Category Archives: Choir

Non-Core Hour Ideas: Music

Okay, so we Missouri homeschoolers all know we need 600 hours of core subjects per year, but how do we fill the 400 non-core hours? Sure, you could just have your child reinforce core skills – we aren’t required that the remaining hours be something other than math, language arts, social studies, and science. But why do that to your children? Give them a much-needed break and allow them to enrich their lives by offering some creative topics for study. Some areas are rich with classes for homeschoolers. In our immediate area, we have gymnastics, archery, art, choirs, and bands. These are just the non-core offerings, and there may be even more that I am not aware of. Whether or not you have access to homeschool classes, almost every area will have a music teacher of some sort.

Putting your children into music lessons is a sure-fire way to fill some of that time. Here’s what I recommend: a 30 minute lesson once a week and 30 minutes of daily practice time. (Including lesson day, and here’s why: the sooner the student gets to the piano after his lesson, the better his retention will be – thus making it easier on him in the long run and improving his progress overall.) That totals an hour of music on lesson days, and 30 minutes on subsequent days.

If you would like to stretch those daily half hour sessions to an hour, I have come up with a few ideas for you. (If an hour or 30 minutes is too long for your child’s attention span, you can easily break the practice and extras down into 15-minute increments.)

Piano Play: Allow your child to sit in front of the piano and just make things up. Show him how to make simple chords (you can YouTube it or ask your music teacher) and improvise a melody. Or just let him experiment and see what kinds of sounds and rhythm he can come up with on his own. Children often enjoy this unstructured play time, and it can be a great stress reliever (especially if you allow them to express their emotions through the volume and tempo).

Flashcards/Theory: If you really want to get your children’s music lessons off to a flying start, flashcards are a great way to reinforce primary concepts. You can help your child make some (look for tutorials online), you can download them for free, or you can find an app that quizzes your music-learner. You could even go all-out and buy a pack. 😉 Spending time with flashcards each week will greatly increase a beginner’s sight-reading capability.

Listening: Choose some classical music (or any other genre they are interested in) and allow your child to soak it up as they eat, play, or do homework (best if there are no lyrics). I would even count contemporary music listening as non-core hours if I were making it a point to analyze it in some way after listening: what makes country music different from pop? What instruments, rhythms, or techniques does this specific genre use that gives the listener a clue to what kind of music he is hearing? If the student is advanced, you could even discuss chord progressions and voicing.

Singing: Find some songs on YouTube or a sing-a-long, and have your children learn the words and melody. This reinforces their memory skills and can be quite enjoyable. Also, you could look for songs that would benefit other subject areas, such as math, science, history, etc. (If you have several kids, they can play musical chairs while learning by rote. I use this technique with my choir kids, and it’s a great way to get them to sing the same words over and over and over again without showing the slightest sign of boredom!)

Make Instruments: Help your kids make a cigar-box guitar or a bean shaker. You can find tutorials online. Percussion instruments can be made from almost anything. Next, model rhythms for your child, and have them mimic you on their very own hand-crafted instrument. (You can play the same game with melodies instead of beats if you feel like singing, lol.) Carvalho Carvalho

These are just a few non-core activities off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more that I am missing. Subscribe to my blog, and be on the lookout for ways to get music-themed CORE hours.


Can you think of any more non-core ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

Voice Lesson Binder

All right, so the other day when I was writing about my Current Projects, I mentioned the voice lesson binder that I had finished up. Well, it isn’t exactly finished yet, as you will see.

The first thing I did was fill up the binder with kid-friendly songs like “Let It Go” and “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Then I supplemented those with songs that had a limited range, just to give the students a way to have immediate success matching pitch. (I have found that almost anyone can match pitch, as long as the music is in their range. Some ranges are very limited, and so it sounds like the person is always singing off-pitch. This usually has nothing to do with a person’s “ear” and everything to do with range.) Thankfully, I have a transposition button on my piano, so I can reuse the same songs for students with very different ranges.

