Reply To: Helping students who "can't" sing

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With individual singing, I do a few different things:

1. If they are singing the contour but not at your pitch, lower the pitch (to their level) and see if they can match you. Then over time, inch them up.
2. Try using a peer model. Sometimes children respond to the timbre of a peer better than an adult.
3. Since you are using the slide whistle, this is a good transfer: have them slide up into the pitch. Model it and have them echo.
4. Use images: sound more like a squeaky mouse, a barn owl, a small bird. Be careful that this does not lead to silly singing, but sometimes the image of singing “like” something else helps children find their head voice.
5. With early elementary grades, I like to incorporate vocal exploration and singing into stories, either books or made up tales. I create flashcards with shapes to help students use their head voices (oooooOOOOoooo, ahh—–_____, zzz ZZZ, Grrrr________, fluid lines, animal sounds, short jingles, etc.).
6. Love the Woo Ball idea mentioned above. Kids adore this too! Throw anything and call it the “Woo _____.” Have students follow the object with their voices. I have a Woo Chicken. : )
7. I cannot tell from your username, but if you are a male teacher, make sure you are always using falsetto when having uncertain singers echoing your singing. Also, sometimes singing along in your regular voice can pull uncertain singers down.

As mentioned above, don’t give up! It often takes a long time for children to come into their singing voices. And it is always a huge celebration when a child finally finds their head voice and matches pitch! One of my favorite teaching moments!

Hope these strategies are useful in your classroom!
Sarah Bartolome
Council for General Music, Member at Large
Baton Rouge, LA