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Selecting Vocal & Instrumental Literature for Music Students

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

It can be difficult to find vocal and instrumental literature for students that challenges them appropriately. The following lesson focuses on how to assess students in a way that allows you to effectively pick musical literature.

Selecting Vocal & Instrumental Literature

There are several challenges that you face as a teacher when trying to pick literature for your vocal and instrumental students. The first is how to assess your students in a way that gives you some idea of their talent and capabilities. Second, in dealing with large classes, you have to use literature that appeals to as many of your students as possible. Lastly, you need literature that is also going to push the boundaries a little and challenge your students.

Vocal Literature

When you are working with vocalists, you need to start by assessing each one's ability. In upper-level classes, you'll likely have a better idea; however, in classes where you have not worked with the students before, individual assessment becomes necessary.

Assessment of the students should start with a variety of questions:

  • How are their posture and stance?
  • What are their breathing capabilities?
  • How would you describe their vocal tones? Deep? Light? Rich?
  • Do they use vibrato?
  • Are they skilled in reading music and taking cues?
  • Are they shy or not?
  • Do they have small or loud voices?

Each of these questions can help you determine what music is needed. Perhaps students need music that helps them control their loud voices, or maybe they need music that helps them learn how to breathe better. Use the music to teach them how to harness and increase their talent, not just sing. If you have unique voices in your class, then finding music literature that will put them to their best use is key.

Simple things that influence literature choices are whether you have a full range of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. Tenors and basses can be challenging to find, so if you are lacking a full range, then you will need music that may not include those voices.

Other aspects you need to take into account is the size and scope of your class. You don't want to plan according to to the least-skilled singers; instead, find music that will challenge them. When you listen to the class sing scales, do they have the capability for more than a beginner song? If you have a rowdier class that struggles with staying focused, picking a song that is relatable and fun may also get them more involved in the class.

Instrumental Literature

In an instrumental class, you'll find that some students can pick up an instrument and just play by ear, while others will have to practice, practice, practice. Usually, you will have a variety of students in your class, so it takes time to assess how to work with them effectively.

Some questions to ask for your instrumental class are:

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