Next, I Googled “how to teach voice lessons” or something similar. I have taught hundreds of voice lessons in the past, but because it has been a few years, I didn’t want to miss anything important. I typed up the things I thought were important, adding a couple things and deleting a couple things, and rearranging the activities to work for short attention spans. Here’s what I ended up with:

Voice Lesson FormatVoice Lesson Format (Word)

Voice Lesson Format (PDF)

If you teach a choir, you could use this format for that as well.

I have been using some of the same warm-ups with my choir for years. I usually have my students begin with a hum, descend for five notes, and then hum back up to the starting pitch. Then we start the exercise again, starting a half-step lower each time.

The ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma denotes a five-note scale ascending and descending. I usually ascend by half-steps with each repetition. Alternatively, you could change this one up and use other syllables, or even a silly phrase: mommy made me mash my M&M’s.

Siren is just what is sounds like. Students imitate a yawn to open the back of the throat. Then they wail up and down a couple of times, reaching very high and ending with a vocal fry as low as they can go. The most important thing to remember with this exercise (and with any vocal exercise) is not to strain the voice at all. I always tell my students, if anything hurts or feels strained, stop immediately.

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha denotes a staccato major chord arpeggio. I always wait until after the siren before using this exercise, as students can usually sing quite high with these. The siren helps warm up the voice for the higher pitches.

On the back of the lesson format page, I designated a place for student names and ranges (with dates – so I can see how they progress). As I gain more students, I will probably make a page for each one so I can list songs they are working on, vocal exercises, etc. So you see, I will never be quite done with this project. 🙂

Last of all, I found a nice cartoon pic of kids singing online and printed it on the top half of a sheet of paper. I borrowed some awesome colored pens from my sister (thanks, sis!) and wrote “VOICE LESSONS” in big block letters underneath, using a different color for each letter. So now the folder looks appealing and is ready to go to work for me and my students!

Choir as a Ministry

Yesterday, as part of my Assisting Silent Seekers program, I wrote about Starting a Homeschool Choir. Katherine Trauger from Home’s Cool! had some great questions, and in this post, I answer them to the best of my knowledge and experience. I truly encourage you to leave comments and/or questions down below!

Q: Our church is looking for a way to reach out to its low income, mixed heritage/language neighborhood. If the children are from moral backgrounds, do you think this could work for that purpose? Not so much for excellence, but for corralling kids to learn a bit of English, Scripture, and of singing.

A: I think it could absolutely work! It might also be fun to teach the English-speaking children some songs in another language as well. This will reinforce that the culture of each child is important, and that it can be fun to learn new languages.

Q: Given a lack of a musician during the week, could the children practice with recorded accompaniment until closer to time for performance, and then add practices with live music near the end? Does a cappella work? Guitar? What is a good pay rate for a low-skilled pianist, in an economically depressed area, for a few sessions and one performance?

A: A recorded accompaniment could work as long as the conductor is able to keep the children with the music. So the conductor would need to know the music very well, rather than sight-reading the score.

Also, you need to be sure that your accompanist is good enough to play the music as fast as the accompaniment, and in exactly the same manner. Give your accompanist a copy of the recording, and have her pay attention to things like dynamics, fermatas, ritardandos, etc.

When your kids are first learning the piece, you may have to teach it to them a cappella. Just work on bits at a time. It just wouldn’t be efficient to go through the entire recording over and over again as they learn.

As far as pay rate goes, remember that a low-skilled pianist will have to practice way more than one that is highly skilled. I once practiced three hours a day for more than a month trying to learn the score from Mozart’s Impresario. Had I been a better pianist, a half-hour per day would probably have done the trick.

