louder please
May 19, 2011 4:32 AM   Subscribe

How to help pupils to sing ?

I teach English and I'd like to help my pupils to develop their ability to sing. I've noticed that despite the fact they're eager to sing, they're often hindered in their singing endeavours. Pronunciation is a problem, but since I bring along my guitar, we're able to work on the lyrics at a leisurely pace.

I think that they're shy, uneasy to sing in front of their friends. So my question is : could you provide me with activities, exercises, warm-up routines that I could use to help them to relax and improve their singing ?
posted by nicolin to Education (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How old are your pupils?
posted by monkey closet at 4:41 AM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: Without knowing the age of your pupils (and indeed, what I'm going to suggest may seem a bit idiotic if you have older children), here's what I would do: first, you have to get them comfortable singing. This generally involves simple call and response chanting.

You: Good morning Jennifer!
Jennifer: Good morning Mr. Nicolin!

You make up a basic melody (with at most three notes - usually the 3rd, 5th, and 6th of whatever key you're in [in they Key of C, use E, G, A]), and then repeat it back to you. Over and over. Around the room.

You: We are going to our books!
Them: We are going to our books!

Songs are actually kind of tough, so this sort of ad hoc singing can increase confidence.

The other biggest problem I see with teaching younger students to sing is a range issue. While most adults can realize when something is out of their range and jump octaves to fix those issues, a lot of children have trouble with that. If you're male (as your profile says), you may have to work up in your falsetto range if your students are young enough.

Hope this helps - it should be a good starting point. If your kids are at an older age, though (10 and older), the self-consciousness thing may have fully kicked in, and it may not work as well.
posted by SNWidget at 6:41 AM on May 19, 2011

When I was learning French, my teacher would teach us songs that had the same melody as songs we already knew in English. That way, we only had to learn the lyrics. She would play and sing the song all the way through for us once while we read along on printed lyrics sheets, then play it again so we could all sing it together.

So, what's their native language? Are there any songs in English that share the same melody as songs they're likely to already know?
posted by decathecting at 6:55 AM on May 19, 2011

Response by poster: My pupils are French teenagers.
posted by nicolin at 6:57 AM on May 19, 2011

In my experience, teenagers are unwilling to sing.
posted by k8t at 7:11 AM on May 19, 2011

Abandon all hope.
You are more likely to further alienate them that engage them. And, anyway, you're teaching English. If you really, really want to try some alternative media, I would suggest reading a play which encourages the kids to act-out/up.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:33 AM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: they're eager to sing

No! Don't abandon hope. They're singing already!

Try a few deep breaths together before you start; you can even show them how to breathe using their bellies rather than their shoulders - but be very gentle, don't say anything they're doing is "wrong", just let them know they might be able to sing more _easily_ and _freely_ if they expand their insides a little more (don't say anything that might cause them to tense up, or try to sing more loudly without relaxing their throats).

Have you ever read "The Inner Game of Tennis" or "A Soprano on Her Head"? Both put forth the idea of achieving improvements by simply noticing things, not trying to "fix" them. If you help them notice how harmony feels, or how relaxed breathing feels, or how good pitch sounds, or how legato phrasing makes the song "sing" more (or whatever particulars interest you), they will automatically try to do these things better (at least according to this approach). With teenagers, especially, I'd avoid a critical approach -- just noticing!
posted by amtho at 7:47 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't abandon hope. Teenagers aren't a dead loss. That said, you've got some pretty major things to deal with. A lot of the boys, for example, will probably have no idea where notes are in their range any more. Try to stick to stuff with a limited range to help alleviate this. It would be a good idea to read up a little on boys' changing voices so you know what you're up against, and what they can (and can't) do.

I wouldn't worry about the volume at this stage. Keep it fun, avoid like the plague any chance for them to lose face, and just keep it the most natural thing for them to be doing. Yes, they are uneasy singing in front of their friends; you're asking them to do something outside their comfort zone, something which (to them) seems to carry a high probability of failure. You need to convince them that this isn't the case. No-one likes to fail in front of their friends.

Sing yourself at least as much as you expect them to, but don't always lead them - when they're confident, let them go on their own. If you've got a good voice, don't sing quite to your best; you need to model good singing, but not to an extent that's intimidating. Expect them to emulate you - and make that achievable - if you've got a nice open tone slightly louder than their breathy whisper, that's doable; but if you're belting to try to get more out of them, that's so far away they probably won't even bother.

