One of the difficulties teachers face when attempting to teach a group of general music students or students in the beginning choir to sing is knowing how to deal with the hesitance the young singers display toward the vocal process. When early adolescents have not had experience singing in a church choir or an elementary school music class, they may think that they are unable to sing or they may exhibit tremendous self-consciousness about the singing voice. They may even refuse to sing at all. It is extremely frustrating for teachers, particularly when they are beginning the art of teaching, when either the students refuse to respond to their directions or the response is so anemic that the process is unfruitful. How does one persuade these fearful students to sing?
Historically there has been a mystique about the singing voice. The Romantics believed that only the highly gifted could sing, that singing was a special ability that only “the chosen” enjoyed. Occasionally, particularly if students come from a family in which no singing occurs, they truly believe that they are “non-singers,” but in most cases this belief relates to their adolescent inhibitions. The best way to combat this self-consciousness is to begin to train their voices. Teaching singers how to use the breath will open the voice dramatically. And teaching them how to place the voice using proper oral and nasal resonance will give the voice carrying power which makes it appear to be much stronger even when the singer is using less vocal energy (see Chapter 11, “Proper Vocal Technique” in Teaching Choral Music, 2nd ed., Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1999, pp. 211-233). Sadly, the non-musical demands required of choral instructors in their daily schedules do not leave much time for intensive vocal instruction. But just a few moments of well-informed, teacher-assisted and student-concentrated vocal instruction at the beginning of the rehearsal will work miracles toward increasing the choral dynamo of early adolescent voices.
Before embarking on the process with mid-level students, however, one may need to break down the barrier of resistance by opening their minds and helping them to see that singing is an ordinary process that all people can enjoy. When students take math class, they do not resist being taught how to deal with certain equations. In English they learn verbs, nouns, and pronouns with little resistance. The process of singing is no more mysterious than these other academic subjects. Singing in general music class or mid-level choir does not, at the beginning, require a highly defined degree of proficiency. The students should be brought to understand that the actual activity of music making is more important than worrying about how beautifully they sing. The more they sing, the more beautiful their singing becomes, particularly once they have been taught the correct way to do it. Teachers should do all they can to help the young singers to realize what a rewarding activity singing can be. Teachers might even want to devise a motivational presentation similar to the one in the article entitled “The Challenge and Rewards of Choral Singing” that will stimulate acceptance of the singing process. Once they realize how good they can be, the teacher is over the hump toward rewarding and exciting singing.