It also depends on the amount of music being played, how long rehearsals last, what time of day rehearsals will take place, whether they will be on weekdays or weekends, and the level of difficulty. Ask around to see how much they’d be willing to play for, knowing how many rehearsals, and the dates of the final rehearsals and performance. Then, if I were you, and if I could afford it, I’d give them 10-20% more than they asked for (as long as you think they were being reasonable to begin with). Off the top of my head though, I’d say maybe $100? That’s what I would want, unless I was part of the church group, and then I would do it for free.

Performing a cappella could work; just try to keep your kids in tune as much as possible. (Slow songs are really hard to keep in tune.) Considering that your parents will be happy to see their kids singing and learning about God, whatever accompaniment method you choose should be just fine. Guitar is quite nice.

Q: Do you find that the style of music changes the behavior of the children during practice? For instance, would a peppy piece cause mischief or a slow piece cause boredom?

A: Slow pieces can cause boredom if there isn’t anything going on musically. If I really want to do a slow, plodding piece, I will have the children march around, taking one step per quarter note, and sing at the same time. This helps establish the underlying beat, especially if you are singing a piece with long notes like half notes or whole notes. If the kids can feel the tempo per beat, instead of per measure, they will be able to bring more energy to the piece.

A peppy piece is a pretty good idea as long as the words themselves don’t encourage mischief (Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer). I don’t tend to like this sort of song anyway. Too much giggling. Fun is definitely okay and encouraged; fast is okay too, as long as the children can keep up. You want to pick something that requires concentration, but is still easy enough not to be sloppy. That way, their attention will be on the song the whole time.

Q: What ratio of children to adults do you recommend? Should parents be required to attend/assist?

A: I work with homeschoolers, who are all pretty well behaved, and I have a ratio of about one adult per five children. It works out pretty well for me. And if I need something, one of the adults is almost always willing to help. I wouldn’t require parents to assist, but depending on the attitudes of your kids, you might want the parents to at least be around. Or someone who is responsible for each child. (Perhaps a woman can bring her own kids and her nieces and nephews, and be responsible for them all?) You don’t want to turn choir into a babysitting hour, unless that is just part of the ministry. You probably would get more kids to show up if you didn’t require the parents to be present, so just weigh your options. You can always change your mind later, if need be.

Q: Are auditions meaningful? I mean, is it good to try using children who just cannot sing?

A: Here, it depends on the purpose of the choir. If it is to glorify God, to make parents happy, to provide opportunities for children, or to bring people together, my answer would be a definite “no, don’t audition.” The sweetest sound I ever heard was a girl with Down’s Syndrome singing We Are the Reason at church camp in front of hundreds of people. And remember, everyone loves the cute kid in the back singing twice as loud as everyone else and out of tune. Kids are kids, and they are precious, no matter what their talents. If, however, you were going to take some to contest or something like that, then just take a select few, and have auditions just for that purpose.

Q: What about misbehavior?

A: I have a behavior program in my choir. Well, at least I did the first year. I haven’t used it even once though, so it’s kind of a moot point for me. Anyway, it went something like this: I collected contact information for each child’s parents on the first day of class. (The parents aren’t required to attend, but a couple do anyway.) I have each child’s name written on a sheet in my binder, along with the contact info. If I had to call someone out, I would place a checkmark next to her name. After three checkmarks, I would contact her parents. (I would write down what each mark was for, so you can have a helpful conversation if you need to contact a parent.) I wouldn’t reset the checkmarks until the end of the semester. If you have more trouble than that, maybe you should just require a responsible adult to be present with that particular child. Other than that, just use whatever behavior management methods your church already uses in Sunday School, etc.

Q: Should singing lessons be available, or should they be required, or just part of the total experience, as needed?

A: I would make singing lessons available, as long as you have a suitable voice teacher who could teach them. Other than that, I would teach good health and voice habits as part of the overall experience. When a song would benefit from a particular technique, teach it to the whole class as an exercise before singing the song, and then incorporate it into that specific song. When you have one or two people who are demonstrating poor sounds or habits, address it as though you are teaching a new concept to the entire class. This will keep your not-so-perfect singers from feeling like they are being singled out of the group.

