Reply To: Transforming My Middle School Choir
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Sorry you’re going through this.
Here are a few things that you could consider trying:
1. Get them moving while they warm-up. Lots of mimed ball tosses, rainbow arms, swimming, shooting basketballs, juggling, etc. Have them do this while they phonate on a descending open-throated glissando. VAH, ZAH, OR THAH (with a voiced “th” as in “there”) work well.
As a related exercise, have them shout a downward glissando “Hey!” at you while you alternate a “Hey!” in response (again with an open throat). Have them do sirens as well, letting their voice do whatever it needs to as it moves through their range.
The movement will help to free them up and get the breath connected to the body, but the overall thought that could help them here is that singing uses that same fully committed voice.
2. From here, tell them that you’re going to conduct them in that same descending glissando (VAH, ZAH, OR THAH) while they do the movement, but–at a certain signal–they’re going to stop the downward slide and just hold the pitch. It’s important that they not think that they’re “singing” — they’re just holding an open-throated and relaxed AH.
3. IF this is successful, they’re going to be using a lot more breath and voice; they’ll have a much fuller and louder (if more discordant:-) sound.
4. Next step will be to have them use that same open-throated and full-bodied VAH/ZAH/THAH while they do the simplest warm-up. Even if it’s a repetition of one note (Doe, doe, doe, doooooooooooooooooe…) or a simple 1, 2, 3, 2, 1. If some kids are still struggling with singing that particular note due to voice changing issues, tell them not to worry … or give them all a simple chord with notes they CAN sing. Then have them do the same open-throated vocalise.
5. After this, apply the same concepts to your songs. While singing is more complicated than this, the open-throated shout idea can give them a sense of their vocal potential … and provide a good foundation for further growth.
If you feel like it, let me/us know what happens when you try this, and I can brainstorm some next steps. You might also check my website for further ideas.
All my best,