Ice Cream, Chocolate and Voice Placement

When I began teaching middle school, I faced this dilemma: voice placement. How could I listen to each student to assign them a voice part within the ensemble without intimidating my adolescent singers or spending a significant amount of class time?

My solution was simple: I taught the entire class a simple canon (“Viva la Musica,” “O Music,” and “Jubilate Deo” all worked beautifully because the range for each is only M9 or less). Then all the students stood in a circle around our classroom, singing the canon over and over. As they all sang together, I slowly walked in front of each student, smiled, and just listened for a few moments before showing each singer either one or two fingers. I had told the students in advance to make the number with their own fingers at their side so that they could remember the number I assigned them. After I heard every child, I asked everyone to show me the number they had been shown.

For the “One” students, I explained that their voices sounded like ice cream- light, “floaty,” and perhaps a little creamy. I told the “Two” students that their voices to me sounded like chocolate- rich, yummy, and filling. I placed “ice cream voices” on the soprano part, the “chocolate” voices on the alto part, and the changed voices into the respective tenor, baritone, or bass part (depending on the level of divisi we were able to achieve).

Knowing that early adolescent treble voices are versatile and should not be pigeonholed into a specific voice part, I intentionally chose quality repertoire that would not confine voice parts to a singularly low or high tessitura. Students who were in more than one ensemble with me (choir class, extracurricular honors mixed choir, and extracurricular men’s choir or women’s choir) often sang different voice parts in each ensemble. I also refused to call the parts “soprano” or “alto,” but instead referred to them as “Part One” and “Part Two.” This helped to build the confidence of the boys with unchanged voices so that they would feel less self-conscious being labeled as a “soprano,” and it also helped to reduce the dramatic diva-like symptoms of what I called “Heartbroken Soprano Syndrome [HSS].” (HSS occurs when a student who has always sung soprano, for forever and ever in her 12 years of life, is distressed when she is asked to sing a voice part other than the melody. HSS also manifests as “I can’t possibly sing as low as the Part Two students need to sing” even though the lowest note was almost always unison for Part One and Part Two – and perhaps only a B3 at that.) 😉 I’d always reassure the sufferers of HSS that this request to sing Part Two was NOT permanent and that I wanted them to try it out and check in with me every so often to let me know how they were feeling about it.

Ice cream, chocolate and voice placementBefore listening to the students sing together in the circle, I told students that I was so shy in middle school that I might have cried if asked to sing all by myself in front of my class. That’s why they were going to all sing together. (A few parents shared with me that their own  shy child had relayed my story at home, relieved that they were understood.) 🙂

After listening to my students sing, I always raved to them that I was so glad that I’d gotten to hear each of their beautiful voices and I thanked them for being brave!

How do you assign voice parts to your singers?

Rhythm Cards

Rhythm Cards thumbnail

When I began teaching at my current school a few years ago, I discovered that my students struggled with differentiating between subdivided beat patterns. Reading and performing these rhythms with sixteenth note and eighth note combinations were intimidating. While rummaging through my personal office supplies at home one day, I discovered many sets of 5×8 index cards and decided to create these rhythm cards for my students to reinforce these rhythmic patterns.

Ideas for learning and/or assessment activities:

1. Display the cards for full-class or individual sight reading.
They can be displayed on the chalk/whiteboard using magnets (these are similar to the ones I bought years ago at the DollarTree which are not available online), on the ledge of the chalkboard or upright piano, on music stands, on the floor, etc.
Note: These are especially handy if you are extracting challenging rhythms from your repertoire to teach in a warm-up with your students before they see the actual music. Post the rhythms, practice, add ties if needed, etc.  If the cards are laminated, you may write the counts with a dry-erase marker and re-use.

2. Composition: This is one of my students’ favorite collaborative activities! Student groups are given a number of cards (4 for 1 measure in 4/4 time, 6 for 2 measures in 3/4 time, etc.) to arrange in the order they prefer, and they must work together to read and perform it.

Suggestions on how to differentiate this activity:

  • Intentional grouping of students and/or assignment of particular rhythms
  • Come up with a “creative” way to present (my students have done dance routines, cheers, body percussion, mock conversations by adding inflection to rhythm speaking, animal noises, etc.)
  • Assign pitches to each note and be prepared to sing your pattern
    (my students use solfege syllables to aid them with this)
  • Assign words to each note and speak the rhythm as a rap

3. Aural recognition and dictation
Students are given a set of cards and must raise the card that matches the rhythm they hear. Determine if your students can distinguish between four 16th notes in a row and another rhythm with an 8th note and two 16th notes pattern. If you speak the rhythm with your counting system, are they successful in identifying it? What if you simply play the rhythm, requiring them to mentally decode the rhythm in order to match what they hear to the visual/tactile manipulative in front of them?

How would you use these rhythm cards in YOUR classroom?

These rhythm cards are available for FREE in my store here. Rhythm-Cards-thumbnailIn addition to the original 5×8 index card size, the rhythm cards are also available 2/page in the standard 8.5 x 11 size. I recommend printing several copies of the cards on cardstock and laminating them for durability.
Note: If you click the “Follow Me” button on my store, you’ll be notified when new products are posted.

I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback! Please share your thoughts in a comment below.