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Tips for directing a sing-along

I can't believe it's already December! As I look at my lessons for the next three weeks, I just realized it's almost time to start preparing students for our annual holiday singalong.

The singalong is an event I first became familiar with my first year in my district. It's an opportunity for the entire student body, parents, family members, and teachers to all get together and sing. We do this in the thirty minutes before the holiday parties, the last day before break, and I have to say, I have really grown to love it! It's so wonderful to get such a big community of people together to sing songs...such a great way to get into the holiday spirit!

So what is a singalong? It is an event to which students, parents, family members, and staff are invited. Everyone sits like we would in an assembly, the lyrics are projected onto a big screen, and we SING!

Here are my tips for putting together your own singalong. Please note that these tips are more directed toward a winter holiday singalong but could work well for any other kind of singalong, like a patriotic music singalong for Veteran's Day.

Tips for directing a singalong: Ideas for putting together a holiday singalong for your school community!

#1: Keep special performances to a minimum
My first year in the district, when I was asked to help direct the singalong with the other music teacher, we made the mistake of having too many performing groups. We had the band play a piece, the orchestra play a piece, and a clarinet trio play, on top of all of the songs the kids were singing. Needless to say, it was too much...too much time needed for transition, and not enough whole group singing. Since then, I'll have small things added into the singalong, like:
  • The choir leading "Deck the Hall" (They sing "Deck the hall with boughs of holly, and the school sings "Fa la la la...")
  • 1st graders playing rhythm bells on "ho ho ho" and wood blocks on "click click click" for "Up on the house top"
  • A grade level leading an echo song (like "Che Che Kolay," to honor Kwanzaa)
  • A grade level singing the introduction to a song (like the intro to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer")
  • A talented student pianist playing Christmas music as the students enter the gym to sit down
This way, certain groups/ individuals can shine without interrupting the flow of the singalong, and it's mostly focused on the whole group singing.

#2: Save the lyrics file as a PDF
My first year in the district, the other music teacher put together a really nice Powerpoint with fun fonts and backgrounds. Then, she had to transfer the Powerpoint to another computer in order to project the file...and she didn't realize until very shortly before the singalong that all her fonts had not transferred over with her Powerpoint. So if you need to change computers, make sure to save as a PDF, which you can easily do by going to "file," then "save as," then choose "PDF." That way, your fonts and formatting are all saved!

#3: Have a balance
Personally, I like to have a balance of types of accompaniment. Some songs we sing acapella, some songs we sing with student accompaniment (like with wood blocks and rhythm bells for "Up on the housetop,") some we sing with CD accompaniment, and some with piano accompaniment. That way, I'm not stuck behind a piano the whole time, and it gives the singalong some variety.

If you're looking for good recordings for accompaniment, you might check your textbook series for recordings without voice, or karaoke songs on iTunes. You can simply search "Jingle Bell Rock karaoke" or whatever you're looking for, and you should have quite a few to choose from.

Before the singalong, I put together a CD with all the tracks I need, and make sure to have someone to work sound when we need recordings.

#4: Represent all holidays
For our singalong, we sing mostly Christmas songs, but also have a couple Hanukkah songs (click here to see my all-time favorite Hanukkah song!) and a Kwanzaa song. For the Kwanzaa song, we sing an African song to honor African culture. You might also sing a Diwali song. In my mind, it doesn't matter if the whole community is Christian; it's great to teach students, staff, AND parents about different holidays, cultures, and customs through music!

As far as religious music goes, you will have to talk to your administrator about this. Because we are honoring several different cultures and religions through the singalong, we do sing one specifically religious song (this year will be "Silent Night," one of my favorites!) Some administrators and communities may want more than this, and some may want no specifically religious songs.

No matter what your administrator decides, it is wonderful to have a few holidays represented so students can learn about different cultures, if not different religions!

#5: Change it up every year
I like to change a few songs each year, just to keep it fresh and exciting. I usually have 10 songs for the 30-minute assembly, and each year I change a few of those ten. There are some songs I just have to do each year because they are SO much fun (I absolutely LOVE the rendition of "Feliz Navidad" by Chino Espinoza, which we just sing with the recording because I haven't found a karaoke version.) And there are some songs that I don't mind switching out (there are only so many times I can hear "Jingle Bells"!) It's nice to keep some songs standard, as it is that much easier to prepare the students for the singalong each year!

I typically take the two weeks before the singalong to get the students ready. I use the Powerpoint with lyrics I compile, as well as some books found in this blog post.

If you're looking for a good place to start, here is my Christmas singalong set which I'm using to compile my Powerpoint:


Here is an infographic I created with the suggestions:

Tips for directing a Christmas singalong: Easy steps to put together a singalong!


Have you done a singalong? Feel free to comment below with your advice. Happy singing!

5 comments

  1. Hi Aileen,

    My district doesn't do a sing-along, but every year we put on a Christmas program. It's an opportunity to showcase our students and get the community together to support the school. We usually do traditional carols. This year I am incorporating a sing-along section at the end, where the whole school will sing two traditional carols and the parents will have the opportunity to sing along. I've put the words in the program.

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  2. Hi. My principal wants me to plan a sing-a-long for our pre-k thru 5th grade. He wants it to last an hour!! I'm kind of freaking out about that! What would you suggest?

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    Replies
    1. An hour? Wow! That's long!
      What I've done before to make my singalong a little bit longer is to combine the singalong with some performances. So you could have the audience sing a few songs, then have your fourth graders sing a song by themselves. A few more songs, then the band plays (if you direct one.) Then a few more songs, and a recorder duet. (Or whatever works for you and your situation!) I once had a family come in and perform a few Christmas carols after they asked if they could, and they were GREAT! (They were a musical family who often performed in the community.) I've also had some of my talented pianists play at the singalong (typically as people are coming into the gym, but you could also have them play in between songs.) So maybe you could reach out to musical families, parents, students, etc. and see what you can put together. Good luck!

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  3. Thank you Aileen! I currently have one month to prepare for our school-wide sing-along assembly

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  4. I am planning my first sing along as well this year. PreK through 5th. Each grade level has been working on a song to showcase which the other students will sing along with. I also have an MC that will introduce songs. The grade level songs are broken up with 25 Clues-25 Carols on TpT by David Row of Make Moments Matter. I will have my MC read the clue, count to 3 and display the answer on 3 so the students "know" it even if they don't. Then we'll sing that song. I am not sure yet if I'm up to an hour. I will tell you that this has been almost more work than a program! Good luck with your sing along and thank you Aileen for the awesome tips!!!

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