Tag Archives: singing resources

It’s Time For us to Part! (or… when to start part singing with your primary school choir!)

Part singing comes in many forms and in this blog post I hope I can draw on my many years of experience to give you some useful ideas to encourage this important musical skill.
This type of singing develops the children’s sense of pitch and their listening skills, helping them to identify and follow specific musical lines within an entire body of sound. If any of your children take vocal or instrumental exams this will definitely help them in the aural tasks as well as making them more rounded musicians. It will also improve listening skills and generate growing confidence in their performance.
Like many of you, I begin each school year with virtually a new choir, as Year 6 children go off to their secondary schools and others leave and new ones join. My main objective at the start it to get a cohesive group whose voices blend well when singing in unison (one part). This gets easier as your choir becomes more established as you will have members who return from previous years with good vocal skills already embedded. In the warm up I use lots of singing games that reinforce a good sense of pitch – such as follow my leader; where the children copy what I song and do and I take extracts of songs we are singing and focus on tricky intervals (melody jumps). I usually let the choir give a public performance singing in unison first (generally around Harvest time) and the success of this gives them the confidence to attempt more challenging repertoire as the year progresses.
To introduce part singing I begin with simple, fun rounds which I use in the warm up (try A & C Black ‘Flying A Round’ book and CD or resources on the internet such as https://www.totalchoirresources.com/getting-ideas/ ). I begin with only two parts until these are well established and then move on to three and sometimes four parts depending on the ability of the choir that year. I sometimes develop these into performance pieces if the children particularly enjoy them, by alternating unison and part singing and sometimes adding a simple drone or ostinato (repeated vocal or rhythmic pattern). I also vary how I split the choir into groups for variety. I will split the choir in half with one group on the left and one on the right or I will split according to lines ( I generally have three lines of children arranged according to height in a semi-circle).
With other songs I may add a second part for just the final note by adding a note a 3rd above and this creates a lovely effect that works particularly well for slower songs or a quiet ending.
Another technique is to have one part humming the melody while a second part sings as normal, and although this isn’t strictly two part singing it can work very well in quieter lullaby-type material. In the Welsh song ‘Suo Gân’, for example, it gives the vocal line a delicate, calm sound.
Next I look for opportunities for some sort of echo (imitation) within a song. Think of the song ‘I Have a Dream’ by ABBA where each line is repeated or ‘When I Grow Up’ from the musical Matilda where the voices repeat the words and the rhythm. I try to find other songs where this technique can be used.
Finally the next step is to develop independent vocal parts. This can be done during choir rehearsals, giving time to each part, but I find that better results are achieved if each part is rehearsed separately at different times. If you have a colleague who has some vocal or musical experience who can help you then it may be possible to spend some time apart during your main rehearsal and then meet to combine the parts.
I hope that this has given you a few ideas to develop part singing in your choir. Remember to start simply until your children grow in confidence and become secure in their pitching. A few added notes here and there and possibly a little bit of echo (imitation) will enhance your performance and really make a difference to the vocal and musical skills that you are developing. Please feel free to get in touch if I can help in any way. Happy singing!

Prepare your Primary School Choir for Christmas!

bryn-coch-choir-christmasChristmas in July? Well that’s par for the course in the world of primary teaching! Preparation is everything if you want to fit Christmas into an already hectic curriculum! I usually start to think about Christmas in the summer holiday and my family get a bit disturbed hearing the strains of various Christmas songs wafting through the house when the sun is shining (hopefully!), there are umpteen lawn mowers going and there are no more choc-ices in the freezer!

When I start to put a programme together I like to combine traditional with modern on a roughly 50-50 basis to make sure that the children are stretched musically and that they become more familiar with traditional carols, which many children these days seem not to be aware of. I like to include some unusual songs that perhaps other choirs might not attempt – for instance, ‘When Christmas Comes to Town’ from the film Polar Express and ‘Once Upon a Christmas Song’ by Geraldine McQueen aka Peter Kay which went down a treat one year. My school choir also goes out and about in the community to entertain various groups of people so I tend to make sure there are always one or two ‘sing-a-long’ songs, which go down well.
My experience has taught me to start with a song that grabs the listeners’ attention and this is particularly important when performing outside. I remember starting one performance with ‘Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow’ just as a snow machine whirred into action (something we weren’t aware of at the time!) – it really helped to create the atmosphere! The backing track I used had a very good introduction which also made a difference and brought more people to listen.
If you have a pianist to accompany your choir then you are lucky and it’s great when your choir is performing in a school hall or concert venue. However, using a piano outside school can become more problematic. I have taken keyboards with me in the past but these days I prefer the reliability of a CD player/PA system and backing tracks. Although there is less flexibility in the performance itself, I find that the reduced stress more than makes up for it, and primary children generally rehearse to a set pattern of performance which gives them greater confidence.
So, how do I create my ‘playlist’? Well, I begin by searching the plethora of Christmas songs, both audio tracks and sheet music to determine those songs that are within the most suitable vocal range for the children. This can be very time consuming as there are many styles and often many keys that one song can have. I either write my own songs (all of the Primary Songs Christmas songs are in a suitable vocal range!) or arrange my own versions of the songs I want if I can’t find any in suitable keys. This becomes slightly easier with sound editing programs like ‘Audacity’ (free to download) where the key can be changed up or down a tone or two without losing too much quality. There are karaoke versions of many Christmas songs but I try and make sure that they have a definite ending rather than a fade out, as I don’t like to use these in performances. I also might edit a song if it’s too long and I have even added a key change or removed one if I thought it would be more appropriate for the children!
When I am happy with the song selection I save the playlist in a program like ‘Power2Go’, where I can easily access it and change the order if necessary and then I am ready to go!
Christmas is a great time of year for music and singing in primary schools and it can really bring a school together in a shared experience that no other curriculum subject can achieve. So I hope you enjoy your Christmas preparations if they are part of your school and please feel free to leave a comment or message if you think this has been useful or if I may be able to help you in any way.

