Teaching songs presupposes the knowledge of a set of principles, techniques and strategies that may lead to, and indeed determine the success of students’ learning.
You may find some of those principles, techniques and strategies in this section.
I - Work to be carried out by the teacher beforehand
- Listen to the song with the score which should be seen as some sort of a script for a first grasp of both the ‘work potential’ and creative possibilities of the music.
- Study carefully each song from a rhythmic and melodic point of view.
- Identify the melodic phrases for each song.
- Check how the lyrics, rhythm and melody relate to one another.
- Sing the song.
- Sing the song with the audio accompaniment in order to assimilate and take in both the tempo and the structure of the song.
II - Teaching Songs
Teaching songs presupposes the knowledge of a set of principles, techniques and strategies that allow for, and actually determine the success of students’ learning.
A - Broad considerations
- Children need a good vocal model.
- Children learn how to sing more easily by following the example of the human voice rather than the sound of any other instrument.
- As a starting point of motivation for learning a given song, try to create an inspirational environment and an exciting working plan for the song in order to make the activity really quite interesting.
- Vocal warm-up is of the essence before learning songs.
B - Context of teaching
Strategies for teaching songs may vary enormously, depending on several factors, such as:
- The group of students (age, class and individual degree of musical development, number of students)
- The physical space
- The time affordance
- The musical characteristics of the song itself.
III - Vocal Warm-up
Vocal warm-up serves to activate the whole system of muscles involved in the singing process, including the larynx; it also serves to release tension, to help loosen the vocal folds and to focus on the voice emission process.
Vocal warm-up comprises several steps:
- Energising and relaxing the body - unblocking tensions and getting energy;
- Posture - the body supports the voice, so good posture contributes to good quality of sound;
- Breathing - it is essential to practise correct breathing (the air comes out and the belly goes in, the air comes in and the belly goes out);
- Blending of voice registers - the child must understand that he or she, as it were, has “two voices” at his or her disposal to produce sound: low register - chest voice, and high register - head voice and falsetto;
- Resonance - if children have a nasal voice they should not do resonance exercises;
- Articulation – the tongue is one of the main voice articulators, that is to say, a very strong and important muscle for singing and speaking that needs to be stress-free and loose, so that words are perfectly understood.
IV - Strategies and techniques for teaching songs
- There are several strategies for teaching songs; and diversifying them is very likely to be the best course to take for that matter.
- Approaching songs can be done at first either through the lyrics, the tune or the rhythm (depending on what’s more relevant for a given song);
- For any of these approaches, it is essential to assimilate and take in the tempo, the beat and/or to feel the pulse of each song, as it were.
- Teaching songs can be done by imitation with students repeating short phrases, for instance.
- The question-answer method, adding one sentence at a time until the end, is as often as not the best possible way to go: the teacher sings a sentence and asks the children to respond immediately by repeating it, and so forth, with this procedure gradually bringing all the sentences together until the end of the song. Also, combining gestures and movement can help pupils better understand and indeed memorise the song.
- It is necessary to give students ample time to soak in their learning. • Repetition is essential for musical learning; still, adding some expressive variety contributes to keep children's motivation high throughout.
- The teacher should always stress the paramount importance of phrasing, breathing and dynamics variations for better sound and better quality of expression.
- You can also show the shape of the tune with suggestive chironomy (i.e., hand gestures) and other body movements.
- It is essential to use your imagination and creativity in the exercises, and those of the students too, of course.
- When teaching a song it is necessary to bear in mind that you are not merely teaching notes and rhythm, but also ways of singing and using one’ s voice more meaningfully and with both expressive intention and intentionality.
- Maintaining a good running pace in the singing session is very important. Remember: talk less, sing more!
- In order to hear children's mistakes and insecurities, teachers should avoid singing at the same time.
- Children should open their mouths with no restrains when singing, so as to obtain better tone colour and volume of voice. • Good diction and articulation of words (and even other non-verbal vocal sounds) are essential for understanding the song lyrics.
- Correcting mistakes as soon as they are detected contributes to readjust students’ learning. A good strategy could be, for example, to repeat phrases using onomatopoeic syllables, to apply different kinds of vocal tone colour, and/or to ‘play games’ with the situation (in theatrical terms). This can help children overcome difficulties more quickly and easily.
- Do not forget to give the initial note and the tempo. You can sing only the first sound or, for anticipated reassurance (as it were), the first couple of notes.
- When using an audio recording with voice and accompaniment to support the learning of songs, children should listen to it as often as they need before finally singing with just the accompaniment.
- Children should always be able to hear themselves while singing, so, it is absolutely crucial to mind the volume of the supporting recordings in order to shun children's voices being superimposed.
V - Proposed song learning activities
- Create an inspirational atmosphere and a good mood in the classroom for the contextualization of the songs. For example, asking imaginative questions about the theme of the song, telling a story, encouraging children to give descriptions or discuss the song theme, instilling students’ confidence into roleplaying and mimicry, reinventing stories, and integrating multisensory experiences.
- Relate the songs to everyday life.
- Ask children to make up movements / dramatic postures / gestures that relate to the theme of the songs.
- Group children according to each type of gesture / movement involved in the learning song process, alternating the presentation of each group, so that everyone knows the movements of the various groups.
- Pupils must make movements following the tempo of the song or the pulse given by teacher.
- Make the selected movements with the audio recording, asking children to follow different rhythmic and tempo features of the music (such as the underlying pulse, the beat, or a particular pattern of rhythmic figures).
- Define key moments of the song in which a movement that steadily respects the beat alternates with other freer, more flexible ones, for example.
- With the children round in a circle, enter the song lyrics: the teacher sings a given phrase with the rhythm, and then children repeat it.
- Rhythmically similar phrases in the whole song structure can be explored together.
- Play sound exploration games in speech: tone colour (fearsome voice, witch's voice, dulcet tones, sad voice, and so forth); dynamics (quiet/soft voice, powerful voice, getting more, or less, powerful); articulation/diction (spelling each syllable and uttering each word very clearly, with the right, wholly unrestrained shape and control of the voice tract); prosodic range (high and low sounds), rhetorical emphasis through time changes (fast, slow, faster and faster, or gradually slowing down).
- Repeat the strategy described in the previous bullet point for students to learn the song tune.
- Play the game of not singing a few words or phrases from the song. Ask the children to interrupt their singing in one sentence, phrase or word, and continue only in the sentences or words that follow (development of students’ internal realisation of music or ‘audiation’).
- As regards the musical structure (form), and to help students’ song learning even further, equal sections can be excitingly associated with similar movements or gestures.
- Once learned, join all parts and sections of the song as a result of the exciting learning activities that took place (by applying critically the movements, gestures, lyrics, and singing technique studied).
- Let students explore the sounds they can make with their bodies and / or instruments to make up further improvised accompaniment to the songs, eventually.