When we talk—our young children and we–we do so with a limited range of pitches, and those pitches are relatively low in the range of our voices. This can easily be demonstrated with our stand-by, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. First speak the words. Now, try to sing the song using the same sounds you used to speak it. You won’t get very far before anyone who hears begs you to stop. Do you see what I mean? Many children will try to sing this way at this age, or will just speak the words on one or two pitches instead of actually singing. To really sing, we need more pitches, and we need higher pitches to sing. Our job here is to get the children to start using that upper part of their voice, the part they don’t need for talking, but they do need to voice musical ideas. So we use sliding sounds.
You will need a slide whistle. As soon as you play a slide whistle you will instantly have the entire class’ attention. Play it several times, showing them the fun sounds you can make on the instrument. When the excitement has subsided a little, have them imitate the slide whistle with their voices. For this, only play descending sounds, so that the children start high enough to be out of their speaking voices. You play descending sounds by starting with the slide in, and pulling it out while you blow through the whistle. You can vary the speed at which you pull the slide out for variety and fun. I generally demonstrate with my own voice before asking the children to do it. First play a sliding sound, and then imitate what you played with your voice. Now have the children imitate what you just did with your voice. Do this several times with different sliding sounds. The whole activity takes about five minutes, and is excellent practice using the correct part of the voice for singing. Once the class has been doing this for a week or two, you should have individual children take turns make the sliding sounds. This gives them confidence in using their singing voice to express musical thoughts, and gives you the opportunity to see how everyone is doing. When they have reached this comfort level, you may also start using ascending sounds as well. Later in the year, you can tie this in with occurrence of “up” and “down” that the children may encounter in stories you read to them, or in physical movements they may do, like reaching up to their cubby, or reaching down to ties their shoes. Such movements can be accompanied with sliding sounds.
Now that their voices are warmed up, and they are using the correct part of their voice for singing, the children can sing song fragments. Songs should be short, easily dividable into shorter segments that can be imitated, and be within a small singing range. Songs that stay within a range of 3-5 scale notes are good. Songs that skip from high to low, Like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or that use lots of scale notes, like “Joy To The World,” should be avoided. Here’s an excellent song for our purposes; it is short, doesn’t jump around, has only a few notes, and can be imitated in small sections. By imitating short sections, children are learning musical patterns, which are like words in notes. Sing a little bit and then have the children sing what you just sang to them. I like to use the song “No More Pie.” Each time the children repeat what you have sung, they have to think of the pattern first, and then sing it. As you do this kind of singing, you are teaching them to think in music. There are dozens of these types of songs. I’m sure you know some already. They are all great to use with 3 and 4 year-old children. Once a class has learned a song like this, and they are called echo songs, upon hearing you sing the first segment, they will be eager to sing. You can easily get their attention, and get them all focused on you and an activity that will follow by starting with an echo song. You can use whatever words you want. You might, for example, substitute “oh my, rain to-day” for “oh my, no more pie.” Echo songs can be used to help children memorize anything, or respond to a question.
One important thing to remember when you are doing singing with your class is never to sing with them. You sing to them, and then they sing to you. Only by singing without you will they learn to think and voice musical thoughts on their own. If you sing with them, they can imitate you without ever thinking of the patterns themselves. Keep how you converse with your students in mind. You rarely if ever speak at the same time they are speaking. Use the same procedure for singing.