Our Best Tool Can Be Our Worst Crutch

Last week at SCMEA, I got to hear two great clinicians. I loved the information they shared with us, but noticed that both of them felt pretty strongly about one topic:


Don’t sing with your kids!

OK, obviously I don’t sing EVERYTHING with my students. But, I do enjoy it. After hearing not one, but two directors step up on their soapbox, I decided I’d try to be more conscious about how much I was actually singing with my classes.

Serendipitous or not,  I came down with a pretty nasty virus during the conference, so I literally COULDN’T sing roughly half of last week. I drank all of the throat coat tea, and received multiple questions about what that “green stuff” was in my mug. Middle schoolers, gotta love ‘em. Monday through Wednesday was largely non-verbal, out of necessity. I’m actually really glad it forced me to back off and listen, because here’s what I realized:

 

  1. Some students were relying on hearing my voice far too heavily

  2. Other students were trying to look at my face as if I had music written on it. They were literally attempting to learn by reading my lips instead of looking at the music on the page. Lesson learned: I’ve completely stopped singing with the class when I want to hear if they can do something. I’ve also stopped mouthing the words, which forces them to MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH THEIR SCORES!

  3. Once they stopped relying on me, my classes actually started becoming independent faster.

  4. Listening has definitely improved.

  5. Individuals are taking notes more consistently in their scores. (That might also be because I’ve been grading them on that...but still).

 

My little (forced) experiment exposed how I've been using my own voice as a crutch in class. However, this is totally a double-edged sword...because vocal modelling is also the strongest tool we have in our classrooms.

Here are the limitations I’ve set for myself, or am working to improve regarding when to sing, and when to just zip it:

Just Zip It.

Sight singing

I’m solid on this. My classes warm-up by singing their scale and arpeggios, practice individually for one minute, and then perform their daily sight singing exercise on their own. I will give them a starting pitch, and I might correct a note here or there if they get de-railed. Otherwise, I’m just there to keep the beat.

 

Ear training

During a round of follow the hand, I only provide solfege hand signs. If they can’t get a pitch, I will rescue the group...but only after I listen to see if they can correct themselves first. I’ll often point at a student who is modeling the correct note, to prompt the rest of the class to listen and adjust to what they are doing. It’s important for each individual to learn to hear themselves to identify correct tone, tuning, etc.

 

Performances

I mean, obviously.

Sometimes (a.k.a- where I need to simmer down)

Warm-up

I’ll sing along during a warm-up if what we are doing is more unfamiliar to a class. Generally, I try to just listen so that I can correct technique, make suggestions, etc. Although, I'll find myself not thinking about it and singing along to something (usually a round or a part song) because it’s fun to sing. I’ll also sing with a section if they are weaker than other sections if we're working on a round.

 

Learning new repertoire

This is one of those habits I’m trying to improve on. I’ll often sing with a section when they are just beginning to learn something new. I thought it made them feel more confident in the early learning stages, but after the last two weeks, I’m noticing they’ll do just fine if I model before they sing, and then let them try it themselves. As I told several classes today:

 

Be brave enough to confidently make a mistake.

Sing On!

Vocal modeling

The best tool we have at our disposal is our own voice. It’s so much simpler to just sing a line how I want it performed. Sitting silently for five minutes while you listen to a director verbally explain how they want something to sound= boring! It takes two seconds for you to model something. Try adding kinesthetic movement to your model  to really help students grasp what you are trying to accomplish.

How often do you sing with your own students? Do you find yourself falling into similar patterns, or do you have your own habits? 

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