Music Teacher Tip #38:
If a student seems to struggle to match pitch, here are some things I’ve tried that have worked:
🎶 Have them sing any note and then YOU match THEM. From there you can begin to move stepwise in either direction. For example, the student sings middle C sharp. So you match it and ask them to sing 2 more in this pattern: C#, B, A. If you suspect this is the bottom of their range move this pattern up by half steps. Do vice versa if you suspect it’s the top of their range.
🎶 By the way, it is common for changed voices to have trouble finding the correct octave if a high voice models the exact pitch. It seems that because they perceive it as low in your voice, they’ll inevitably sing too low. If this happens, just sing up the octave.
🎶 If they still struggle, consider asking another singer of the same voice type to model for them. For some reason this can sometimes work wonders. I once had a fifth-grade boy who wasn’t matching pitch. I asked if he would let a classmate help him. He agreed, so I sent the two boys just outside my door. About 5 minutes later the kid was matching! (This is also a 21st century skill called “student leadership”).
🎶 I once had an adult private voice student with no singing experience. When he started, he wasn’t matching anything. I was able to vocalize him enough that I knew he was a bass. He made improvements by using pitch-matching apps and with a lot of love and patience from me.
🎶 If they’re struggling within the choir, be sure to put them on the end of the row so they can hear a neighbor and themselves.
🎶 Some directors use devices held to the mouth that curve to the ear to help students hear themselves called Toobaloo Whisper Phones. (You can also make your own from PVC pipe.) Some Director’s simply have students hold their hand in front of their faces and cupped in such a way that their voices reflect back to them.
🎶 Struggling students will appreciate practice recordings with voice models of the same type.
🎶 Most important of all is to be encouraging and always signal to the student that they can and will get better.
Happy teaching! ❤️🎶
Disclaimer: I once had a student I couldn’t help. She was a first grader. Her voice sounded severely damaged like she had been screaming daily, coughing, or chain smoking. I tried to find out from the kid and the parent what happened. The parent didn’t seem interested in getting to the bottom of it and the kid was no help, so I never got an answer.
You may also have students who are non-verbal and therefore, won’t sing. In any case, speak with the school’s counselor or psychologist in case there is an accommodation that you should be making.