Tag Archives: beginning singer

Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs


By Dr. Russell L. Robinson

I love working with middle school singers. (Some people might ask, “How could you love working with middle school singers?”) Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Their energy! As students this age make the transition from child to adult, they have boundless energy. Unbridled, unfocused, and unguided, this energy can be an “interesting challenge,” but as veteran middle school teachers will tell you, if you get the students going in the right direction and they know you are sincere, they will “go to the wall” for you!
  1. Their voices! Although the girls’ voices are also going through many physical developmental stages, their vocal changes are not nearly as dramatic as those the boys go through between sixth and eighth grade as their vocal cords lengthen and thicken. Some boys’ voices literally change overnight—or over Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation! You cannot force a boy’s voice (or any voice for that matter) into a range or part that they do not have. Middle school choral teachers must realize that they will likely have boy sopranos, altos, and changed-voice baritones all in the same class.
  1. Their potential! The expectations for middle school choirs can be too low. Often, parents and audiences (and sometimes teachers) simply do not expect middle school choirs to sing and perform at a high level of choral art. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have heard well-trained middle school choirs sing and perform choral music at the highest level.

So, given the above, what can you and I do to “turn their energy into wonderful choirs?” Let me offer the following suggestions:

Keep lessons well-paced. There is very little (to no) down time with middle school singers. Start class on time. Lead a sequential warm-up of no more than seven minutes, before transitioning into the first choral piece you are going to rehearse. Make sure that transition times between warm-ups, pieces, and activities are minimal and well-planned.

My particular sequence in a warm-up is as follows:
1. Warm-up physically.
2. Warm “down” on the “oo” vowel (five-note descending scale).
3. Warm “up” on the other vowels. For example, “noo, nee, noh, neh, naw” in arpeggios.
4. Diction exercise.
5. Chordal warm-up in the key of the first piece.

Select quality music that is appropriate for the ensemble you are teaching. Some middle school teachers are determined to have their choirs sing 3 and 4-part literature regardless of the age and experience of the choir. This can lead to a frustrating experience for both the choir and the director. Many beginning level middle school choirs (particularly those with sixth graders) would be better served by singing unison and 2-part pieces, rather than beginning with 3-part or SAB literature, as is common. I suggest that when performing 2-part literature, have the girls sing parts I and II and the boys sing Part I (in the normal octave if they are unchanged or down the octave if they are changed). My experience is that girls have an easier time singing harmony at this age, and having the boys sing with the Part I girls allows them to solidify singing on pitch. Also utilize rounds and canons with your beginning middle school singers. You must lead them into loving to sing!

Each lesson or rehearsal should accomplish clear and well-defined objectives. Remember, the purpose of each rehearsal is to get a little better, closer to your ultimate goal. Middle school singers (and all singers) want accurate reinforcement and feedback. If they are doing something right or at least better, specifically tell or ask them about what has improved. And, if they are doing something incorrectly, tell them what it is and demonstrate how to correct it. Then, get back to singing! Remember, students in choir want to sing, not listen to us talk too long about singing. We learn by “doing” and so do middle school students, especially when they see and hear the results of quality teaching and music.

Make middle school choir fun! Rehearsals can be fast-paced, exciting, and fun, or they can be drudgery. Remember, your best recruitment tool is what the students say to their peers in the hall after class. Use this unique age group and their natural social skills to your advantage. Make choir their best period of the day, and you will turn their energy into wonderful choirs!

RobinsonDr. Russell L. Robinson has been on the faculty of The University of Florida since 1984 and is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in choral music and music education, and has made over 300 appearances as a conductor, speaker, and presenter at festivals, workshops, honor choirs, all-state choirs, and conventions all over the world.


Song Selection for Beginning Singers in Five Simple Steps

By Andy Beck
Managing Editor, School Choral and Classroom Publications

Andy Beck

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!

Ready to Sing . . .  Folk Songs Arranged by Jay Althouse

Ready to Sing . . .  Spirituals Arranged by Jay Althouse

Ready to Sing . . .  Christmas Arranged by Jay Althouse

Ready to Sing . . .  Broadway Arranged by Andy Beck