No Musical Background? How To Have Effective and Fun Children's Choir Rehearsal

Conducting a childrens' choir can be a most rewarding experience, and yet it can also be very daunting if you don’t really know what to expect. Some people seem to have a natural thing for children, while others just seem to be at a loss of what to do when in front of a children’s choir.

As a choir accompanist and a conductor, my favorite group of choristers to work with are actually adults who have little music background. However, in recent years I have had the chance to observe and work with children (elementary school age) regularly in a choir setting. Through these sessions, I have learnt wonderful lessons, tricks and tips that help me each time I face these kids, which can sometimes be like a bunch of monkeys!

I hope this hub will give you some ideas that will come in useful should you need to work with a childrens' choir.

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1. Use movement

So often, these kids are bouncing up and down while singing, writing and scribbling on their scores, poking each other.... they just can’t seem to keep still during choir!

I realize that using movement during warm ups really engages them. It makes singing enjoyable and rewarding. If you can sing warm ups that involve clapping, stomping... using their hands to paint musical lines, keep rhythm, emphasize strong beats, place their voices, improve intonation... not only will these children enjoy themselves, they will also be reinforcing the technicalities of music that you need them to master.

Singing songs with actions are also a good method to employ. Funny songs with funny actions can be really fun to sing, making choir something that the kids can look forward to, especially if you have boys who might think that singing is something that only girls do.

2. Tell Stories

Kids love to hear stories, and one way to make choir interesting is to tell stories. I find that I have so many choir stories from my school days that children love to hear. What was choir like when you were in school? What kinds of privileges do they have that you didn't? (eg. an air conditioned room? chairs? music scores that are not handwritten?) What are some of the funny memories that you have of choir?

Children love to hear all these stories. Very often telling them that you have a story to tell them after they master a certain section motivates them to sing really well, in anticipation of your story.

Sometimes, funny things happen to me on a daily basis, and I find that there are lessons that we can learn and apply to a choir setting. eg. use your brain. don’t sing on autopilot...

Asking the children what they think the lesson is can be a hilarious experience, but when they see that you are not just fun-loving, but genuinely care about the music, they will respond and try practice those lessons that you have identified.


3. Be genuine

Kids can sense when you are being artificial, and they will respond. Being over fierce can backfire, especially if they don’t see that you are consistent. A good rule of thumb is to be firm, but kind. This helps them to know what their boundaries are, and it helps them to take you seriously too.

4. Find ways to challenge them and build their self esteem

Being encouraging is key to sustaining their interest and motivation to sing. When a particular singer is doing well, compliment them. Also, encourage all the kids for good effort, even if they may not be star singers. Never show favoritism, and always try to find ways to show appreciation for each individual singer - whether it be their positive attitude, good manners, helpfulness, enthusiasm... there is always something to encourage them about.

Keeping the music challenging and manageable is also a good strategy to keep the kids on their toes. This might take the form of introducing harder music, or simply teaching the music at a faster pace at first. Finding ways to make learning exciting will excite the children, and make learning fresh. If you are good at improvising, this can help them see endless possibilities and draw other connections in the music while they sing.

Challenging them to attain musical excellence is always a great strategy to keep them alert, mindful and motivated to sing with their hearts and brains.

5. Be creative

Finding creative ways to grab their attention can be a great way to enforce discipline in choir. Whether it be through imitating a sound that you make, or clapping a rhythm you clap... it might work much better than yelling and screaming for their attention.

One really interesting idea someone gave me was to challenge them to sing a song as soft as possible. Another trick that I use is to begin the introduction of a song on the piano - this suddenly causes them to stop talking, and they start singing so naturally. However, this method is not always advisable, as choral discipline does involve looking at the conductor before the start of a piece.

6. Be nurturing

The best way to show that you care, is to learn their names. If your choir is huge, learning their names always makes them feel special. Better still, when they know that you know their name, they are less likely to behave in a naughty way.

Another way, besides being encouraging, is to have a compliment ready each time you see their parents. Make sure your compliment is sincere and true! If the child has done something to help another child, always be ready to share this with their parents. Both the parents and the child will recognize that you have a genuine interest in their child, and not just mere music making. When children notice that you take notice in their actions, they will love you more. And remember those days when we worked hard just because we loved a particular teacher? It will definitely work to your advantage if you show genuine care to each of your choristers.

Conducting a children’s choir offers so much opportunity to inspire and make lifelong impact on young lives. It is a great privilege and responsibility that you have.


Do you have other ideas or comments that will come in useful? Please leave a comment!

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Comments 1 comment

Sarah 5 years ago

This works for middle school or high school choristers- have them sing broadway, some glee songs or other popular songs.

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