Our jobs are so much bigger than simply teaching music. Middle school students especially are navigating a world that is constantly changing for them. They are changing intellectually, morally, socially, emotionally and physically. Isn’t school hard enough? The profound changes that adolescents go through can sometimes make school even more challenging. Chorus can be a time where they can stop the school routine and do something creative and expressive. But, I also use this time to teach them some very important emotional intelligence skills. This is easily integrated into our rehearsals.
Self regulation is an important aspect of emotional intelligence and this is something 10-15 year olds often lack! A great way to self regulate is by breathing. When there is concentration on the breath, the brain has a chance to recharge and reset. Chorus directors can easily practice this self regulation skill in rehearsal.
One of my choir students recently missed a rehearsal because she had In-School-Suspension for losing her temper with a teacher. When I asked her what happened she said she just got so mad and ended up saying many things that landed her in the principal’s office (you can use your imagination...). I suggested that the next time she felt herself getting angry to use the breathing exercise that we practice during rehearsal. I explained again that the breath will give her brain and body a chance to pause so she can respond in a way that wouldn’t necessarily land her in detention. A few weeks later she told me that the breathing practice in rehearsal was a good reminder for her. She was able to use her breath to calm herself down more often. Many students have shared stories about using this technique when they are nervous before a test, during their sports games, or in a situation with an annoying sibling. Here is one exercise I use:
Box breathing is simple: breathe in for 3 counts, hold for 3, exhale for 3, hold again for 3 and repeat. As you guide the students (slowly), let them know that breathing is important for singing, but also for self regulation and relaxation. I usually make a box shape with my hand and encourage them to keep their arms at their sides. Eventually the students might even feel comfortable closing their eyes. I have found that this simple exercise also improves concentration throughout rehearsal. Give it a try! Let me know how it goes!