Teaching singing to little children

I’ve written here a number of times about the advantages of teaching excellent singing, particularly in the chant, to little ones. I thought I’d outline a few specific tips about how to do that. Most of these are taken in one way or another from the Ward Method.

  1. Insist on excellent singing from the very beginning, even with kindergarteners. This can be a little challenging if students are used to singing in a loud, shouting way. One remedy is simply to have students repeat back notes, sung on “oo,” and listening for beautiful singing. Another is to ask students to repeat the call of the mourning dove, singing on the syllable “oo.” Listen carefully for vocal production. Gently correct the students who are making more playful sounds and challenge them to “sing beautifully.”
  2. Another way to correct shouting is to ask students to sing–not shout–a note as loudly as they can. Correct shouting until it is loud singing. Then ask them to sing the same note as quietly as they can, not whispering, but quiet singing. Lastly, ask them to sing the same note as “mediumly” as they can.
  3. Teach the students to sing the Do Re Mi scale with hand motions that walk the notes up the body. This is an outstanding video explanation. The entire series is wonderful.
  4. To explain the half steps in the scale, I tell a story about being on vacation in an old house on vacation, and tell the students that since their family is in the beautiful basement of this wonderful house, and the kitchen is on the first floor, that it is very important to know how to walk up the stairs at night to get some delicious hot chocolate. The problem with this old house is that some of the steps are only half as tall, and you have to be careful in order to walk up in the dark. I draw a platform horizontally low on the board, and that is Do. Then a stair, up to Re, then a stair up to Mi, and then a half-tall stair up to Fa. This continues up to Do, with a half-tall stair between Mi and Do.
    Little children are very interested in the height and size of things, and will have fairly recently conquered the processes involved in walking up stairs, so this image is very memorable to them.
These are just a few introductory steps. The main thing is to consistently ask the children to sing excellent music. That is why I always supplement these music theory explanations with selections from the Parish Book of Chant.