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Advice for a new teacher?

I just finished my first year of teaching as a choir director and felt like I "flew by the seat of my pants" for most of the year.  Now that I have 1 year under my belt, I want to make sure that I am prepared for year 2!  
I am looking for any advice/techniques that have worked well with your choirs that I can hopefully implement into my own.  What is good repertoire?  Are there good warmups?  And how can I teach choir when the majority of students do not read music?
Any advice would be welcome!  
I come from a band background and I teach both band and choir at my school.  I can play the piano and can hear correct pitches well, but that is where my choral training ends.  
I have 2 Choirs: One auditioned and the other voluntary.  They have not had any training in "how to sing" and mostly prefer to sing show songs or ones with familiar melodies.
Thank you for your help!
Tyler Lentz
on June 10, 2013 8:09am
Hi Tyler,
I'm in the same position at my school. There were two books I used last year that made some impact on my teaching:
1. "The Perfect Blend" by Timothy Seelig
2. "The Complete Choral Warm Up Book" by Jay Althouse
This helped with some issues I had at my school, but not all. I'm interested in seeing what other veterans have to say about the subject, too. I really liked the book by Seelig. Rather than it being a lengthy book on pedagogy or warm ups, he has a pretty extensive appendix with some tricks and tools for leading rehearsals. He has really good descriptions about the exercises he uses and gives loads of pictures. The appendix has a few reproducibles and includes some ideas to make rehearsals more effective while building your program.
Anyway, hope those scattered comments help you. I'll look forward to hearing other responses, too!
on June 10, 2013 6:26pm
My first year was a lot like what you describe. I cannot say enough about getting some Kodàly training. There are lots of opportunities all over the US. Check This will revolutionize your teaching and get you off to a great start. Orff-Schulwerk training will also be valuable. I have certification in both methods, and I find Kodàly will be a little less overwhelming and give you some specific sequencing for your teaching. Do not be put off by the simplicity of the early exercises in Kodàly. With a little modification they can be used from cradle through ripe, old age. Just do it. Charge it to a credit card if you must. It's worth it! I can give you some info on specific training programs, if you will email me at amaliefumc(a)
Amalie Hinson
on June 11, 2013 7:15am
Congratulations! You kept the program together, and are returning to a second year, with one year behind you!  Be sure to make your own list of what worked well for you and keep track of those things, too!   
Choral singers who have not had an instrumental background learn to read music in choir.  Alfred has both workbooks and online beginning reading/theory help, and the Althouse mentioned by Mike above can get you started with warm-ups.    Some of my current favorite warm-ups are copied from the first 1/2 hour rehearsals at All-State Choir, and I once did an independent study on warm-ups so I know hundreds, but finding a variety that will teach as well as warm-up are crucial.  Decide what your choir needs most, and design a warm-up to teach that skill, and combine familiar, oft-repeated warm-ups with new ones that require thought and careful listening.   
Begin your repertoire search with the resources closest at hand:  your own choral library, and nearby choral directors.  Ask colleagues for their 10 favorite pieces that worked well w/high school in the last couple of years.  State music conventions also have reading sessions, as will your state ACDA meeting.  Works by Z. Randall Stroope and John Leavitt are well written for choirs, and for the beginning choir, Althouse can get them singing in parts.  A well-chosen Bach Chorale (without words initially) can be perfect for introducing  that basic nature of singing an Alto, Tenor, Bass line, and can also introduce solfegge and singing w/o piano. Research shows that most choral singers who have not had an instrumental background will need solfegge to sight-read.    Also read the article written for ChoralNet entitled

"Creating an Independent Musician" by S arah Harrison, High School R&S Chair, Cherry Creek High School,

which had great tips and suggested materials for sight reading.

