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The Books I Keep Coming Back To

I was asked by a beginning teacher the other day “Can you think of any books that have really helped you so far that I should read?”  I responded with “I’ll send you a list.”

When I attend a conference, I always try to purchase at least one book, DVD, or other material I find interesting or potentially helpful. Now, after seven years of teaching, I have a nice little collection of reference materials to browse through whenever I need something.

Today, I’m sharing the ones  that I continuously pick up over and over again. (Wanna know if I really like it or not? Check to see how many sticky notes I’ve got in it!)

For: General Info You Need To Know

The School Choral Program: Philosophy, Planning, Organizing, and Teaching

Michele Holt and James Jordan

My professor required us to purchase this book in undergrad. We didn’t have enough time during the semester to cover all of the material in the book, obviously, so she suggested chapters for us to check out (which I apparently made little notes about in pencil at the time). After I started teaching, I sat down one day and started reading through all of the chapters, and man, what a great resource. It’s basically a bunch of presentations/journal articles compiled into one big book. Each chapter is by a different author, and presents a range of topics. Some of my favorites are:

  • The Lifelong Impact of the Choral Experience: Philosophy and Teaching Styles (Melissa Arasi)

  • The History of Choral Music In The United States (Kenneth Raessler)

  • The Search for Healthy and Appropriate Repertoire: Three Perspectives

    • Criteria for Choosing Appropriate Repertoire (James Jordan)

    • The Search for High-Quality Repertoire (Michele Holt)

    • A Song Worth Singing- Selecting Choral Literature at All Levels (Paul D. Head)

  • The Choral Rehearsal: Planning, Evaluating, Sight-Reading, and Singer Placement (James Jordan)

  • The Vocally Proficient Choir

    • Building Sequential Vocal Technique Skills Through the Choral Warm-Up (James Jordan)

    • Working With Male Voices (Jonathan Reed)

  • Building Early Choral Experiences

    • The Middle School Choral Program (Judy Bowers)

  • Multicultural Considerations for the School Choral Program

    • Choral Programs in Urban Settings (Donna Emmanuel)

  • Movement in the Choral Rehearsal

    • The Use of Movement in the Choral Rehearsal (Janet Galvan)

    • Using Dalcroze Eurhythmics in the Choral Rehearsal (Marilyn Shenenberger)

What I Like:

  • This book is a one-stop shop for so many topics you may have questions about

  • Because of the extensive list of contributors, you can easily find names to research for additional sources on your topic of interest.

  • Generally pretty easy to read

Evoking Sound: The Choral Rehearsal

James Jordan

I just picked this one up last Spring at ACDA Southern Division, so I haven’t gone through in too much detail yet. But, it’s got everything you need if you’re trying to figure out how to address something specific in your rehearsal. Contents include:

  • Establishing the Spirit of Rehearsal

  • Planning and Preparing for Rehearsal

  • Teaching Listening

  • Conducting Gesture as a Rehearsal Technique

  • The Accompanist and the Rehearsal

  • Philosophy of Skill Teaching Within the Rehearsal

  • Teaching Rhythm in all its DImensions

  • Teaching Artistic Phrasing Through Movement

  • Rehearsal Accountability

  • Inward Bound-Summary (Including: Teaching the Way Your Choir Learns, and The Meaningful Rehearsal)



What I Like:

  • Rehearsal is the bread and butter of a choir program, so it’s nice to have a go-to reference book if I’m ever questioning something in my teaching practice.

  • James Jordan=the bomb

For: Getting Warmed-Up

The King Singers Book of Rounds, Canons, and Part songs

If you can’t tell from the picture, this is THE book I use the most. At 7.95, it’s major bang for your buck. When I attended my first big conference in Dallas back in 2012, this was the first book I purchased for myself post-undergrad. When you’re just starting out, and you don’t have the biggest budget to purchase materials, this little guy is just perfect.


What I Like:

  • There are 99 songs in this one little book. They range from quick, 6-8 measure rounds, all the way up to a 4 page part song.

