By Andy Beck
Managing Editor, School Choral and Classroom Publications
One of the most important tasks we take on as vocal teachers is the selection of repertoire for our students. Each of us has an unofficial (or official) list of standard favorites, but finding the perfect fit for our youngest singers’ vocal skills, musicianship, personal tastes, and personalities is critical to their growth. Here is a simple checklist for approaching repertoire selection.
1. Vocal Range (“I can’t hit that note!”)
There are two things to consider: singing in a comfortable tessitura allows students to develop optimal vocal tone and freedom; and, carefully exploring a few pitches outside of the most comfortable zone can expand a developing vocal range. For beginning singers it is best to err on the side of caution, working primarily in the healthiest part of the voice to develop good singing habits.
2. Appropriate Musical Challenges (“Can I hear that again, please?”)
Again, there are two areas of concern. The first is melody. Are the intervals achievable? Does the melody provide a desirable contour for cultivating this singer’s most beautiful, natural tone quality? The second is rhythm. Can the student comprehend and master the rhythms required? Avoid teaching by rote at all costs. But rather, teach music reading as an essential skill for all singers, slowly progressing to more advanced concepts.
3. Supportive Piano Accompaniments (“Don’t you play my part?”)
Developing vocal independence can be quite challenging. A supportive piano part can make a big difference. For “first-timers,” melodies may need to be doubled note-for-note throughout an arrangement. Then, as next step, look for chordal accompaniments that avoid clashing with the vocal line and provide clear rhythmic direction.
4. Text and Subject Matter (“Sorry, but I don’t get it.”)
In order to create a compelling performance, vocalists of any age should sing with expression and emotion. Even when it’s as simple as joy, sadness, surprise, or anger, the meaning of a text must be fully understood and internalized before a singer can convincingly deliver the song. Choose subjects that are appropriate for the age of the performer, ones with which they can easily associate.
5. Overall Appeal (“I love that song!”)
A big part of teaching a young singer is motivating them with songs that they find enjoyable. It is through an aesthetic connection to repertoire that students will most easily develop artistry. The very best teachers know when to challenge a singer with a foreign language, a sophisticated poem, or an advanced musical concept, but they also know how to balance challenges with songs that are just plain fun!
Finding repertoire that meets all of the criteria above may seem like a tall order, but happily Alfred offers an entire series that fits the bill. Our “READY TO SING . . .” Series features songs arranged for piano and voice in a simple style appropriate for beginning and young soloists, unison classroom singing, and elementary choral groups. Uncomplicated piano accompaniments double or strongly support the singer, keys are carefully selected to accommodate moderate vocal ranges, and the wide variety of texts and subjects are age-appropriate. Plus, these books are cost-effective, offering reproducible melody-line song sheets for each song. Learn more about the four books in this series by clicking through the links in this blog!