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Advice/Tips for a Brand New Choral Teacher (Junior/Senior High)

Hi there,
I am a brand new teacher just about to begin my first year as a choral teacher for Junior/Senior High (Grades 7-12). I will be directing 9 different choirs throughout the school year.  I have already selected all of the repertoire I would like to attempt with the choirs (mostly 2 and 3 part) but I am looking for some tips and advice from experienced choral directors on what you have found to work well in regards to long-term planning, grading, assignments, and structuring rehearsals.  My goal is to teach all of the students solfege, and I hope to spend a portion of each rehearsal on developing their sight-reading skills.  I am also hoping to try to include a choral journal as an assessment tool for the junior choirs (grade 7/8) in which they will be required to reflect on rehearsals/repertoire and individual goals/challenges/successes faced throughout the semester.
I am looking for some ideas for fun assignments, tips for staying organized with SO many choirs, and any general comments or tips you might have for me as a new choral teacher!  Thank you in advance for your time and for your feedback!
Replies (12): Threaded | Chronological
on August 25, 2014 4:53am
9 choirs! Wow. That is a full schedule!
I teach ms and hs choir in western MA and have been in choral ed for over 20 years. I also teach preschool music for the college here. E mail me at kpc1(a) and I can send you my phonation exercises, some tips and a reflective practice assessment tool you can use for yourself...based on my book "da capo from the beginning" AuthorHouse Publishing 
on August 28, 2014 9:01am
Hi Kathy! Thank you so much for this! We've been on the road the last week as we just moved from ottawa to Thompson so I'm just reading through the replies now. I will certainly send you an email and would love to see any exercises you find particularly useful and hear any advice you have! Thanks again!
on August 25, 2014 6:14am
Congrats on your new position!  The first year is exciting and daunting!
I write a blog specifically aimed at new and struggling choral music teachers.  Here is the link:
I've written about some classroom management ideas on there among other things.  You may find it helpful. 
Once you are on the channel, type in "classroom mangement", and you see some of the videos I've uploaded for that purpose.
Have a great year!
Dale Duncan
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on August 26, 2014 6:39am
I don't teach middle school, but I looked online at the materials you've created for sight singing.  It all looks very impressive and helpful!!!
Michael Austin Miller
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on August 26, 2014 8:33am
Thank you Michael!  I struggled so much teaching sight singing to my middle school beginners in the early days.  Once I figured out something that worked, I decided to share it in hopes of helping some other frustrated teachers!  Books didn't work for me...Thank goodness for modern technology.  It made it easier to share when I realized I could create power points, but I could also film the whole process and provide those direct links with teaching tips and examples of me actually teaching it to real beginners.  This way, teachers could watch and get even more ideas that I, perhaps, didn't think to share in the power points.  I hope it helps lots of folks. 
Dale Duncan
on August 28, 2014 9:03am
Hi Dale! 
Thank you so much for sharing this with me! This will be extremely helpful for me as I get settled into my teaching routine to have some effective classroom management strategies in place from day 1! Many thanks!
on September 4, 2014 11:25am
What a blessing this is! Thanks, Dale!
on August 27, 2014 6:48am
An excellent resource for choral directors at any level is Prescriptions for Choral Excellence by Shirlee Emmons and Constance Chase (Oxford University Press 2006). 
 Shirlee was one of the great New York voice teachers whose legacy is a multitude of fine singers. Constance Chase is among other things the director of the West Point Cadet Glee Club. 
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on August 28, 2014 9:05am
Thank you for sharing this resource- I will certainly order myself a copy as this looks like a valuable tool for a choral teacher at any level of experience. Thanks for your reply!
on August 27, 2014 5:51pm
My piece of advice is this: beware the middle rehearsals. I don't mean the middle school rehearsals, I mean the middle rehearsals between the concerts. It has been my experience that at some point while rehearsing with a choir, forward progress on learning music seems to stop. You find yourself saying things like, " do measure 45 again. We've still got a wrong note in the alto part" 17 times in a row. You will be able to feel the energy from the choir start to deflate and your own patience start to dwindle. However, you know if they could just get over the next hurdle, things would be better.
As soon as you feel this set in, do two things to mitigate the problem. First, tell them what is happening. The songs aren't new anymore, and they're probably working on one of the hardest parts of the music in all their songs. It's more repetative and more work, but if they put in the work, it will start getting more exciting again. Second, be more positive about tiny improvements and sound excited about progress even if you're not completely thrilled. Your excitement will set the tone for the group. Even if all you can say to the group is, "this is hard, I see that you are sticking with it and I'm proud of you for not giving up on this music" it will build momentum. If you can build momentum on those middle rehearsals, the icky part passes more quickly and you'll have more time for what you and your students want: fine tuning and artistry.
One warning, though. Be positive, but don't lie. If your group isn't paying attention, don't say that they are. Kids can smell adult hooey from a mile away. There is always something positive you can say, though. You just have to look really hard to find it sometimes. Stay genuine and stay positive in the middle rehearsals, and all will be well. Best of luck to you!
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on August 28, 2014 9:09am
Hi Seth! Thank you for these tips. That's a great tip for watching how I address musical errors or ensemble issues in the middle of the year as I'm sure it will come to that at some point where we are pounding out the same "trouble spot" with little improvement. I will definitely keep in mind what you say about  being honest with them while also maintaining a positive attitude even during frustrating rehearsals such as these. I'm really anxious to see what the students are like as I have 6 choirs that are grade 7/8 and one grade 9 choir or app. 70 students and one 10-12 choir of 100 students.  I'm sure they will all be very different and will have their own challenges from one to the next. Thanks again for your advice! 
on September 5, 2014 5:05am
After years of using all kinds of analogies to explain vocal technique and choral principles to JHS and SHS students, I finally wrote them all down and Alfred published them in a little book called VoiceWorks: a "how-to" owner's manual for vocal students and teachers. I like to refer to it as an analogical approach to vocal technique. My primary proof reader and editor was may daughter who was 15 at the time, since she and students her age are the target group for the book. Many people have found it very helpful. I also shared something just yesterday with my Choral methods class that's not in there. It has to do with students who are "tone deaf" which I believe is a myth and does not exist. Here is the process. Begin by playing a note on the piano somewhere near the upper end and another near the lower end, 6 or 7 octaves apart. Ask the student whichis higher (obviously don't let the student see the keyboard). If the student can tell which is higher, then THE STUDENT IS NOT "TONE DEAF"! After that it's a matter of pitch discrimination. Keep reducing the size of the interval, randomly play high-low and low-high. Anecdotally my experience is that the most "tone deaf" student can still correctly distinguish an interval of a major third and starts to have difficulty with a minor third. The next problem is getting a student to match pitch. This is a concept beyond many students who have no understanding what matching pitch sounds or feels like. Usually what happens is a pitch is sung or played over and over while telling the student to go higher or lower. Simply turn around the process. Ask the student to sing any pitch and YOU MATCH THE STUDENT. Ask the student to sing any other pitch and again you match the student. Soon the "tone deaf" student will gain an understanding of the concept of matching pitch. Then take it from there. Let me know if you have any questions or especially how this works for you the first time you try it. I have had "tone deaf" students become soloists for me within a year's time. Pretty exciting stuff.
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