Well here we are, the final voyage on this very very possible mission. I hope by reading through the different posts this last month you are starting to realize that there are very real, very accessible steps you can take to begin adding active music making and different media to your music teaching. Your kiddos in your classroom deserve to have as many different options to be musical as possible, and to experience all of them fully so they can discover which media resonates with them most.
And you probably thought that singing was obvious. Or the after thought. But even though I’ve listed this guy last, I truly believe it should be the core of everything else you do.
Our voice is our first instrument. It provides the aural and kinesthetic understanding we need to literally internalize musical concepts and, perhaps more importantly, musical experiences. Without the ability to hear and produce sound (which is really what music is, if we want to oversimplify it), we are unable to truly understand and experience music to the extent that is required for mastery.
So this is not going to be a long and technical blog post. Rather, it’s going to be a quick bulleted list of ways you might consider using singing in the classroom, that perhaps you haven’t yet. Beyond the monkey see, monkey do, I’m going to sing because my neighbor is doing it so I kind of know what I’m doing… we’re going to dig a little bit deeper and really engage our children’s voice.
This is the one that I think is tremendously underused in all elementary music classrooms. Often we use it only for assessing, which only contributes to some of the anxiety kiddos feel when asked to sing alone. Way back in the day before my podcast was a little more focused, I talked about different ways to use solo singing in the kindergarten classroom, but I think all of those applications apply no matter the grade.
Have students sing and sing often. Alone, together, for a game, to say hello, to say goodbye, however many different ways and in however many different situations have your kids start singing today. Because if you don’t start today, they won’t be willing tomorrow.
This practice is probably most closely tied with Gordon’s Music Learning Theory. From my understanding, teachers who identify as MLT inspired use different tonal patterns to build up students’ musical vocabulary, and it takes place as an echoing practice, either individually or with a group. This is generally done on a neutral syllable, as to not interfere with the true essence of tonal relationships.
Although I personally do not subscribe to this type of pattern instruction, I have adapted some of the ideas of patterning into my own classroom. Particularly when exploring a melodic element, it’s important to create as many different contextual examples of that concept as possible. After all, re doesn’t exist on it’s own, it’s usually sandwiched in a descending or ascending pattern, or the question mark at the end of a phrase.
How do I use this idea in my classroom? One specific example is in my opening sequence. After my students have sung a couple of greeting songs, I take a quick moment to sing hello to them, either as a class or individually. They echo back “Hello Ms. Mileski” on the same pitches I sang to them. So if we’re working on a so-re turn, I might sing “hello third grade” in the pattern so-la-so-re. I try to find as many opportunities as possible to have students sing, particularly when it can contextualize an element we are preparing or practicing.
I think this word can be scary, especially when we are talking about singing. At least, it can be for me. Improvising with our voice takes an already very vulnerable thing, and makes it about 10 times more vulnerable. Singing is intimidating, improvisation is intimidating, and sandwiched together it could make your kids run for the hills. But like everything else, it’s all about how you go about it, how you introduce it, and how you make it a regular part of your music class. Improvisation doesn’t have to be using the blues scales to create a bridge to the third verse… or whatever your conservatory brained definition of improvisation is.
For kids, it simply means inspired singing. You can ask kids to sing questions, you can ask kids to sing about their weekend, you can ask kids to sing anything and it can be completely inspired in the moment. You can also be more formal about it as they become more comfortable. Take a tone set and write it on the board (I.e. mi-re-do). Then give them lots and lots of examples of what combinations of those three notes might sound like. And then let them practice.
If you find small entry points that are accessible and feel safe for your kids, you can begin expanding and scaffolding from that experience to build confidence and more independent musicianship.
I feel like I could go ahead and just drop the mic right there. Do you really, and I mean really know any kids who don’t like to sing? I mean, maybe you have that fifth grader who just won’t open her mouth. But I bet when she was in Kindergarten, she loved to sing. I’m willing to bet that she’s a little nervous to do it now because she’s older, and she’s more aware of her surroundings and what people think, or had a bad experience when she tried the last time. The key to getting kids comfortable singing is to find ways that they love doing it. With accompaniment? Playing a game? With a dance? Pop music?
The point is, singing is a part of our life. Who doesn’t sing happy birthday? Or pick up a sleeping child and rock her to sleep while humming a lullaby? And those types of feelings and memories run deep for all of us, no matter our age. Sing with your kids. Sing joyfully with your kids. Everyday.
I hope you've enjoyed this series all about different forms of Active Music Making in the elementary music classroom. Just in case you missed a week, here’s a peek at the whole series:
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