Give them Chills?

We all know that the kids "in the middle" are special for sure.  The challenges of managing them and motivating them are immense to say the least.  As I often say about the early days of my career as a middle school teacher...I either had to figure it out or stop teaching.  

Thankfully, I figured some things out that have worked well for me, so here I am...23 three years later teaching middle school choral music and music theater.  They can't seem to chase me off.

The frustrations that can accompany teaching this unique age group in the large groups that we, as music educators, often encounter in our jobs can cause us to make decisions that ultimately hurt our programs and discourage the children.  I don't think people do it on purpose, but it's simple....this age group can be difficult, and we are simply trying to solve the problems.

So, I was browsing through a Facebook page for middle school choral directors, I was alarmed by one of the posts.  The post went something like this:  

"My middle school choral class refuses to sing.  So, as punishment, I stand them up, one by one, and make them sing their part in front of the class, and I give them a grade.  What do you think about this practice?"

Wow. least he was searching for guidance.  In his gut, he already knows the answer.

There are so very many things wrong with this approach.   
In my experience, most of the children in this age group absolutely do NOT want to sing alone in front of others...especially while receiving a grade.  The thought of it terrorizes them.  There are certainly exceptions to that rule.  We all have our future Kathleen Battle's, Mariah Carey's and Kristin Chenoweth's in our classroom, for sure.  :)
 ...But for most of them, the thought of this is just awful. 

If we want to increase the numbers of students in our programs, we absolutely must avoid this kind of approach.  It will run children away from your program almost as fast as releasing a cage of snakes into the room during rehearsal.   It just doesn't make sense.  

Singing is so personal. 

Who wants to sing when they feel terrorized or afraid?

We must find ways to motivate our children daily.  We must laugh with them daily.  We must be silly.  We must make sure they understand how to interpret the dots off of the page so they can enjoy the process of singing. When we haven't helped them understand the "code" that is music, more often than not, they stop singing out of frustration...not out of lack of desire to learn it.  We must be clear in our instructions to them about what it is that we want, and we must have strategies in place to help them attain it.  We must engage them with our passion.  If you are singing songs with them that you hate, they will know.  

Tell them a story about the song you've picked.  Help them find the meaning....a meaning that THEY can relate to in THEIR lives.  

I'm not suggesting that you have to sing pop music with them.  That isn't it at all.  If you love baroque music more than life itself, then sing it with them.  You can absolutely have success singing Baroque with any middle school child in any socioeconomic background IF it stems from your deep passion for it.   I couldn't do it because it isn't my thing.   Whatever your true musical passion is, do it.  Share your passion...but find a way to relate it to their lives.   Bring it to life as only you can with your passion about that musical style, and they will crazy!

Nothing motivates our singers to sing better than when we find a way to connect to their spirits. Often, technical issues are corrected almost immediately.  They breathe differently.  Their eyes light up.  The tone has more energy.  The diction is clearer.  Their posture is better.

Of course, we have to cover technique, but we must also cover the interpretation of the piece with them starting with taking the flame from our own spiritual passions about the style of music we've chosen to teach and lighting theirs.

...and it's also pretty awesome to watch them get excited when that flame lights.  When they get an emotional reaction....when their singing first causes them to get the chill bumps, they are totally hooked.  

I think this approach will work a lot better than threats and humiliation, and you'll likely feel rejuvenated at the end of the day rather than spent.  Believe me...I know. I've tried it all!

Middle School children want us desperately to take them to the highest heights.  Most have never experienced it, but when they get a taste of it, they want to experience it again and again, and that is going to keep them singing.  

Social Media Sharing...

Please continue sharing your stories about your work with S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program.  It is as much a philosophical approach as a method, and the ideas I've shared above are in line with those approaches.   Send your pictures and videos of working with your children and your classrooms as well!  I am thrilled that so many teachers seem to be getting benefit from the ideas I've presented.  It makes the work absolutely worth while.  Thank you so much for your purchases.  Please use social media to spread the word to your peers and district supervisors.  Use Facebook pages and groups, twitter chats, Pinterest, district FB pages, email...whatever works.  Send me a note when you do it with the links you shared, and it's likely that I'll send a lesson to you for free!  Make sure to share something personal about why the system is working for you or why it is different than other things you've tried. Tell a bit of your personal story (I'm a band teacher who needed guidance for my chorus job this year, for example), and then share some of the links below. Send the links to, and I will respond to you soon!

Here are some possible links to share on social media:

Click the picture below.  The picture will take them to my store to the Complete Bundle.  I've set the product descriptions up so they go on to tour from lesson to lesson in the description.  When they finish the "tour", they have a clear idea what this is all about!

Also try these links: