Resources for teaching chant to children
  • Heath
    Posts: 804
    After a few rewarding discussion with colleagues at the Colloquium, I've decided that I need to bite the bullet and start a children's Schola in my area. I'm going to do some preparation this next year and I hope to form the group in Fall 2009.

    So, I'm open to hearing advice from those who have succeeded in an endeavor similar to this one. A few questions:

    1) Split up boys and girls? (I've heard that their voices are different animals altogether; I had no idea . . . any insight?)

    2) Ages? What's too young for a group setting?

    3) Can I make any significant progress doing just once a week, 1/2 hour rehearsals? We wouldn't sing regularly for Mass, I wouldn't think . . .

    4) Methods to explore? Ward is the most obvious choice but I'd like to supplement it; Kodaly has been recommended . . any others? Any books/resources in particular? "The Emergent Voice" (Westerman) has been recommended by a colleague . . .

    5) Any other issues that I need to discern?

    I've worked with children before, though not extensively, and not with such a narrow focus. Any insights are appreciated.
  • darth_linux
    Posts: 120

    I just finished my third year of teaching elementary music in public school, so I have a little bit of experience that might be helpful, but I'm certainly not a seasoned master of children's voices (i teach secondary orchestra for the majority of my teaching contract).

    I'll try to answer briefly each of your bullets:

    1) boys and girls have the same voice up until the boys reach puberty and their voice breaks - anywhere from 6th grade to as late as 10th or 11th . . . for really high tenors, it almost seems like it never does change. If you've heard the King's College choir or Cambridge Choir et al, you know what I mean. The struggle that I have, and this is probably because I'm a man and most elementary music teachers are women, is that the boys try to imitate my lower voice when they sing. There exists a great debate amongst male elementary music teachers as to whether you should sing to them in falsetto or not. I've taken the side of not singing in falsetto unless I have to, so if my kids are struggling to hit a higher pitch I'll pop into falsetto for a brief time to show them where their note is, and then go back to my normal singing voice (I'm a baritone).

    2) age depends on how you want to teach the music to them. If you expect them to read notated music (standard or square note) then I'd say probably 2nd grade is about as low as I go (7 yrs old). If you are teaching by rote or using solfege/curwen hand sings, then 5 or 6 years old might be ok if they have some natural talent in their voice and can match pitch with you as you show the notes you want them to sing or sing the solfege syllables.

    3)I think 30 minutes a week is too little time. I'd say an hour a week. Use about half of your time to teach breathing, proper posture, good tone production, lots of vocal exercises for sound production, good vowels, clear consonants, etc., and the other half the actual repetoire. Remember that you want to spend only 5 to 7 minutes on each piece to avoid burning them out, losing their attention. Pacing is critical with kids, and if you spend too much time on one thing you will lose them and your whole rehearsal will be a loss of their time and yours. Pacing also sets the management of behaviors - if they are engaged and moving from task to task with out any down-time, and not getting burnt out or bored, then they won't have time to act out, but if you aren't prepared, or you are spending too much time on something they will start to fidget and do things that you don't want them to do, and then you've become a baby-sitter and not a music teacher.

    4) since you are teaching purely vocal music, I would go with Kodaly. It's emphasis is on the singing voice and teaching music through hand signs or syllabicly, rather than with notated music (although it can be done). Talk to a local elementary music teacher and ask them if they know about a local Kodaly Organization, or just go to and see what you can find. I've heard fellow secondary music teachers talk about the Emergent Voice book, so I'd check it out as well.

    5) I cannot stress enough how important your own personal preparation for each rehearsal is. You must know all the material you plan to teach backwards/forwards/upside down and inside-out if you hope to be able to teach it to someone else. A lot of rote teaching I do to younger grade levels is by call/response or echoing, and I have to model for them what I want them to sound like, so if I were to show up for a class/rehearsal and not know the material myself, I have no chance of teaching it to them.

    Like I said, my experience is limited, but these are the tough lessons I learned in my first three years of teaching music to kids aged 5 to 11. After my two month summer break I'm off to start year 4 - woohoo!

    hope this helps.
  • Heath
    Posts: 804

    Thanks for the comments.

    It seems I have a bad habit of starting new threads with a post that asks too many questions and therefore, gets few responses (seemingly because people think I want an answer about every question from them personally). That is not the case; any response at all is helpful.

    So yes, I'll keep commenting on my own thread to pull it to the top until I feel satisfied with the number of responses to my own post! : )
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 310

    I don't have much experience teaching chant to children. (Although, considering I have even a LITTLE experience teaching chant to children in a Protestant church is pretty amazing!) Let me add to D.L.'s comments (all of which I agree with, by the way.) I agree that there is no need to separate genders. My experience is that they work best together, unless you specifically want a boys chorus or girls chorus for some sort of funding purposes.

    A Christian children's choirs must frst and foremost be about Christian formation. Every rehearsal must be permeated with prayer, Scripture, and great hymns of the faith. I like to make up games to tie all the themes of rehearsal together: memory games, word searches, etc. I think Chorister's Guild is a great resource for fun Christian children's music that is scripturally solid and well-crafted for the child's voice. It's not the most artful music in the world, but it gets the kids excited to sing, learning how to make a proper tone, and pleased with and proud of their results. It's hard to tackle more challenging repertoire if the choir isn't feeling like they're making great music!

    Have you looked into I don't know much about what they do, but it seems to me that they might have some useful insights.

    If you need some ammunition for selling this idea to clergy or parents, I can pass along some research I've compiled from Vatican documents over the past century that specifically address teaching chant to chldren. Of course, I'm not sure I'd advocate an all-chant children's choir -- I suspect a broad repertoire, including both Latin and vernacular, would be more engaging to your singers. If you DO pull it off, though, everyone who reads this forum will expect a full report!
  • Heath
    Posts: 804
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 310
    Sing for Mass occasionally?

    I forgot to put down one of my other observations from the past decade: demand regular and frequent commitment to singing on Sundays!

    When I have done children's choirs that sing monthly, they have always failed or jst barely survived. Now, I demand 22 Sundays a year from my kids -- and, in a town where everyone has ski chalets and beach houses and skips town every weekend -- I've had pretty rearkable attendance.

    If your kids learn a Kyrie, Sanctus, ad Agnus, by golly have them sing them as much as possible! Maybe they can learn to sing psalm tones for the responsorial psalm and gospel acclamation? Maybe have a handful of descants memorized that they could sing frequently throughout the year? (Hint: Sing descants on "alleluia" rather than the hymn text. It keeps the vowels pure, and you can use it for multiple texts with the same hymn tune!)
  • Heath
    Posts: 804

    I was a little too vague it seems with the make-up and function of this group. Initially, I think it will be made up of Catholic children who are being homeschooled (there's a large group here in town), and may extend outwards to include others once I have a year to work the bugs out.

    Saying that, we'll not have a parish affiliation; once I can elicit a decent sound and we know some repertoire, I may bring them in to sing at our weekly (Tuesday) Latin Mass, but I already have a Schola that sings for it, so weekly is probably not realistic. As far as weekend endeavours at other parishes, that's possible, but down the road a bit and a bit tricky since I have my regular church gig that conflicts.

    So again, I see it as more of a "class" with that will result in some occasional "gigs." Surely this is not unprecedented . . . hmm.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    I don't know if the kids would be interested, but there is this:

    Interval School
  • Heath, 6 years ago I took a group of 30 boys and girls, ages 7-13, all of them auditioned to make sure they could at least match pitch, though I was not immediately concerned about vocal quality as I knew I could teach that. I immersed them, one hour a week in Gregorian Chant and Solfege, with the idea that, at least in the first year they would only sing occasionally. In a very short period of time they were able to sing an ordinary and Gregorian hymns, with a small adult schola providing the propers (this is a parish that uses exclusively the EF) on the first Friday of every month, and some of the simple chants of the processions of Candlemass and Palm Sunday. This was a complete experiment, my experience had been with boy choirs in England and they practiced at least three times a week in regular parishes and six times a week at the collegiate chapels of Cambridge and Oxford. I was surprised obviously by the results. In the second year I continued with solfege and Chant with the first group and started another beginning or "probationer" group. By the end of the second year I decided that the goal would be to have my choristers singing the soprano line with the choir (alto, tenor, bass) every Sunday as I had very flaky adult sopranos. As my parish is affiliated with the Royal School of Church Music I used their chorister training program (Voice for Life) which introduced modern notation and continued exercises for training their voices. By the third year I had three separate groups of Choristers-Seniors, Juniors, Probationers, following the English model, but custom fit for America and our particular circumstances at St Stephen's (Sacramento, CA). The senior choristers sing every Sunday with the Choir at the High Mass and on all Ist Class feasts, the probationer and junior rehearsals remain more of a class with only occasional "gigs"

    While I had not planned on starting a choir made of Choir and Choristers it has been incredibly successful. I have over 50, about half of those being "senior" as voices change the Juniors step up and take their places, the RSCM has been wonderful for teaching modern notation, and now some of the older choristers are easily able to join the schola in singing the propers, and I provide the instruction in Chant notation and theory.