The joy of music making is always the center of the target, and everything else are ways and means. Keep up the good work!


on June 11, 2013 8:57am
Tyler, I have 42 years of successful teaching in which my choirs have performed for state legislators, governors, the US Dept. of Ed. and the US Secretary of Ed., St. Patrick's Cathedral (NYC) for 7 consecutive years, and a world premiere with orchestra at Carnegie Hall in NYC. I taught public middle school.
1.   Always construct a year-long plan on a spreadsheet. Across the top of the spreadsheet, in a single row, write the ten (approx.) goals (plans) you have for the coming year.
2.   Under each of these ten items (approx.), write your main goals in achieving these year-long goals.
3.   Now, as your look at your spreadsheet, you are able to see the first of the year-long goals and, under it, the major goals needed in achieving that particular year-long goal.
4.   Now re-position those major goals in a single row under their respective year-long goal. This will likely require you to also re-position those year-long goals in their row in order to keep everything aligned.
5.   Re-look at those major goals. Re-position each group of major goals into a logical sequential order with the first goal placed to the left.
6.   Divide those major goals under each year-long goal into four groups (assuming your year year is divided into four grading periods of which each is comprised of 9 weeks). These are your quarterly plans.
7.   Now, under each of these major goals, write the nine sub-goals you would need to accomplish in order to accomplish the major goal. These will be your weekly plans.
8.   How you divide these weekly goals, or weekly lesson plans, depends upon how many times you see your choir in one week. If you see them daily, you divide them into 5 daily plans. If you see three times a week, you divide them into 3 daily plans. However, if you see them 5 times over the
      course of two weeks (2 or 3 times a week alternatively), you may need to blend two goals together and divide them by five to achieve 5 daily plans to be taught over a two week span.
9.   What you view now are 10 major goals, how you plan to achieve them on a quarterly basis, how you plan to achieve them on a weekly basis, and how you plan to achieve them on a "daily" basis. That is, you will now see that you have plans to teach approximately ten items in each plan.
10. You know how many minutes are in your class period. Divide that time by (again, approximately) ten. This informs you of how much time you can afford to spend on each item.
11. You have now discovered that you far too much to teach "daily," weekly, quarterly, annually. OH....!
12. How many years do you see these students? Do not concern yourself with those who enter your program late, leave early, etc. Look at the large picture. If yours is a four-year school, divide those annual goals into four years. Start the breakdown process anew. That makes the job easier.
     You will also discover other ways of grouping goals, or teaching all goals annually but increasing the depth annually. You may have a lesson plan guide provided to you by your superiors. This certainly is a major help, but it will not replace what I am describing for you.
13. How do you know which approximate 10 annual goals to select? Teacher Guides from your superiors will dictate that to you. Other resources are provided to you by others in this forum.
14. "Everyone" wants my warm-ups. They work for all age levels, all choirs, and all settings. There are five exercises in total. They will help with all your repertoire, your ear training, and theory. They train a choir to perform a cappella with confidence no matter the choir's size, from 2 up to "200."
      Write to me on your personal email and I will send them to you as an attachment using pdf and/or Sibelius.
15.  Repertoire.  Your state may have choral lists from which you must choose.  Whether from one of these lists or not, ALWAYS select music of quality, select music that has a record of continuance, not a score that is here today and gone in three years.  Always select one number that is achievable but
       is also stretching them musically.  Lean always to the classics.  NEVER EVER use pre-recorded accompaniments.
16. Always raise the bar that you ask your choir and its individual students to leap over successfully. Teach them to be successful, to not be afraid of success whatsoever.  Raise the bar some more.  Do the same for yourself. .......Raise the bar some more again.  Can you imagine performing Randall
     Thompson's Alleluia on the middle school level, or Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine, or Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming, madrigals in their original language and settings.  I have done these.  You can too!  Best of luck! Hope to hear from you! -Jack-
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 11, 2013 2:13pm
I'm also pretty new. During my first year I found two things most helpful: getting some singing lessons myself with a really good teacher, which gave me a much better understanding of how the voice works and how to get the most out of the students, and going to a summer school, which was amazing fun and I learned so much!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 12, 2013 6:53am
Congrats on completing your first year!
