Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Music Teacher Tip #10 - #ToneQuality:
😖 Louder is not better. Say it with me, "Louder is NOT better." Have your students say it back to you. Many of the issues that occur with tone quality and even intonation happen because of overplaying or over-singing. There is a point at which singing becomes yelling on pitch. It's not pretty or healthy. Don't let your kids do it. Help them learn produce a beautiful singing tone.
Here is a warmup that I learned from my cooperating teacher and still use it when I work with little ones. This is most appropriate with K-2 at the very beginning of class:
Have students echo the following, in rhythm, back to you as described:
Whisper: "This is my quiet voice" in the rhythm "Ta ti-ti ti-ti ta" (They echo it back in a quiet voice.)
Speak in a normal voice: "This is my speaking voice" in the same rhythm as above. (They echo back.)
Speak in a loud, but supported voice: "This is my loud voice" in the rhythm "Ta ti-ti ta ta" (They echo back.) Don't let them scream. If they do, ask, "Is that what my voice sounded like? No? Then match me this time" and have them try again.
Sing with good tone: "This is my singing voice" on the pitches high C to A440 "sol, mi, mi, sol, sol, mi" (They sing it back) I always kept a tuning fork handy so that I could find A440 easily and accurately. Eventually, I could find it without the tuning fork, but I always modeled using the tuning fork for them. This is good practice whether it's a warmup or the starting pitch for a song.
Lastly, sing on the same pattern: "Hello, everyone." (Students would sing back, "Hello, Ms. Blevins." If you've never done this, it's instructive and adorable! 🙂
As students learn these patterns, you can begin to vary the rhythm for them to echo. For example, you can syncopate, swing, add rests, etc. If they're learning about rests that day, integrate rests into the echo. What a great segue into the content for the day! Afterward, ask, "Did you notice something different about what we just said/sang?" When students point out the quiet space, you introduce the concept of a rest! 🙂
For the singing part you can begin to incorporate more advanced solfege. Instead of sol-mi patterns, integrate la, then re, do, etc. Mixed with varying rhythms, you can use this well into 5th grade. In case you're wondering, once students demonstrated mastery of the different types of voices, I eventually dropped the first part, "This is my quiet voice," etc. I would often just sing, "Hello, everyone" using more and more advanced melodic patterns. Students would echo back "Hello, Ms. Blevins" with roughly the same pattern, but they'd have to fit the different rhythmic accents to my name instead of "everyone." For example:
"Hello, everyone" would be "Ta, ta, ti-ti, ta." "Hello, Ms. Blevins" would be "Ta, ti-ti, ta, ta."
Kids are naturally able to do this very well.
Here are some other ways to encourage healthy singing with a beautiful tone:
Let them hear outstanding children's choirs on a regular basis. Here are some outstanding choirs you can Google search:
Young Voices of the Carolinas Capital City Girls’ Choir Greensboro Youth Chorus Winston-Salem Girls Chorus Winston-Salem Youth Chorus Durham Children’s Choir Chattanooga Boys Choir Spivey Hall Children's Choir New Orleans Children's Chorus (If I've omitted your favorite, let me know. There are too many great ones to list!)
Always model an appropriate singing voice for your students. If you're able, always sing in a higher tessitura than feels natural to you (unless you are a high soprano). Children's voices are not meant to sing lower than middle C and should - for the most part - stay around the middle of the treble staff. If you have an obvious natural vibrato, explain to children what that is and that they shouldn't sound the same as you because you're a grown up. If you're able to model a straight tone with no tension in the sound. This is ideal.
If you hear individual voices that are making healthy, beautiful singing sounds, allow them to model for the class and praise what they're doing right - even if everything isn't great. For example, "I love how Janae is using her singing voice AND she got all the sol mi names right." (This is appropriate even if her pitches aren't accurate. Remember to reinforce what's correct.)
Praise the whole class when they begin matching your tone quality. Praise them when they match pitch! Praise them for their effort! If a kid uses a yelling voice, don't admonish them for it. Ask if they can find their singing voice for you and remind them how that sounds by modeling again.
Kids - (who am I kidding?) - all of us thrive on positive feedback and you can easily build on that foundation. 💗
Oh, and don't worry middle and high school directors who can't get them to make any sound louder than pianissimo... your tips are coming soon.... 😊