In this unit we look at the basics of how to teach a song to your class, including the '3 Ps of Performance'.

First steps

Preparation before the session

Before you begin teaching anything to your class, get as familiar as you can with the material – don’t do this by listening alone – sing it! Your class are much more likely to understand and follow if you sing to them, and they sing back to you rather than having them listen to a recording or watch a clip. Singing is all about communication, so be bold and sing!

Structuring a session/warming-up

Your session should always begin with a warm up, and then you can move on to the body of activity. The structure of a session is important, and you are strongly urged NOT to be tempted to skip the warm up no matter how extreme the time pressure. There are lots of reasons for warming up. Warming-up will:

  • Get your and your students’ voices ready for singing.
  • Get your class focused.
  • Dispel inhibitions some individuals may have brought into the room.
  • Set up working together as a team.
  • Help students feel energised and united.

Tips for improving classroom singing

  • Speak as little as possible – this helps children concentrate and focus on you.
  • Communicate using hand signs, face change, stop/go hands, and general nonverbal ways of communicating.
  • Teach by gradually adding phrases to build it up. List phrases and evaluate the sound produced whilst class repeats.
  • Then address consonants and endings, where to breathe and change dynamics.
  • Model mistakes in a comical way to avoid offence, demonstrate why they are wrong and then model them correctly: then compare the two examples and be specific about how you have corrected your singing technique (e.g. how to transition from ‘chest’ to ‘head’ voice).

The Three Ps - A technique for evaluating aspects of classroom singing

Posture

Suggested activity: 1…2…3… Jump! – to learn how to place feet about a shoulder width apart and stand supported on bended knees.

Consider your stance – check if you are being Adam and Eve (hands in front), army (hands behind), teenager (slouching) or a singer (correct).

Stand with tall, straight, relaxed giraffe necks (note: when in character, if you are looking down and singing, look down with your eyes and maintain your tall, straight, relaxed giraffe neck).

Think about body language: are we maintaining the character we are trying to be physically as we sing?

Precision

Diction

Can you hear and understand the words?

Breathing

Does everyone know where to breathe and are the children doing it together?

Are the pitch and note lengths correct?

Dynamics

Is it uniform across the group and changing according to your plan?

Articulation

How should the music sound? E.g. spiky, smooth, punchy etc.

Performance

  • Starting and finishing confidently.
  • Vocal character.
  • Expression/communication.

Further tips

Sound-based/non-singing exercises are an easy way to get your voice moving and there is less risk involved for participants, as no one is worried about making a beautiful sound – which can be inhibiting.

Make links between the key focus point(s) of your rehearsal. If you are going to focus on singing with super-crisp text, then build this into your warm up; if the piece you are working on has difficult intervals to pitch, then this should be your focus etc.

Learning methodologies

  • To make a long or complex tune manageable, break it down into small chunks, and don’t worry about repeating yourself lots and lots – it takes time for people to absorb tricky tunes.
  • If you find yourself repeating the same section lots of times, try either breaking it down further (i.e. teaching a shorter passage), or try singing it lots of different ways to keep everyone on their toes (e.g. With different emotional impetus).
  • Come up with gestures which will help students remember the words.
  • When you begin to string the small parts of a tune together, don’t just start at the beginning; you could start at the end and work backwards. Also, accumulate longer bits of tune gradually – don’t just stick it all together at once.