Singing and vocal work

Teaching a song

(from Teaching Primary Music pages 44 – 45).

There are various ways in which you could introduce or teach a song, depending on how confident you feel. Here are a few examples. In each of these examples, only the singing aspect is described, but you could easily incorporate movement to a pulse, opportunities to respond more freely to music, add actions, etc.

Sing along

Particularly in the early years and Key Stage 1, there is huge potential for singing your way through the day. Sing as children move from place to place, as you develop routines, starting and ending the school day, learning parts of the body, counting and reading stories. Children will start to spontaneously join in with the songs they know. Put the radio on (choose your station carefully!) every now and then for 2 minutes before lunch and sing along with the class to whatever is on. Develop a list of class songs that you commonly know and sing along when getting changed for PE. Some ideas for songs used in Amanda Bennett’s classroom are given here.1

Teaching by call and echo

Sing a line or short section for the children to immediately repeat. If you point to you and then them as you sing, it makes it much more obvious when they should listen and when they should repeat. This is a great way to teach songs and warm-ups because it is done in small chunks and the lyrics and melody are worked on together and the musical experience tends to flow if you do not keep stopping to talk or explain. The quality often gets better by repetition too as it allows you to be reactive about whether to repeat a section or move on.

Teaching a small group first

If you are not feeling confident enough to sing to the whole class yet, you might consider teaching the song in advance (e.g. at break time) to a small group of pupils so that you can collectively teach it to the class. You might also have a colleague who is willing to sing with you whilst you teach the song. Observing other teachers may also give you more ideas about how other teachers introduce songs.

Continually singing through until learnt

If, for example, you are singing along with a backing track or recording, there is not quite the same opportunity for this iterative approach and it is more likely that you will repeat a whole section (or perhaps the whole song) until the melody and lyrics have been grasped well enough. It will get better through repeated singing from start to end, but it is very likely that children will pick up some parts both quicker and better than others, so you may still want to pick out sections to practise without the backing track.

Listening first

If the repertoire is not likely to be very familiar to the children, you might think about how to get them to listen to it first. This might be using an ‘absorption’ approach where the song is strategically playing in the classroom for a few days before (e.g. when coming in from break or changing for PE). Alternatively, the song itself might be part of the music lesson in another way and you might have an activity where children engage the song in the first instance through another means, for instance via active yet engaged listening (i.e. giving them something specific to focus on or do whilst listening that helps them to listen more attentively).