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March 6, 2013 at 11:37 am #21495
My JH Choir is an all girls choir (not intentionally) and they don’t sing out in public. i already know basically why, and it’s because of their confidence (or lack thereof). i’ve tried doing things to work with them on it, because their lack of confidence is affecting other things like support, intonation, etc. i noticed another couple of threads about those problems that the recommendation is making them feel more comfortable, and working on their confidence, however i feel like i’m spinning my wheels with what i’m doing with them because the things aren’t working.
here are the things i have done so far this year to solve this issue:
rewards for those that sing out (rewards vary depending on situation)
“get to know you” exercises
team building exercises
fun games where they sing without “singing” where they can sing out
dynamic contrast warm-ups
Anyway, i know they can sing out, because if they are alone in a practice room and they are singing, they are literally easier to hear from another room because they sing out than if they were right in front of me. also i’m pretty sure me being a man has something to do with it. also, some of the things i try get deemed as “stupid” which means they won’t try at it, and therefore it becomes a lot less effective.March 6, 2013 at 10:50 pm #21528
It sounds like they don’t feel safe in your choir room, with you and with each other. When they feel safe, they’ll sing out. First, buy Tom Carter’s book, Choral Charisma and read it, especially his chapter on humanistic discipline. Here are some things that I’ve learned over the years working with middle school girls:
1. Rule number one. GIRLS TALK!!!!!!! become sensitive to when the choir needs to talk. Don’t try to stop that train. They’ll erupt into noisy conversation, let it run for a minute and quietly restart the lesson. SUPER IMPORTANT. They will never be quiet for a complete class period. Get to know when to ask them to be quiet, and when to let them run a bit. Take a little break after some intense work before the next piece. Teach them that its ok to talk, they just have to learn when the right time is. I like to use the phrase, “Please don’t talk when I’m talking”, or, “I don’t like to talk when you’re talking.” Don’t talk until they’re quiet and listening. Have patience. quote from one of my students to the class last week, “He’s quiet and he’s touching his beard, that means he’s getting annoyed at us.” She was right. 😉
2. . Don’t yell at them. Always speak with a calm quiet voice, even when giving instruction. Make them listen to you. It can scare them if you speak using a loud voice. (I’m a bass/baritone, so my voice can be scary) Soften your voice, lower your pitch. (unless you’re excited about what they’ve done then ring out!)
3. Don’t EVER engage a student into a verbal battle in front of the class: They have allies in the room, you don’t. They cry and their friends comfort. Nothing gets done. Everyone shuts down, Those not involved will feel a little afraid it could happen to them too and no one will sing. (and they hate you for the rest of the day). If you need to discipline, and you will, calmly ask the student either sit out, off the risers where they don’t have eye contact with other classmates, or sit outside the room. I ask them, “Please sit out”, or “please leave now,” in a very calm voice. Allow them to come back in when they’re ready to work. If they refuse then you have a very different issue on your hands, defiance. in this case, call the office and ask to have the student escorted to office and follow your school’s discipline procedures.
4. Middle school girls and boys have the energy of a hummingbird. They are moving all the time. Notice how they twist from side to side and swing their arms? Use this energy to your advantage. Use lots of movement in your warm-ups. I do a lot of vocal sounds in my warmups; siren sounds, sighs, silly sounds, etc. incorporate hand movements to mimic the sounds they’re doing. Allow them to move when they’re singing.
5. When they’re noisy, don’t add to the noise by raising your voice. I like to sing the syllable Loooooo. Start singing, and get close to them. Move slowly from one side of your chorus to the other. They’ll parrot you and start singing. (OH yeah, I forgot to mention, middle school kids like to parrot. Use this to your advantage.)