    Good luck!
  • Heath
    Posts: 804
    Can anyone suggest a/some recording(s) with young people singing chant? King's College has a wonderful CD with the music of Part/Tavener with treble chant interspersed . . . but what else? I'm not finding much . . .
  • AOZ
    Posts: 369
    OCP has a wonderful offering: Dean Applegate directing his group in Portland

    In a rush. Just copy and paste into browser:
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    HI, Heath. I just read your message and seems like you are planning the same thing what I'm planning this fall. I'll be homeschooling my own 2 boys this year, and I joined the supporting group. I found that they have their Mass once a month on Friday and didn't have any music. So, I'm planning to start a children's choir with focuses on chant. It will be a free music class for them, but I'll be telling them up front that I'll not be teaching any popuar style contemporary music. I will emphasize that we should teach Catholic tradition. Also, popuar music singing style doesn't pormote healthy singing for children, as well as adults. I know this very well from my experiences. Ihave worked with children for many years, including children's choir. I used Ward method at some point, but didn't go far enogh to sing Latin chant. So, I'm starting to do it differently now. I'll use Ward method, but include fun games and warm-ups. I might try some chants from By Flowing Waters for propers and teach Ordinary parts in Latin, one at a time introduce to the Mass. I have two adult schola, we might sing together sometimes.
    Let me know how your children's schola is doing in the fall.
  • Might I suggest this. . .

    Gregorian Chant for Kids Volume I

    David Smith
  • We've just posted a short video about our A Gregorian Chant Coloring Book For Children & Adults for release in January 2011. The video shows pages from both the teacher's and student editions.

    It's posted on

    We are especially pleased to be able to include English chant hymns in this book to help people gain a mastery of chanting before taking on Latin.
  • AngelaR
    Posts: 259
    DL, you make excellent points. I am beginning my third year teaching music to children at a parochial school, and I also have learned from *much* trial and error. My first attempts at teaching chant were a total failure, and so I had to back off for awhile. This year, my kids are learning the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei of Mass VIII this year. I spend 5-7 minutes at the beginning of each class reviewing what was learned last class, and adding a new phrase. Any longer on a chant, and I've lost the kids' interest. I make a full-size poster of the chant, and use my Ward stick (red for "watch and listen" as I sing, and green for "sing"), sometimes singing no more than four notes at a time. Now that they've learned the Agnus Dei and are singing it beautifully at Mass (they had learned it in just five classes), they are a lot more receptive to learning the more difficult melismae of the Sanctus. They are also learning to sing psalms in English according to Mode VII, and are making great progress in this.

    Each grade takes a turn to sing at Mass, so they don't sing more than one out of every five weeks. I wouldn't make the kids sing too many Masses too soon. They might be young, but they share an adult's need to know that when they sing it's quality music that they're delivering. Each success builds them up for more difficult repertoire and greater frequency in singing. Be full of genuine compliments for them, and let them know when they get compliments from others.

    As far as girls and boys are concerned, I've noticed that around fifth grade boys start to develop the cultural ideology that it's not cool for boys to sing. You can counter it, but they are going to become more and more interested in singing like boys, and not like girls at this point. Before that, though, I see no issue with mixing the voices.

    This year I began the Ward Method (I took the classes in D.C. this summer), and it is wonderful. It is also very time consuming. I meet with grades K-5 half an hour twice a week (doing Ward with grades 1-3), and it is hard especially with my first graders to get enough time for repertoire with them, as a lesson takes about 20 minutes. So, Ward is a great investment of time; but I think in the end totally worth it. Justine Ward was a master at keeping the students' attention, and her methods are well worth exploring. I don't think you should plan to practice with them less than an hour a week, and if you can meet with them more than once a week, you will see far greater progress. Children need lots of review time.

