Chorales have long been a staple of band educators as a means to build a core ensemble sound. They improve blend, balance, and intonation and can be used to teach a myriad of other individual and ensemble skills. While directors love using chorales daily in rehearsal they can become boring for our young musicians if they are not given new focus and goals. Here are several ideas that I use with my students to get the most out of using chorales in rehearsal.
- Pat & Count– In an effort to learn the chorale rhythmically we always pat and count first. Students pat on their shoulder with the opposite hand in order to engage the brain. This is especially important in chorales where students may not all be playing the same rhythmic line.
- Sizzle Play – Once students are comfortable with the rhythms in the chorale we begin to train the pitches by “sizzle playing”. Students hiss their parts with a “Tzsss” sound while practicing their fingerings or slide position. The emphasis is on the “T” in the sound for articulation, which also indicates rhythm and the energy and air behind the sizzle.
- Subdivide – When students are able to play the chorale through as written we work on note placement accuracy and subdivision. The students turn each note into its equivalent in eighth notes. (i.e. A half note would be played as 4 eighth notes.) This helps them line up different voices of the chorale vertically. This gives them a more tangible feel for the subdivision.
- Bop – After the students are comfortable subdividing the chorale we will work on “bopping”. Students play only the beginning of each pitch without holding out the length. (i.e. A half note would be played as an eighth note followed by 3 eighth note rests.) This is not only a wonderful formative assessment tool to see if students are subdividing accurately, but it is great for helping students discover where the moving parts are.
- Musical Roles – Once they have identified the parts in the chorale where they move pitches and others don’t, I assign them a role in the music.
VIP- Very Important Part – melody, important harmonic changes, moving pitches
IP- Important Part – counter melody, secondary part
P- Part – perhaps whole notes, unmoving part
When we rehearse the chorale more we focus on adjusting the ensemble balance and volume to these new roles.
- “Follow Me” Game – In order for an ensemble to play musically expressive it is important they have a connection with the conductor. Young musicians must be taught to look up and to respond to gestural cues. When the students have a strong handle over the chorale we play the “Follow Me” Game. I over exaggerate my conducting gestures in order for students to be used to looking up and responding. We break this into different aspects of the music by day and eventually when they are very comfortable making that connection with the baton we begin to combine them. The first time you try this, it tends to be quite a disaster. Keep working at it until they figure it out.1. Tempo– Stretch, push, hold, and pull the tempo dramatically while the students have to stay with you.
2. Dynamics– Alter conducting size to indicate the dynamic level for students to interpret.
3. Style/Articulation– Switch conducting gestures between legato, staccato, and accent patterns and have students interpret the style you are asking for while playing the chorale.
- Student-Led Questioning/Teaching– Students are also capable of making the musical decisions. I often like to use our chorale rehearsal to help students find their voice in directing the ensemble. Start by giving them questions to think about and answer as a class. Over time, with experience, they will be able lead the discussion towards their own improvement. Taking ownership over their own musicianship is a powerful tool in their development and continued musical motivation.
Some questions you might ask students to respond to are:
1. What went well?
2. What should improve? How should it improve?
3. What section needs to be louder/softer?
- Audiate – One of the most powerful and effective rehearsal tools can be to have students silently play while you conduct through the chorale. Have students imagine the best band in the world playing it and what it might sound like. Then play through again. The difference can be quite astounding. Most students have a good idea what quality music should sound like, yet often they get in their own way of making it. This exercise can be powerful in showing them what they are actually capable of!
When finding chorales for your ensemble it is important to find ones that truly suit the needs of your musicians. There are countless resources out there for chorales for band. Some simple ones for younger students even have all four parts written for every instrument so you can learn lines in unison first. This can be a great introduction to playing independent lines for your youngest musicians. A great free resource for chorales that are playable by younger musicians can be found on http://aaronmcole.com/chorale.html.
Jenn Bock is the band director at Poston Junior High School in Mesa, Arizona. Her bands consistently receive Superior ratings at area and state band festivals. Her Concert Band has been a featured performance and she has presented several clinics at the Arizona Music Educators Association In-Service Conference.
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