  • The table of contents sorts and classifies all of the repertoire into categories:

    • English Pre-1700 (Secular)

    • Pre 1700 (Sacred)

    • Post-1700

    • From Around The World

    • Wordless Rounds

150 Rounds for Singing and Teaching

Edward Bolkovac and Judith Johnson


Similar to the King’s Singers book, this is also just a simple book of rounds. I’ve actually been using this book more lately...but that may just be due to convenience (because it’s been sitting on my music stand). Though I love my first book of rounds like no other, I would actually recommend new teachers to get this book first because of the suggested categories and guides provided in the table of contents and appendices.


What I Like:

  • This book is ONLY rounds. So everything is generally short, sweet, and easy to teach! Perfect for when you have some extra time and want to teach the kids a simple little piece. Also makes it easier to teach short rounds to address whatever you need to work on with your students

  • In addition to sacred and secular categories, this book provides a lot more in terms of category classification. You can look something up according to topic (animals, bells, nature, street cries (what?)), or you can choose something according to pedagogical category:

    • Meter, rhythmic elements, melodic elements, scale forms, etc.

  • If you’re hesitant with different languages, this book includes IPA pronunciation guides at the end for each round in a foreign language!

For: Dealing With The Voice Change

Finding Ophelia’s Voice, Opening Ophelia’s Heart: Nurturing the Adolescent Female Voice

Lynne Gackle


My supervising teacher gave me this book as a graduation present. I read it cover to cover. Though the female voice change isn’t something we think about as much (because, hello, we have boys to deal with) it’s definitely eye-opening to find out more about the physical changes that take place in the female voice during puberty. As a middle school teacher, we should know about all types of voice changes-male and female.


What I Like:

  • Gackle provides info about what is going on with the body during voice change, signs to look and listen for, and how to address what you’re noticing in your rehearsals

  • Provides some insight into the psychological effect of the voice change

  • Exercises to build vocal technique to make the voice change as smooth as possible.

  • Repertoire suggestions for female choirs

  • Great appendix of forms to aide you in rehearsal

Working With Adolescent Voices

John Cooksey


This was a desperate Amazon prime purchase one summer when I decided “Ok, I’ve got to do something about my boys.” I’d been asking for two years if I could have split gendered classes, with no success, when I decided it was time to start a men’s choir at my school. I ordered this book to help get me started. To be honest, I had a hard time working with boys the first few years of my career. As a female, I’m limited in what I can model for them. I wanted to learn more.


Though this book addressed male and female voice change, I really purchased it for the info on the male voice change. John Cooksey is an expert on the male voice change, and has done some fantastic research on the topic.

PS- the water damage happened after I loaned this book out. Not guilty!


What I Like:

  • Goes through and categorizes different phases of the male voice change, and provides ranges for each phase

  • Describes ways to select appropriate music for the male changing voice

  • Provides repertoire suggestions suitable to work with changing voices

  • Great reference section at the end (since Cooksey is a researcher) to help you find other academic sources on related topics.

For: Beefing Up Your Sight Singing Skills

Melodia: A Course in Sight Singing Solfeggio

Samuel W. Cole and Leo Lewis


I was sitting in on a session presented by Hugh Floyd from Furman University at SCMEA, when he mentioned this book as a resource he really liked. So naturally, I ordered it on my phone from Amazon right then! This book was originally copyrighted in 1903, so it’s very old-school. This doesn’t include lessons in the form of music theory. It’s literally just 200 pages of sight singing exercises crammed into the smallest amount of space possible. I’ve included the table of contents below so you can get an idea of what each section focuses on:


What I Like:

  • If you could only choose one source for your sight singing examples, I would choose this. WIth all of the different examples to choose from, pretty much every scenario is covered just in this one book. The downside is that you would still need to supplement with some sort of basic music theory training with this book.

  • I use this primarily to supplement to my main sight- singing program (S-Cubed). If I need extra examples that focus on something particular, I’ll pull them out of this book. After a class completes the last lesson in level 1 of S-Cubed, I’ll also pull some exercises out of this book.

  • In a pinch, you can make copies out of this book and use them as emergency sub plans. I’ll leave a few of the pages for classes, and have them write in the solfege for each page, and go back and try to sing it if they have time after.

What are your favorite books or resources that you can't get enough of? Share it with us on Facebook, or in the comments below.

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