5 Things that Happened when I put 4th Graders in 5th Grade Choir

When I first started teaching elementary music, I was SO excited to start my 5th grade choir. I had been in choirs for years and I loved it, and I knew that my students would love it to. No, of course, I had no idea what I was doing, but it was great anyway.

We worked so hard for that first year, learning about breathing and vowel sounds and consonants…. And then fifth grade graduation happened. And they were all gone.

The next year started up, and I realized that I had to start all the way over from scratch.

This time, I changed it. I did not want to start from scratch again. Now, I have done fifth grade choir for two years– with fourth graders in it.

Some interesting things happened when I added fourth graders into my fifth grade choir– a lot of which I did not expect.

What happened when I added 4th graders to 5th grade choir... and it is not all what you would expect. Adding fourth grade to fifth grade choir was a game changer for me and my program, and it can be a game changer for you too! Becca's Music Room

When I added 4th grade to 5th grade choir….

Behavior got better

The very first thing that I noticed is that behavior improved almost instantaneously. I was shocked at the fact that I was no longer spending a huge portion of my time saying, “Be quiet!”

Now, I had other strategies that I implemented that also helped, but even without those the behavior got so. much. better.

I do not know exactly what is going on in their heads, but I have hypothesized a few reasons why this has happened:

  1. Fifth graders feel more responsible. First and foremost, the older students feel more responsible, because there are younger students around them and they want to show them how to behave.
  2. They aren’t as familiar yet. This may seem weird, but just having students from different grades means that kids are not quite as familiar. Of course, most of them know each other (Does anyone else work at a school where the students are all related?!), but they have not been in classes with the other grade levels.
  3. It differentiates the regular school day from choir. Interacting with kids on different grade levels adds an extra layer of differentiation from the regular school day, because kids are with other kids they are not normally seeing on the playground and in the lunchroom.

Students learn more repertoire

I don’t know what it is like at your school, but I am constantly appalled by the lack of knowledge of what most of us would consider “normal” songs. Specifically when it comes to holiday and patriotic music, my students hardly know anything. Yes, this is my job, but I feel like they should know songs from other places too.

I am currently in the process of coming up with a plan to make sure that I am teaching these “normal” songs throughout the years, but it is taking me some time to get everyone up to snuff (Side note: Do you have a particular time of year that you teach patriotic music? I can never figure out when to do that!).

Choir provides a good way to teach all of those “normal songs”– or at least a few of them. Being able to be in choir for two years doubles the amount of repertoire that the students can learn.

What happened when I added 4th graders to 5th grade choir... and it is not all what you would expect. Adding fourth grade to fifth grade choir was a game changer for me and my program, and it can be a game changer for you too! Becca's Music Room

It built the hype

I try to do a lot of extra things with my choir– singing at assemblies and taking them on field trips and having parties. All of these things help them grow (ok, maybe not the parties), but also make them enjoy choir that much more.

Having fourth graders see their friends go on field trips and sing at assemblies makes them WANT to be in choir. So when they get to fifth grade, I have even more students who want to join.

Which leads me into the next point….

I have more kids who WANT to be there

Because students see their friends doing all the cool things, I have more kids that want to be involved. Now, I can only have so many students at a time, so I do have auditions (you can read more about that in this article), but I am able to get not just the best singers, but the students who want to be there the most.

And we all know that that counts much more than who is the best singer.

We can learn harder pieces

Now that I have fifth graders who have already sung with me for a year, we are able to do slightly harder pieces. For example. I do a round in EVERY rehearsal for a warm up. Seriously. I have this book:

And I pick one, teach it one week, use it as a round the next week, and sometimes a three part round the next week week. Why? To build part independence and make it so that one day we will actually be able to sing partner songs.

And that day is this year, I can feel it.

When we first started doing rounds it was STRUGGLE BUS CENTRAL. But now? It’s so stinking easy. I also do them in regular music class, because it is so much fun, and my regular music class kids are getting better too.

But my point is that my fifth grader have now learn at least 15 rounds over the past year, so when we do them, they are SOLID. And the fourth graders? Well, anyone who has been in choir knows that it is easier to sing your part when someone is singing confidently in your ear.

I don’t have to start from scratch

Finally, what prompted this conversion, and also what you probably guessed, I did not have to start from scratch this year. Yes, we still talked about posture and breathing and I had to teach the warm ups, but again, it is so much easier to sing your part when someone else is singing it loudly in your ear.

I already have a base of students who know how to sing and sing well. They know our warm ups and our ways (seriously, I have had hardly any behavior problems this year– although it is only October), and they can be role models and teach it to the younger students. I’ll say that again– they can teach it to the younger students, so I don’t have to.

So that is 5 different things that changed when I added 4th graders to my 5th grade choir. Some are expected, and some are not, but so far there have been very few negatives.