All of the suggestions given thusfar are excellent!  One more resource I might add is a series published by GIA titled "Teaching Music Through Performance in Choir"  There are two volumes available and I think there is another volume specifically targeted toward teaching middle school choirs.  These books offer specific repertoire and lesson plans.  They also have companion cd's with recordings of exemplary performances of the pieces discussed in the books.  The concept presented is to use carefully chosen music to teach specific music literacy skills through the rehearsal of the pieces as opposed to simply preparing choirs for performance.
In Iowa the state choral directors association, band directors association, and string teachers organization collaborated with educators in Wisconsin a number of years ago and pioneered the Comprehensive Musicianship Project which promotes and provides training for teaching music literacy in the ensemble setting.  Drake University in DesMoines, Iowa offers summer workshops each year.  I've found this approach to be very helpful in my teaching.  If you do a web search on "comprehensive musicianship project" you will likely find resources there also.
One last pitch... be sure to integrate sight-singing into your daily classroom routine.  In addition to the other great resources suggested by others here I've also utilized "The University Sight Singer" published by Masterworks Press (  They have a wide variety of resources for integrating sight-singing into your rehearsal and the cool thing is you purchase one copy and permission to reproduce is included in the price.  The other resource I've used is Progressive Sight Singing by Carol Krueger, published by Oxford University Press.  Her approach to teaching both pitch and rhythm is detailed and effective!  She does workshops all around the US and is wonderful.
Best wishes on another great year!
on June 12, 2013 6:56am
Please check out my textbook, Becoming a Choral Music Teacher.  It address the questions you ask about repertoire, warmups, and all kinds of advice.  It's published by Routledge Press.  Thanks, Patrice Madura Ward-Steinman
on June 12, 2013 10:13am
Tyler, HOw GREAT that you are asking for help.  I teach at a Community College in a rural  part of California. We don't have feeder programs  that are large and, being Community College, we get a large turnover from semester to semester.  So I share the same situation.   Some things that have helped me (and it's difficult but not impossible);
1) Pray for guidance/strenth (no joke)
2) Start out with music they know.   Even unison: Go to, find some popular song that they will all know and download an accompaniment .  Let them just sing to develop confidence.
2) Phantom of the Opera- my kids LOVE this.   It helps the women open up on the high range, most of them knopw it and most of them have a sense of how it goes.
3) Do lots of unison- songs they know and then introduce some two part.   (Womwen and Men);  if you don't have 2-part music just have the women sing melody and the men bass; modify as needed.
4)  Roounds are good- but to get them started simple ones are good- things they know and things that aren't too sophisticated yet  (i.e. long phrases, chromatic, rangey, foreign language).  Good examples:  O how Lovely Is the evening, Shalom Havarim, Are you Sleeping, etc.)
5) A Band instructor told me that in Band, a director should pick music for his group to perform that they can sightread with 60% accuracy or so.  I think this is good advice.  For singers who are non-music readers, this would mean songs based on tunes they know with some harmonization.  (Arrange/adapt some pieces yourself if necessary).
You want to build their conifdence and give the perception to them that they "sound good".   Build from there.   You may not reach YOUR ideal, but it is a start.
RE: Sigtsinging:  Msterworks Press has a seireis called easy rhty signtsinging.  You pay a one-time fee then you can make copies.  They exercises start out easy.  they are in four parts (Tenor parts a little high) but you can read them as if they are in two parts (S/B) or have the entire class do usinos on one part until they can hold a prt.  Also, Rhythm flash cards are good for drill .   Do a few minutes of musicianship every day- not a whole rehearsal...
Just some ideas.
John Carter
on June 13, 2013 10:09am
There are many great resources out there, but nothing substitutes for experince.
First: join a choir.  Find the best communiy choir in your area, or join the local professional symphony's chorus.
Second: take some voice lessons.
Then all of the books and other resources will make a lot more sense to you. ACDA and Choralnet provide a lot of great resources online such as rep lists, chorteach articles, and forums.  The Choral Journal also has some things that will be helful for you - espeically look for the "on the voice" column.
I would also reccomend following Richard Sparks' blogs on Choralnet, which you can also find here  He has had some great posts on building a culture in you rehearsals and dealing with intonation as well as many other topics of use for any level of choir.  I also have a blog that may or may not be useful for you, at
I get a lot out of the ACDA conventions and other meetings, from local chapters to national conventions.  I especially get a lot of repertoire ideas from the reading sessions.  I suggest looking to see if your state chapter of ACDA has a summer meeting of some kind.
Keep up the good work,
Ken Owen
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