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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Elementary Choir Rehearsal Procedures

Running a choir rehearsal with elementary aged students can be challenging. You want it to be fun, but with a bunch of kids in one room who have come for the express purpose of using their voices, rehearsal can quickly get out of control without good procedures in place! Today I want to share how I run a typical choir rehearsal- these are the same procedures I've used with choirs of 20 to choirs of over 90 singers, from 2nd graders up to 8th graders. And they work!

Assigned seating

Assigned seating is a must. Students will get used to the sound of the voices around them, and it will hinder their learning if their seat, or the people in the seats around them, changes each time.

When I make my seating charts I'm looking at balancing a number of factors:
1. Height
2. How confidently they sing independently
3. Behavior

One of the best things you can do for your choir's success is to put the strongest singers in the middle, next to the other voice parts. Space out the rest of the strong singers through the group to help the others along. I prioritize this even over height- I'm lucky to have risers for the concerts so I know that, even if they can't quite see over the person in front of them in my room, they'll be fine on the stage.

Behavior expectations

The number one difference between my choir rehearsals and my general music classes is that my students are not allowed to use their speaking voices. Ever. I explain this to them on the first day of choir every semester- I will not call on anyone, even if they raise their hands, so they'd better get used to saving their thoughts and questions for another time! I explain to them that we're here to sing, so I want to maximize singing time as much as possible. I also tell them that I try to use my own speaking voice as little as possible- I'll sing the first word to tell them where I want them to start when we're practicing, give silent cues, etc rather than giving spoken directions as much as I can.

This also means no bathroom, no tissues, no interruptions. If a student is really sick and knows they'll need tissues, water bottle, or something like that, I make sure they get them beforehand and keep them with them at their seat- I don't want anything to take their focus away from what we're doing.

Of course there are some exceptions. Before a performance, I'll have time for them to ask questions (such as the inevitable, "does this count as a white top?" ones), and if a student is clearly in an emergency situation, I'll let them go to the bathroom. But I establish very clear and strict expectations from the beginning- anyone who even says "hi" when they come in is asked to go back out and come in silently!

Beginning rehearsal

I start rehearsal with silent stretching. When students come in, they know to go directly to their seat and stand in front of their chair. I am already at the front doing stretches, and the students silently mirror me until everyone is in place. I always end by "stretching our faces"- first I tell them to scrunch up their face, then open their face wide. It's hilarious but it also wakes everyone up!


Once we've stretched, I go over to the piano to lead a few vocal warm-ups. I make sure to use a different accompaniment for each one so that, once I teach them the warm-up, I don't have to say anything for them to know what to sing. I play the introduction and they start singing on their own.

I wrote a separate blog post about my favorite warm-ups, which I've been using for years and LOVE! You can read all about those in this post.


I'll write more specifically about how I plan out my choir rehearsals to make sure we're ready for our concerts, but I always make sure to change up the order in which we sing each of the songs, and I try to work a little bit in lots of songs rather than spend a lot of time on one. Keeping things moving, and having a targeted plan to sequentially learn each piece, is critical to a successful rehearsal!

Ending procedures

I always try to make sure we end by singing something really well. If we're in the trenches with all of our concert music and I can't get them to a place where they can sing anything well yet, I'll pull out a simple canon and have everyone sing through that- something to make sure everyone leaves rehearsal thinking about how FUN it is, and how GOOD it feels, to sing together!

Then we line up in the exact same way that we will on stage: I have them all turn to face the direction of the door by silently pointing, then the person on the end leads the front row, then each row follows behind. 

That's it! Nothing fancy, but I honestly LOVE teaching choir. It feels so good to sing and hear so many enthusiastic and wonderful little voices sing together! There's nothing quite like it.

How do you run your elementary choir rehearsals? Any tricks of the trade you can share with all of us? I'd love to hear your favorite tips and strategies in the comments below! 

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  1. Thank you for this post!! This is just what I was looking for! I have a couple questions!!

    1. How many students do you have in your choirs?
    2. How long are your rehearsals?

    3. How do you show/make the seating chart?
    4. Do you audition your choirs or are students allowed to just sign up and come?
    5. How often do you have concerts?
    6. Do you ever break into small ensembles?

    I come from a secondary band world and while I've been in many choirs over the years, I'm new to the upper elementary after school choir party! I would love to see some posts on organization and communication with parents, folders/music copies vs. teaching by rote or with a copy projected on the board, scheduling concerts and rehearsals, morning vs. afternoon practices, and more! Thank you!!

