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In need of help and guidance

Hello everyone,
 
My name is Bryan Simmons and I am new to this website. I am in my fourth year of teaching. My first three years have been teaching band which I am used to and this current year has me teaching both band and choir. I have never taught choir before so I thought it would be a rewarding challenge to take. 
 
I was hired extremely late for this job so I did not have a lot of time to prepare for the school year. My responsibilities with this job include 7th, 8th, and 9-12th grade choir classes along with 7th, 8th, and assisting with 9-12th band classes. As the month of October is coming to an end, frustration is starting to set in due to my lack of experience with choir. My 7th grade is the only class of the three choir classes that is keeping me alive with how productive they are during class. I cannot seem to get through to the entire 8th and 9-12th grade classes except a few students from each and hardly any work is being accomplished. Most of the students in those two classes do not hear pitches, read music, or stay on the beat very well. 
 
This experience has been humbling so far and I am here seeking advice and guidance. I hardly know what I am doing with these choir classes and am surviving one day at a time. Where can I find the best resources? Does anyone know of any good curriculum examples to follow, warm-ups / exercises to work on for 7th, 8th, and 9-12th grade choirs? Is there good repetoire for unison voicing or SA / SSA?  I am hoping to solve this issue soon before being burned out and getting out of the teaching profession. I appreciate any and all honest advice. Thank you for helping in advance.
 
Bryan Simmons
on October 27, 2015 8:32pm
The fact that you are doing okay with the 7th graders may be a clue... Part of the problem may be that you are "the new teacher" and the older kids are missing the teacher from the previous year.  (Who the 7th graders are less likely to know.)  If that is part of the problem, try not to be offended.  It doesn't mean you aren't great.  It doesn't mean the last teacher was God.  It means that you have a nice bunch of kids who get attached to their teachers.  And they'll get attached to you too, once they are through grieving.  Hang in there!  
 
Sounds to me like you need to go a bit more slowly.  Remember that there is more information on the page for choir students to process than for band students.  Reading music to sing means reading words and music simultaneously.  It also means doing some sort of mental process to find your next note, since you can't just put your finger the right piano key for middle C as a singer.  Our brains are pretty poor at this sort of simultaneous multi-tasking, particularly at speed.  So expect to take sight-reading a little slower for choir students than you would for band students.  If you give them a new piece, give them thirty seconds to read through the text first.  Then have them doo-doot-doo or clap through the rhythm on a single pitch.  Then have them read the words in rhythm.  Then have them read the words in rhythm while you play the piano underneath them.  Then start breaking them into the notes.  Or take one part at a time and have everyone sight read just a line or two at a time sloooooowly.  Or put all the parts together, but only go one or two bars at a time.  You can arpegiate your way through all the chords on a neutral syllable so they can hear the harmony, starting with the bass note, having the basses hold the pitch until it's in tune, then singing or playing the tenor note and waiting for the tenors to get in tune...  
 
But go slow.  Think about ways to break things down into discrete steps.  And if you're frustrated, try hard not to show it.  Stress seriously hampers our ability to perform difficult mental tasks.  If your students can tell you're irritated, their performance will just fall apart more completely.  Keep it fun.  Say "whoops!"  Try it again.  Ask them what they think would help.  "Is it the notes or the rhythm that's the problem, guys?  How can I help you?"  
 
If you don't have much experience participating in choirs yourself, find one to join, or sit in on.  I'm sure you could find a sympathetic director of a community choir who would let you sit in the back for a few rehearsals to see how they break down new material.  Some choirs also post their rehearsals on youtube for members who have missed rehearsal.  Go hunting for some of those to get ideas about how to efficiently teach parts.  
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on October 28, 2015 6:29am
For your middle schoolers, I would suggest Dale Duncan's curriculum. (Successful Sight Singing for Middle Schoolers. Scubed•http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Music-In-The-Middle-With-Mr-D). It has transformed my middle level teaching. For High School, download Sight Reading Factory (I believe that one is around $35.00/yr. https://www.sightreadingfactory.com/  ) More importantly than seeing the notes on the page is developing the ear.  Ear training is VITAL to sight singing. If you don't know what the intervals sound like (And if the singer has no instrumental background, he/she won't know what they sound like) then the singer can't produce the sound from the written page.  Start with ear training. Then go to the written page.  As an instrumentalist, we assume the singer should know intervals. But, the singer, lacking any instrumental background, has nothing concrete to assign to the intervals. That is where solfegge really helps. A fourth always sounds like a fourth no matter what the key signature is. But, before one can read a fourth, one must know the scale and be able to sing it in tune, accapella. Singers learn differently than instrumentalists. Then there is the emotional factor. Singing is so personal. When one is an instrumentalist, the instrument is separate from me. But, my voice is MY voice. It IS personal. It takes MUCH more courage to put a part of myself out there. 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 28, 2015 6:54am
Bryan,
 
