Choir Help (In Way Over my Head)

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    Hello, I really need help.
    I am starting the 3rd month of my first year teaching. I work in a small town with a ton of support from my administration and just finished up my Masters prior to accepting the position. My background is in instrumental education and was hired to teach choir as well as band and guitar.

    My choir started off fantastic this year, I had large shoes to fill and as the first month of school ended the ensemble grew up to 40 members. Now we have seemed to hit a wall I can’t seem to get past. Nearly half of the choir are students who were just kicked out of one classroom and put into choir against their will.
    These students have no musical experience and I am currently losing my strongest students because they are “Bored” working slowly through pieces and having to learn solfege.

    There is so much more to say, but I am just at a loss right now as to what to do. Its October, Marching season is hitting its stride, November is the beginning of WGI season for drumlines and color guard and my other classes keep me so busy I hardly sleep at night.

    Any help would be amazing.

    Thank you


    Oh no! It sounds like you’re in a very stressful situation right now. It’s probably too late for this semester, but in the future, I would talk to the counselor or whoever is in charge or scheduling and make sure that students don’t just end up in choir. That’s not going to make anyone a happy camper.

    Life (and music) in a small town is different from bigger towns or cities. If it’s something that you’re not used to, it can be a big adjustment- I know it definitely was for me. I started off teaching in a similar situation as you- certified in band, but teaching choir, too. My choir was not very experienced, and while it was a decent size (about 30 students in a school of 75 or so), they didn’t make a ton of sound. I think sound and tone production is one of the first things to work on with students that have little musical experience. Solfege is all well and good, but maybe not the first step with these students. I also had students working on one pop song or show tune for each concert. It drove me crazy at first, but the kids loved it and they enjoyed working on fundamentals more while singing a song they enjoyed right off the bat.

    In your first year in any teaching job, you really need to learn to pick your battles. Coming out of college (especially after getting a Masters!), a lot of teachers have really high standards- again, this was definitely me. You don’t have to lower your standards, just change your perspective to meet your students where they are. Can you work on reading and technique while using music that you don’t have to sell? Absolutely, but it takes a lot of creativity.

    Good luck!


    A difficult situation! I applaud you teaching the students Solfa – and your desire to make your students literate – it is indeed trying for more experienced students when you have to reteach – their less experienced or less motivated peers.
    Communication with your counselors is a great idea.
    Also – use the music itself as a sight reading opportunity and beak the musical tasks down into achievable chunks – so that the students are connecting as best they can with the score.
    Use your more experienced singers as leaders and give them the opportunity to help prepare all singers. Tim Lautzenheizer has some amazing perspectives on empowering students and building your ensemble by investing your singers in the process.
    You can control the class with attractive and wisely chosen literature. Consider some of the more accessible ‘World Music’ to keep the students engaged – I have found that it often sells itself.
    At least one piece of music in the folder should be a reward piece – something the students love to sing and love to work on. The other pieces may require more work to find the reward – and it may take a few weeks before the students realize that they can enjoy it.
    Music with varying levels of difficulty will help the students and help you.
    Have students who are more skilled help those who are less skilled – to get solfegge written into their music.
    Don’t be afraid to use recordings wisely to give the students a view of the music they are learning.
    Quick pacing in the rehearsal is essential to keep things moving and defuse frustration.
    If the students get stuck on a piece or on a particular portion of a piece – pull back, regroup and try again next rehearsal.
    Make sure that your experienced students collaborate with you to make each rehearsal a success – this gives them ownership.
    Finally – take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep well, get some exercise and find ways to reward yourself.
    I have found that if I am stressed out, tired or burning the candle at both ends – my rehearsals and my students suffer. Nurture yourself and you can then nurture and serve your students better. You are worth it! Please keep me posted.
    Again – kudos to you for your care, effort an desires for student success.
    Alan Scott – Murray High School Choirs


    Currently working on my MM Music Education, so I appreciate you posting about what you are finding difficult in your first year of teaching, since I will be teaching this upcoming Fall. This is going to sound horrible, but have you thought about introducing pop music in your classroom. Yes, I said pop music. During my student teaching I had several students who, like many of yours, were thrown into the class for several reasons and they simply didn’t want to be there. I proposed a compromise. If all the students worked hard throughout the week and we accomplished all the tasked needed, we would take the last 30 minutes of class on Friday to play whatever pop song they wanted (which is easy to do since leadsheets are so easily available). I had a few students who liked to play drums, a few who could play keyboard, and so we just had a jam session each Friday as a reward. I found that my students who were previously holding the group back were becoming more focused Monday-Thursday. This is not to say that it will work in every situation, but it worked with my kids.

    Also, have you thought about making recordings of the parts for your students? I do not advocate teaching by wrote, but if you are incorporating solfege training into your daily routine, even your students who have no background in choir will be able to sight-read more efficiently overtime. But for the time being, recordings of the vocal parts and even the piano parts for them to listen to outside of class may be helpful. Granted, unmotivated students are likely not going to work outside of class unless you give them an incentive. But as I said before, it worked for my students.

    Hope these ideas helped in at least some way! If you find another technique to get your students motivated I would love to know!

    Christopher Langdon
    Appalachian State University, MM Music Education, ’14
    Campbell University, BA Music Education, ’12

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