6. Middle School girls will start crying for no reason. This is OK. Look at the crying girl and check in if she’s ok. The other girls will want to comfort the crying girl. Don’t make a big deal out of the crying and keep the other girls from “comforting” her. I’ll say something like, “Let her work it out” and then I quietly ask the crying girl if she’ll be ok. Keep the class on task. Chances are she’ll nod and be smiling in a few minutes. If needed, give the crying girl the option of a safe place to settle herself (not with a friend’s help)
7. Establish bathroom procedures. When they get bored they’ll ask to use the bathroom. You have no way of knowing if they’re being honest. What are the chances of 2 friends having an emergency at the same time??? Every day? Keep tabs on this. Understand the “its a girl thing” and let them know its ok, you know all about this. They’ll become comfortable telling you this. I only allow one at a time out of the room, and whenever a student asks, I ask them if this can wait till the end of class. Otherwise, if you haven’t noticed already, you’ll always have at least one student out wandering campus at all times during your class. Be very clear about bathroom policies–Yes, they’ll also fake wiggle and pretend they have to go just to meet their friend at a per-arranged time. Knowing your students will help with this and also, If you have a student that has an emergency every day in your class, don’t hesitate to call their parents and ask them if the student has an issue of which you should be made aware. That usually settles it.
8. Lastly, Be prepared in your rehearsal. your kids want to sing, they don’t want to watch you figure out what to do. Talk less, sing more.
I’m curious as to what your students have deemed as “stupid.” Middle school kids think they’re grown-ups, so anything that is perceived as elementary schoolish, they’ll reject. You have to guide them and talk with them not at them and definitely not down to them. I love my middle school kids and honestly, I don’t think I’d want to teach another age group. If they trust you and feel safe with you, you’ll help to form them into who they’ll become. And just because you think they’re not listening, Doesn’t mean they’re not listening. Trust me, they are.
.March 11, 2013 at 10:46 am #21737
I absolutely agree with all of John’s advice, especially about the girls talking and the bathroom issues. I would add just a couple of things:
1. Give your chorus a chance to hear other choirs. If this can be done live, that’s the best. Perhaps the choir from the high school that you feed into can come and sing for you (or you can do a joint concert). When I take my choirs to performance assessment, we spend as much time talking about what they heard from other groups as we do reviewing our performance. If you can’t do it in a live setting, Youtube videos are a great source. Show them the good AND the bad, so that they learn to distinguish the sounds and understand what you’re asking of them.
2. Recognize that, especially with an all girls group, there is going to be the occasional day when the issue that is disturbing/disrupting the class has to be addressed. A couple of years ago, there was an incident on our campus that the kids came to class very upset about. Within a minute or two, it was apparent that we weren’t going to accomplish anything until we talked about what happened. So I took 10 or 15 minutes, we discussed the situation, and they were able to settle down and focus.
3. I would add to John’s advice about talking to have an attention signal to refocus the students when necessary. We have a school-wide signal: the teachers puts a hand in the air, says “may I have your attention, please,” and students are expected to respond by putting their hands in the air as they quiet down. Some of our teachers are experimenting with whole-brain teaching techniques with good results, and if I weren’t retiring this June, I’d probably give it a try.
The key to middle school teaching is flexibility. But I’m with John: I’ve taught from pre-school through college, and middle school is the best!
LynnMarch 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm #21741
i guess that i wasn’t clear on what my issue was. my issue hasn’t been that there are issues going on outside of class that need to be addressed before we can go on, we might have had that happen once or twice this semester, and we addressed them before continuing, but it’s not my main issue.
i never yell at my students because i learned that it doesn’t work. so that’s not my main issue
if there’s a discipline issue i deal with it outside of the classroom as much as i can. and this class has very little discipline issues, so this is not my main issue.
they don’t have too much energy, the usually come here right after lunch and they hardly move. they hate even standing up because it “takes too much energy” so that’s not my main issue.
i use a non-verbal way of getting their attention bey counting down from 5 with my fingers, so that’s not my main issue
the only girl that has “cried for no reason” is doing so because of stage fright, we’ve been working on it, and now she doesn’t have a problem with it near as much, so that’s not my main issue.
the bathroom we have is adjacent to the room, so only one goes in at a time, so that’s not my main issue.
