ChorTeach is ACDA’s quarterly publication for choral conductors and teachers at all levels. It is published online, and each issue contains four practical articles. If you are not already a member of ACDA, you can join and receive access to ChorTeach online. Below is an excerpt from an article written by Robby Shellard and Jeremy Little appearing in the Fall 2013 issue.
When emerging teachers make the transition from college into student teaching, they often don’t realize how long it takes most students at all age levels to learn new music. Since the student-teacher can sight read well and has lived and breathed a university culture of music reading, refining tone, shaping phrases, etc., he/she often fails to remember what it was like to be a 7th grader learning to sing and make sense of musical notation.
From day to day, student-teachers need to remember how much singers forget or skills that can’t be quickly executed without proper set-up or lead-in by the teacher.
A. Going into a new section of music, e.g., the end of one musical phrase to the beginning of the next When a phrases ends on one pitch and the next phrase begins on a different pitch, students need to be taught how to recognize this challenge, not to scoop, etc. They can and should be taught how to audiate the new note before their entrance and to breathe in the shape of the new vowel a beat before the entrance. Such techniques are not intuitive for high school singers.
B. “Lost learning” over the weekend or from day-to-day Just because a musical concept was taught yesterday doesn’t mean it will be remembered today. Students need plenty of review and scaffolding to solidify their parts before moving on to new sections of music, especially if they “learned” that section a few days earlier. New teachers are often surprised by how little of the music the singers have retained. Intentionally planning to review these sections after a few days off will save frustration when the students’ work doesn’t meet the teacher’s expectation.
C. Transitioning from one song to another The choir is currently studying one work with a 9/16 time signature, another in cut time, and a third in a fast 3/4 time, not quite in one beat per measure. In each of these works, a quarter note looks the same but sounds/feels quite different. Without proper setup and explanation, younger singers can/ will be confused by the notation. Often, a simple visual which includes a few rhythmic exercises notated on the board and sung by the class will be helpful. This is a step often forgotten by emerging teachers who can instantly adjust between time signatures, non-standard notation, etc.
<<< Teaching and Refining Vocal Lines— Questions to Ask Yourself
When students perform a vocal line incorrectly, emerging teachers often have difficulty diagnosing the problem.
• Did the singers learn the line incorrectly? Did the teacher play or sing a wrong note or rhythm? Did the students sing a wrong note/rhythm/word that was not corrected by the teacher?
• Were the singers thrown off by something? Was the teacher’s conducting pattern unclear? Was the piano accompaniment incorrect? the words used by the teacher lacking in clarity?
• Did the singers forget what they had learned yesterday? Did they learn it correctly but are now not executing the pattern correctly?
Read more in the Fall 2013 issue at acda.org/chorteach.