5 ways to get more boys singing in your choir!

boys-singing

Motivating boys to sing has always been something of a challenge  for music teachers and you often see more girls than boys in primary school choirs. As a primary teacher running a school choir, I have tried a number of schemes to encourage boys to participate and generally find that the following points help to redress the gender balance. I do audition for the choir as I believe a high standard of singing adds prestige, especially when taking part in community concerts and events. However, you may wish to adopt a less formal approach to your choir and run it more like a singing ‘club’ – this could be a whole blog post in itself!

I have used the following points over the years to help improve the gender balance, but please feel free to comment and add your own.

1 PLAN CHOIR TIME
Perhaps the obvious one is to try and find a time slot for choir rehearsals that doesn’t conflict with other extra-curricular clubs or take away too much play time. Many boys participate in sport (as do many girls) and I have found that unfortunately, with a few exception, most boys will tend to choose sport over choir. It may be worth meeting with colleagues to plan a timetable for extra-curricular clubs that reduces this conflict of interests. Children enjoy a good run around (except when it’s wet!) and I feel it is a shame to deprive them of this when they have been working hard in class, so I try not to use play times for rehearsals unless absolutely necessary.

2 CHOOSE YOUR SONGS CAREFULLY
The material you choose to work on with your choir is extremely important in order to keep up the interest and retain children throughout the year. I look for current, popular songs that fit within the vocal range (roughly B below Middle C to C/D above) and I also write my own as, after twenty-seven years experience, I think I have more of an idea as to the sort of music children enjoy singing! Not surprisingly, some popular songs are actually quite difficult to teach as well as sing, so it is really important that the vocal range is suitable and the rhythm is not too complicated. Boys, in particular, find it a bit embarrassing if they find that the pitch is too high, and they can sometimes be put off by this, so it is worth considering carefully. I am lucky in that I have a colleague who plays the piano for choir but I like to use backing tracks as well, as this can really lift a performance and provide a great instrumental and rhythmic accompaniment. However, some backing tracks are not suited to the appropriate vocal range and can cause some difficulty. There are programs such as Audacity (free to download) which can alter the pitch but usually altering more than a few semitones can result in distorted playback – not good for performances! Songs on the Primary Songs website that I have found boys particularly like are: Gladiators! Rockin’ Romans and When You’re a Kid in World War 2.

3 PUT BOYS TOGETHER
If possible I always try to put boys together when I decide where everyone is going to stand. I usually have three to four rows according to height, putting the tallest of each row in the middle and tapering off to the sides. I try to keep the children together in a block rather than spread them out as this improves both the sound and gives them more confidence. I tend to use height as a rough guide because I like to put boys either in twos or threes within a row rather than have them on their own. This has the advantage of creating new friendships and giving them more of a sense of belonging and greater confidence.

4 RAP AND BEAT BOXING
Many boys consider Rap and Beat boxing to be ‘cool’ and therefore if you can encourage this and utilize it in your choir it really encourages boys to participate. I discovered recently that we had a Year 6 boy who was amazing at beat boxing who was hidden under the radar. Incorporating talent like that into your choir could really improve your recruitment of boys. I have also thought about changing the name of the choir to make it more attractive to boys. I know that ‘rock choirs’ are very popular with adults at the moment so perhaps calling your choir by a more interesting name could be beneficial.

5 MALE SINGING ROLE MODELS
The majority of teachers in primary schools are female and therefore it is so important to provide good male role models for singing. You might have male staff members who enjoy singing or who sing or play in a band so perhaps you could persuade them to perform in an assembly or concert with your choir. Living in Wales we have a strong choral tradition  which includes Male Voice Choirs, and my school choir has joined with trained singers on a number of occasions for charity concerts, giving the children a chance to hear, talk and work with them. I would definitely encourage this if you have a vocal group in your community that you can establish a link with. In addition, it is worth contacting your local secondary school as it might be possible to invite former pupils, or boys who sing and perform, to come to your school. It could be something informal such as letting them come to perform during a choir rehearsal or perhaps helping to generate interest with a session for the whole school. If you have the technology, why not show examples of male singers during assembly time or during class. There are plenty of great videos on YouTube, covering a wide range of musical styles, that could be used for discussion and really inspire boys.

I hope I have given you a few ideas to think about if you are trying to recruit more boys into your choir. Please feel free to share any of your own thoughts and ideas so that we can continue to develop great singing in our schools.