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Singer motivation: How to make choir Fun

Thank you again to those of you who responded to my request for suggestions to make chorus fun. Here is the compilation that so many of you requested.

The original posting:

Dear Choralisters:

I'd like to compile a list of responses to the following:

I have two high school chorus classes (one for men and one for women) designed for students in order to fulfill a performing arts credit. Some want to be there, but many don't, and they represent grades 9 through 12. Do you have any creative ideas to get them at least somewhat interested in singing, keeping in mind that some of them may become good recruits for the "better" groups in subsequent years?

Carl Ashley

Be enthusiastic, patient and don't let on that they stink. Also if you were
to let them feel you respect and expect enough of them to challenge them
with some quality stuff. There are tons of things that are terrific for
men's and women's choirs.

Unison aria type pieces are terrific. Two part pieces are also available
that are challenging and worth while, they might learn something.

David Nordli
Hopkins High School, Retired
Hopkins, MN

Make sure YOU'RE having fun. (And showing it.)

Great Literature is the most fulfilling and "fun" to do. Teach them the
fundamentals of singing and reading music. When they have skills and feel
successful, they will have more a rewarding experience that feels like fun.

Chris Rhodes
Santa Monica High School.

Carl, perhaps you should give the reluctant choir members a choice of some popular song they want to sing. Maybe make it a yearly tradition for graduation or something. Is there a good reason your choir are segregated by sex? I think that limits your repertoire and the social aspect as well. Perhaps you should have elections for choir officers or form some kind of committee so that the kids feel like they have a say in what goes on. Of course, in order for that to work you'd have to be willing to hand over some control!
Good luck!
Stacey Campbell
Six to Six Magnet School
Bridgeport, CT

I always found that by avoiding "fun" and striving for discipline and
excellence was a far greater reward for high school students than having a
good time. Maybe the "fun" can come from winning competitions, taking trips
and doing lots of concerts, even in a local nursing home.

Hope this helps....

Dr. David Means
Los Angeles Chamber Choir

Please get in touch with Joe Liles JLiles(a) . He will
give you the address of the Sweet Adeline organization and you will
have the finest teaching tools, for both of your choral groups, that
exist in the business of choral music. There is no greater fun in
singing. Ask Mr. Liles for the Barbershop Polecat materials that can
get your men started. Trust me! Once I did what I'm suggesting to
you. The results were wonderful.


Wallace De Pue

There are lots of "things" you can do which help:
1. Choir tours and competitions.
2. Hosting visiting choirs (especially when your students house the
choir for a night).
3. Have small groups sing for certain events or holidays {i.e. excellent
fundraiser on Feb. 14 when guys want to impress their gal by paying a few
bucks to have a quartet serenade her in class.
4. Sing repertoire they like.
5. Team building exercises which bind the group together.
6. Singing at events during normal school time (i.e. a nursing home or
elementary school)

I feel the most important aspect is for the director to build a concept
of excellence among the students by:
a) not waste any time talking when they should be singing
b) maintain high standards of performance and behavior
c) work hard to achieve those high standards
d) get excited when a standard is reached (with some kind of reward)
If the director gets excited, then the students will get excited,
especially if they worked hard to achieve a goal, thereby making the
director excited.

Looking forward to the compilation!

They will respond to your "passion and love" for the art of choral singing.
Just let yourself go, and get totally crazy about the power of choral
singing. They have to be successful right away. I hope you play will need to win them over with your ability to "do it all" from
the very beginning. Good luck.
Mary Wagner

Do easy music. Get them to feel success as a singer. Build their
confidence. They will become more proud of what they can do and thus, have
more "fun".

Since not all of them are into choral performance, you could make it a
combination skills/performance/listening class. Just about everybody
responds to music in some form. If you use the time for solfege and
notational work, it becomes more like a regular class, thus more familiar
and less self conscious for some (men?). Ask them if they want to
concentrate on learning songs or learning how to read - then they have some
ownership of the content, tho of course you'll ultimately determine the
structure and content. Controlled listening/musical video can be a great
addition too, as long as specific learning objectives are assessed. Use
pop songs for notational material - you "take dictation" from their
favorite hit, as you teach them simple melodic/rhythmic dictation, etc.

A pure choral experience is maybe not right for some of these people, but
then as you say you identify those who will be potentially good choir

good luck - looking forward to your compilation.


Get them singing popular music - at least the music from the last 50 years.
We have a good variety of a cappella pop music, which may be a bit
challenging for kids who don't want to be there, but sometimes challenge is
a good thing!

Listen and then learn to sing South African, African-American and Latin
American songs. I've seen that kids respond to rhythmical things that they
can sink their bodies into (even if they don't really move) and also many of
these folk songs or hymns are call-and-response, and easy for those new to
part singing to hook into.

I've had great success with Oh Freedom (Leck); Siyahamba, and Ipharadisi,
all South African.

Melissa Chesnut-Tangerman
Long Trail School
Dorset, VT

What about:

Dividing them into small groups of three or four, assigning a short song
(either they choose or you choose) that 3. Have small groupthey not only learn (unison) but
also must put actions (choreography?) to it, and perform for each other.

Have them bring in songs (pre-approved by you, of course) on C.D.'s that
they like, to which they must have the words already typed out. Xerox the
words or put on overhead for the entire class for a sing-a-long as the C.D.

