Teaching pitch is definitely at the front of the line of concepts in teaching music. It goes hand in hand with so many aspects of teaching music and yet stands alone. Whether you are in a classroom or children’s choir ensuring these five steps are in place in your plans will bring about your students singing on pitch. Here 5 steps that can be effective with children in helping them secure the ability to match pitch. Some of the ideas listed below are over simplified but effective.
Step 1 – Vocalises – Vocal Exercises and Scale Songs
Singing, Whispering, Speaking, and Outside Voice
- Use Sound Stories / Vocal Exploration.
- Use vocal energizers to explore the range of the voice and sing in head tone.
- Vocal Exercises should simply get the voice going.
- Have students respond with a sound to represent a word or character in a story.
Step 2 – Pitch
There is an order to teaching pitch.
- First, we learn sol, mi.
- Sing up to desired pitch and down.
- Second, teach do, re, mi
- Third, add fa by singing from 1 up to 5 and back down.
- Identify higher/lower pitches
- Identify melodic direction
- Match simple intervals and patterns alone and with others.
- Distinguish same/different short melody phrases
- Recognize melodic movement as same, step, or skip
- Sing short solo phrases of call/response songs.
- Learn to use good sitting and standing singing posture.
- Begin and end words together.
Step 3 – Steady Beat
- Steady beat is a foundation of pitch. It is a precursor to instrument playing as well as matching pitch.
The author Helen Kemp writes a lot about the voice. She says the basis for pitch is steady beat.
- Every rehearsal should have a steady beat activity.
- Steady beat helps brain development and teaches coordination. It also helps children learn to focus and concentrate on the beat.
Step 4 – Brain Mapping
- Represent the pitch visually. A simple example to think about is this: If you put the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 horizontally on a board or wall and sing up the first five notes of a scale, there is nothing that visually confirms to the ear that the pitches are going up. This may not seem important to you but check the blog post tomorrow for the experiment I did with my class to see if this really worked. If you will place the numbers vertically with 1 on the bottom and 5 on the top, you will be visually representing the pitches correctly.
- Add the body scale. If you are not familiar with the Body Scale, see it here. Here is the blog posts on mapping pitches in the brain. Use the Body Scale with a simply scale song. Kodaly hand signs are also effective with a scale song.
- Use movement to represent melodic direction – not just the body scale you can also use streamers, balls, and puppets, etc.
Step 5 – The Entire Voice / The Entire Child
When we teach music to children, we are concerned about the whole child and not just a musical concept. Singing is part of who we are. Singing is more than a sound coming from our mouths, it can come from the heart. It can relay emotions, show gratefulness, and send love floating on notes through the air. It can communicate a story, or a political stance, or convey a longing of something dear.
So is it important that the young man in your class, that doesn’t want to participate, learn to sing? Absolutely! Does that mean that you can make him/her? Absolutely not. I am not naive enough to think that all students are going to love singing, but all will experience singing as a means of expression. Just like writing, students need to know different forms of expression. Stephen Sondheim said, “If I cannot fly, let me sing.”
In Moovin’ and Groovin’ Part 1, we talked about General Movement tips and Fun movement. Now, we will look at purposeful movements and how this benefits our students.
- Excercise. Movement, especially those to develop gross motor skills, often looks like exercise. However, when paired with music, it develops the child as a whole. In music class, we call exercise “body engergizers,” it is still exercise. (smile) Music Teachers need movement and Physical Education Teachers need music. The two go hand in hand. The following quotes are as published in Early Child Connections.
Music evokes movement, and children delight in and require movement for their development and growth.
Developmentally appropriate music activities involve the whole child-the child’s desire for language, the body’s urge to move, the brain’s attention to patterns, the ear’s lead in initiating communication, the voice’s response to sounds, as well as the eye-hand coordination associated with playing musical instruments
- Steady Beat Movements. Movement helps to find the steady beat. This is also a precursor to pitch. Yes, you read that correctly. It really works! Developing steady beat will develop coordination and pitch in children. Read the post on Pitch here to learn more. One of the most important points to remember when teaching steady beat is that you need to allow the focus to be on the beat. Children, even though they are the same age, can be at different stages of development. One child can sing while they are working on steady beat. Other children need to concentrate on one or the other. So, if you focus is steady beat, then don’t correct wrong words, just focus on the steady beat.
Early in my teaching career, I taught a First Grade Choir – ten boys and two girls. Pitch was scarce. I tried every trick I had been taught in my music education classes. Every activity and game we played, I tried to find an angle to teach pitch. Looking for some connection between pitch and some other developmental ability we would learn through music. Then I learned about Helen Kemp and her philosophy of steady beat being the basis for good pitch. So I revised my plan. Still using scale work and ear training, I became much more intentional about a steady beat. Finally improvement in the group as a whole. Steady beat improved, but so did their pitch.
- Choreography Movements. Choreography with children is never going to be perfectly in sync and crisp. However, there are a few things that we can do with our kids to clean it up. Make big movements hit on the beat. Or speak the movements in a rhythm that children can easily remember. For instance the steps may include placing arms straight up in the air, then out to the sides, then down by their sides. I would say on the beat, “Up, side, down, repeat.” What about arms and pointing different directions or the face that some elbows are straight and some are bent? This becomes and issue if you a holding the arms up for a length of time that the audience will have a chance to see the differences. If that is an important move that will be seen, work on it. Stand several children up front with arms bent all the different ways that they will do the move, so that the other kids can see how bad it looks. Everytime you rehearse that move, just choreography or with the song, make “much” about that move. (in a positive light of course.) I know the children in my class or choir have this, when I tell them that we are about to do “_____” song. Then I will ask them, what do they think I will tell them to watch or listen for. When they can repeat things like “straight arms, watch you for the cut off, etc.” then I know they have it.
- Time Signature moves. I love to use moves to teach time signatures. When we use arms, I always start with arms straight in the air. From there the arms always go straight down on beat 1. Next they could go in any manner of patterns to accomplish the time signature with which you are working. This allows for a very easy connection that when they are following the director, beat 1 is always straight down. When using legs, Beat 1 is going to be down, simply by the nature of a step.
Music is such a fun way to learn. Period. Take the extra steps to plan the movements you will use in children, whether it is a Brain Break, or something specific you are teaching. Using movement successfully will not feel chaotic. As always you can email with quesitons. Thanks for reading!
Keep singing, (and moving),