    1. I'm so glad you found my post helpful :) I'll answer your questions below, and I'll definitely keep your suggestions in mind for future posts!
      1. I have 2 choirs: a 3/4 grade and a 5/6 grade. It varies from year to year but on average I have between 35-50 in each group. I've had years at my current school with up to 65 in a group, and in previous schools I've had choirs of up to 95.
      2. My rehearsals at my current school are 30 minutes during the school day. Very short! In previous schools I've usually had 45 minute rehearsals, whether during the day or after school.
      3. I use one of these templates:
      4. The 5/6 choir is auditioned, and the 3/4 choir is open to anyone who signs up.
      5. I have concerts twice a year (one in December, another in May)
      6. No.

      I hope this information helps, and keep an eye out for future posts on your suggestions :)

  2. Yay this is great thank you!! I have one last question for you: how many songs do you typically put on a concert? We get about 15 rehearsals per semester and 3 songs is my average but I'm always wanting to do more but worried that we won't have time.

  3. Of course what is "ideal" totally depends on so many factors, but I typically do 3 songs- I have done 2 a couple of times and 4 several times. I always start with 3 in mind and adjust as I go as needed. I really believe in quality over quantity- my focus is always on creating the best learning opportunity for the students. Sometimes that means cutting a song or adding a song, and sometimes that means adjusting the songs I have to make them easier or harder. I wrote a couple of blog posts on those topics recently, actually.
    's the one with ways to make a song more challenging, and here
    's the one with ways to simplify a song:

  4. Thank you so much for this! There are some really great ideas that I had not thought of and cannot wait until next year so I can implement them. Especially the no talking voice thing. We have a major talking problem and I think that would help.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment- I'm so glad you found some helpful ideas here! The no talking rule has definitely worked well for me, and it makes it so much easier to enforce :)

  5. Thank you for the information. I've been teaching choirs of all ages for over 25 years, and I have to ask you ... how do you get them not to talk?? What is your classroom management plan? Do you have a 3-strikes thing or something? Thanks for any detail you want to share.

    1. It's a combination of a lot of things. I focus heavily on consistency of expectations and relationship building in all of my classes, so I have that foundation. And I do truly make them go stand off to the side or go back out and try coming in again if they even whisper one word, especially at the beginning of rehearsal. I will give the stink eye or something sometimes for one little thing in the middle of rehearsal but beyond that they sit out. And I do have a 3-strike system the students and families agree to when they sign up stating that if I have to send home 3 "behavior slips" in a semester they can no longer participate for the rest of that term. A big part of it is also just keeping a super fast pacing. There is something for them to do literally from the moment they walk in the door until they leave. I have silent hand signals for standing up, sitting down, and sitting up so I give any directions etc while giving the signal. If there's any noise while they're moving a stop and practice having them stand/sit silently on cue. You can read more about all of my behavior management strategies in general in this post (copy and paste the link):

  6. Do you set up the seating before they come in or do you suggest them grabbing a chair and going to their spot? I have 62 students and I don't think I would have time from my last class to the lunch bell to set up the chairs - or do you make them stand for every rehearsal ( I fear I will lose a lot of them if it is too strict and tiring).

    Do you individually check their range, weaknesses and strengths, ability to harmonise, or stay on a note?

    Ugh, sorry, you have already been so helpful and amazing!

    1. I've been able to advocate for having my class first thing in the morning, or with enough time before, so I can set up chairs. I wonder if you could figure out a system- setting out stacks of chairs at the end of where each row would be, etc- so you could start the process and then either have students pull out their individual chair or, better, have a few "leaders" come a few minutes early to finish setting up? I've done that before and it works well. I just don't like the idea of 62 kids trying to move chairs at the same time!

      I do not do any formal individual checking, but I walk through the crowd while they're singing a lot. Any individual evaluation I do, though, is more for considering potential changes to seating arrangements to improve their performance- I don't grade them on individual singing ability or anything like that.

      What I do do though, with my 5th and 6th grade choir (I also have one for 3rd and 4th), is an audition at the beginning of every semester. I tell them outright my 2 purposes are to a) make sure you're serious and motivated and b) find out your vocal range. I have them sing the beginning of the US national anthem in small groups so I can hear them sing and get a sense of who should be on which part and who my strongest singers are so I can place them strategically.

      And please feel free to ask questions any time, no need to apologize! I hope this is helpful :)