How to teach singing for the scared to death!
As a teacher, there were two subjects I dreaded having to teach – science and music. Now the former was just a complete mystery to me. I had no interest in formulas, chemicals or how things grew. The latter was more about a lack of confidence because as a singer and musician (I played the recorder and clarinet) I loved music. I just didn’t know how to convey my passion to my pupils.
Melanie Cossins is on a mission! To get folks who a really terrified of teaching music to make a start. In this post, she outlines her story and gives you some tips on how to teach singing.
If I had a £1 for every time I heard someone say ‘I’m not musical’ I would be a billionaire. The fact is, I truly believe everyone is musical or can be musical. Over the years I have been teaching, I have studied, practiced, failed and succeeded. The more you do it the easier it becomes and with the right help you can start teaching music too. Truth being told, I don’t even have a music degree.
Does this mean I’m not musical? No. Should I be teaching music? Yes!
In 2004, 6 weeks after I had my daughter, I saw an advert in a newspaper for a course showing a new way of teaching music. The previous year I set up my own music group for parents and children pulling together my singing and child development knowledge and experience.
The advert intrigued me. Even though I was suffering from PND and I was still recovering from a traumatic birth I HAD to go. My dad drove me over to Lancaster (a couple of hours) and waited the whole day for me to finish.
That day a lightbulb went ‘ping’ in my head and suddenly my own musical experiences from the past made sense. You see, I left music behind me feeling like a failure. Although I could read music, I didn’t really understand it. I loved singing and playing my clarinet and saxophone but after taking GCSE music I lost all my passion because I felt I didn’t understand anything.
The course that day changed everything for me. I completely understood the intention behind this way of teaching music, the potential, the amazing opportunities for everyone to love, understand and make music.
I teach using the philosophy and methodology of Zoltan Kodaly who advocated that ‘music belongs to everyone’! When you have experienced the concept behind this philosophy you will be hooked.
The way music is taught is through singing and everyone has a voice. We need to be given the opportunity to learn, to practice and listen to good modelling. This opportunity comes by starting simple. Starting with songs which have only two pitches (notes) which are so common we sing the pitches without even knowing.
Think of how a child calls ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’. It’s actually sung isn’t it? How about those playground calls nar,nar, na,nar, nar children make at school? Also sung. Babies babble and coo from birth and research has shown babies respond to singing in the womb.
The idea behind this philosophy is that songs are taught which occur naturally within our culture. Folk songs, nursery rhymes, work songs. Songs which have not been written but created naturally. These songs are taught through fun games involving movement, body percussion and the voice. Involving movement helps children naturally feel pulse, which is absolutely necessary for rhythm.
Unconscious to the Conscious
These playful singing games are all taught unconsciously. Children do not know they are being musical, they are just having fun. Through a sequential series of songs and rhymes children begin to learn pulse, rhythm, dynamics, musical rest, tempo, timbre (the difference between quality of sounds for instance different instruments in an orchestra or different voices), texture (layers of sound) and more.
Moving on from the games musical concepts are made more conscious. Children start to learn, hear and understand musical intervals (that’s the space between two notes), how they look on a musical staff; rhythm and how to read and write it.
It can all sound a bit complicated can’t it? However, it really isn’t. If you think you don’t understand music I promise you this is the way to learn, enjoy and appreciate music!
Where do I start?
Simply, start singing every day! Here are a few tips to get you started and can be used for children in Early Years and Primary school.
1. Sing the register.
Children quickly learn to sing your name back using only two notes. You might be thinking it would take longer to sing it however singing helps develop children’s listening and you will probably get through the register much quicker and in a more joyful way.
2. Sing everywhere and anywhere!
There are so many situations where singing can be useful in a school setting. Trying to get children to line up at the door or walk down the corridor in silence can be tricky. Turn the chatter into song! Here is one song which is useful for getting to and from places or just sing in the playground! Change the words to suit the occasion e.g. to the hall, wash your hands etc
3. Be Creative!
Develop imagination and creativity by turning what you are doing into a song. Jelly on a plate is a useful rhyme. Read this blog post for ideas.
4. Develop concepts using the voice
One of the most favourite things I do in class is about different voices. This helps children develop understanding of low and high, loud and quiet and differences between singing and speaking voices.
Try this: Can you use.
Use different voices such as high, low, loud, whisper, speaking, singing and thinking.
5. Make singing fun and a game!
Singing can always be fun. Movement is key. We are meant to move, children are meant to move. Movement helps consolidate musical concepts such as pulse and rhythm. Stopping and starting at the beginning and ends of songs increases listening skills and co-ordination.
Try this rhyme:
Engine, Engine coloured black
Going slowly down the track
Engine Engine coloured green
Fastest train you’ve ever seen!
Repeat the slow train a few times, then the fast one.
6. Sing in your normal voice
Young children best hear and copy sounds between the notes D (above middle C) and A however if your voice can’t reach that then just sing as best you can.
We are tuned into a particular frequency and from birth. Children are mimicking a minor third sound when they babble and then start to call ‘mummy’. This minor third is everywhere in our environment from the cuckoo to a door bell. Use this to sing the register!
7. Remember rhymes are just as important
Songs and chants are a natural way to develop oral language, auditory memory, and fluency and nurtures phonological awareness (alliteration, rhyming, rhythm, phrasing etc.). Children love this rhyme. Check they are listening by asking them questions
8. Stopping the fidgets.
Young children find it hard to sit still. They need to be on the move. However, if you have some fidgets in circle time break it up by playing a fun signals game! Singing only two notes sing the actions you want them to do. e.g Stand up, Sit down. This can be a fun game if you try and catch them out – great for listening skills too! As the children get better at listening you can just hum the notes and not say the words. Chances are they will recognise what you want them to do just from the sound. See example here:
9. Sing slowly and clearly.
Singing and music learning activates the brain and is known to link neural pathways between the left and right hemispheres in the brain, increasing children’s development in reading, literacy and numeracy skills. Singing slowly ensures children hear and process the sounds correctly.
Hopefully, these are enough tips to get you started. If you have any questions or would like further help or information then contact me via www.cossinsmusicschool.co.uk
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