Two final tips: Make things fun for the kids (incorporate sign language, costumes, props, rhythm instruments, etc). Glorify God in everything you (and your kids) do.

Starting a Homeschool Choir

The first step, in my opinion, is to secure a location. Some churches are open to having their facilities used in this way; just check the yellow pages to find which ones. However, if you intend on charging for classes, I would suggest using a venue other than a house of worship. (I think Jesus would agree with me.) You might find that a fine arts studio in your area would be willing to work with you. In fact, they may also have several clients who are already homeschooled, and may like to offer your services as a branch off of their own. If you are able to bring new homeschoolers into the venue, they stand to gain a profit in private lessons, the sales of material, etc. Some colleges will even work with you. Or you could check anywhere you can think of that has a large room available (community centers, church recreation facilities, etc).

The second step is to decide what ages you will cater to, what kind of program you would like to offer, etc. You may want to work with children and sing mainly simple songs and folk songs. Or, you may want to work with junior high or high-schoolers, and perform works written for SATB, or anything in between. On the side, you may want to teach sight-singing, basic theory, Kodaly, etc. Teach what you know, and don’t be afraid to learn new things. Just be sure you know what you’re doing before presenting it to your choir.

The third step is to find a good accompanist and offer her good money. No matter how talented a musician you are, you cannot offer your choir the undivided attention and eye contact that they will need if you are staring at a piano score. Keep your accompanist happy by keeping her up to date and by giving her all music in advance.

The fourth step is to find homeschoolers to fill up your classroom. Place an ad in the paper, join homeschool forums in your area, join email groups, and look around for websites that serve area homeschoolers. Brainstorm businesses and organizations that cater to homeschoolers. Some local colleges offer classes just for homeschoolers. Instead of looking in their main class catalogue, check “continuing education” or other promising areas of their website. Check with studios, hobby shops, 4H clubs, Boy Scouts, and churches. Don’t feel like you are bugging people asking for references; you will soon discover that you are offering a sought-after service to homeschoolers in the area. Many homeschool parents participated in band and choir when they were in school, and they desire these same experiences for their children, but not at the expense of putting them into a public school.

The fifth step is to find a college that hosts competitions for homeschool choirs. Check with the local Christian colleges and universities. Because a good percentage of their enrollments consist of homeschoolers, it is in their best interest to introduce new homeschoolers to their campus. If you cannot find a college, check with the Christian schools. Sometimes they allow homeschoolers to participate in their own music festivals.

Check back, because I intend to give you tips about what kinds of music to select, how to organize your time, how to teach parts, etc. If you have any specific questions, be sure to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Create a Memorization Flipbook

I initially created this flip-book to help my son memorize his lines for our May Musical. I made one for him last year too, but didn’t take pictures. Also, last year, his reading skills weren’t so hot, but after we practiced together several times, he was able to figure the words out well enough to practice on his own. I realized though, as I sat down to type this, that you could also use the flip-book to memorize other things too. For instance, you could write Books of Law on one side, and Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy on the other. Or a scripture reference, or whatever. Just use your imagination! I love these flip-books because my son can practice his lines on his own when I’m busy, and their small enough to drop into my purse and memorize on the go.

You will need twice as many index cards as you have lines to memorize. (I tape them back to back because the markers bleed through, but alternatively, you could use an ink pen and write on both side of one index card. Funny, I just now thought of that. That’s probably what I will do next year.) You will also need writing utensils (two different colors), one or more binder rings, a hole-puncher (the corner of a 3-hole-punch would work too), some tape (if you do it the hard way, like me), and your script.

Punch holes in the corner of each card, on opposite sides of the cards that go together. I wrote my son’s line in orange, and the preceding line in blue. Tape the cards together, back to back.

Now you’re ready to put them on the binder ring!

