Distinguishing Speaking vs. Singing

Sometimes students use a speaking voice register for singing because they do not hear or understand that a difference exists between speaking and singing. The following tips are helpful for these students.

  • Be sure to use accurate and consistent terminology when giving directions to students. Use "sing" when you wish the students to use a singing register. Use "chant" when you want the students to speak words in rhythm in a speaking register.

  • Two puppets – one whose voice is high and who loves the sound of the singing voice and one whose voice more closely approximates the speaking register – may be used to cue the switch between vocal registers. Students love saying their favorite chants with phrases alternating between registers – upon cue from the puppets. And solo opportunities to demonstrate Ms. Elephant's (or whoever's) voice are sought eagerly. This concrete experience helps in other contexts, as students can be reminded to use Ms. Elephant's voice, rather than _____'s voice, to sing a particular song.

  • Play games that help students learn the difference between a singing voice and a speaking voice. For example, play Simon Sings, a game similar to Simon Says, except that the students may only do what you sing, not what you say. The words "Simon says" are not used. The students may also echo your sung or chanted direction, thus experimenting with both "voices." Once the students are comfortable with this game, a student may replace you as "Simon."

  • Designate a puppet to respond only to singing voice, not to speech. Examples are a turtle puppet that only comes out of its shell, or a sleeping doll who only wakes up, or a cone puppet that only pops up when someone sings to it. Of course, the puppet responds by singing but gives no response to spoken words.

  • Teach the song "Ten in a Bed," focusing on use of the singing voice throughout except for "Good Night!," which uses the speaking voice. Once students are comfortable with the song, try the following.
    1. Have students close eyes.
    2. Walk in and around students as all begin to sing "Ten in a Bed."
    3. Tap one student on the shoulder and only that student sings "Roll over! Roll over!" in singing voice.
    4. Class identifies the mystery singer and the game continues through the rest of the verses.

  • You can help develop the use of the upper register by selecting song materials that do not remain in the lower range and by having the students perform arpeggio patterns, and so forth, in a slightly higher key, perhaps the key of E or even F. It may also be helpful to the students to have them echo some tonal patterns with descending melodic contour before singing any songs in each class. The neutral syllable "whoo" seems to work best. This vowel is focused but not tight and the "wh" usually prevents a glottal stop from occurring. These patterns should start on the C above middle C; gradually begin the students on an even higher note.

  • Chant nursery rhymes in various voices and at varying dynamic levels. Let the students suggest which voice to use.

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