Music Teacher Tip #65 - Make a Safe Space and Breathe

Music Teacher Tip #65:

Many of you want to know how to get your choristers to sing out. The problem comes from one or both of the following:

* Fear of judgment from others

* Lack of proper breath control

To fix the first, you must create a safe space for singers. Here are the best ways to do this:


1. Explain to your students that the only way to have a successful choir is to have people willing to sing in front of each other and the only way they’ll be willing to sing in front of each other is if they know they won’t be judged or bullied no matter what.


2. Tell them that in this class no one is allowed to make anyone feel bad for any reason. Say, “I won’t allow anyone to hurt you in this room. If they do, they will not receive a warning. I will immediately call their parent.” (Note that if you say this, you must follow through if it happens.)


3. Be sure to show them with your facial expressions and your tone of voice that you are very serious about this.


4. Ask students to tell you some ways they could show support for other singers in the room. Show confidence in their ability to show compassion and caring. If they struggle, give them an example. Say, “What would you do if another singer sang a wrong note? What would you do if someone cracked? What if they seemed shy or couldn’t sing very well at all?” Students will inevitably share wonderful ideas about how to be supportive. Encourage them and if able, write all positive suggestions on the board. Tell students that from now on, “This is who we are.”


5. Tell them you want to give them a chance to practice their new skills. You can then sing for them yourself or show them a video of another choir.


6. After the performance, ask if anyone has a supportive comment to share. For each positive comment, praise the students and let them know how proud you are and how those types of comments will create a safe space for everyone.


7. EVERY TIME you start rehearsal, begin with a reminder about who they are. Remind them that you are so proud of the way they are a choir family and of how they build each other up and help each other grow.


Now, to help with their breath control...

Here are my tried and true ways to help:


1. Model for your students how to fill up with air properly. To help them better feel the exchange of air, model sipping in air through and imaginary straw and then hiss or “shhhhh” the air out. Be sure to model the diaphragm’s proper movement for them.


2. Have students try this and carefully monitor their progress. Give clear and content-specific feedback to help them.


3. Try having them huff 3 breaths echoing you. Dramatically model your diaphragm’s movement. Other exercises that reinforce proper support include:

Sirens in head voice

Lip buzzing/trills on glissandos up and down

Breathing gym exercises

Have students echo consonants of varying dynamic levels in varying rhythms as a warmup

Lip buzz actual repertoire


Be sure to continually reinforce proper use of the diaphragm muscle. Praise all big sounds that are properly supported and in head voice. If students yell, caution them about the dangers of this and reteach.


Most of all, build opportunities to praise each other into the lesson. This trust and camaraderie will do more to help them sing out than all the other techniques combined.


Happy teaching!

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