Motivating Middle School Choir Quitters

“As a middle school teacher, you may experience the joys and complications of working with students facing an array of cognitive, social, and physical challenges and changes. You will help these students most when you focus on their abilities rather than their deficits.”  — Patrick Freer


“What songs hook your middle school kids in?” MENC choral forum

Christine Nowmos, 2006 general music mentor, said “My students tend to get most excited about multicultural music, arrangements of songs from musicals that they’ve seen, African American spirituals, and any kind of round/canon. They will sometimes also go nuts for an arrangement of a classical melody or folksong if it has a catchy melody or rhythm.”

See the discussion thread of this post for a long list of suggested titles from Nowmos and others.


“My main question is how do you keep students invested in what they do at this age?” MENC choral forum

Tom Carter responded, summing it up nicely:  “The popular programs I’ve observed and sung with have had much of the following in common:

  • High level of musicality, skill development, and training — including vocal
  • Efficient and fast-paced rehearsals
  • Safe and supportive environment, emphasizing high expectations or mutual respect
  • Fun and friendly atmosphere in rehearsals and concerts
  • More than the typical two or three performances per year
  • Some sort of festival, tour, or competition every year
  • Repertoire which challenges, rewards, and delights both singers and audience
  • A rehearsal and performance philosophy centered on engagement with the text
  • Performing all but the major works FROM MEMORY (this makes SUCH a difference to both singer and audience)
  • Full body engagement of the singers, including their faces — all stemming from dynamic mental/emotional connection to text and musical expression of that text
  • Some sort of traditional concert rep — as in doing Twas the Night Before Christmas every winter
  • Having the advanced group put on a show every year, combining traditional choral, show choir elements (choralography), and solos/duets/trios… Providing dinner at this event makes it even more rewarding and special.

In short, if the kids are doing rewarding music, singing it well, AND are engaged with it holistically (so that the audience will be drawn in and captivated) … and if they have enough opportunities to experience the intrinsic rewards of the above, choir will be perceived as high status and ‘cool’.”

And Lois Guderian, April 2009 Choral mentor, added:

“Do you ever have your students work in small groups for a portion of the rehearsal or in sectional rehearsals with a section leader? Sometimes, giving students opportunities for leadership, responsibility, and even creative work builds the feeling of personal investment and working together.” See the rest of her suggestions.

“Successful teachers choose repertoire, design rehearsals, and plan performances to continually meet the changing needs of their young adolescent singers, many of whom had positive choral experiences at the elementary level and look forward to continuing them while in our care.” — Patrick Freer

The National Middle School Association has developed broad sets of research-based guidelines to assist teachers in developing instructional methods to meet the needs of young adolescents.

Contributors include Lois Guderian, Ph.D, Music Education Coordinator, University of Wisconsin-Superior, Tom Carter, Christine Nowmos, MENC members who asked questions on the forum, and Patrick Freer, Ph.D, associate professor of music education at Georgia State University.

— Sue Rarus, March 11 , 2009, © National Association for Music Education