Take a moment to think about an ideal school environment. You might imagine a calm, well-operating and friendly, happy school, where for example:
- Learning challenges are met with determination, optimism and self-belief
- There is a strong sense of teamwork in each class and across the school among staff and pupils alike
- Newcomers to the school are welcomed and integrated quickly
- Children with additional needs are supported, valued and included
- Parents, carers and the wider school community feel part of the school and are positive about its achievements and ethos
Embedding regular singing into school life is a way of ensuring that these other attributes develop over time.
At Sing Up we have seen countless examples and collected many case studies where the school community themselves believe that it is singing that has transformed their school. From headteachers to pupils to parents, all have reported the change they have seen take place as the result of regular singing happening in the school.
Making progress in singing
A focus on supporting children to make progress and get better at singing is something that many schools want to achieve but often struggle with knowing how.
Every school will be working from their own starting point, as will each individual child and so ‘improvement’ will mean a range of different things in different contexts and stages. Improving the quality of singing in your school requires three things:
- A conscious commitment from staff to improve the quality of singing
- An ability to hear and identify what can be improved and, over time, the children’s ability to do the same
- Knowledge of some techniques and approaches to allow teachers to support the singers to make those improvements with practice
Conditions for improvement will also be helped with:
- Role models and inspiration
- Making connections with other schools and organisations and thinking about progression routes
- Singing regularly and having focused practice time
- Starting from where you are and setting goals to reach within a specified timeframe
Here are some tips from The Singing School Handbook on achieving a good vocal tone with your singers.
Achieving a good tone, blend and balance is almost entirely about developing good listening skills and good vocal technique. If the tone the singers are producing doesn’t sound good, it is most likely that there’s something you can do to remedy that in relation to their posture, how they are breathing and by making sure the song is within the correct range for their voices.
Don’t let exuberance and enthusiasm turn into shouty singing. Take the whole dynamic range of the song down a notch if necessary so there is room for a noticeable increase in volume for the loud bits without resorting to over-singing them.
Just keeping conscious of not shouting in your mind and in the children’s minds will probably be sufficient to avoid it happening. Your gestures from the front will serve as an effective limiter on the volume they are aiming for, so when you can hear it going too far, think about what gestures you can use to rein it in without losing the excitement of the louder notes.
Basic, practical things like the singers straining to be heard over a backing track of piano accompaniment that is too loud can be swiftly dealt with and may solve the problem.
Achieving good blend and balance is about sounding as one – an ensemble. This will mean:
- Listening to and watching each other
- Beginning and ending phrases together
- Placing words carefully at the same time with the same clear articulation
- Singing precisely the same rhythms
- Singing with the same phrasing and breathing
- Being aware of the overall volume
- Having a share sense of style and meaning of a song
- Listening to the overall sound and consciously blending their own voice with it.
And a final thought to leave you with: It is the artistic, expressive and creative experience of music-making and singing that make the extrinsic benefits so powerful. Music-making and singing in particular do something unique to our bodies and minds and it is this which we wish to harness for all children and young people to benefit their early development and for lifelong enjoyment.
This is an extract from The Singing School Handbook, written by Michelle James, published by Sing Up and Faber Music in October 2018. It includes chapters on vocal health, vocal leadership, singing across the school day, singing for children with SEND, teaching music through singing, starting and developing choirs, making progress and improving singing. The book also gives schools a practical journey through the process of becoming a Singing School through an adaptation of Sing Up’s Awards Framework.
To get a free copy of the Making progress and improving singing chapter of The Singing School Handbook, and to order a copy of the book, visit www.singup.org/singingschoolhandbook
Sing Up makes transformative change happen in schools to enhance children’s development and learning through the power of singing. Developed by teachers for teachers, we have been supporting singing schools for over a decade, and today Sing Up is used around the world.
Through our award-winning digital solution, Sing Up provides you with the complete singing experience. Membership includes access to our Song Bank, the original and the best, with almost 1,000 songs, specially arranged to promote good vocal health in young voices. Our wide range of resources, training and songs are designed to help you create a complete foundation for singing across the school, for musical learning, choirs and more, with early years to age 18 and beyond.
Make a commitment to music for your pupils throughout the school year by becoming a Sing Up Member today.
Membership options: www.singup.org/membership