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HELP! A typical day in Choir Class

Help! I am going into my second year of teaching. I am a band guy. I played in band through highschool and college. I have been in a handful of men's ensembles as a singer. But never in a full time choir. So, my big question is What does a typical day in choir class look like? 

I know how to prepare pieces for performance, that is what band does, and that is what the men's ensemble did. But we weren't in the choral classroom everyday. My students this past year got SO bored and burned out with the pieces, and therefore behavior got out of hand. What do you do in your classroom? I'm just lost! What other activities do you incorporate? 
 
 
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on July 16, 2015 8:08am
Hi Brandon,
 
You've come to the right place!  I'm sure others will come up with many wonderful tips on this forum, but I'd just like to quickly recommend that you connect in person with ACDA members in your area.  I see that Arkansas ACDA has a summer convention in a couple of weeks http://www.aracda.org/ and if it's not too late to register, I highly recommend that you go and get to know some master choral teachers who live near you.  These state summer conventions are a fantastic way to network and get to know people who can provide some real help by sharing information and mentoring.  Best wishes!
on July 16, 2015 8:33am
My typical day in middle school choir (39 min class)
- 2-3 min:  gathering song (we sing a folk song as they enter the room-- different song every 3-4 weeks)
- 10-15 min:  skill building activities (warm ups that build tone quality, range and pitch control, warmups that build their ability to sing in harmony, sight-reading excersizes that use solfege)
- remaining time is spent working on concert music
 
I think it is important to always spend time in class building skills.  The routines and excersizes can be the ways you assess the kids later for grading purposes.  
My rehearsals involve moving around our space as we rehearse (we don't have chairs; there are built in carpeted risers in my class room.)  This gives the kids the chance to move and get a different physical perspective which helps keep things fresh for them during practice.  When I build purposeful movement into the rehearsal, it helps the kids who are eager to move and talk have an outlet for their excess energy.
 
Kelly Truax
7-9 Men's Choir
Cedar Rapids, IA
on July 20, 2015 4:54am
The only thing I would add to Kelly's suggestions are some physical warm-ups including stretching and body percussion echos and canons.
 
on July 16, 2015 9:59am
I hope you're coming to ArCDA. There will be great teaching about excellence in choir.... From class and rehearsal planning to management and literature selection. I'd love to meet you there!
 
Gretchen Harrison
Frontier Trail Middle School
Allegro Choirs of Kansas City
Past ACDA National Chairperson for JHMS Repertoire and Standards
on July 16, 2015 8:29pm
Brandon,
 
I'm not a choir teacher, but I've been a student in -- and worked with/observed -- many great choir classes. Here's what I've experienced and seen in classes with good morale:
  • Positive and supportive atmosphere, led by kind teacher with high expectations
  • Efficient pace, with more doing than talking
  • Joy and humor find their way into the rehearsals on a frequent basis
  • Great/fun music that challenges, motivates, and inspires
  • Physical and vocal warm-ups
  • Ensemble-building activities
  • Movement while singing ("stand still; sing well" paradigm replaced by a more connected "bodymind" approach)
  • Movement used frequently to help with text-connection and musicality (everything from movement while sitting to dancing around the room)
  • Strong connection to text 
  • Strong purpose for singing each song/text
If any of these sound like they might be helpful, check out my website for more specifics. It sounds like you're in an ideal frame of mind to do what you need to do to have the kind of class you want!
 
All my best,
 
Tom
Applauded by an audience of 2
on July 17, 2015 5:24am
One simple thought...  If they are getting bored running the same music every day, are you programming enough music?  You can teach more music than you will have time for in the concert and then select only the best pieces to perfect as you get closer to the concert date.  You can tell them that is what you are doing, so they know that how hard they work will determine how cool the music they get to perform will be.  (Surprisingly, this may not have occured to some of them.  In math class, you have to learn the math book for the year.  Same with social studies.  The idea that the teacher actually has some freedom in what they teach for a music class may be a new and novel idea.)
 
