Unison Singing- The Stepping Stone
In order for your students to sing two-part literature well, they must first sing unison literature well. Students should have the concepts of pitch, vowels, and tone before they begin to sing multiple parts. It is important for the foundation to be strong before attempting more difficult pieces. I always start the school year off with a unison piece from which the students can learn. One of my favorites is Pie Jesu by Tom Shelton. Through this piece, the students learn how to shape appropriate vowels, phrases, and sing with head tone. Every rehearsal this piece is used as a tool to help refine the choir’s sound. Eventually, have the students sing the song a capella and see if they can stay in tune. If they can sing independent of the piano, they will be on their way to singing two-part music. In the spring semester, this piece can be used to warm up the choir and be a constant reminder of the good technique they have learned.
Rounds, Partner Songs and Canons… Oh My!
Before starting a two-part choral piece, introduce your students to rounds, partner songs and canons.
Canons and Rounds- First, start out with an easy round most students would know: ex. Row, Row, Row Your Boat. I like to use “The Book of Canons” by John M. Feierabend because it labels rounds by difficulty which is very helpful in the teaching process.
Teach Rounds in Bite Sized Pieces
If students struggle singing in a round, break the round into bite sized pieces. Here are some steps you can take to make rounds or partner songs successful:
1. Sing the song successfully in unison.
2. Students start the round and the teacher sings the round softly after the students. Continue this until the teacher is at full volume.
3. Sing the round and slowly add students to the teacher’s group until the round is balanced. (this helps build confidence!)
4. Split students into two groups. Have them stand up and make circles on opposite sides of the room and sing the round. Move the circles closer once they are successful.
5. Have students stay in their groups but face the other group and sing the round.
6. Have students stay in their groups but sing next to the other group.
7. Have both groups mix up and try to sing the round next to students that are singing the opposite round.
These bite sized pieces are what I like to call levels. When the students sing a level correctly, they “Level Up!” Students then see singing rounds as a challenge and enjoy the process much more. These levels are usually introduced over a few class periods, not all at once. Levels 4-7 can also be used when students are singing two-part music and find it difficult to stay on their part. If you would like additional rounds, here are 10 free rounds to use in your classroom.
During the first class, teach the students both partner songs individually and work on proper technique. Before attempting to put both partner songs together, students should be able to sing the songs individually without the teacher singing along. Once they have mastered each part, use steps 1-7 located above to introduce singing the parts together. Once students become comfortable singing rounds, some of the steps may be skipped altogether. It is only to be used as a guide.
Introducing Two-Part Literature
When picking a two-part choral piece for your beginning choir, pick a song that has parts that move independently of each other. Parallel parts along with the same rhythm can be difficult for children starting out because they sound similar. Find songs that have partner song elements so students can hear the difference of each individual part. One piece that comes to mind is Al Shlosha D’Varim by Naplan. This piece starts with part one in unison, then introduces part two and then combines both parts together at the end of the song. This is a very attainable piece for a beginning choir.
Mapping Out a Piece- When introducing a two-part piece, map out the musical form of the piece. You will want to pick the easiest part of the piece that repeats often so the students can feel successful. Once they conquer that section of the piece, show students other places in the piece the section repeats. Finally go back and introduce the other sections that are more difficult.
Repetoire- If you would like more repertoire suggestions, here are 100+ standard pieces for your treble choir!
Singing two-part music can be a daunting task for a beginning choir. However, with the right scaffolding and the correct technique, singing multiple parts can be an enjoyable journey for you and your students!