Do you have a 5th grade choir? Fourth and fifth grade? Did anything happen when you combined them? Let me know in the comments!

Happy teaching!

What happened when I added 4th graders to 5th grade choir... and it is not all what you would expect. Adding fourth grade to fifth grade choir was a game changer for me and my program, and it can be a game changer for you too! Becca's Music Room
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Choir, Elementary Music

How to do Auditions for an Elementary Musical

Are you doing an elementary musical? Need to pick your characters? You need to hold auditions.

I know, I know. Nobody wants to audition elementary school kids. They think they are too young, too sensitive, whatever.

But you should.

My choir did a musical this year. It was super simple, all of thirty minutes. But it was fun.

I held auditions—terrified of what would happen—and was so glad that I did.

Why should you hold auditions?

Well there are the easy answers—you don’t want to appear to favor any of your students. Also, you need to know who is interested.

But the other thing is that you may not have an idea of the talent that is in your kids.

One of my main characters was a girl that I did not know had that much talent. She was the very best out of all of the students. And I had no idea.

I felt terrible about it, but I had no idea. She was quieter, so I didn’t hear her much.

But she was so good.

Moral of this story—you should really hold auditions.

Now—how do you hold auditions?

If you are curious, this is the musical we did. It was super fun, 30 minutes, easy to learn, and has lots of parts. I highly recommend it. Click on the picture to learn more.

You can also read more about things to do when directing an elementary musical here.

How to do Auditions for an Elementary Musical. If you are having a musical, you NEED to hold auditions. Find out why and how here! Becca's Music Room.

Talk to them about what to expect in an audition

This is super important. If you are doing an elementary musical, they have probably never had to do auditions. For anything.

Tell them what will happen in the audition. Tell them what you want them to sing. Tell them the things you are looking for (diction, dynamics, etc.). Ask them what they think the lead roles will be. The most honest you are, the better they will do.

Also, I had one kid ask me, “Do you want me to sing it like how we sing in here or like how I sing?”

I assume she meant that she didn’t want to sound as classical. I told her just to sing it like she would do onstage, but that I taught them to sing that way for a reason: it really is easier on your voice, and it is the style that we use in choirs.

Also read: 3-5 Music Lesson: Boomwhackers and Science

Pick a song they know

There are a few ways to do this. If it is the beginning of the year, you could have them pick a song. I know other teachers who hold auditions for choir and tell students to sing a song they learned in class or at church or on the radio.

If you have had your students longer, you can pick a song. I highly suggest this. It is easier to evaluate students when they all sing the same thing, so you have a few things to really look for.

I chose a song that we had just finished singing in concert, so I knew that they knew it well. They knew what I was looking for, because it was all of the things that I had discussed during rehearsals. This way students are less worried about whether or not they know the song, and can focus on doing their bests.

Have them Sing in Front of Other People

I know this is super intimidating– but it helps you see what the students will do in front of an audience.

I did auditions during a choir time. The students sang in front of their peers. This helped me see who would be ok singing in front of the whole school.

I know this sounds bad. We had a loooong talk about audience behavior before. I used a point system for the auditions, and I subtracted points for any bad audience behavior. Anyone who laughed or talked went down a point. This worked very well– I think I only had to subtract one point form one kid. Most of them were so nervous for themselves they were not thinking about the others.

Also read: Music Centers Classroom Management for Bad Classes

Consider the whole child

Your kids have lots of talents that you can use. Even if they don’t get the part they want, you can use them somewhere else.

I had three main characters, and four really great auditions. For the fourth one, I felt terrible. Because she was really good. She did get a smaller part, and then I added more responsibilities to her. She was in charge of the CD player, so through rehearsals, she started and stopped the CD. It wasn’t a huge thing, but it really helped her feel more involved and less disappointed.

I had other students in charge of taking care of props or painting costumes. All of these seem minor, but they help the students feel involved.

The most important thing is that the students feel involved.

After our musical, I had a lot of other teachers say, “How did you get them to care so much?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that, but I guess it is because I had them get involved. I only had one student who didn’t show up to the show– long story– and for my school, that is a BIG deal. As a contrast, only about half showed up to the previous concert. And unfortunately, that is normal for our kids.

How to do Auditions for an Elementary Musical. If you are having a musical, you NEED to hold auditions. Find out why and how here! Becca's Music Room.

Let them know every part is important

Tell them that not everyone will be able to get the parts they want. Tell them that it really stinks when you audition and don’t get the part. Tell them that every part is important– because it is!

They may not believe you, but still. If someone is absent from a rehearsal, use it as a chance to show them that everyone is important. Point out– not in a rude way– how difficult it is without the other person there.

Also read: Calming Down Activities for Music Class

Have Understudies

I know you don’t want to, but do. I came within two minutes of needed to use the understudy for my main character, and in the terrifying moments, I was so glad I had a backup.