Teach some things that will be a stretch for where they are musically right now.  That will help them grow as musicians.  Work ahead to music for next year if you like.  Run just the tenor part of a piece you are never going to program, but that teaches a particular skill effectively.  You will probably never have the budget to hire orchestra and do a major oratorio with them in concert, but you could run single movements of large scale works in class with piano, for the sake of their music history knowldege and sight reading (and to keep them intererested in class by constantly doing new things).  Many of the great choral works are in the public domain and sheet music is available for free download through the Choral Public Domain Library (cpdl.org) and you can listen to rehearsal tracks for each voice part for free on cyberbass.org and choralia.net.  Print out one page a day of a major work and send them the link to the rehearsal tracks and have them practice their part on their own as homework.  Start each day singing through a page together without any teaching of parts by you.  No comment from you, just run it slowly once or twice, put it away, and the next day they get a new page for homework.  Let them spend some time at home, in private, struggling to make the connection between the way the notes look on the page, and what it sounds like.  
 
The more new pieces they sing, the more they are unconsciously improving their sight reading skills.  If you only work the concert rep. over and over they can get away with memorizing rather than really reading and they are limited by what their current skills are.  Keep pushing new music at them so that they can experience some more interesting works, and then let their brains rest from sight reading by running the concert rep and working on vocal production skills.  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 18, 2015 4:03am
You identify yourself as a BAND guy teacher.  You might consider changing your self-identification to MUSICIAN guy teacher.  The best suggestion I can offer is to make sight singing a major goal at every rehearsal.  So many choral directors use tapes or rote learning with notes banged at a piano to learn their part.  I doubt you would teach your instrumental classes with rote learning of the score.  I prefer solfege because it unifies vowels and tuning.  Within that approach, some argue the value of movable (do) verses fixed (do).  For public schools, I suggest movable (do).
 
Avoid using the piano for learning notation.  You most likely don't teach your trumpet section by banging every note for the students.  Use a pitch pipe often during rehearsal.  The key word is to treat whatever music students you encounter as intelligent individuals who want to learn regardless of what they say, or what expression you see on their face.  Reading music is square one.
 
Finally, a brief story about my grade 2 grandson who invited me to his May Concert.  My first thought was why would a grade 2 General Music teacher combine three classrooms to give a concert?  At the end of the performance, the teacher spoke with the explanation that she was retiring and wanted to thank students and parents by showing what they learned in class.  The program listed thirteen pieces and only the final Alma Mater was accompanied by piano.  Orff instruments and/or unaccompanied singing filled the rest of the program.  One piece even used Kodaly hand signs as they sang.  I realized I was observing a MASTER MUSICIAN gal teacher.  I wrote to her superintendent following the program praising her teaching skills, and asking him to make sure her successor would also focus on reading music.
 
You are high school and she was elementary school, so some may say my points don't apply.  What I've mentioned above works best if the school system music faculty works as a team K-12.  Without the goal of reading music in rehearsal, your faculty, and you individually are nothing more than glorified Music Entertainers.  Consider the career challenge of being a Master Music Teacher.  You know how to read music.  Make sure your students attain the same skill.  It's called Music Education, rather than Music Entertainment.  Best wishes!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 20, 2015 1:39pm
You make an important point--to keep in mind that we are teaching MUSIC.  And thank you for pointing out the importance of what we attempt to do in the lower grades.  I'd like to add a little caution, however, about short-changing other skills and experiences by over-emphasizing the important skill of reading----
 
Rote and imitation are also time- honored ways of learning; many of the world's great musical traditions (including several vocal music styles) developed without written music; written music still requires a teacher to demonstrate the nuances that cannot be notated; students can sing and play music more complex than they can read; improvisation is an essential part of the Orff method; and most of us have heard our teachers admonish us to get our noses out of the music.  
on July 19, 2015 11:53am
Russell Robinson has a great little resource called "I Know Sousa, Not Sopranos" which is a guide for band directors who find themselves teaching choir. Also---my husband and I did a presentation to Kansas Music Educators about how a band director can be successful in the choir world. If you're coming to ArCDA, I'll bring that presentation for you. (My husband is the band director side of our equation.)

 

 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 19, 2015 9:16pm
Brandon, can you give more information about your program? Is this high school, middle school, or...? How many students, and how is your feeder situation? And what sorts of things did you typically do last year, and what worked and what didn't?
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