Musicianship Meaning – I believe we can do both. And being willing to plan some ways to develop the music little by little throughout the year is a good place to start.
This post is for children’s choir conductors who need inspiration, ideas and practical advice for teaching music to children and developing their musical repertoire from week to week.
I will talk about what music is and 10 effective ways to develop it little by little in your weekly practice.
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Some might say it’s the skills you have as a musician – things like listening, hearing, singing, playing, creating, responding, etc. Others might say it’s the ability to “think with sound” or listen (source). This means hearing the music in your head without the actual sound. You can think of this as being able to read a book silently, hearing the words in your head as you read them but not saying them out loud.
Both – reading in silence and listening to music with no sound present – are things that develop through exposure and experience.
There are many different aspects of music, all of which you can touch with our practice throughout the year.
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There are many things you can incorporate into your practice throughout the year to cultivate different aspects of music in your young musicians.
Which brings me to the main point of today’s post: 10 practical things you can do to develop musicality in your children’s choir, week after week, all year round.
Think of a musical concept like legato: what does it mean to sing legato? How does it sound? How does the voice sound? Another concept could be steps versus leaps: how do they differ? How do they feel about the voice? How do they sound?
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Again, this is done without commentary, hearing the difference first and having it in your voice.
Think of ways to prepare for new concepts such as beats or musical patterns that might appear in a new hymn or song you plan to introduce, dotted beats, or complex rhythmic patterns that might be unfamiliar.
All these things can be corrected by warming up at the beginning of the practice. As Josh Pedde of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir said, “The warm-up is where you teach your choir to sing.”
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Here is an example of an exercise you can use to get your singers focused and ready to sing:
This is a simple “hallelujah”, descending a 5 note scale, but going through all the important vowels we use in singing.
It’s a great way to introduce vowels and talk about vowel production, pitch production, phrasing, slur, gradual movement, etc., all without going into too much detail. Let your players experience all of these things in a warm-up before really digging into the music.
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Young singers need time to learn to use and control their voice, so singing a capella gives them a great opportunity to listen and learn to adapt their voice to what is happening around them.
It also gives them the opportunity to learn to predict musical patterns and rhythms, instead of just responding to the keyboard or piano, and they can focus more on the shape and direction of the vocal line without the distraction of the accompaniment (at first).
This is especially important as they start learning something: to focus on that melody—the phrase and the shape of the melody—without getting distracted elsewhere.
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Statistics show that only 10% of people remember the things they hear and only 20% remember the things they read. But a whopping 80% of people remember the things they see and do. (source)
The more ways you can think of to incorporate visuals and props to make the music (sound art) more engaging, the better.
This is a great strategy for creating a new piece or part of a piece. It’s an opportunity to break a song into sections and focus on one musical element at a time.
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When you sing a beat, speak with inflection instead of singing like a robot, where everything is down in the voice. Encourage your singers to rise and fall in their voice and make it more powerful and interesting.
Use the syllable “bah” at the beginning. Once the beat is familiar to you, move on to the count or verse of a hymn or song.
In small choirs, sing a phrase like this and have your singers repeat it. Once they do it correctly and confidently, move on to another scheme. If there’s still a doubt, try the same sentence a couple of times until you’re more sure.
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If your choir has gotten to the point where it’s starting to learn some musical notation, pull the rhythmic patterns out of the piece they’re working on and write them down on the chalkboard or somewhere where everyone can see them. Point to each beat as you sing it, and point as you sing it again. This is a way to combine memorization and learning about music.
Of course. 4, this is a useful strategy for a new piece or part of a piece. Use a neutral syllable like “bum” or “doo” at the start, rather than singing right away. This helps children focus on the musical elements of the song.
Take text out of the equation for a moment so you don’t have to worry about how to pronounce certain words, proper vowels, consonants, whatever. Instead, just focus on the lyrics, phrasing, breathing, movements, spaces, etc. – all elements of music (and rhythm, of course, at this point).
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If you’re teaching by heart, sing it on a neutral syllable and ask your singers to go back. If your choir is just starting to learn, have them point to the notes in their music as they sing, or if the music is on a chalkboard or screen, have them draw the shape of the music in the air as it rises and falls .
Listen to a piece of music (in a constant tempo, of course!) and have the choir play a constant beat with you. Mix by changing the position of the beat in 4 dimensions: from thighs to shoulders to head, nose, etc.
If you have space, have the children follow the beat (go around the room) as they listen. No talking, of course! Listen and show a steady pace. Have them take a step, hop on one foot, clap their hands, touch different body parts, etc. – anything to get them a little involved.
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Also use clapping games to reinforce continuous rhythm and try to teach them 4-beat movement sequences to use while listening to music (for example, step, step, pat, clap or catch, catch, clap hands, clap your hands).
You can teach form using movement (while listening). For example, do a circle dance and switch directions every 8 bars or so and switch sides when you hear a new section in the music.
Draw phrases in the air to get more melody and have the musicians draw in the air with you. Try using rhythmic beats at different levels or to match tempo changes. This is a great way to test an individual’s understanding of music.
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Cut part of the article together (using PowerPoint or an enlarged copy cut to individual sizes). This is a great way to present reading notes to your musicians without just handing out copies of the music and asking them to follow along.
Give your musicians something to discover: look for patterns (melody and rhythm), things that look alike. Show them how to find dynamic stitches and color code. They look at common tenses, things you’ve prepared well by warming up, and other things, and distinguish them by drawing a box around the 3, a triangle around the 4, a starburst around the 5, etc.
Use music games to explore vowels, intervals, rhythmic patterns, music theory, etc. etc. Teach improvisation by playing a question and answer musical game.
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Play a “Musical Memory” matching game to help children identify similarities and differences in different patterns of the same beat and rhythm. This makes a great collection activity for children to play when they arrive before starting practice.
It’s an opportunity to put into practice the new musical skills and knowledge they’ve developed, and it gives children a much-needed sense of ownership and responsibility.
As all musicians know, it’s important to learn how to make musical decisions, and teaching our young musicians to do that, right from the start, is powerful. Ask them to participate in the musical decisions you make as a choir.
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I hope this post inspires you to plan creative and purposeful ways to develop music in your children’s choir each week. What are your favorite teaching strategies?
I’m Ashley, musician, teacher, writer and entrepreneur. Here I share creative ideas and practical tools to help you build a successful career as a musician and teacher Read More>>
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