Thanks to Grace and Space!

Earlier this month, much earlier (17 days ago), I received the Versatile Blogger Award from Sheila over at Grace and Space. I have been following her blog since reading this post way back in September. Her blog is like a breath of fresh air, and I have enjoyed many a relaxing morning reading her posts. Thank you, Sheila, for your nomination and also for your lovely blog!

As one of the recipients, it is my job to tell you seven things about myself that you perhaps do not know. In addition, I am supposed to nominate new reciepients of the award. Well, I will begin with the nominations:

1. Becoming Martha. This wonderful blog just so happens to be hosted by my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law! It is a great place to find DIY stuff for your kids’ rooms and other great projects. You will not believe the quality of this site. Jen gives us great ideas, and awesome tutorials complete with fabulous pictures. And I’m not just giving you my inflated opinion. The numbers speak for themselves. She has hundreds of followers, and has had over 100,000 page views. Considering that her blog will only be six months old tomorrow, I’m sure you can see why I’m so excited to tell you all about her!

2. Until the Day Dawn. Kimbery inspires me so very much, and I find that the more I read from her, the more I agree with her. Her blog covers just about everything the Christian woman needs. She talks about marriage, children, faith, and homeschooling. She also writes some really nice reviews to keep us abreast of some of the greatest new Christian products on the market. On top of that, she has written several fantastic books herself; they are available on her blog. Check her out – you will love her!

Sorry for the short list. I read a lot of blogs, but don’t want to recommend any that I don’t just absolutely adore!

Of course, I am still reading the blogs I nominated back in October. They are still some of my favorites, so check them out if you have the chance!

Now, for the little-known stuff about me:

1. I love, love, love my homeschool choir. If my employer suddenly ran out of money, I’d beg her to allow me to teach for free! This past semester has been one of the best, and I’m really looking forward to working on new music in January! This has been one of the most balanced classes I’ve ever taught, with 6 young men and 6 young women, and everyone pulling their own weight. Of course, I love my littles too, but my heart is really with the high school choir.

2. Someday, I want to travel the world. Slowly. Maybe spend a year in each country that we decide to visit. But I don’t want to take an extended vacation; I want to actually live in the countries that I visit. Work where the common people work, develop hobbies based on the culture of the place, eat their food, listen to their music, etc. I’d like to actually live on the income that I would make in any given place. Thankfully, my husband agrees that it would be fun, so maybe – someday?

3. I think about eternity a lot. I think about it every time I have to dust or get a hangnail or pick up a hairball (because the day will come when I will no longer have to deal with these things). I think about it when someone hurts my feelings or when I hurt someone else’s (because the day will come when we will understand each other, and we won’t be affected by sin). I think of it every time I meet new Christians or wonder whether someone knows Christ (because we will be together forever and get to know one another more).

4. I am my own worst enemy. I have so many things that I would like to accomplish in my life, but I have trouble finding the motivation to get anything done. Thankfully, I don’t have a problem homeschooling or going to the studio to teach, but anything optional becomes very difficult for me. Sometimes, I will spend an entire month being driven, only to burn myself out, spending the next month doing practically nothing with my life.

5. Someday, I’d like to find the time to volunteer for a hospice organization. Maybe once Ian is a more independent learner and can stay home by himself. I’d like to be there for people at the ends of their lives, to give them someone to talk to about their life experiences or anything else that may be on their minds as they approach that final frontier.

6. I’d like to learn another language. Can you see how this is beginning to turn into a list of New Year’s Resolutions? I can see that I’m wracking my brain too close to January 1st.

7. I’m beginning to wonder how long this body is going to hold out. We are trying so hard to get out of debt, but without any insurance, I wonder how we will handle future medical bills? Or should I just forego doctors and meet our Creator sooner rather than later? So my plan for now, while I am still relatively healthy, is to eat as properly as I can and begin to exercise to stay as healthy for as long as possible.

