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Middle School Choir Curriculum

I recently was offered a middle school choir position which I accepted.  I have been going crazy trying to develop some sort of curriculum map to go by for 6th-8th grade.  The best part about this position is that I get to start from the ground up.  That is also the worst part.  The previous director didn't do much with the kids.  There aren't any resources to use at this point either.  I looked at the schools music library and it literally consisted of 8 songs, many of which were Winter concert songs.  How would you all go about desining a middle school choir program?  I have my ideas but any advice would be great!  I have been out of the classroom for 10 years.  I previously taught elementary school which is a totally different ball game!
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on June 16, 2014 9:03pm
Don’t panic!  You can do this!  Several curriculum/repertory textbooks or packages already exist for most Middle School choirs.  You might do best getting a set for each choir for the first year and supplementing with individual choir pieces as time goes by.  Talk to your administrators about a textbook budget (most will see the need and put up the money).  See if you can get down to a JW Pepper warehouse and browse their collections.  You might start with the “Essential” series published by Hal Leonard & McGraw-Hill and investigate out from there.  Above all, don’t panic; you CAN do this!
Hope that helps!
Michael A. Gray
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 17, 2014 4:51am
Are there other middle school choir programs in your school district or in your general geographic area?  If so, I would suggest that you reach out to those choir directors for help and advice.  Most directors are willing to share their knowledge and resources.  During my first year of teaching (41 years ago), I relied heavily upon the experience and good will of my collegues.
Best of luck to you.
Richard Surface
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 17, 2014 5:47am
I am in a similar situation here in Nebraska. I am starting at a brand-new middle school in the fall, after teaching high school for five years. This is a great resource here, but I would also suggest that you find other middle school teachers in your area to find out what the common practices are where you live. My colleagues here in Nebraska, and in my own school district, have been so helpful to me.
One new resource that I will be trying out, is called S-cubed which I believe stands for sight-singing success. It was developed by a middle school teacher named Dale Duncan and can be found on the website "teachers pay teachers". You can also look up his YouTube videos, under his name and hear some great tips for middle school classroom management and building strong ensemble environments in your classroom.
Good luck!
Applauded by an audience of 3
on June 17, 2014 8:24am
Dear Bradley,
My patriotic and inspirational songs have been performed successfully by middle school choirs across America for many years. Check out my website I especially recommend to you my songs "The Spirit of America," "One Heart, One Voice," "The Tree of Life," and "Take My Hand." If you have little or no budget for sheet music, I will still be happy to work with you. Good luck on your new adventure!
Hank Fellows
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 17, 2014 10:19am
Congratulations, Bradley, on your new job. You're going to learn a lot as you build a ground-up curriculum map for the middle school choral program at your school. Good expression! Maps are not the territories they represent. They are guides that help travellers navigate whatever they encounter in the real territory.
In the suggestion that I have, I intend no assumptions about your choral education knowledge or the experiences you've had in the past. I don't know you, of course. Anyway, my suggestion has to do with what I am deeply passionate about in choral music education. I strongly believe that middle school choral educators have an ethical obligation to help the young people they lead to understand:
(1) what is happening to the physical parts of their voices as they are 'growing up,'
(2) how those growth changes may or may not affect their vocal abilities,
(3) how to coordinate their voices with optimum (neuromuscular) efficiency so that they can get 'the most' from their voices with the least amount of necessary effort, and
(4) how to protect their voices from injury and disease.
All the above knowledge and practical areas are addressed in an upcoming summer course presented by The VoiceCare Network that includes practical work with middle school singers.
One last idea: The male voice change guidelines developed by the late John Cooksey are the only guidelines that are validly founded in science-based evidence. He followed 86 boys over three years, made numerous recordings of their voices and over 6,500 sonagrams were produced and analyzed to detect patterns of change. I wrote an article in Choral Journal about what is currently known about male voice change (Volume 52, issue 9, pages 9-21), and it was reprinted in the International Choral Bulletin published by the International Federation for Choral Music. On female voice change, the work of Lynne Gackle is the most evidence-based to date.
