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Call It Anything But Singing

Posted by on in Ideas in Music Education
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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

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  • John Mitrano Saturday, 02 August 2014

    Awesome article John! I really like how you put in ways to lower that anxiety level (affective filter). Great Job! And then you use these "non-singing" vocal exercises as stepping stones to singing? Brilliant!

  • Diane Woodward Sunday, 03 August 2014

    I agree with Rodney. Although I teach Early Childhood through 5th, I think with minor modifications, I can use all of these ideas with my reluctant singers!

  • Gregory Pavliv Thursday, 02 October 2014

    Definitely! Only you know what's best for your students. That's what I love about this site. We each work together to inspire each other. Some days are more difficult to teach through than others!

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