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The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Middle School General Music

Hello all.
First time poster here, and also first time choral guy. I have recently started working in a charter school with teaching 5-8th grade general music. Let me give you a little background about myself real quick to paint a better picture. I went to school and majored in music ed. emphasis in band. I have never really sung in a choir before, and especially never directed one before. The vocal method class I took in school was 1 semester and focused more on anatomy, etc... and less on warm ups, techniques, and rehearsals or repertoire choosing so my knowledge about choir is pretty minimal.
This general music class is the only music class offered in the school and everyone passes through. Consequently, they expect 2 concerts a year, primarily singing, in order to give the students a chance to perform. Each class consists of 20-30 students. I have 2 classes per grade level, making it 10 classes in all. Classes meet 2 times a week for 39 minutes each class period.
Now, having given you that background information, I must confess. I have no idea what to do with these students as far as singing goes and how to get them started on signing or what kind of stuff to do with them. There has been a new teacher each year at this school for the past 3 years so no foundation has really been set. Each one had their own idea of what to do. I am coming to this wonderful community for some insight and some help knowing how to approach this situation. Thank you very much!
on January 20, 2014 7:43am
First a pep talk. Congratulations on the gig! My background was also in Music-Ed with a Band emphsis (trumpet). I taught in a private school (similar to charter in terms of students, I suspect). I taught there for 18 years. Due to circumstances, my next gig (my current gig) was as in Choral Music grades 6-7-8. I (like you) had limited training in choir and voice except as a piano accompanist. This is my 22nd year and I would never want to go back to the instrumental side. I love the choral side! I can do much more musical things with the kids at an earlier age. I hope you will grow to love it as well.
There is no magic bullet but I would suggest the following:
  • Do summer workshops with Sally Albrecht (Alfred Music). While her music is not the summit of our craft, she is a fine musician and knows how to teach teachers. I started with her and I still use her music/ideas with some of my classes.
  • Check out the JW Peppers website for recommended literature.
  • Avoid current pop stuff. It never sounds like the kids want it to and it destroys any concept of reading the score.
  • Do not shy away from foreign languages. It is the easiest way to get the kids singing in uniform vowles. And no one will know if you are right or wrong so don't sweat it.
  • Check out the Charlene Archibeque warm-ups. They are the BEST! Get the DVD and do as it says. You will see immediate results.
  • Allow the kids to do fun stuff in addition to the serious. Especially at the end of warm-ups.
  • Check out anything by Rollo Dilworth or Jim Papoulis. I also recommend Jerry Estes charts.
  • Teach the kids and use the Kurwen-Kodaly hand signs and solfege as part of your warm-ups.
  • Join ACDA and find out who the Middle School R&S Chair is in your state. We in ACDA are all about mentoring other teachers. You will get a ton of help.
  • Call local teachers and see what they suggest. You may even be able to borrow music from their library.
  • Read! Get books and gather ideas.
  • Go to a local summer ACDA conference. They tend to be smaller. You will get great ideas and help from willing mentors.
Lastly, it gets better! Hang in. Use your creativity. Figure it out and get help from people you admire.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 25, 2014 10:55am
Hi Mike,
  Go from what you know and grow from there.  This is a general music class.  Write up some rhythm ensembles and use pentatonic melodic instruments if available.  The ensembles can be a series of repeated rhythm patterns and ostinatos.  Add vocal ostinati (Keep it simple: Do Do Re Mi, Do Do Re Mi).  Get in some education about the voice and choir for next year. Meanwhile, teach more instumentally including note reading and recorder.
on January 26, 2014 6:13am
Welcome me to the MS/JH Choral world. Thanks for reaching out for support. Here are some ideas:
Join the Middle schools Junior High community here on choralNet. Check out the Library page in the community. There are several resources listed.
Check out the JH/MS repertoire and Standards page on the ACDA website. There are so many resources listed there.
Consider attending thethis spring. It's a one-day event that will take place on Saturday, May 3, 2014, on the UNT campus in Denton, TX. Flights into Dallas are relatively cheap. Hotels in Denton are much cheaper than in Dallas. The best of the best will be presenting MS/JH-specific content. You wouldn't have to miss any school. The next conference will happen in 2016 so this is your window of opportunity.  I'll include the flyer at the end of this response.
Excellent warm-up resources: Rollo Dilworth's warm-up book; Charlotte Adams "A Daily Workout for a Beautiful Voice"; Russell Robinson's warm-up book; and so many more. 
Use your strengths!!! Instrumental background? Use it! Your your skills to enhance what you're doing chorally. Don't have changed voices? Substitute instruments. Create a "chamber ensemble" feel in the choral room.  And percussion when appropriate. The voice is just an in-the-body instrument. The breath management is the same.  Phrasing is the same.  It seems like you studied the anatomy of the voice in your college class.  That's huge!  That's like studying how to put different instruments together.  The functions are similar---air in, resonation, articulation, etc.  Consider your instrumental background a BENEFIT---not an obstacle or handicap.
Go to Dan Davison's website. Dan is MS teacher in Pallyup, WA. He composes wonderfully appropriate and well-crafted music for MS singers. He has examples, some free pieces and some great warm-ups for FREE that are just excellent. I have used several of his pieces for my choirs and for Honor Choirs. Rollo Dilworth used him as the commission composer for the 2011 Natuonal JH/MS Honor Choir. He's a great resource.
Contact Dr. Bridget Sweet at the University of Illinois ( for info she presented at the Missouri Music Educators Association Conference this past weekend. Her session was called "Demystifying the MS Choral Student." She really GETS MS kids and had an excellent handout. I don't have her permission to post it here, but I bet she'd send it to you.
Continue to learn and grow. Your question indicates that you want the best for your students.
That's about it for now. Contact any JH/MS person for additional support! We are here to help and love to offer encouragement!  
Please forgive some some typos here. I replied on the iPad and couldn't scroll back within my response to correct them. Grrr....
All the best!
Gretchen Harrison
National Chairperson for JH/MS Repertoire and Standards
American Choral Directors Association
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