Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Let's Sing! Why Singing is Fundamental

Is your son or daughter excited to perform some really great piano pieces in Let's Play Music? Great! Let's head to class and get started with some really great singing.  Wait, what!? Why are we starting with singing? What does that have to do with playing an instrument? 

Did You Hear That?

Let's back up a bit and think about your child with his piano, and the type of musician he'll be.  I remember one time when I was about fourteen, I was in my friend's bedroom and we could hear her younger sister practicing piano downstairs.  Suddenly, Jess jumped up, opened her door, and hollered down, "Amy! Pay attention! You missed that flat five times in a row and you're driving me nuts!"

Jess and Amy are sisters, but clearly Jess had a better-trained ear.  When Jess practiced, she knew if she made errors because she heard the mistakes. She was able to hear the music in her mind while playing piano (audiating music), and if the two didn't match up it meant a problem.  It was infuriating to her when Amy would play for 30 minutes, making repeated errors, not noticing any of them.  Really, was Amy making progress by practicing for 30 minutes loaded with mistakes?

Before we launch your child onto the keyboard, we'll focus on helping her improve her ear, so she will be a better, more productive musician and get the most from training with instruments. We emphasize sounds before symbols: she should learn the language of music first, use it and hear it, before learning to read it.  The singing voice is one of our greatest tools for implementing ear training skills. The voice is a child's first instrument and can't be skipped.

 A child who plays an instrument before he sings may remain unmusical for a lifetime. That is why we encounter so many skillful pianists who have no idea of the essence of music. To be internalized, musical learning must begin with the child's own natural instrument...the voice. -Zoltan Kodaly 
   
Singing for The Song

Preparing to be a violin or piano virtuoso is not the only reason to sing. Children naturally love to imitate and create. Singing is a natural, joyous, playful, personal, expressive, and creative experience. Many children find joy in using their voice. Often, they'll sing spontaneously without knowing it. As I type this, my daughter is playing with play-doh and singing a made-up song about cutting play-doh cakes. As long as I don't interrupt her...she'll keep singing for an hour.

As teachers and parents, we can help children feel safe enough to sing freely in class and at home. With continued work, the voice can become the most beautiful and versatile of instruments; help your child explore it so she'll know if it's her favorite instrument!

Tip: Take great care to lovingly nurture singing. Avoid scolding a child for too much singing or singing too loudly. It only takes a few negative comments for a person to decide 'I'm not a good singer.' Of course, you do want to teach your child how to behave around others. Praise her for singing before asking her to change her behavior. Last week I said, "I love that you are singing so passionately, but the piano tuner is here trying to do his job. Are you willing to take your song downstairs, or just hum, until he is done?"   

Tip: Encourage spontaneous singing. When I walk into a room and accidentally 'catch' a child singing to himself, I nonchalantly sing a few bars myself and give him a nod, as if to say, "yeah, we're singing. It's cool. Totally normal." If I come in the room and my child stops singing, I make sure to say something positive, "oh. I was enjoying your song. Sounds like you were having a good time."  

Some day she may get mad at me for this, but here's a short video of my daughter today; she finished a Tinker Bell puzzle and doesn't realize she's singing about it (or that she's being filmed.)
 

And what if your child does not love to sing spontaneously? Here are a few things to try to get the ball rolling:

Tip: Find out how your child likes to sing. Maybe he enjoys background music that he can hum along to when no one is watching. Maybe he prefers the connection when you sing face-to-face. Or, that may be too much pressure and he prefers to sing when the whole family is singing- so he doesn't get nervous about his solo voice. I have a child who will always sing along if we're in the car. Another loves to hold hands and sing as we walk.

Tip: Use Resources. There are plenty of resources out in the world to help kids explore singing and music. In this episode of Sesame Street, Big Bird starts a band and tells everyone his instrument is...voice! I made a point of singing along with Big Bird when he sang his 'la la la' song...and my daughter sang it, too. Educational TV becomes 300% more educational when Mom or Dad watches along (or at least listens while doing a chore) and then talks with the child about what happened. If you want TV to be educational, check out some musical children's shows. Maybe you'll hear echoes of "Blue's Clues" next time the house is quiet!

What does your Echo Ed look like?
Tip: Simplify. Take the words out or slow them down.  Getting the melody right and getting the words right are two skills. It's easier to focus on just one. Sing songs from class slowly, or with made-up consonants (bum-bum-ba-dum). The simplest version of this strategy, which we use in class, is having Echo Ed sing just a few notes using 'loo-loo'. To a perfectionist child, singing a fast song is scary because he might get some notes or words wrong!

Tip: Repetition, repetition. It takes many listens to a song before it starts to sink in. The brain is looking for patterns and learning how to hear what is happening in the music. Allow your child to listen to the same songs many times before expecting him to sing along. Listen to your Let's Play Music CD every day; find a time like car rides or bedtime to become official listening time. If you are in the room during listening time, sing along to show him: singing is what we do.

Tip: Embrace silence. We all need some quiet time for our brains to process what we've been hearing.  Allow your child ample quiet playtime. During the quiet, you will likely hear echoes of songs he's heard. This is when I hear the invented songs about play-doh and puzzles from my daughters.
  
Sing on Pitch

Perhaps now your child is comfortable singing at home and in class, but struggles to Echo Ed and sing a recognizable tune.  

Read Part 2: Let's Sing! Help Me Sing on Pitch for tips and tricks to carry that tune.  Another post you may enjoy: Musical Superpower: Perfect Pitch  

Please tell us in the comments- have you had a reluctant singer?  How did you get the songs going?


And, if you're ready to send your child to a music class where she'll get help singing, find a teacher near you now!



-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher 

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