Explain to them what an understudy is, and give them another part (a smaller part) as well. Include them on all rehearsals with the main characters so that they will learn what to do.


I like our musical last year so much that I ordered another by the same person for this year. Hope we like it as much! You can check it out by clicking on the photo:

You can also read more about things to do when directing an elementary musical here.

Have you held auditions for an elementary musical? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments!

Happy teaching!

How to do Auditions for an Elementary Musical. If you are having a musical, you NEED to hold auditions. Find out why and how here! Becca's Music Room.

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Elementary Music

Things to DO when Directing an Elementary Musical

At the beginning of my first year of teaching, I got a great idea. We should do an elementary musical.

I needed some microphones, applied for a grant, and forgot about it.

And then I got the grant. And because it was now January and I was significantly more worn out than I was in September, I thought, “Great, now we have to do a musical.”

An elementary musical.

Great idea, Becca.

I am actually really glad that we did it. It ended up being really great—the students were really into it. They did a wonderful job, and it was fun for me too. Some days, rehearsal was the only thing getting me out of bed in the morning.

On the way, I learned a lot, because when I started I knew NOTHING. Like, nothing at all about an elementary musical.

So none of these things are from a textbook or wonderful pedogogy. These are all things that I learned on my own. I hope that they help you!

If you are curious, we did this musical: It’s a Jungle Out There. It was perfect– 30 minutes long, catchy songs, lots of different parts. I would highly recommend it, especially if you are new to directing musicals. I liked it so much I ordered a new one for this year: Once Upon a Lily Pad.

Things to DO when Directing an Elementary Musical. Becca's Music Room.

1. Do Hold Auditions

For some reason, in elementary schools, teachers are hesitant to hold auditions.

Do it.

Why should you hold auditions? It makes it more fair, prevents favoritism, and surprises you.

Y’all. There was so much talent in my choir that I am ashamed to say I was not aware of. Some of the people that did the best were complete shocks to me.

I was truly impressed by how well the auditions went. I was so glad that I made them audition.

I used a song that we had just performed, so they already knew it well enough to be comfortable singing it. I had them do it in front of each other, to make sure that they would be ok in front of people.

But make sure that you talk to the students about how the auditions will go, and how to be proper audience members. I used a point system, and told them that any rude comments, laugh, etc, would take a point off of their audition score.

I have a post coming about auditions, so make sure to subscribe so you do not miss it!


2. Do Plan Rehearsals

This was something I was so relieved about. I went through each rehearsal and wrote down what I wanted us to go through each time. And I was so glad I did, because it helped us stay on track, and ensured that we had enough time to do everything.

It doesn’t have to be crazy (like Monday we will work on measures 1-5 of this song….) but just general. Like: on Monday we will work on the second song and learn the words to the third song.

Just make sure your expectations are realistic.

3. Do be Creative with Rehearsal Times

School schedules can be crazy, so it is helpful to be creative with rehearsal times. During rehearsal season, we did have after school rehearsals. I sometimes kept kids during my lunch (after testing was over, so their teachers would relinquish control!), before school, etc. All of these little times helped add up to students who knew their stuff.

Also read: Phrases for Classroom Management in the Music Room

4. Do Draft Other People

You will be surprised about how much talent there is in school. I could not have done the musical without help.

I only had one person who helped with rehearsals—not many rehearsals, but anything is helpful. What I found most helpful were the people that helped with costumes and sets. People found random things all over the school that were so helpful when it came to costumes and sets.

I also got someone to help run lines during recess, which added some more help to the arsenal.

Ask if you can make an announcement during a staff meeting or send an email asking people for help. You will be surprised. One of our teachers had a degree in Theater—and I had no clue!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I know it is difficult, but do it anyway.

5. Have fun!

Both you and the kids need to remember to have fun. Rehearsal get stressful, kids get tired, but if you are not having fun, it will not be fun. And if they are not having fun, it will show.

To have fun, try switching up the activities part of the way through. Usually about halfway through, I would have them sing and dance however they want to our songs, or have them get into groups to work on their lines. The change of pace helps to keep things fun.

Also read: Tips for Keeping on Top of Lesson Planning

Things to DO when Directing an Elementary Musical. Becca's Music Room.

Have you ever had an elementary musical? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments!

Happy teaching!

Things to DO when Directing an Elementary Musical. Becca's Music Room.

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Five Steps to Dominating Your Choir Music

If you are anything like me (and I assume you are if you are reading this post), then you love choir and choir music.

I love choir. I love choir music. I have been in choirs since I was in seventh grade. I continued all the way through high school and college. Last semester was the first time since I was 12 that I was not in a choir, because I was student teaching. And I seriously missed it.

This year, I started singing with a semi-professional group (that means we are all out of college, most of us with degrees in music, but we don’t get paid) called iCantori. I love being in choir again, but only rehearsing once a week was not cutting it for me. I was struggling to keep up with all of my choir music.