Good luck, Bradley, and be well
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 18, 2014 4:27am
Congrats Bradley!  Great advice above!  
Thank you, Tina, for the "shout out" on the S-Cubed Sight Singing course that I developed.  I am going to place the links to the materials at the bottom of this post for you to check out.  The best thing about this sight singing course is that, if you use it, you will have 10-15 minutes of your daily classes mapped out for you. I wanted it to be a modern day sight singing book specifically for middle school.  I include the sight singing examples, written/oral warm ups, assessments, etc., but the best part, especially for beginning or struggling teachers, is that I included direct links to video teaching tips for every single lesson as well as direct links of me actually teaching the sight singing lessons in the classroom with real students.  I call it S-Cubed:  Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Teachers and Students because I want the students AND the teacher to be successful as they work through the program.  
I struggled enormously with teaching sight singing to my beginners and with middle school classroom management when I started teaching, and I wanted to create something that could help teachers with both as they help their beginners become literate.  I tried to make it as fun as possible for the teachers/students too!  Now, with modern technology, I found a way to share the program that takes teachers right into my classroom so they can get ideas about how to teach the materials.  I documented every step of the way last year!  It was like my own little reality show of sorts.    
Here are the links to the materials:
I offer the lessons in bundles and also in "single" lessons.  To get the overall picture, click the link below.  It will take you to the "full bundle" which will last you 27 weeks if you see your students every single day.   In the product description, you will find links to the "single" lessons as well as links to free downloads that will give you more information about what to expect from S-Cubed:
Here is a link to my YouTube Channel.  There are about 250 videos on there:
I also have a blog:
Here are a couple of ways to keep in touch (Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest)
I hope the materials help you!  
There are tons of great music teachers on this site, so keep reaching out when you start the school year!
Best regards,
Dale Duncan
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 19, 2014 6:10am
HI Bradley:
This is an exciting opportunity, and while I am positive you want to get everything exactly right the first time around, do not worry if there are obstacles and stumbles on the way - it's the way you learn!  So many wonderful suggestions here. I want to echo the importance of teaching the singers to know about the vocal mechanism - it will make them more aware of what they are doing vocally. The Cooksey book on the Adolescent Voice is an absolute must resource for both boys and girls changing voices. Lynn Gackle is the contributing author for girls changing voice. The book is research based and essential reading.
There are many excellent resources you may want to look into:
  • Phillips, K. H. (2004). Directing the Choral Music Program.  New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-513282-3 - all around great resource covering a wide variety of topics
  • Phillips, K. Teaching Kids to Sing - Great resource with sequential exercises and explanations that are kid -oriented
  • Teaching Music Through Performance in Choir Vol. 1&2, GIA - excellent articles by a variety of authors with repertoire selections thoroughly discussed for teaching; repertoire might be more HS oriented, but the approach is excellent
  • The School Choral Program GIA - several authors again lending expertise, excellent broad resource
  • Jordan, J. Evoking Sound: The Choral Series Warm Up - a total strategy to utilizing your warm up to enhance the learning of vocal technique
These are just a few, of course. As it is only June, I would encourage you to attend one of the numerous weeklong workshops that take place around the country with experts in the field. I do not know where you are located, but Henry Leck runs a workshop at Butler, you might want to check where the Choral Music Experience workshops are this year, I teach a course at Villanova University outside Philadelphia in July, there are offerings all over the country.  Find a clinician with whom you would like to work, and go there.
Above all, think about constructing your curriculum around teaching the students, not teaching the music. What do I mean by that? Consider your choral rehearsal space as a classroom in which you are giving your singers the musicianship tools that will make them independent of you. Think about the skills you want to teach, rather than the music that needs to be performed. It may seem backwards, but ultimately, your singers will be more intelligent musicians, and the result will be an exponential lift in the musical quality of your group.  And bonus, it will be measurable for evaluations!
Good luck!!!
on June 20, 2014 4:53am
I just bought Teaching Music through Performance in Middle School Choir which is the MS version of the two books referred to above. 
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