Do speaking choruses: speaking might be more comfortable at first for those
that have never done such a thing as group singing. Compose your own (or
rap?) rhythm with words, write it out or do it by rote: divide the group
into half, or thirds or (whatever) and do a call and answer speaking (rap)
type thing. It might have some solos for the brave.
Do some snapping or clapping with it.

Similar to above: Have students find poetry they like and create some
rhythms to it themselves for group speaking. Have them teach it to the
group. (Or have them put it on a tape so that you can learn it first, then
play it for everyone. This is especially good if students are too shy to get
up in front of the class.)

Do any play instruments well enough to perform? Have them bring them in on
Fridays, and insist they play songs on their guitar/clarinet/piano/sax
(whatever) to which everyone can sing along with them. Words must be

Find some leaders in the group who would like to teach a song to the group.

As a project, have them sing a song on a tape at home alone, that you have
done in the class and make a contest out of it. You select the top six tapes
(American Idol imitation - now the rage - but with tapes, not live.) and
play them for the class without letting them know who it is. Vote for 3rd,
second and first place! The tapes would be in lieu of doing it live if they
are too shy to sing alone in front of people. If they are not, well, then,
do it live! Or, invite the top three to perform live, a cappella if need be.

Food Rewards: these are always good. Put a few candy bars on the
piano/desk/music stand/whatever and ask for volunteers. If they ask "what
for" don't tell them. Then, when you get the two or three volunteers, JUST
GIVE THEM the candy bars! (Simply for volunteering without even having to do
anything.) The next day (or day later) do it again. You'll get more
volunteers, but this time . . . not so easy. They will have to "do"
something for it . . . . i.e. sing a passage from a song, the rap, the
rhythm, or - - - if that is too extreme, have the volunteer be the "leader"
to pick TWO OTHER people to do the phrase or stanza with them. They will
usually pick someone they know can sing well, even if they don't LIKE them!
Then, you will also know who the good singers are and begin to form a
seating chart based on the strong vs. weaker singers.

As you do all of this, sneak in a song or two that you want them to learn,
even if only a round or partner song to get them singing harmony in some

Helpful? I don't know if it is. But, it is something to get the juices
flowing! All the best!

Richard Garrin

==========================Carl P. Ashley
Director of Choral Music
Saint Andrew's School
Boca Raton, Florida
(561) 869-6722

on April 19, 2003 10:00pm
I have a "Voice Class" which sounds a whole lot like your Fine Arts Credit class. We learn songs from a variety of styles, jazz, pop, one song at least from each style period, even a couple from the 24 Italien Art Songs. Mostly, it sounds like a cattle call. But on Fridays, we have Karaoke days. They bring in a cd, we hook up a mic, (if you can't hook one up, just use it as a prop) and we have people perform solo.
I start out the first semester letting whoever wants to sing . The spring semester, they are required to do it at least once during each grading period. They can have a friend up there to "help" them, but they have to be the main star.
It's fun. I've recruited some good voices for choir from my voice class.
Virginia Volpe
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 10, 2005 10:00pm
I find that movement together with singing work well to bring energy to the class. I always begin each class with a movement warmup whether it be having the students mirror my movements or playing the mirror game with students in partners. If I feel that the students are sluggish in the middle of rehearsal, I'll make them get up and stretch or do something physical. I'm lucky that this year I have a dancer in my class who has choreographed some of our pop and jazz songs. The students have a lot of fun learning the moves. I think they sing better when they are moving.

Hope this helps.

on November 27, 2006 10:00pm
Well . . . Being a musician is hard work. It is a serious art form and treating a rehearsal like a "free period" makes it seem like recess for the students. They must know that learning to sing is hard work - the "fun" comes at the concert when you perform well and do a good job after all of the preparation.
on January 19, 2007 10:00pm
It seems that I deal with a very similar situation each year towards the last 1/3 of the 8th grade year. I always have a couple of students that claim that choir is not "fun" anymore. This has been a struggle with myself to not take this personally. It seems that many students think it is our job as music teachers to "entertain" them in this world of instant entertainment and media. I agree with above posters that the true "fun" should come from learning more about the craft of singing and successful performances rather than having the free days in class like so many expect to have when they sign up for a music elective.
on February 18, 2008 10:00pm
I have the same issue at my school. However, I think the statement " Music is Fun", is really an American pop culture, fast food, I want it now kind of attitude that has infiltrated and poisoned the public education system. Instead of the word "fun", music should be "rewarding and satisfying through high quality performance and human expression". Unfortunatly, many school administrators seem to see our craft as a "fun and games" type of class. It is interesting how in Russia, the students are taught that the fine arts are just as crucial as math, science, and technology. Compare their elementary musicians to ours and we don't stand a chance. Why? Because, in public schools here, if the student is not instantly gratified IMMEDIATLY, its not "fun anymore". We have MTV to thank for this. While we all strive to keep students, we cannot lower the bar by catering them a bunch of Britney Spears songs. This will lower the quality of singing and do a disservice to our art form. If the kids don't like the class, tell them to sign up for another class where they have no work whatsoever. They won't find one. When they get upset and pout, push them harder. They will thank you for it at the end of the year when they rock the stage.- Ryan
Applauded by an audience of 1