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3 Quick Strategies to Teach Vocal Styles to Middle School Choir Students for Music Ed Teachers

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Trying to write lesson plans for teaching middle school choir students different vocal styles? Teaching middle school choir students different vocal styles lays the foundation for stronger rehearsals in the future. Middle school choir teachers, you NEED to teach vocal styles using the digital tools at your fingertips!

Middle school choir students are babies to the choral world, friends, and that’s easy to forget. I feel the expert’s blind spot is atrociously obvious when you nonchalantly discuss the different vocal styles without engaging your students with explicit instruction. Note reading? Sight singing? You know to explicitly teach and train those skills, but different styles of singing feels second nature.

But how can you organize such a broad topic like vocal styles so your middle school choir babies can actually digest it? And why do you NEED to teach this explicitly? Don’t they already know the difference between pop singing and choral singing? Here are three strategies that you can use in your choir classroom to build lessons around vocal styles.

1. Define the vocabulary

When you drop the word “style” in your choral rehearsal, do your students immediately understand what you mean? Or are they coping with the lack of understanding and simply following your directions?

In middle school, they have only just started their choral journey. Perhaps some had elementary chorus experience (yay!) but others are brand new to the choral experience. The last thing you want to do is assume students understand what you’re talking about when you reference how you want a more forward, musical theatre sound for the Broadway medley you’re rehearsing.

Your students will either a.) actually know what you mean and pull it off or b.) guess/copy others/wait for you to model. The latter isn’t bad, but it’s not helping your students feel successful. It’s like hoping your students learn passively, which, is pretty darn hard for middle school students…

Personal confession, I didn’t even know what Broadway was until 9th grade. And boy did I feel dumb when my choir teacher announced the school musical auditions and everyone around me talked about Broadway, musical theatre stuff, blah blah blah. I remember going along with everyone (coping) even though I only ever thought musicals were strictly movies and not actually live things.

Be explicit and define the vocabulary you want your students to command over their time in your choral program.

When YOU say style, what does it mean? Communicate that with your students.

As you explore different genres, teach students the different vocal techniques needed for each style. This expands their vocabulary and reinforces vocal technique too!

2. Use graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are AMAZING for middle school students. They are familiar, engaging, and less intimidating than a laundry list of short response questions.

I get it. It’s choir and it’s singing all the time, every time. You have ZERO time for work like graphic organizers. It takes away from rehearsing!

But at the time of this writing (2021) virtual and hybrid choir classes are prevalent. What better time than now to focus on teaching concepts like different vocal styles and ensembles? Cue the graphic organizers.

Graphic organizers don’t need to be fancy. My favorite, simply go-to is a Venn diagram.

After teaching at least two different vocal styles that are relevant to your repertoire, use a good ol’ Venn diagram. Have your students identify what’s different and the same (voice placement, vowels, etc.) and have a class discussion about what they generated.

Graphic organizers can also be used with vocabulary to really reinforce what you want your students to take away.

3. Leverage YouTube videos

This is the secret sauce to teaching different vocal styles in the middle school choir classroom. Leveraging good YouTube videos saves your voice and engages your students.

What I mean by this is find quality videos that exemplify the vocal styles you’re teaching your students. Give them concrete examples of “This is jazz singing” or “This is musical theatre singing”.

Yes, you can sing the different styles on the spot but it’s more effective to have a wide range of models.

There are many videos on YouTube that describe the vocal technique behind different styles, so you need to find appropriate videos for your middle school class first. (And be prepared for absolute heartache. I found such a good video explaining pop once but he cursed lightly. So I cursed my luck in return.)

As you lesson plan, videos are the most flexible tool to leverage when teaching your students vocal styles. Using videos in your choir lesson planning:

#1 - Saves your voice

#2 - Provides students more models (different ages, ethnicities, and genders)

#3 - Great for ELL and ESE students who need extra time to process new concepts and ideas

#4 - Saves your voice (I felt that this point was very important.)

What makes a good YouTube video to share with your students when teaching them different vocal styles?

Final Thoughts

Teaching vocal styles is time well spent in the choral classroom. Empowering your middle school chorus students to understand the different styles and how they connect with vocal technique only strengthens your rehearsals. Share that language with them explicitly and utilize it in your choir room!

By the way:

Looking for a resource to help you teach vocal styles? My digital unit saves you time with slides already made and links if you don’t want to spend the time sifting through YouTube yourself. Or if you want a template to work off of to save time and effort.

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