CALIFORNIA STATE STANDARDS FOR MUSIC

We've all heard about the State Standards for math and science, but did you know that we have standards for music as well?  

 

Choir directors and music teachers use these standards as a guide for what our vocal students should be able to achieve during the years that they spend singing.  All students in secondary school choirs, by the time they leave the program, should be able to:

 

1.3 Sight-read music accurately and expressively.

 

This means that students can look at music on the page and sing it.  Everything you need to know about music -- pitch, rhythm, words, volume -- is all notated on the page.

 

It can take a lot of work to be able to sing all of that stuff correctly without having practiced first.  However, it is an extremely valuable skill, since it means that you can teach yourself any piece of music you want, as long as you have the sheet music for it!

 

The music theory that you study as a singer will help you learn how to take apart a piece of music you have never seen before, in order to teach it to yourself.

1.4 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements and expressive devices (e.g., articulation, dynamic markings) in aural examples in a varied repertoire of music representing diverse genres, styles, and cultures.

Can you listen to a piece of music and hear the different voice parts (or the different instruments)?  Do you notice how loud or soft the performers are singing?  How about the way they pronounce their words, or whether the notes flow together as opposed to being short and separated?  

 

There's so much that goes into music, and we can appreciate it more by understanding what each of these elements adds to the total package that we hear when everything is combined.

2.1 Sing a repertoire of vocal literature representing various genres, styles, and cultures with expression, technical accuracy, tone quality, vowel shape, and articulation written and memorized, by oneself and in ensembles.

When we sing music, of course it's important to get all the words right, and to sing the right pitches and rhythms.  But this is perhaps 30% of musical performance, and the other 70% is what separates a mediocre choir from an excellent choir.  

 

Of course we want the sound to be beautiful, but did you know that everything from the way you breathe to the shape of your mouth affects the way your singing voice sounds?  Now multiply that by the number of people in your choir, and you see how difficult it can be to achieve a unified sound, where everyone is doing exactly the same thing at the same time!  

 

As choral singers, we learn how to listen as well as how to sing, and we practice these skills by singing a number of different pieces of music that require different techniques. 

2.2 Sing music written in parts, with and without accompaniment.

In a choir, we sing with other people.  For most of us, that's a good thing, because singing alone in front of an audience can be a bit scary.  But there's something extra cool about singing in a group that you just can't do as a solo singer: SINGING IN PARTS.  

This is when two different voices (or two different groups of singers) sing two different sets of notes at the same time.  These different notes fit together to create harmony. This means you have to be able to sing your own part while someone next to you may be singing something totally different.  It's not easy, but the results are amazing.

As singers, we often have piano or other instruments playing while we sing.  This is what we call "accompanied" singing, i.e. the piano goes along with the voices.  

But many songs are written for voices only, without any instruments.  The Italian term for this kind of singing is a cappella, and it can be challenging to stay in tune without any instruments helping you out.

3.4 Perform music from various cultures and time periods.

No matter how much you like In-N-Out, you'd probably get bored if you ate only In-N-Out for every meal, every day...and you'd probably get some kind of health problems happening, since you wouldn't be getting vitamins and minerals from other food.

 

The same idea applies to the music that we sing. Many of us probably have a favorite style or genre of music, and most of us have heard music that we don't like. But there is so MUCH amazing music out there that we don't even know about, especially from countries and cultures that are not our own.

 

Why close yourself off to experiencing this awesome music by only sticking to one genre? Singing music in different languages and from different time periods makes us "healthier" musicians, because we're getting styles and techniques from many different sources that help us to become better performers.

 

A well-rounded musician can sing in many different languages (even if you don't always understand all the words) and is able to perform many different styles of music.

4.1 Develop specific criteria for making informed critical evaluations of the quality and effectiveness of performances, compositions, arrangements, and improvisations and apply those criteria in personal participation in music.

Most of us listen to music passively -- it's background for whatever we're doing at the time.  Listening to music actively requires an investment of your brain, as well as the knowledge of what makes a beautiful choral sound stand apart from a ho-hum choral sound.  

 

Part of this comes to us from learning to sing ourselves -- when we learn specific singing techniques for making music as beautiful as possible, we are more aware of them when we hear other singers doing the same things.

4.2 Evaluate a performance, composition, arrangement, or improvisation by comparing each with an exemplary model.

One of the best ways to understand your own performance is to have it recorded, and then listen to it played back.  It's always weird to hear what your voice sounds like outside of your own head!  

 

By comparing your own choir's singing to a professional recording, or to another school group that is singing the same piece, you can often hear areas where you can improve your own performance.  It's also nice to hear when professional choirs are doing the same things that your group is doing :)

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