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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My Favorite Warm-ups for Children's Choir

With limited rehearsal time, finding warm-ups that 1) can be learned quickly, 2) are actually effective in warming up the voice, 3) teach important skills or concepts, 4) are easy enough for very beginning young singers, and 5) aren't boring for the students can be a real challenge! Over the years I've settled on a few favorites that I love for beginning choirs (3rd grade - 5th grade or so) that I wanted to share with you today.

1. The Counting Game

I'm always surprised at how difficult this warm-up is! This one is great for getting brains focused, expanding range and, if you get to the extension warm-up, working on part work.

I'm sure you get the idea. For beginning choirs, I start with just "Part I", working in different keys to expand range, for at least a few months. Eventually we work on Part II, which is of course much harder since they're counting backwards. I extend this with my more experienced groups by having half of the group sing each part simultaneously. Of course you can also do this with solfege instead of numbers!

2. Many Mumbling Mice

I'm not even kidding, I start playing the accompaniment for this and half of my choir (no matter the age) starts squealing! They love this one, and it's a great way to work on phrasing and other expressive elements, as well as diction (for obvious reasons).

Obviously you repeat the pattern going up (or down) a half step each time. Once they get the hang of the words, I have them speed up gradually each time. Once we get to a reasonable speed, I have them work on singing the whole thing legato, particularly connecting "mice" and "are" in the first measure. Depending on the pieces we're working on, this is a great one to have them experiment with different moods, dynamics, and vocal timbres because of the smaller range.

If you're curious, the accompaniment I play on piano is a simple 1-5 bass line on beats 1 and 3, and the root position minor triad on beats 2 and 4. Nothing fancy because I have to be able to play pretty fast once we speed up!

3. Yes / No Game

This is a great way to get brains going while practicing or introducing particular melodic or rhythmic phrases. The conductor sings (or chants, if you want to just focus on rhythm) a short phrase, and the choir echoes it back. BUT the choir has to use the opposite of the words the conductor uses, so if the conductor sings "yes, yes, no, no, yes", then the choir sings back "no, no, yes, yes, no". I always start this by sticking with just one word or the other, but it can get pretty crazy once you start mixing them up (as in the example above)! When the pattern I was aiming for comes up in rehearsal, I'll have them echo it with yes/no again to remind them and then practice the phrase in the music- they'll quickly recognize the connection!

4. Excerpts

This is similar to my last warm-up example, but taking a short excerpt from a piece to introduce or practice a specific element is another great warm-up. Unless the lyrics in that phrase happen to be really interesting (or I'm specifically working on the diction etc), I'll often change the words to something silly, and then repeat it going chromatically up each time. Then when the targeted excerpt comes up in rehearsal, if they are struggling, I'll point out what we did in the warm-up and the light bulbs go off!

That's it for my favorite warm-ups for beginning children's choirs. What are your favorites? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!

If you want to read more about my elementary choir rehearsal procedures, check out this post.

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  1. I use this with 5th through 8th. I use it to see where my "changing" voices are having trouble, and I use it conjunction with reading notes on the staff. We use letter names
    c/cdc/cdedc/cdefedc/etc.and I begin on a different key for each class meeting. Works like a charm and captures several concepts simultaneously.

    1. This also works well on solfege syllables (do/do,re,do...) and has the added benefit of really centering students in a set tonality. You can set them up nicely for sight singing by singing the scale bottom to top and then top to bottom (do/ do, ti, do...). Finish with the scale up and then down and you're ready to rock!

  2. This is so very helpful to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

    1. That's so great to hear- thank you so much for your comment! Made my day!

  3. Hello Elizabeth! how is it best to set up your classroom for chorus? standing , sitting, I assume they should all be facing the front of the class? thank you !

    1. Yes, I have them set up in class the same way they will be performing, so that they're used to hearing themselves the same way. Most of the time that means a few rows with an aisle down the middle to split the group into 2 voice parts, everyone facing me/ the front. I always have chairs so that when they're sitting they can still have good singing posture, and we alternate between sitting and standing.

  4. Do you happen to have a video demonstration for the Yes/No game anywhere? I’m having trouble imagining how it goes exactly. Thank you so much! I’ve been rabbit-holing your entire social media/TpT/blog/website presence for anything I can get my hands on! Starting to teach just 3-5 grade choir next year at my kids’ small private school (they have a young elementary general music teacher and a secondary director who teaches music classes and leads the upper choirs). I have a Vocal Performance bachelors and Sacred Music Masters, and have sung in choirs/led small choral groups for years now, but unfortunately have no formal education training, and so diving into actual music lesson planning (but choir-based and not necessarily general music education) as well as learning general organization and procedures for a year of choral instruction is my new hobby. 👋🏻😁 Any tips would be *massively* appreciated. THANK YOU!

    1. That's so exciting, congratulations! If you start with just 1 word it might be easier to imagine: let's say I sing the pitches mi, re, do on the word "yes", the students echo back the pitches mi, re, do but on the word "no". If I sing "no" on the pitches sol-fa-mi-re-do, they echo back sol-fa-mi-re-do on the word "yes". They echo the pitches of whatever 4-beat phrase you sing but switch the word. I don't have a video but I'll see if I can get one at some point, I know it's always easier to see/ hear it! And please email me, I'd be happy to chat about all things elementary choir, and ESPECIALLY planning/ organization/ procedures!