Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Music Teacher Tip #15 - #GettingStudentstoSingOut:
I’m often asked how to get middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers to sing out. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
First, you must create a climate of acceptance. If your room isn’t a safe space to be vulnerable, why would anyone dare to sing?
So, how do you do that??? You start by saying it out loud to your students. “This class must be a safe space where you can express yourself, where you can use your voice without fear of judgment or ridicule. So let me say this clearly, if anyone tries to make you feel unsafe, if anyone ridicules someone else, they will receive an immediate consequence including a phone call home and potentially more. No one is allowed to do that in here. If ever you feel unsafe or insecure, I want you to let me know privately, and I’ll do what I can to help keep you safe.”
Then comes the hard part... you have to follow through with that consequence the first time that happens. Be prepared to handle it because to not handle it means your classroom is not a safe space. And if it’s not a safe space, students will not sing, and who could blame them?
Secondly, you must require that students earn their grades by performing state standards and not just by showing up. What would happen if they refused to do math in math class? They would receive a failing grade and a parent would be contacted as soon as a lack of participation was observed. Chorus or any performing art should be no different.
Explain daily what the class objectives are and how students will be assessed. Here’s one you can start with. Let’s say students are required to read a particular rhythm. The objective may be:
“You (students) will be able to accurately perform the rhythm —- in measures 4-8 of (whatever piece) by 1:15 today.”
3= Student accurately performs rhythm using the correct syllables/counts. A steady beat is kept throughout the excerpt. There are no errors. 2= Student accurately performs most of the rhythm using mostly correct syllables and keeping a steady beat throughout. There are 1-3 errors. 1= Student makes 4 or more errors or there is no sense of steady beat while performing the rhythm. 0= Student makes no attempt to perform or student refuses to perform.
For a performance-based skill, I’ve found it easiest to have students perform in small groups - usually around 5 at a time. I’ve also found that I wasn’t able to grade very accurately if more than that performed simultaneously.
In most schools, the teacher is required to contact the parent if the student receives so many failing grades in a row. It may take you a few weeks to establish that students must participate in order to pass, but if you consistently assess them, they WILL catch on and most will begin to participate.
I’m sure you’re wondering what you should do if they participate, but have a bad attitude the whole time.
You’re not grading their attitude; you’re grading them on your state’s standards. Let’s say they get a 0 because they didn’t try. What if they say they don’t care anyway? Chances are that they do care and that statement is a defense mechanism. Tell them that YOU care and you hope they do better tomorrow. Remember to reinforce positive behavior, ignore negative behavior (as long as they’re not keeping others from learning), and stay as unemotional as possible when things go wrong.
I once had a 7th grade boy tell me he hated me and he hated my class after he received a time out (I think I called it “chill out”) for talking too much in my class. I calmly told him that was too bad because I loved him and I loved this class. The very next day he didn’t get in trouble. On his way out the door he said, “This is my favorite class!” 🤦🏼♀️ Middle schoolers are weird and very fickle. The sooner you stop taking things personally, the better your class will be and the happier you’ll be. Remember, you’re the adult.
Lastly, if you’ve done everything above and they’re still barely making sounds, try incorporating the following, but don’t forget to reward their success and assess them frequently.
😯 Sirens are awesome. Have them echo you. This is also a great way to get middle school boys back in their head voices.
🤤 Lip buzz/ lip trill - whatever you call it, it is a great way to get their breath moving. Try it on warmups, but also have them buzz repertoire. It makes a huge difference.
💁🏼♀️ Try using a Hoberman sphere or other visual representations of changing dynamics. As you make the sphere get bigger, students’ voices should get louder. This also connects directly to conducting gestures! 👏👏👏 https://www.walmart.com/ip/Hoberman-Sphere-Rings/10884278…
👂🏼 Have a competition between classes on who can make the loudest collective singing sound. Post results to foster healthy competition between classes. It’s very easy to measure this using the voice-memo app on your phone or iPad. (See photo example in comments.)
🎶 Let your students see videos of kids their age singing in a healthy way with good breath support. (Just be sure to preview the videos first for inappropriate content including ads.)
💗 Most of all, model healthy singing, be encouraging, and never ever give up! They will get there.