Top 10 Ideas for Children’s Choirs

1. Give Choir Ownership of Rehearsal Schedule

There are several ways to do this.

  • Rehearsal order on white board or flip chart.
  • You can also use foam board and cut a slit in each end to slip in poster board with the name of the song/activity on it. Make a moveable star to “travel” down the order as each item is finished.
  • Have a volunteer erase each song/activity as it is completed. This also helps to let the singers know how much is to covered and if they have a “favorite” song/activity, they can see when it comes up, instead of asking the director.

For an older elementary choir, you might want to produce a rehearsal news sheet that gives the lineup. You can also include a hymn story or activity that will be covered in rehearsal.

2. Beginning and Ending

Have a consistent way to begin and end rehearsal. Perhaps the same song; your goodbye song could even be a benediction response they might sing in worship. Children thrive on repetition – the director will become tired of a song long before the young singers will.

3. Think It Through

When we work with a children’s choir, we are working with both content and context. The content is the text we sing, the melodies, rhythm, and harmonies of each song. The context is HOW we go about getting this accomplished. Harry Wong is a much-acclaimed educator who with his wife has written The Very First Day of School. Intended for the classroom teacher, choir directors can learn much from this book. Dr. Wong urges all to be intentional about HOW your class/choir time begins. From how the children walk through the door and are greeted, how and where they sit, how they get their music to hold, behavior during rehearsal/class. . . the list goes on. Much of the frustration choir directors feel is a result of poor planning of procedures and a rehearsal that is either not well prepared or the needed materials are not in place before class begins.

4. Use Hand Signals

Decide upon a hand signal for “quiet” – and then practice it with the singers. One of the wisest set of hand signals is the one I use to get the children is my desired position for what they are about to do.

  • “1” – a relaxed sitting position. Useful when you are talking and giving directions.
  • “2” – children sit on front edge of choir, sit tall, feet flat on floor, hands on knees, eyes on the director.
  • “3” – standing together as a group – no talking. Standing tall, hands by side, eyes on director = ready to sing.
    Once the positions are explained to the singers, practice them – make it a game. Do remember to practice the hand signals at subsequent rehearsals. Also, it is so wonderful to have your singers in “2” position and then as one unit, stand and go to “3.”

Another important signal is used to get them quiet. When I (or their director) raises my hand, then they are also to raise their hand, stop moving and/or talking, and raise their hand as well. Again practice this many times, not only when they first learn it, but at almost every rehearsal. (Resist the temptation if they are slow to respond, to say “quiet.” Just keep your hand up and be still. It is amazing to see the other singers assist those still talking – it may seem like a long period of silence before they all respond correctly, BUT to use your voice will mean you may never be successful in teaching them this signal.)

5. Yes, Warm-ups Are Important
From your consistent first song/activity, always include some vocal warmups. Yes, they have been talking (and maybe screaming) all day, but we still need to have them sing/breath correctly. The 3 or 4 minutes devoted to this will pay great dividends down the road. Resist the temptation to teach “song, song, song.” Teach techniques that will serve them well many years into the future. You might also be able to devise a warm-up out of a pattern in one of their songs.

6. Consider the Flow/Order of Rehearsal

Once you have begun rehearsal with your usual beginning and sung some vocalises, then the decision has to be made what to do next. Studies have shown that the optimal time for learning new material is one third of the way into the rehearsal. So – you might want to sing a familiar song as the first song in rehearsal, or perhaps polish an upcoming anthem for worship (but not one that needs a great deal of work). Then pull out the new material. Studies have shown that the optimal place for learning new material is one third of the way into the rehearsal. After the new song, perhaps have a physical activity or movement (even with older elementary or mid high singers.) This is a good time to follow with a song that has movements or to teach movements to a song they already know.

7. If You Need An Energy Boost to Rehearsal

Ahead of time decide what your rehearsal will include – what songs, activities, games, devotion, etc. Depending on the number of items, write one number on a small piece of paper and then fold the paper up. You, as teacher, need to make a list of the numbers and by each one write what song, etc. that number is to represent. Allow children to draw a number to decide what to do next in rehearsal. It is fun for them, and you, as teacher, still can determine what work will be done. They will see this as great fun! (Note: you may want to put warm-ups first before the number drawing.)

8. Use Fun Music Theory Games

Utilize small time segments to include fun music theory games. (Piano teachers who teach group lessons are good resources.) It does not take long, but the educational component needs to be part of every rehearsal time. A children’s choir may be the only place some children will learn how to read music; as directors, we all have a responsibility to fulfill our roles as educators.

(Note: please let me know if you need ideas for music games. My collection specializes in inexpensive, easy to do, little setup needed. . . )

9. Use a Variety of Repertoire

We are laying soundtracks in our young singers’ lives. Studies have shown repeatedly that that which we learn to music will remain with us forever. Selection of music for our young singers to learn is of foremost importance. Scripture-based, theologically sound, and age level appropriate songs will feed a child into their youth years and into adulthood. In addition, our faith is a global faith today. Include music from other cultures and even include the use of foreign languages. With our children we can also bridge the “gap” (real or otherwise) that many place between traditional and contemporary music.

10. Keep Learning and Questioning

If you are doing the same things with a children’s choir you were doing 10 to 15 years ago, then it is time to search diligently for new ideas and new material. Even if you are doing everything the same as you did 2 or 3 years ago, it is wise to step back and evaluate your style/instructional material. With the enormous amount of material available both on the internet and in print, we are foolish if we do not search for new material and ideas. And always remember, your colleagues in ministry are a rich resource.

AND A BONUS IDEA: With your parents, your fellow staff members, your clergy, and your singers: COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE. We should plan early, organize well, and be prepared to share information with these persons mentioned in at least 10 to 15 manners of communication channels. They will appreciate and value you for this

Offered by Andrew Sheranian, Organist and Master of Choristers at the Parish of All Saints, Ashmont, MA

(Assembled by Anna Herrington who freely admits many of these ideas are “borrowed” (from the best); other ideas have grown when sparked by a thought or activity from someone else)