A cappella singing made me a better chorus teacher

Greetings acatribe readers. This is an article I’ve wanted to write for a long time but never had the forum. As you will soon discover, my posts to this blog will center on music education and popular music.

When I auditioned for the Potsdam Pointercounts, I wanted to sing pop music and be a part of that great group. They sang at the open house I attended and I thought it would be fun to do that, too. I didn’t know how much I would actually take into my career from the experience.

To put it delicately, I am not a good piano player. In fact, I am what “they” call a “bad piano player”. My a cappella background helps me, though, as I routinely get out from behind the piano when my students are learning songs and I sing with them. They get to hear me model more than a lot of teachers who play all the time and I get to hear them on a closer level as I weave down the rows. (It’s also a classroom management bonus to not be tethered to one spot in the room.)

I’m a middle school chorus teacher and I have a wide range of singing voices I can demonstrate thanks in part to my time as a Tenor I in the Pointercounts. I model in my falsetto for the unchanged and changing male voices as well as my girls. Using different vowels in my upper range is something I did extensively on my accompaniment parts in a cappella and continue to use daily. I sing in my regular voice with my more developed guys but I spend about 80% of my chorus time in my falsetto.

Teaching my chorus students without the piano also has another benefit – the kids actually listen to each other. Instead of listening for constant support from the piano, they listen for my voice and when I drop out they listen to each other sing. I do a lot of rehearsals a cappella and it makes my singers that much more confident on their parts. When we do add the piano later, they are watching my conducting and not relying on the piano part because they learned the song by leaning on each other.

I firmly believe my a cappella training helps my choruses sing with better vowels and with better listening ears. It’s not just about doing popular music or choreography. The educational benefits can be far-reaching.


  1. Joe Owens   •  

    I remember being IN the group and hearing for you, that you attended an open house and made your decision to attend Potsdam as a result of hearing us! It was a real pleasant surprise for us to hear about what an impact we had been making at these events. After all, at the time, the open houses were new for us, and it was the beginning of a relationship that admissions was a little nervous about. Singing does make a difference – singing does change lives. Music changes lives. Luckily the group changed yours so that you can change others. It’s like a musical Ponzi scheme…except that everybody wins from the investments made. Keep up the good work.

  2. mattwarrenmusic   •  

    Musical Ponzi scheme. Classic. I loved Potsdam from the moment I got to campus. The ‘Counts certainly helped.

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