What’s an Effective Way to Teach A New Song?

2011Symposium_1_2For the most part, my students love to sing. This almost always is a good thing, but it is not always so. If I don’t make sure I start them off singing in their head voices, many will practice singing incorrectly, getting better at poor singing and no better at good singing. I like to have them do Gordon tonal patterns first, but transposed up so that at least some of the pitches are above middle line B-flat on the treble staff. They quickly go into their head voices, I compliment on using their singing voices so well, and then remind them to keep singing with their singing voices as we learn the next song.

Another problem occurs when I am teaching them a new rote song; they usually want to start singing it right away. They want to follow close behind me, singing along as I sing; even if it is the first time they have ever heard the song. This is doubly troublesome, because even if they sing a phrase correctly, they are only imitating me, not singing from audiating. Singing first for them, and then having them sing what I have sung after a brief pause forces them to recall what I sang, which is a form of audiation.

I sometimes let them start singing too soon, before they have heard the song enough times to remember it accurately. Then, they make mistakes that have to be corrected. For this reason, I often use questioning and song analysis during my introduction of a song. “Do you hear this chord?

Fa fa fa la fa fa fa la fa fa la do do (remember, I used fixed do).

“ What function is that, tonic or dominant? Please sing that chord for me. Listen to me sing the first part of the song again, and then someone will tell me what note it ended on.

Fa fa fa la fa fa fa la fa fa la do do re do la fa re do la fa la la so so fa

“That’s right, it ended on ‘fa.’ I’ll then ask several students to sing fa.

Now I’ll start the song, and you continue it from where I stopped.

Fa fa fa la fa fa fa la fa fa la do do

The class then sings the song to the end. Notice I left them to sing the part that starts high enough for them to easily continue using their head voices. Next, I will hone in on a spot that is often troublesome.

Fa fa fa la fa fa fa la

The class then sings, or should sing,

fa fa la do do

But the children often sing a third fa in place of la, because there were three occurrences of fa twice already. This is a passage that can be practiced until it is right. Then I will replace the solfege with the words, and sing it for them again.

Rocky mountain, rocky mountain, rocky mountain high

When you’re on that rocky mountain, hang your head and cry.

Everyone sings it. Next, I may go on to the next section, or I may have individual students sing alone the first part. The latter strategy has the advantage of affording the children more times of hearing the song. By the time we have gone through this entire sequence, the children have heard the song many times, have sung it in parts with and without the words, have practiced audiating when they had to continue where I left off, and as a result know the song very well. Through it all, I have been able to control when they sing and when they listen much more easily than just asking them not to sing while I sing. I have also avoided singing with the students, which, along with having them sing alone, as I have mentioned before, is crucial for developing independent singers, and for me being able to hear and objectively assess my students’ singing.

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