Encouraging Individual Singing

It is important for students to sing individually in class, not only so that you can assess the development of their singing voices, but also so that they can hear the sound of their own voices. Encourage students to sing alone by making it a regular part of each class. However, be sure students are very familiar with the song or activity before you ask them to sing alone. Students will sing alone, and enjoy it, when they are not put in an awkward position or asked to perform something with which they really are not familiar and comfortable.

  • Have students put on their "headphones" while singing. This is when the students cup their hands over their ears. It seems to amplify and isolate each child's voice for himself or herself. Often a child shouts or sings in a speaking voice register to hear himself or herself.

  • To minimize the self-consciousness of the students singing alone, try these suggestions.
    • Use props. (The child who throws the ball sings its trajectory. The child holding the puppet pretends to be the puppet's singing voice.) Pass around a play microphone and ask the students to sing into it – just like karaoke.
    • Focus on somebody else. (The child in the center is the one who must guess the name of the singer.)
    • Have the students close their eyes. (Students sing only when the leader taps them.)
    • Let students listen to the sound of their own voice or your voice through a hose or tube. (The tubes designed to make a noise as children whirl them around their heads are ideal.) Emphasize that the students should not sing when the tube is in another person's ear. The sound can be painfully loud.

  • Have students sing in small groups to help them develop confidence before asking them to sing individually.

  • Place students in some organized arrangement (let's say they are in four large rows). Have the students sing through a familiar song. Then sing through again and break the students into smaller groups by simply standing beside a particular row. Let them sing a phrase or two of the song and then move to another row (your "move" has to be in tempo with the song). After they have mastered small group singing, break up the students further by raising a hand indicating certain students within the selected row. Before the activity begins, inform your students what your signals mean. Keep an element of surprise so the students never know who is singing next. To achieve this, do not just move down the row of students for individual responses. You can assess their progress and enjoy hearing them sing in smaller groups.

  • Use songs and activities that encourage individual singing, such as name songs and "fill in the blank" songs (for example, "Who's That?" – grades K-l; "Knock at the Door" – grades 2-3; "Telephone Song" – grades 4-6). Have all the students sing each other's names as a large group, then in small groups (boys and girls, for example), before individual singing.

  • Solo opportunities can be created by designating certain song phrases to be sung by someone alone. Songs with echoed patterns or phrases are naturals, but so are "Dinah" (the sol-mi patterns), the first section of "Goin' to Kentucky," and the first and last phrases of "Schlaf, Kindlein, Schlaf." It is especially helpful when the solo begins in a part of the vocal range that requires use of the head register.

  • Musical Show and Tell: Have students sing about what they might take on a picnic, or where they went on vacation, or what they got for Christmas or some other holiday, or what color clothing they are wearing, and so forth.

  • "Penny, Key, and Thimble" (grades K-2). Use any three objects that the students can recognize and that can fit comfortably in their close-fisted hands. Students close their eyes and put their open hands, palms up, out in front of themselves. You sing a three-note pattern (begin with a descending pattern; descending major and minor tonic patterns seem to be easiest for helping students "pop" into singing register) with the words "Who has the ____________ (name of the item)?" The class then echoes what you sang. Repeat for each object. The patterns may be the same for each object or different. During this singing, place each object in a child's hand. Then sing "Don't let us see," have the class echo, all close their hands tight, and open their eyes. Instruct the students to stand and sing "I have the ____________ (name of the item)" when you ask for the object they have in their hands. Sing "Who has the ____________ (name of the item)?" and have the students respond as described. Use this opportunity to give helpful suggestions to the students regarding their singing. When all objects have been located, sing "Bring them to me," have the class echo, and have those with objects bring them to you.

  • Divide the class into two groups (at first make the groups equal and then over several class periods diminish the size of the second group). Have group one sing the whole song and group two sing only the first half. Eventually reduce the second group to just a few students.

  • Play games that encourage individual singing. One such game is Postman. The class sings a song about a postman or letter carrier. While they sing, you deliver mail to each student. (Mail consists of envelopes with pictures of various items like shoes, flowers, toys, and so forth. Make up envelopes so that several have the same picture, two or three with another picture, and only one or two with unique pictures). You sing "Who has the __________ (name of the item)." The students with that item hold the envelope up, stand, and sing "I have the ___________ (name of the item)." Begin by asking for an item that is in several envelopes before calling for those in only one, two, or three envelopes.

  • Play question-and-answer singing games. You sing a simple question or greeting to a child and the child responds using the same pitches.

  • Make solo singing a routine activity so it is no big deal to the students. Also, provide many opportunities for low-pressure solos. For example, select one child to be "it." "It" is blindfolded and sits in a chair in front of the class with his or her back to them. The class sings a song together once while the teacher selects a "soloist." The soloist then sings the song. "It" has to guess who sang the solo. The class's visual and mental focus is on "it," and whether he or she will guess the right person, rather than on the soloist.

  • Build a chain. This could be a name chain with each child singing his or her name, or a favorite food chain, and so forth. Have the students practice "I am _____" or "I like ____" together on a triad or a three-tone pattern. Then build a chain by pointing to students to add their part in succession. It is sometimes helpful to have all the students sing a phrase in between each individual response, such as "Who are you" or "Food is good."

  • Pass the song around. First, have the students sing a familiar song together. Then have one student sing the first phrase, point to another student to sing the second phrase, and so forth. Again, do not go down or across the rows one student after another; skip around the room. Also, do not hesitate to call on the same student more than once. Students tend to relax once they have participated, and the opportunity to participate more than once keeps them alert.

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