then on. So, in essence, it's a matter of developing better vocal technique and ultimately, the choir may actually come out further ahead for it (don't tell the administration this, though :)).
With regard to your perspective and response to the administration, Michael Seredick's comments contain a great deal of wisdom. Hopefully, it will be a temporary situation that you'll be able to negotiate out of in the near future.
Mark Taylor, Ph.D.
Private voice instructor
Grand Rapids, MI
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on June 28, 2015 7:38am
Thank you for the reminder; especially about the boy's/men's voices.  Being a female vocalist, those reminders are invaluable.  
on June 28, 2015 6:14am
Your argument about vocal health could carry the day, but I wonder if administrators will understand that as readily as an economic one: students asked to attend early classes are unable to participate unless they have the means to do so.  Are your students bussed to school that early?  I'm guessing that your singers will be expected to bring themselves in and the student body is bussed in later in the AM.  That excludes kids who do not have their own vehicle, or parents able to bring them in.  If your administrators are truly wanting the program to grow then they need to place it within the boundaries of the school day simply to make it accessible to ALL students.  Do they really want a program that excludes the very kids that probably need it most?
good luck!
on June 28, 2015 7:37am
Brian, Thank you for yet another great idea! This is why I ask my much wiser colleagues these questions.  :-)
on July 8, 2015 12:33am
Hi Claire,
I haven't read all of the other posts, but as a voice teacher and conductor allow me to share a few brief thoughts. 
1. The amount of time a person has been awake is the relevant factor for singing in the morning. If the students have been out of bed less than an hour and have done little talking, they will not be warmed up. If they're an early riser (highly unlikely, but you never know) they will be in a good place for a vocal warm up. 
2. I would suggest beginning your warm-ups with voiced consonants such as M, N NG, V, Z (there are IPA symbols for this which aren't readily available on my laptop) You can look them up online. Have your students speak them in an elongated/sustained fashion. 
3. From there begin singing simple scales using the voiced consonants. I start at the bottom wiht Bflat and work my way up to where I can sing remain singing comfortably
4. Give them a slightly more difficult excercise, increase the range and use a vowel. I like "ah" The trick is to ease singers into warming up.
5. Keep your warm-up to 10 minutes. 
  • Avoid starting with excercises that are sung forte, fast or extremely high. Save that stuff for the end of the warm up and don't do too much of it. Their voice will be blown before they start singing. 
  • Make sure your warm-ups have some pedagogical relation to what you're rehearsing. 
  • Start with your least vocally demanding pieces first. 
  • Don't stress too much about what may or may not happen. Students will be impacted by that kind of energy. Accept things as they are.
on July 9, 2015 7:28am
I hope that this thread gets widely read, and not just by those of us dealing with school choruses. All the excellent advice in it applies to singers of every age and circumstance. The crucial difference with teenagers is of course that their voices, and indeed their entire physiologies, are still developing, so all the healthy practices -- rest, nutrition, hydration, not abusing the voice outside of the chorus -- are doubly important, as Lucy pointed out. And as she suggested, getting the singers to think and act like professionals is a great approach, and one I've found very helpful in dealing with church choirs: "Of course you're professionals. You're singing in public, after all."
I'd recommend getting "Prescriptions for Choral Excellence" by Shirlee Emmons and Constance Chase (Oxford University Press, available from Amazon). The authors cover every aspect of choral singing technique, especially the importance of the appoggio, the singing posture of expanded rib cage and raised sternum. 
on July 9, 2015 9:06am
Ok people, I'm arguing from the opposite end of the table. When I was in high school, our select auditioned group met (and still meets six years after I graduated) from 7:30-8:15 every morning. We have two other high schools in the district that meet at that time and one that meets from 7:00-8:10. The reason is this: most semesters I couldn't have taken choir as a class during the day. In this world of AP, IB, Dual Credit, and more and more required classes (a credit and a half of PE, really?) that's the best way to meet the needs of students. Especially considering the ensembles at all four schools I mentioned HALF THE CHOIR WAS ALSO IN BAND. So we made it work, kids wanna do band and choir and take AP classes, choir met before school. My fellow choir members and I loved it, the choirs at the other schools loved it, it's been working great for all four schools for over 20 years. I have a friend teaching in a private school who just put her musical theater group in "zero period" (7:30-8:30) so that students could take both that and choir. She loves it. All I'm saying is, in some places before school choir for credit really works well.
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on July 9, 2015 10:59am
I am always amazed at the resilience of kids as opposed to adults, and your opposing view, Clay, certainly attests to this capacity. That being admitted, 7:30 to 8:15 is not 7:10 to 7:55. I only hope the students (and parents?) are not being pushed incrementally beyond their capacity to endure a somewhat rigorous schedule. Just because students can 'cope' does not necessarily mean the arrangement is actually good for them in the long run.
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