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Choir songs for Middle School

This is a five part series designed to help other middle school choir teachers determine why their students are unmotivated to sing in their classrooms.

Please start with blog post #1 in which I state the first reason I believe causes I students not to sing in our classrooms.

Here is the link:

Click the picture below to see a group of 7th grade boys from Mr. D's group in action.

They don't like the music you've chosen.

With middle school children, we cannot be musical snobs.Wow. That sounds harsh…but from all of my years of experience with this age group, I see so many folks with lots of letters behind their names with various high-level college degrees that fail when it comes to teaching this age group. They can’t get out fast enough to head to a college level teaching job.Middle school is definitely not for the faint of heart!
So, what can we do to improve our music choices?
One of the first questions that teachers ask when I share the above reason is, "Does this mean I have to teach Pop music?!"
The answer is unequivocally no...unless teaching that style of music really cranks your tractor!
Middle school students respond to our passion. So, if we are passionate about teaching pop music, then that should be some part of what we teach in our classrooms.
I believe that we must “throw our students a bone” during every term and sing at least one song that truly revs their engines. It certainly should be something you enjoy teaching as well.
Most of us are classically trained, and when I speak to teachers who are struggling as they try to motivate this age group, I notice that many of my peers have a sort of "high brow" approach to teaching music. "That's hokey" they say when we mention a song that uses flashlight choreography or a fog machine or some other gimmick. Well, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that my own middle school children often respond incredibly well to “hokey”, and they love some gimmicks! One of the most successful songs I have for my students is one that I introduce very early in the school year as part of my “hook” to help get them invested in the program at my school. It’s a Halloween song. I share with them that it will be sung in the dark and that we will use fog machines and strobe lights. As they listen to the piece, they get so excited! The energy is palpable.
With this age group, we've got to re-think some of the hard- core classical approaches to which we get so married in our university training. Should we ever teach madrigals? Absolutely…but, once again, it shouldn’t be all we teach…especially not with beginners in this very unique age group.
As we often tell our students when we introduce a foreign language piece, you must remain open! We must practice what we preach! …Especially if we want to attract a variety of students into our programs.
I've spent my 23-year career in public schools in three states. I have learned so much from all of the students who came from a variety of ethnic, economic and cultural backgrounds about what they want in their choral experience. They will sing just about anything you want them to sing if you have the correct balance in your repertoire of “fun” music and more serious music. The balance is crucial to the success of building a choral program in middle school.

When I choose music, I keep three things in mind to help keep the proper balance of keeping them motivated while we teach the all-important components of good choral singing.
1) Choose one "fun" novelty piece per term.
2) I want to teach at least one lyrical piece and at least one upbeat, rhythmic piece.
3) You…the teacher…must absolutely love every song you are teaching. If you don't love it, they will sense it.
Sometimes, I swear they are psychic! If you choose songs you don’t like or songs you think you must choose for some reason outside of yourself, you will be miserable, and so will they!

If you stick to these three principles, not only will they sing for you in class daily, but your program will begin to grow in ways you may not have imagined.
Thanks for reading my blog! Please share with your peers who can use some guidance with this age group.
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