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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

6 Ways to Simplify Music for Young Musicians

You're 4 rehearsals away from the concert and your choir is nowhere near ready to perform. Or you find a really great piece for your ensemble that would fit perfectly with your theme and you know your students would love, but it's too difficult. I often find myself adapting music to my students' ability levels- sometimes making a piece more challenging, and other times simplifying- and it gives me a lot more flexibility in choosing repertoire and preparing for performances! Today I want to share some easy ways to simplify a piece of music for your students.


1. Leave out parallel harmony (or other tricky harmony) parts

This is an easy one, especially if you're still in the stage of selecting repertoire and haven't begun rehearsing yet! You can remove the harmony parts completely and have everyone sing in unison, or you can leave in just a few notes or phrases if you think your students are up for a little bit of a challenge- it often works out well to have students split into parts at the end of a phrase or section.

2. Repeat lyrics instead of learning all the verses

Obviously this one is specifically for singers: if the song has multiple verses, you can have them repeat the same lyrics for consecutive verses to give them fewer words to learn and memorize. This is a go-to for me if I feel like we're getting too close to a performance and the students aren't on track to finish learning a song in time!

3. Simplify rhythms

I don't like to do this very often but sometimes it can make a big difference in what a group can perform if you simplify the rhythms, particularly if there is a lot of syncopation, shifting meters, rests on downbeats, and other difficult rhythms. I rarely do this with a melody, but I have done it a few times with a harmony or ostinato part to make it easier for students to hear how the parts line up with each other and stay together as an ensemble.

4. Turn a section into a solo/ small ensemble feature

Rather than changing the music itself, you can also just reduce the number of students that have to learn that tricky phrase or memorize that 4th verse! This is a great strategy if you have mixed levels in a larger ensemble (don't we all?!?). Bonus: it's a great way to give those high achievers a little extra challenge while still making the music accessible for the group as a whole.

5. Adjust the key signature

I'm surprised at how many times I've found a piece that was perfect for my students in every way except for the range! If I'm lucky, it's simply a matter of lowering or raising the key to put it in a more comfortable range for the students' voices.

6. Narrow the range

If simply changing the key of the entire song isn't enough to make the music appropriate for your students, you can also narrow the overall range of each part. You'll need a pretty good understanding of chord structure/ melodic contour etc to do this, but even with the most recognizable melodies it can work just fine to lower those high notes to the next chord tone (or vice versa)- it's just a planned way of improvising on the original melody! ;)

There are plenty of other ways to simplify music depending on the piece of music and the students' abilities, but those are some of the easiest and most common strategies I use in my teaching. I hope this opens up new possibilities as you explore repertoire for your students, and eases your mind as you plan ahead to make sure students are ready for their performances!

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