Memorizing a Foreign Language Song

Our studio-wide music festival is just around the corner – only ten more days, to be exact! Because the homeschool choir has been so busy practicing for contest, I have allowed the individual members of the choir to work on their own to prepare for solos and ensembles. Well, they haven’t been entirely on their own. The day I assigned solos, I also handed out my own personal plan for perfecting them on time. It’s the same method I used as a voice major in college. While a college student will need to move at a much faster pace (they will usually be memorizing six to eight songs per semester and performing three or four), this schedule is perfect for a beginning singer; it is especially useful when singing a foreign language song for the first time.

Week 1: Know when to breathe (between phrases, at commas if needed, etc. Never in the middle of a word or idea). Begin looking ahead at words and melody.

Week 2: Have a solid knowledge of the melody when reading from the score.

Week 3: Have a solid knowledge of the interpretation of the song. Be ready to give a short synopsis to the class. (If you can’t find a word-for-word translation online, try using Babel Fish.)

Week 4: Have a solid knowledge of the pronunciation when reading from the score.

Week 5: Be able to sing with accompaniment.

Week 6: Be able to sing the song using the words written on an index card (no peeking at the score). Bring the index card to class with lyrics written on it already. (I started using this little trick after reading Joan Frey Boytim’s book The Private Voice Studio Handbook.)

Week 7: Entire song from memory with accompaniment (no peeking at music or index card).

Week 8: Dynamics memorized and diction perfect.

Now, having a plan is all very well and good, but just how does a beginning singer go about learning the words to a foreign language piece?

The easiest way is to choose books that have CDs with pronunciation help on them. I love the books in The Vocal Library series, published by Hal Leonard. The CDs in this series also include the accompaniments.

What if you already have your music picked out from another source, and you don’t have access to a recorded pronunciation?

Well, you can do one of two things: You can learn the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) just for that song, and this isn’t too difficult, as long as you are willing to dedicate an afternoon or two to research. The information is out there, and readily available, but learning it can be a little time-consuming.

For the serious student of voice, I recommend studying the IPA in-depth, for at least French, German, and Italian (Spanish and Latin are easy enough without knowing IPA). If you decide to learn IPA from scratch, begin with Italian. Not only is it a great starting place, but I have had trouble finding Italian pronunciations on CD.

The other thing you can do is find a good online text-to-speech converter (Google “online TTS”). The free online versions aren’t great sounding, but the diction is usually pretty accurate, so they are a good choice if you are willing to put up with listening to an electronic-sounding voice. Some sites allow you to choose either a male or female voice in many languages. Some let you slow down or speed up the playback, and others even let you download the result as an mp3. It’s faster than learning the IPA, but more annoying and less educational.

Have fun practicing!

Fun Memorization Technique for Children’s Choir

My 8:30 am homeschool choir always starts out a little slow. The kids are still tired; many of them rush to get to class on time, and some of the youngest members fall asleep on the ride to the studio. On top of all those things, it’s been very cold lately. So to start the day out right and energize a group of sleepyheads, we usually do laps around the chairs. Two days ago when I arrived at class, the room was divided up differently, and it just wasn’t practical to line up 15-20 chairs and run laps around them. There were too many things in the way, and I was afraid the children would trip and fall. So my son helped me put several chairs back-to-back in a smaller area of the room. It reminded me of the set-up for musical chairs, and I asked him if he had ever played. He hadn’t. The class arrived, and we ran small circles around the chairs. Later we started to sing one of our new songs that we are studying for a musical in May. I wanted them to march while singing to drive home the beat a little, and it dawned on everyone that the chairs were arranged for musical chairs. We decided to do the obvious thing, and play the game while learning the new song! It was so much fun! There was plenty of repetition since we sang the song over and over, but the children stayed interested and energized. Before the end of the game, most of the children had put their lyrics down and were singing from memory. They were laughing too, of course, but they were still learning!