Our students have no problem strumming and picking but how can we encourage our more reluctant students to let loose and sing?
There were some great ideas discussed in October's interactive JHUI Live meeting and around the virtual table of the Uketropolis Team. Let’s take a look at some activities you can bring right into your classroom today, many of which can work in both in-person and online settings.*
Teachers set the tone. If we are not feeling confident with our own voices, that will come through and can potentially impact our students’ confidence levels. It doesn’t mean we need to be the best vocalists, but we do want to show that it’s not only possible to sing, it might even be fun and rewarding!
Pivot! When we sing in groups, we often all face forward, towards the teacher or conductor. If we instead make a circle and turn inward, we can all hear each other and can communicate and interact more easily. You don't even need to move the chairs, just have students pivot so that they're facing a central point.
It doesn’t mean we need to be the best vocalists, but we do want to show that it’s not only possible to sing, it might even be fun and rewarding!
Get on your feet! Giving your body a break from sitting can improve projection, confidence, and just give our students freedom to move and be comfortable. It's so simple: just stand up! This works especially well online when we’re all sitting at screens for hours on end. Move that body and sing it out!
My turn, your turn. Remember that Up Above My Head tune we mentioned at the beginning (available in Ukulele in the Classroom Book 2)? It’s a great way to employ call-and-answer with your students. This can work in live classrooms or in online settings. Online, you can unmute everyone and let there be a bit of a delay in the responses, or you can keep the class muted and watch their responses (counting the response timing in your head for your next call).
Eliminate the words altogether! Try using just vowels instead, which can take a lot of pressure off when learning songs and building singing confidence. Introduce vowel singing in this order, which takes you from the least bold sounds, building up to the more open vowels and then from there you can jump into lyrics. Here’s a suggested order to try:
Ditch that melody. Try just saying the words in rhythm, which removes the “singing” aspects of pitch and helps students get comfortable with the words, the feel and flow. Once they’ve got some confidence here, re-introduce that melody line and they’ll feel far more ready to sing it.
Replace some words. In Take This Hammer (from Great Popular Songs), you could begin by asking for suggestions of a favourite chocolate bar or sweet, and a favourite superhero. The song then goes like this: "Take this Kit Kat… take it to Superman!" The focus is on fun and it lessens the pressure of the singing itself.
Win-win. Have a fun competition dividing the group into two and see which group can sing the loudest, the quietest, the most operatic, or even the nastiest! Laughter and stress release are often the result here. And though this tends to work better with kids, this can definitely still work with the right group of adults! So many ways to sneak in that "stealth" teaching!
Involve students in lyric writing. Have them add a line or verse to an existing song and you’ve got an ‘oblique’ way of teaching singing basics. Just as mentioned earlier with replacing words, students become more invested in their own lyrics and as a result, you'll often see them take more ownership and pride in singing the song.
Jump in, bring your fun and creative self to your teaching and before you know it, those students will be singing their hearts out! (Or at least taking a few chances.)
* We recognize that singing during the pandemic has its challenges. Explore creative ways to apply some of these ideas in your own setting, always taking into account your area rules for healthy distancing.
Cynthia Kinnunen is a music educator from Guelph, Ontario, and is part of Team Uketropolis.
Subscribe to the Uketropolis Gazette. Free arrangements, tips, interviews and more delivered to your inbox.