Developing part singing in primary school.

I had a twitter conversation today with @MissLeeSays about developing part singing with children.  It got me thinking that it might be worth posting my thoughts with some links to resources.

I really am no expert but having spent quite a bit of time singing with kids so here are my tips.

1. Make sure the song is suitable. If the kids can’t cope with the vocal range put it aside. The quality of singing from my classes appeared to improve dramatically when I chose simpler songs!

2. Make sure the kids know it really well, are pitching it accurately and really get the rhythms. Only when this is the case can you start to add layers.

3. Have a look at the book “Banana Splits” . It really breaks it down into small steps. It suggests you start with call and response songs so kids get used to listening to each other.

4. Play with overlapping chants. This means kids only have to concentrate on the rhythms and will gain experience of layering sound

5. The book has a lovely version of “Down by the Bay” where one group hold on the last note of each line. This is very manageable for even the youngest children and gives children a positive experience of part singing from the get go.

6. Rounds & canons. Horrible experiences in my childhood have forever ruined the songs London’s Burning and Frere Jacque but thankfully there are plenty of other songs that work as a round! I love the Voices Foundations collections of songs – the vast majority work as a round. You can experiment with starting points

7. Developing your own ostinato parts to enhance your song.

8. Look for partner songs that work well together

9. The very talented teacher and choir leader  Soo Bishop taught me a very valuable lesson: part singing is not a competitive sport! Stop kids from bellowing their parts. Some kids will think their job is to drown out all other parts. Instead get the children to sing their parts in their “thinking voice” so they internalise their part. When singers feel they are loosing their part encourage them to drop the volume and sing it as quietly as they can. Remarkably, this tip always seems to work well. I have seen Soo get fantastically high quality performances from children using these methods.

10. Browse the Sing Up website for teaching tips. They have some great reportoire for choir which comes with teaching tips and ideas for how to teach. They are very responsive so if you are having a problem with one of their songs I recommend tweeting @singuptweets and you should get a personalised answer.

11. Sign up for a Sound Connections workshop. They have some fantastic tutors, aren’t too expensive and you will come away with a term’s worth of material.

12. Record the singing and let the kids listen back. Although we want the children to be listening as they are singing this is incredibly difficult. If we record it the children can evaluate how it actually sounds and suggest adjustments. I am sometimes tempted to skip out this stage it an attempt to get more done but I know that when I do make the effort it generally has a good payoff!

13. Have a look at Musical Futures “finding your voice” project. Geting kids to sing 4 chord progressions and then improvise over the top is very rewarding and gets kids singing in parts before they even know it!

It doesn’t happen overnight –  it takes time for the children to get to grips with this. It is worth persevering though. I am still not there with my all the classes and choirs I work with and if anyone has any other ideas I would be very interested in hearing them! I thought I’d finish by sticking up a few links that might be helpful.

I am grateful to Pauline, music coordinator at a local school for sharing this partner song with actions.

Beth’s Notes has a great list of partner songs that work well. Click  here

Have a look at a great Musical Futures workshop on 4 chord vocal mash up

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