Maggie has given you great advice - I agree with every bit of it. I would just add that your desire to explore repertoire is a really good instinct. It is helpful to have some pieces that will sound good very quickly, to give students some success, and give you the opportunity to demonstrate to the students what can be done with the music once the notes are learned. I'm thinking in particular of canons, which are great for teaching line, phrasing, balance and blend, and can be learned quickly. Check the repertoire forums on this site for some suggestions, and best of luck to you!
Liz Pauly
on October 28, 2015 7:51am
I'd also add that your band students may just be getting more musical instruction outside of class than your choir kids.  Where I grew up, all sorts of people took suzuki violin lessons or private lessons on flute, but voice lessons were pretty unheard of.  There's a good chance that some of your band kids have private teachers who are giving them one-on-one help with music reading as well as technical instrument skills.  For singers, unless you already have a piano at home and know how to play it, practicing outside of class is REALLY difficult.  Until your sight-reading and solfedge skills are solid.  (After several years. And I know I'd still be pretty uncomfortable if I was expected to learn a piece on my own without a piano available, after decades of music study).  How can you be sure your out of class practicing is actually correct?  Unless you have a rehearsal track to listen to and check yourself against, practicing at home may hurt more than it helps, reinforcing incorrect intervals.  (I think that's what the minor third sounds like, but what if I'm wrong and it's a major third?...)  Try to find tools that help your kids practice outside of class at their own pace.  They may surpise you with the effort they put in.  We know learning to read is difficult, and encourage children to read through-out the day, every day.  Learning to read music is a VERY similar skill, and learning to pick an interval out of the air without an instrument is particularly difficult, but we expect children to pick this up in a 30 minute class without a way to practice at home.  It may not be a realistic expectation.  Find some ways to help them get more practice time in at home and check themselves as they go.  There are some good websites for this sort of thing these days, fortunately.  
on October 28, 2015 11:12am
What music do they want to sing?  I direct voluntary music groups (K-8) and whether or not the students like the music (at least, at first) is huge!  I always try to listen to what they like and then choose at least some songs in that genre.  Stanton's Music has some great unison or 2-part pieces, some even with accompaniment (and rehearsal tracks).  The kids LOVE singing to accompaniment tracks. 
 
The first few years I was here, I focused solely on having fun with music.  I didn't introduce more difficult music or concepts until I had established myself as someone they could trust and have fun with.
 
Robin
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 29, 2015 7:58am
Maggie has nailed it. Break things down into small units and/or single components. I always emphasize that of the three basic elements -- rhythm, pitch, words -- rhythm is the foundation, the skeletal structure on which we hang the pitches and finally the words. My favorite dmo is showing that a song can be recognized from the rhythm alone. I'll say, "Here's a song everybody knows that we sing on a special occasion," then clap "Happy Birthday" at normal tempo, including the usual ritard and fermata at the end of the third line. After they recognize it, usually after a second or third time through amd perhaps a clue or two, I might play the pitches in correct order but in a completely different rhythmic confiruation, making it unrecognizable.It's simple, fun, and a real eye-opener into how music works. 
 
The other piece is basic singing technique, especially breath control. Kids often try to imitate their favorite pop singers, which at best is no help at all, and at worst . . .   The fundamentals, including the appoggio posture, can be done by anyone. This leads to the control that's essential for hitting pitches. The best source for excellent information on technique for choral singing I know of is Prescriptions for Choral Excellence by Shirlee Emmons and Constance Chase (Oxford University Press).
 
 Finally, what Robin said. Music is fun. We play music, and every kid on the planet knows that play is by definition fun.
on October 30, 2015 6:50am
Bryan,
You may not be aware that ACDA offers a mentoring program. You can find a link on the ACDA website. You can be paired with a mentor who can offer you not only teaching strategies, but a shoulder to cry on, or laugh with, as you work your way through this. Stay strong. The most important thing you can do, you are already doing, and that is to care about your kids.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 31, 2015 1:47am
I would highly recomend going to a workshop next year to get packages of literature, hearing choral director speakers, learning warmups, and socializing during the meals.  WMEA and ACDA offer them regionally, at the state level and nationally.  If you've never been *in* a Choir before, you need hands-on, in-person experience.  A workshop will help.  Most choir teachers go them every year to refresh as well.
on October 31, 2015 4:40am
Bryan,
 
As a choral person, I cannot imagine teaching band.  I would be floudering about in neverland for sure.  Taking the challenge is brave of you, and that bravery will get you through it.  Don't beat yourself up.  All of the suggestions above are awesome.  This forum is a such a wonderful resource filled with people who have been or are in the trenches on a daily basis.   If you are on Facebook, search for "I'm a Choir Director".  You will get great support there also.   ...and thank you, Lori Maves, for suggesting my sight singing program.  I am thrilled it is helping you, and I greatly appreciate your recommendation.
 
My area is middle school.  I love Rollo Dilworth's stuff (great warm up book and lots of other stuff too), Greg Giplin, Roger Emerson, Sherri Porterfield, Andy Beck and Music K-8 magazine....all great for the middle.   Here is a blog post with a partial list of some songs I like for my middle school children:  http://inthemiddlewithmrd1.blogspot.com/2015/05/some-song-choices-that-i-like-for-my.html
Also, if you go to my YouTube channel and type in "Classroom management" in the search area, you'll find a few videos that might help.  You can do the same on my blog.  Here is a link to my YouTube Channel:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuSvE1y-FTytuFfndvTVUtQ
 
Hoping you find some resources that work great for you so you can flourish.  Hang in there.
Dale Duncan
Creator of S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners
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