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teachers begin with this music). Voicing the choir to create sections and then moving immediately to advanced choral literature is likely counter-productive because it may require extended drilling (banging out the harmony notes “ have it”

one more time so you really

) that can still result in students losing the parts when sung together. In addition, rehearsal pacing, classroom management, and classroom climate generally deteriorate in rehearsals involving inappropriate music. Thus, literature selected for novice middle/high school choirs, or developmental groups of all ages, actually, plays a huge role in rehearsal success.

The figure below

provides an adaptation of the sequence elementary music teachers use to establish harmony singing across time. There is ample good music available that reflects each step. Teacher judgment must determine how long a choir should stay at each level. Some students will be able to move toward singing step ten in a matter of weeks; these students are likely bright, talented, and have experience using their voices. In contrast, some choirs may not get through all steps for some or all of a school year and that’s also fine as long as they progress.

on a scale from 1 to 10, they perceive themselves as a 10. In reality, learning pitches and rhythms is actually a 10 on the goal of pitch matching and singing accuracy, but it is a ZERO on the goal of expressive singing. To move a choir forward, the teacher may choose to utilize rules and then transfer them to their concert repertoire. Since these rules can be anything valued by the teacher (there is no right or wrong set of rules), a rule allows students to generalize from piece to piece. Further, the rules may need to change with the music (various performance practice rules, certainly) and that’s fine because it underscores the idea that decision-making (determining if something is an appropriate rule in a new setting) is an important part of critical thinking. As students progress, they should need teacher direction in their personal music making less and less. This frees the conductor to rehearse, to accomplish performance goals that reflect his or her vision of this piece——in other words, to be a conductor.

Some examples of rules appropriate for beginning middle/high school singers who have little musical background are detailed below. These serve to clarify the process and should be adapted to meet personal preferences.

Developmental Hierarchy for Independent Singing

1. Sing a melody. For middle school mixed choirs, find phrases that fit each section. Adapt treble music for SATB singers.

2. Add an ostinato (rhythmic, melodic). 3. Sing partner songs. 4. Add a descant.

5. Sing chord roots (Choksy, 1981). 6. Add vocal chording

7. Sing phrases or sections of a round. 8. Sing a round.

9. Sing transition pieces (music containing multiple hierarchy elements). 10. Sing repertoire in two, three, or four-parts.

Expressive Performance (Bowers, 2011) Transferring knowledge from one setting to the next is made easier for students when some general principles are established for their use, i.e. rules to guide decisions about the transfers. Many beginning middle/high school music classes include students with no musical background, so rules must be very simple and related to what is also being taught by the teacher.

Once students have established accurate performance (correct pitch and rhythm), they often feel their work is done—-

ala breve

RULE OF THE STEADY BEAT. When singing any note value longer than the steady beat value, the singer should crescendo. Establishing a general principal saves time and frustration by preventing errors with a rule that is applicable much of the time. The teacher/conductor must address only those instances when a crescendo is not desired or when the rule was implemented incorrectly.

RULE OF CONSONANT RELEASES. This rule can be implemented across rehearsal with all music or can be applied to each song and serves to have singers follow a guideline for most of the final consonants. The rule might structure using the last full beat, or the last half of the beat, or whatever is appropriate for the song and counting ability of the ensemble. Students assume some responsibility for releases by using the rule, which permits the conductor to address only those unique releases not suitable for rule application.

RULE OF DIPHTHONGS. Beginning singers who do not yet monitor or filter the vowel sounds produced in rehearsal should apply this rule. Identifying diphthongs and prescribing a method for performance (sing the first sound throughout most of the value and then quickly add the second sound) serves to educate and prevent most errors. When the teacher/conductor stops to address incorrect singing, this rule serves to foster student analysis of the problem (listen, identify, analyze, evaluate).


contributes greatly to phrase awareness of beginning singers. The rule requires a lift or break for every punctuation throughout the piece. The reverse is also true: do not break if no punctuation exists (this rule is magical at correcting this with beginners). While there is certainly punctuation in prose and poetry that is ignored for musical reasons, this rule makes singers aware that a decision must be made and allows the teacher/conductor to only teach the exceptions to the rule.

RULE OF THE SLUR (and other articulations).

While most students

can explain a slur, a surprising number of singers cannot sing one. This rule requires a tenuto over the first note under the slur, followed by all other notes in the pattern without a tenuto marking.


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