    Amen to the need to have a well-planned lesson with short increments and lots of variety. If you decide against Ward, there are tone matching games that you can play with them as groups and individuals (Kodaly has some great ones), and getting them standing up and sitting down lots keeps them busy. Frequently point out students who sing well as models to the rest; this also keeps the rest of them on their toes, as they want to be recognized to the class too. In learning by rote, you can sing sections of a song and ask questions about it -- which note is the highest/lowest, etc.? Tell kids to stand for particular parts that they hear, and only if they have a birthday in June (for example). My kids don't get tired of standing up for different things that I ask for as I repeatedly sing parts to them, and it is a wonderful avenue for what would otherwise be boring repetition. In learning to sight sing, I've found that large posters of the music are extremely helpful. I point to the notes as we sing them, and they learn how to read in the process.

    BTW, I previewed Noel's coloring book and it looks like some great material from the sight reading end of things.

    Noel, I just went to look up your video, and did you know that people are being automatically re-routed from your site to something called Music WebRing? :(
  • Thanks for the kind words, Angela! Caught the referral :(if I wanted to refer people to another site, it would be Musica Sacra!;<) and realized in the process that I didn't have a HOME return in the menu.<br />
    How many on this list got their start in church music singing Gregorian Chant as a child? I did - who else did? Angela's work and others on the list who work with children are creating a new foundation.
  • "who work with children are creating a new foundation."

    Two things today struck me today that relate to the above quote:'

    1. I have a Ward class of homeschooled children. We are working through Ward 1 and also preparing for a High Mass in May to offer prayers for the Missionaries of the Poor. We are learning Mass IX. My 10 year old daughter is going to cantor for the first part of the Kyrie. On our ride home tonight, she asked me how it started again. I told her "It starts Re Fa Sol La..." This made sense to her, and she was able to practice her part.

    2. Today, at the end of Mass, my 3 year old son Benedict was singing the Salve Regina with the congregation.

    Although my efforts are far from perfect, I thank all of the hard work that so many of you have done in this new liturgical movement. I have learned from your example and your generous help. My children and many others now have to chance to pray in the heart of the Church with the treasure of Gregorian chant and Sacred Polyphony.
  • Heath
    Posts: 804

    I'll be re-forming my Children's Schola this semester . . . first rehearsal today! Prayers appreciated!

  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,053
    I would take deep issue with the notion that boys voices are the same as girls. The approach is different and the sound is different.

    Sofege, reading neumes and reading 5 line notation is all within the purview of children.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Heath, I hope the first rehearsal went well.

    I teach homeschooled children Gregorian chant.
    Could I share the joy and blessings of teaching them?

    The following is my recent email to parents.

    "Hi, everyone,

    I just wanted share what we've been doing in our chant class.
    Last few weeks have been especially rewarding for me to see what they've learned in the class.

    Some of the highlights;
    My youngest student who joined the class this year with a special permission for being too young for the class :-), Faith (61/2 years old) on Monday class sang Ave Maria perfectly from memory and most beautifully with everything I taught for the proper singing, good singing posture, deep breathing, creating space inside the mouth and beautiful pure vowels. (It was so beautiful, I had to blink my eyes quickly to stop tears.)

    Anna N. on Thursday class who used to be one of my youngest until last year , memorized Veni Creator and lead the class in singing it.

    Peter, who think singing chant is actually fun and always full of energy, calmly explained the different bows on Jesus name and Holy Trinity, especially when we sing chants.

    The high school students, like Emma (Monday) and Madeline (Thursday) are excellent in explaining the meaning of the chant.

    Gregorian Hymns, such as Adoro te Devote by St. Thomas Aquinas, are truly uplifting. They are of course more than 'safe hymns' to sing because they are accepted by the Church and the tradition. As you might have noticed there are many modern hymns with questionable texts and musical styles to be used in Holy Mass and have not gone through the test of the time. Music can be a powerful tool, and we need to be careful about 'what and how' we sing.

    We started to read notes ("reading notes' in music means be able to sing the notes ) in solfege from the music in the chant book and compare modern notation and chant notation. They are catching up very quickly, and I am very pleased with their progress.

    I won't go though the progress of each student here, but all the children in the class are truly working hard, and I feel very blessed.

    Thank you so much for all your support.

    Mia "