Singing is one of the most personal musical experiences that a person can have. Not only does it involve the direct production of sound using the body, but it also involves the expression of one’s emotions through words. Consequently, many avoid singing because of the vulnerability it makes them experience. As an experienced music teacher of adolescents, I seldom ask students to sing anymore...
I've learned from experience that the word "singing" is a great source of anxiety for their age group. Many have confessed that the act of singing in front of their peers makes them feel embarrassed, self-conscious, and prone to ridicule. Therefore, I introduce the topic of singing by inviting students to participate in other activities that are related to singing. These include speaking rhythmically, yawning, and humming. All three of these activities resemble singing but do not generate the same level of anxiety.
Another lesson I've had great success with is parody writing. I attribute this to the fact that students become focused on rewriting a song's lyrics and forget they are even singing. In other words, they get so focused on mocking the words of a familiar song that they forget they are engaged in the process of singing.
Finally, the most successful method I've experienced with regard to teaching adolescents to sing lies in the song-writing process. One constant observation I’ve made is that students take ownership of their original musical content and are quite proud to share it. More specifically, I've witnessed a trend with non-singers being very successful at turning lyrics into rhythmic poems. Furthermore, the eventual addition of pitch to these rhythmic poems is not perceived as singing, but rather making their poems sound better. Witnessing thousands of students successfully travel down this song-writing path has taught me that anyone can sing a song that is emotionally attached to them.
To see some of John's students play their a cappella version of "Pompeii", follow the link: Click Here to go to the link