The Importance of Echo Songs in the Early Grades

2011 Symposium2

Children develop the ability to sing accurately by repeating short patterns or song fragments. As they do so, they are building a vocabulary of music patterns that they will be able to remember, sing, and eventually read, write and use to improvise. While children can learn patterns by singing them with others in a class, they cannot learn to accurately sing from audiation unless they are given the opportunity to sing alone. When a child sings alone, the possibility of imitating other voices, or depending on others for pitch or rhythm, is eliminated. Using song fragments is good practice, because they are easy to remember, and can be recognized from one song to another. Eventually, as the child develops musically, the length of what he or she can remember increases, and the child acquires the ability to recognize that a melody is built from several familiar patterns placed on after the other.

Patterns that are notes in a single chord are easiest and most natural to beginMusicEar with. One of the easiest echo songs to use early on is “No More Pie.” The entire song consists of a descending minor triad. As usual, it is best to teach the song without words first, so that the children focus on the notes instead of the lyrics. Begin on a neutral syllable, such as “bum” and sing the descending minor triad with all equal durations. Pause for about two seconds, then give a non-verbal signal for the class to repeat back to you what you have just sung. The two second pause causes the children to audiate the pattern before they sing it, instead of just imitating it without thought. When the class has learned the pattern, then have individual children sing it, each time about two seconds after you have sung it. The child who can accurately do this is audiating well. For all children, you will have a valuable assessment of where they are in developing audiation skills.

The descending minor triad melodic pattern you just taught does not have to be applied right away, but it could be. In either case, when you teach “No More Pie,” the children will already be familiar with the melodic pattern when they hear it in the song. The rhythm will be new, so it is best to start with three equal durations as before, and then begin using the rhythm from the song, which is half note, eighth note, and dotted quarter note. You sing one pattern, which is one line of lyrics, and then the class or an individual student sings the exact same thing. Here are the lyrics:

Oh, my… No more pie… Pie’s too sweet… I want a piece of meat… Meat’s too red… I want a piece of bread… Bread’s too brown… I think I’ll go to town… Town’s too far… I think I’ll take a car… Car won’t go… I fell and stubbed my toe… Toe gives me pain… I think I’ll take a train… Train had a wreck… I fell and hurt my neck… Oh, my. No more pie.

notationsYou should continue to teach patterns, first on a neutral syllable and later on solfege, regardless of whether they will be used in the lesson for that day or not. It is helpful to point out a pattern you have taught when it is in a song you are using, but the children’s skill with audiating and accurately singing will be evident as they practice and learn new patterns. While chord patterns are easiest to begin with, scalar patterns can also be added in. For the latter, begin with pentatonic patterns and then add diatonic ones. Although Kodaly pedagogy avoids the sub dominant, this is more due to it appearing in Hungarian folk music relatively rarely than it is from any inherent difficulty in singing it. The sub dominant is common in American folk music, and should be familiar to most American children by the time they are six years old. The song “My Aunt Came Back” is a good example of an echo song that uses scalar patterns and includes the sub dominant. “Bill Grogan’s Goat” uses a mix of scalar and chordal patterns, and “Tongo” uses mostly chordal patterns. All of these echo songs have patterns 2-4 beats that are easily remembered. Teach these songs without the words first, and you will be giving your students great training in accurate singing and audiation.

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