i have my rehearsal schedule posted on my board a week ahead of time, so all of my students know what to expect when they get into class. so that’s not my main issue, but you said “your kids want to sing…” that’s actually my main issue because they whine and complain when they are asked to sing, and when they do sing they hide behind the piano sound. when i take the piano away they just stand there silently.
as for what they deem “stupid” it varies from day to day, it’s basically whatever they don’t want to do. i’ve done things that would be considered below their level that they like, and things that are above their level that they hate, and the other way around.
i would love to have the choir listen to other choirs, but we are in the middle of nowhere where i am at. i’ve shown them recordings of professionals and they dismiss it by saying “well we’re not as good as they are,” “they’re not us,” or “they’re older than us,” etc…
it seems that most of the students in the class have signed up for it thinking that they’ll just stand in the back, and get an easy A while the rest of students sing for them and carry them through the school year. so my question is, how do i get them to sing out, sing louder, and sing with support.March 14, 2013 at 4:06 pm #21810
Sorry for the misunderstanding.
Given what you’ve said, I’d start with finding out exactly why they signed up for chorus. If you don’t think they’ll open up in a discussion, then ask them to write a paragraph about why they signed up and what they expected the class to be. Maybe ask them to describe what their ideal chorus class would be like.
I still advocate for letting them see other groups, but I wouldn’t show them professionals. There are lots of middle school video clips on Youtube. Heck, there are even a couple videos of my groups, and your kids wouldn’t have any trouble comparing themselves favorably 🙂
Finally, read Tom Carter’s book. I think you’ll find a lot of ideas there.
LynnApril 2, 2013 at 10:51 am #22409
thank you for the idea, i will try the write a paragraph idea. i do have a follow up question though: i’ve talked with some of them or their parents and their go-to answer is “i (he/she) just love(s) to sing!” so what should i do if that is their only response? that and if it’s because “it’s an easy A”April 29, 2013 at 11:40 am #23285
Sorry I haven’t had a chance to get back here–testing season will do that!
If their answer is “I just love to sing,” then my response would be, “well, then, I’d like to help you be the best singer you can be. What we do in class is all designed to help you be a better singer.” I don’t have an answer for the easy A. There are inevitably some of those kids in every class.
I find your situation so interesting, because I have somewhat of an opposite problem this year. We have a very strong community children’s chorus program and a good children’s theater program in our area. I have a number of students who participate in these, think that they are “stars,” and are sure that they know it all–or at least more than I do!April 29, 2013 at 1:54 pm #23286
I had this exact issue with my 7th graders. I have a small group (11!) of mostly girls for their last class of the day…right after PE. They are physically exhausted when they come into my room. The way I overcame it was that I simply sat down with them one day and said, “Look, you’ve got lots of potential. You have beautiful voices when I can hear you sing. I know you don’t always want to do what I ask you to do, but I promise you that you will come out the other end of this better than you were before. If you trust me and do EVERYTHING I tell you to do (even if it seems “stupid” or silly), you will be a better singer because of it. I know what I’m doing…and when I don’t, I fix it as soon as I figure out that what I’m doing is wrong.” I am a little goofy, and female, but this worked wonders for me. My kids go all out when I ask them to. There are days when I know I won’t get anything out of them, so I don’t demand it because I don’t want to be disappointed, but we have a completely safe environment in which I can tell them if something is REALLY bad. We laugh about it and then we fix it. We rejoice in our mistakes and struggle through together. I think that is the key to middle school girls. You have to make them think that you are in it with them, while at the same time, making sure they know that you are NOT going to be “BFFs” with them.
Another thing that I do is mock (jokingly and lovingly, of course!) when they sing something REALLY awful (nasally, southern diphthongs (we are in the country, y’all)) and then I show them how to change it to make it sound beautiful. Their jaws drop sometimes. Also, try forcing them to sing with their eyes closed. I start this with them all in a spot on the wall, facing the wall. They only see the wall and they mostly hear themselves. Sometimes, the transition from wall to seat can take several months. Be patient with them. Don’t force them to sing too loudly or it will damage their idea of a good tone. I wish you the best of luck with this class!
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