Warm up - vocally and physically. Make sure they're relaxed, have good posture, they're breathing well etc. - that'll all make a huge difference.

You've got a group of teenagers that are 'eager to sing'. Please, please, please don't abandon hope!
posted by monkey closet at 7:51 AM on May 19, 2011

As well as the tennis book, there's also an 'inner game of music'; well worth a read...
posted by monkey closet at 7:54 AM on May 19, 2011

Best answer: When I (a native English speaker) took French class in high school, each day our teacher started the class with us listening to a pop or folk song recording in French. She gave us each a sheet with the lyrics, with blanks where some of the words were supposed to go. The songs changed weekly, and our job as students was to try to fill in all the blanks, by the end of the week. Toward the end of the week people were usually humming along, albeit in the mocking and silly way of teenagers. If singing had been encouraged, I imagine most (though definitely not all) of the class would have done it at the end of each week once they were familiar with the song.
posted by vytae at 7:55 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: SNwidget, amtho, monkey closet, you're right on the money.
This is precisely what I need : how to induce a comfortable context, the right listening mood and attitude to give them an opportunity to really enjoy the experience, even if it's gradually and only achieved in the long run.
I need routines and techniques. Thanks !
posted by nicolin at 8:08 AM on May 19, 2011

To preface this - I have no musical aptitude and that forms the basis of my response, which is in essence, a plea to reconsider your intention to force your students to sing regularly in a foreign language class.

When I went to school nobody asked us to sing after the age of about 12-13. And as far as my peers and I were concerned that was a good thing. By that age those of us who liked to sing had either joined the choir or the school band or were pursuing it outside school. The rest of us didn't want to sing unless drunk (that would be late teens not 13 obviously). Whilst I'd enjoyed singing in primary school by that age I had realised that I can't hold a tune to save my life. Any time I was asked to sing after that realisation I was mouthing not singing. To me there was no pleasure for myself in doing something badly and in general in spoiling the overall output of the class.

Fortunately, we were only asked to sing as part of a foreign language class perhaps 2-3 times in total in the hundreds of foreign languages lessons I had at secondary school (English for 9 years, Latin for 5 years and French for 3 years - 3-6 lessons per week each). If you had pulled out your guitar and made us sing regularly as part of English class you'd have become my least favourite teacher very quickly, despite the fact that English was my favourite subject. For this not at all musical student that would have felt like a complete waste of time and a very unpleasant way to spend time at that; second only to track sports and gymnastics perhaps in terms of horrors I considered singing as an activity best reserved for music lessons - and even in music lessons we didn't have to sing at that age...we learned about music history, about how different instruments worked and what not - yeah to old fashioned school curriculums!

And I enjoy music, I listen to my ipod and the radio every day, I go to concerts and bars with live music - I just resent people trying ot make me do stuff I can't do because I "will enjoy the experience".

But that's just me and going by the responses here there are actually people wou'd encourage you to inflict this on your students. I say inflict because that's what it feels like to some of your students.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:39 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Koahiatamadl, you're absolutely right. I don't want the kids to sing if they have developed some sort of allergy to it. They are not forced to sing, I don't try to make them sing if they don't feel like it. It is not an obligation, they can't possibly get an evaluation out of it. What happened today is that the kids actually asked for it, but then, sang in a very shy and self-conscious way, keeping the level very low.

I want to develop the ability of the pupils who do want to sing but limit themselves to a whisper or a very low level. If some of them do not even open their mouth, that's ok with me. I would like to bring more freedom into the classroom an help them to do what they want to do.
posted by nicolin at 11:07 AM on May 19, 2011

nocolin - more power to you if they want to sing and you're trying to make that happen :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:22 AM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: Clean pop songs. They're at that age where they don't want to sing "Row row row your boat". Simple ones. Beatles have quite a few good ones (Yellow Submarine was one I had kindergarteners singing). Jason Meraz (sp) has the song Lucky, that I had kids up to 6th grade singing. Eye of the Tiger was another one. If you can get songs that are appropriate from current movies that would work too.

I made fun lyric cards with clip art and stuff and laminated them (I usually picked one or two songs for a month). I never made them do gap fill exercises (though I remember hating that in high school Spanish).

Of course, this is dependent on having at least a CD player (that works) in your classroom.

Good luck. Singing is a great way to start a lesson.
posted by kathrynm at 4:56 AM on May 22, 2011

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