It is absolutely crucial that a musical community, in which everyone is involved, is central within your school. If children do not see teachers singing regularly and being fully involved, it is very difficult to convince them that singing is for everyone. We absolutely must add our own voices, joining in and modelling rather than just ‘telling’ children what to do. This means that as teachers we need to have a lot of strategies that help build our own confidence to sing.
Sing a song out loud every day when nobody else can hear you. Explore your voice – try changing the sound in lots of different ways – sing soft, sing louder, sing more through your nose, sing like a chorister, sing like an opera diva. Sing in spaces with different acoustics. Try singing different types of songs. Get used to hearing the sound of your own voice.
Ways into singing seem best served through inclusive activities in which there is a critical mass of sound through which a ‘have-a-go’ ethos is adopted in a safe environment. Singing thrives in conditions where it is regularly undertaken, encouraging, inclusive, and recognises the need to bring children’s musical worlds together. One school I know does this by having a community sing-song in the hall on a Friday morning before school. It invites everyone in – mums, dads, cleaners, teaching assistants, child-minders, toddlers, babies, teachers and children. According to the attendance register, more children come to school on a Friday than any other day of the week. Is that just a coincidence?
The most important part of singing in primary school and early years settings is actually doing it. The technical aspects such as having a good posture and working on breathing are obviously important, yet should not be overshadowed by the actual activity of singing. This is all technical stuff that you can develop once you are actually doing it. After all, we don’t check our posture when driving the car prior to belting out our favourite rock ballads along to the radio. Vocal health is important but much of this is common sense; for example, singing within achievable and sensible vocal ranges, not over-straining our vocal chords, warming up and warming down our voices, and drinking plenty of water.
Along with the aforementioned potential teacher confidence issues, you need to be mindful that pupils may also lack the confidence to try things out vocally for many reasons, including shyness, lack of self-belief, fear of failure, fear of what their voice will sound like or others hearing it and vocal change due to physiological development, particularly for boys as their voices move increasingly towards maturity. You can find some advice on keeping boys engaged in singing in this article by Mia Vigar, based on Martin Ashley’s substantial work in this area1. Whilst it focuses mostly on year 7 upwards, it will be of interest to those working in upper primary too. Some advice and guidance
for developing singing in SEN settings can be found in this article by Pat Lloyd, an Advanced Skills Teacher and music therapist2.