5 Middle School Choir Rehearsal Strategies to Engage Your Middle School Choir Students NOW
I want to hear your choir rehearsals in action! (Following FERPA, of course.) Choir teachers, post a story to Instagram where you use one of these strategies with your students and tag me @cathyschoirclass!
To all my first year choir teachers or aspiring choir teachers still in college, this blog is for you to gain a few more strategies to use in your rehearsal. Rehearsing outranks all other activities in the choir classroom because, well, it’s choir. Rehearsing is the vehicle that moves the choir towards the ultimate goal - the concert. But for the new middle school choir student, rehearsals can feel monotonous. Even your more experienced choir kids feel the drag when a rehearsal loses its pacing and becomes, dare I say it, boring.
How can you keep kids off their phones during rehearsal? How can you engage your middle school students FAST?
Assuming that you’ve done the leg work to build a positive and inclusive community in your choir class (stop here and don’t pass GO if you haven’t done that yet - it’s the prerequisite for getting anything meaningful done in your choir class), here are five strategies that you can start implementing TODAY.
1. Lip Trills
My absolute favorite warm-up: lip trills. What are lip trills? Besides being heaven sent, they’re an excellent warm-up that requires consistent breath support from students to maintain the physical motion AND pitch throughout the exercise.
Have you ever blown on a baby’s belly to make them giggle? Imagine that but minus the baby and add in phonation. Bada bing, bada boom - you have a lip trill.
(Okay, here’s a video to demonstrate lip trills way better than my humorous description.)
But why limit the joy of lip trills to just the warm-up?
If your students are struggling to sustain their breath support in a difficult passage, then surgically remove the words and administer the lip trills STAT.
It’s novel and your students will give you such a face when you bring back lip trills. My students used to give this look like, “Are you kidding? I thought we were DONE with the warm-up…”
Lip trills help isolate the breath support issue without repeating the same phrase in the same way multiple times. This simple switch engages students’ brains much faster than simply practicing the phrase again and again and again.
And really, lip trills are awesome.
2. Keep it short and sweet and staccato
When I taught my students staccato early on in the year, I consistently demonstrated staccato when saying its definition “short and detached”. (So consistently that students would end up saying it staccato just as I did. It was great.)
Teach staccato early in the school year to establish another rehearsal tool in your choir teacher toolbox.
Singing phrases staccato can help lock in chords between different voice parts because it won’t give students the chance to adjust their pitch. It’s a very quick and effective litmus test to check if students have their parts down or if there needs to be additional sectional work.
And what do student singers need in order to achieve pitch accuracy? You guessed it, breath support. Singing staccato properly will give you another chance with a different strategy to reinforce breath support.
Be sure to check their vocal technique singing staccato is healthy because they could attempt to circumvent the breath support issue by using their throat to create the staccato effect. A quick fix is to have students put one hand on their stomach and one hand on their neck to remind them to engage their deep, belly breath and relax their neck.
But that’s the choir teacher perspective and you wouldn’t share that with your students. Man, talk about a glazed over look from middle schoolers if you tried to justify this rehearsal strategy like that.
For students, this strategy definitely falls into just plain fun.
Use the vocabulary with the students and explicitly tell them to sing measures five to twenty staccato. Demonstrate a portion of the phrase to model what you mean in addition to your verbal instructions and you're off to the races.
3. Sing Only the Nouns, Adjectives, or Verbs
Score some bonus points with the English Language Arts and Reading teachers at your school with this choir rehearsal strategy.
Trick your students to practice audiating by exiling certain words!
I like using the opportunity to reinforce parts of speech because, as the choir class on campus, we get WORDS with our music.
Analyze the text ahead of time to choose which part of speech should be sung that wouldn’t pose too much trouble for the first time. Remind them to sing all the other words in their head or mouth everything else. Audiation in disguise! This is also a good opportunity to expand their vocabulary by using the word “audiate” in your instructions (but keep it brief!).
Before your middle school choir kids give it a shot, model one or two measures of only singing the nouns/verbs/adjectives.
Then, after rehearsing a section on only the nouns, let the students choose which part of speech. And if they crash and burn, then they crash and burn but hopefully you guide them to have fun with it.
4. Singing Even or Odd Measures
A variation of the strategy above, practice measure recognition, tracking, AND audiation by instructing your choir students to only sing even or odd measures.
I recommend having students number the measures in their music in general to make rehearsals easier. Sure, in choral music there are measure numbers typically at the start of each system, but for middle school students and choir newbies, they need to see the numbers to increase their success.
If you’re rehearsing a choral piece that has two or more parts, then you have the opportunity to challenge your more advanced choirs. Instruct Part 1 to sing the even measures while Part 2 sings the odd measures.
Another variation is to chunk the measures by giving Sopranos and Tenors the top systems and Altos and Basses the bottom systems in a choral piece.
Assess the octavo and choose a fun way to chunk the song for your choir students.
5. Add Movement To Your Choir Rehearsal
Movement can wake your singers up from their academic stupor. It can be as simple as keeping the beat in their feet for purely rehearsal use only or it can be choreography that is intended for the performance too. Either way, your choir students will feel energized with movement.
FYI, you will get groans. And eye rolls. And, “Really?” X 100.
But if you’re into it, then they will buy in. So, choose movement that is authentic to you and that you can successfully incorporate.
Or, give students the opportunity to brainstorm movement for additional buy-in.
Movement ideas for your choir rehearsal:
Once you incorporate some movement into your rehearsals, your choir students will start offering suggestions. Often unsolicited, but helpful as a back-up bank of rehearsal movements! Plus, student buy-in is always fantastic.
What Rehearsal Strategies Will You Start Using in Your Choir Class?
With these five rehearsal strategies for the choir class, you now are a card-carrying member to the club of choir teachers who want to engage their choir students. (Name pending, by the way.)
Especially for your middle school choir classes and students new to choir in general, going beyond the octavo helps rejuvenate their rehearsal experience. That leads to a more fun and likable time that they want to continue to participate in - the real aim in keeping rehearsals fresh.
When rehearsals become a stale, boring experience for choir students, then they start to look elsewhere for engagement.
Try out these rehearsal strategies to breathe new life into your choir rehearsals.
Good luck, choir teachers, and keep making musical memories!