So I started working on it. Practicing just a few days a week for twenty minutes or so.

Side note—really and truly you should always be practicing your choir music between rehearsals, but we all struggle sometimes.

Here are my top tips to practicing choir music by yourself.

5 Steps to Dominating Your Choir Music. Becca's Music Room. Want your choir to be great? It starts with you practicing! Read this to learn how!

Read the rhythms

This is probably the easiest to do, but depending on the piece, sometimes the hardest. Sit down with your metronome and read through your rhythms. If you are having a hard time, there is no shame in writing your counts in. that tells me that you are smart enough to want to get it right.

If a passage is particularly hard, slow it waaaaay down. Then speed up. My piano professor in college used to say that when practicing, you should start with the metronome at a slow speed, then you should move it five clicks up. Then slow it down by two or three clicks. Then speed it up, and slow it down. This way you really get to know it and you do not always do it the same speed.

Also, you need a metronome. I repeat, if you are a music person, you need a metronome. Even if you are a vocalist. Especially if you are a vocalist.


Say the words

Secondly, say all of the words. This is especially important when you are singing in any other language. If you are singing something that is not your language, go through and figure out the pronunciation. This book is really wonderful to help you learn pronunciations for pretty much any language. I somehow did not take diction in college, so I just bought this book instead.

Additionally, you can download a translator app on your phone. Type in the word and click the button to have it say it. Then you can write it down phonetically or with IPA, whatever your preference.

Once you know the words, you need to practice reading them. Even if it is in English. Most songs used really wonderful poems or texts, and the better you understand them, the better you will sing.

If you are not a soprano, then you may also want to look at the soprano line. Sometimes the altos only get every few words, and the text makes no sense. Ditto for tenors, and basses.

After that, read it through with the correct rhythm.

5 Steps to Dominating Your Choir Music. Becca's Music Room. Want your choir to be great? It starts with you practicing! Read this to learn how

Make sure you know the notes

AKA play it on the piano.

Or solfege!

Sometimes in choir, it is difficult to hear your part—especially for those of us who sing alto or tenor, because we are in the middle of everything. I have had experiences when I was dead set that I knew my part and I was sure, and then I actually bothered to play my part.

And it was not my part.

In choir, it is not uncommon for people to double someone else’s part or sing a note that is in the chord but not what is written.

I know from experience that it is better to find this out a few weeks into choir rehearsals than the day before the concert.

If you do not play the piano, then see if you can find someone who does that could help you. You could have your own mini sectional, and your choir director will be incredibly impressed.

If you are good with solfege, that will work too. I sometimes write the solfege into my music in case I forget a tricky interval.

Check out my resources page to see other things I use to help with my practicing.

Listen to it

Some people will advise against this. My choir director in particular shies away from it.

I get their point. They are thinking it is better to have you figure it out on your own. If you do not listen to a high quality recording, then you may inherit someone else’s mistakes. And they do not want your choir to sound exactly like someone else’s.

But seriously, just do it.

Look it up on YouTube. Learn some names that you can trust—anything that is from Eastman or Northwestern is fine. If you can find a Robert Shaw version, that is great. Don’t be afraid to listen, just make sure you are critical the first time. If it is a not so great high school, skip it.

When you listen, have your music our so you can follow along and sing with the music. That is how you will learn the most.

Go. To. Rehearsal.

Finally, go to rehearsal.


You cannot learn your music by not going to rehearsal. Even if you follow every one of these step and you could sing that bass line like a melody, it is not the same.

Choir is a lot different from band. In band, you follow your notes, rhythms, and dynamics. You play these notes and you get a C. In choir, we don’t have any buttons, so you have to remember your notes, or find them from someone else’s part. It can totally throw off a section if someone has been absent 90% of the rehearsals and then shows up for the concert.

It happens. I know, because I used to take attendance.

Those people did not know the music. They did not know what markings we had put into the music. And everyone else was not used to hearing them.

Don’t be that guy.

Eugene Corporon, educator and conductor said, “Rehearsals are not for learning your part, but for learning everybody else’s.”

Quote by Eugene Corporon. 5 Steps to Dominating Your Choir Music. Becca's Music Room. Want your choir to be great? It starts with you practicing! Read this to learn how! Rehearsals are not for learning your part, but for learning everybody else's.

Learn your part on your own, and come to rehearsal to see how it all fits together.

Don’t be afraid to write in your music. This is how you will remember and how you will sound good.

This is also what attracted my husband to me. He was helping me with a piece, and was impressed by how I had written in my counts and other markings—as a vocalist.

What are your top tips for learning choir music? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments!

PS—if you are in the Savannah area, come check our my choir! We are singing December 15 at St. Peter’s Episcopal, and December 16, 2017 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 7:30. Learn more here.

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