Following on from the Vocal First Steps we move onto the second phase in my scheme – Key Skills
We continue to work through the excellent Go for Bronze for musicianship and sight singing, introduce anatomy, further elements of vocal technique and use repertoire to further musical maturity.
Pulse and Rhythm
For students working on Key Skills we continue to practise reading and writing rhythms using stick notation. So far they have learned crotchets (ta) and quavers (te) but during Key Skills we also add rests and minims (ta-a) to increase the rhythm options available. We play echo games where I clap a short rhythm and they echo it back. We also use some simple songs like Cobbler Cobbler from Jolly Music to demonstrate tempo and also some call and response songs to practise keeping the feel of a constant tempo. Of course any song can be split into lines to create this back and forth feeling. It’s a great way to get students to sing solo without them feeling under too much pressure.
Learning outcomes for pulse and rhythm
- The student can clap the rhythm of a known song and identify a song from the rhythm
- The student can read and notate rhythms with stick notation
- The student can take over a song without losing the pulse
- The student can echo short rhythms
- The student can clap the pulse of their repertoire along to the original recording
Key Skills for pitch is all about transferring the pitches so and mi onto the stave. If so is on a line then mi is on the line below. If so is on a space then mi is on the space below. The students start to write the songs they have been learning onto the stave. A third pitch of la (one tone above so) is also introduced. These three notes open up so many lovely songs to sing from the Go for Bronze scheme and also from 3-4-5 note songs published by NYCOS.
Learning outcomes for pitch
- The student can echo a mi-so-la pattern using hand signs
- The student can sing a known song in solfa and identify a song from solfa
- The student can read and notate songs on the stave
It is at this level I start to introduce an understanding of anatomy. I use a combination of ideas from Singing and the Actor by Gillyanne Kayes (referenced as SATA) and images from the internet. At this level I keep it simple. We discuss the vocal folds and how they vibrate. Using our lips to model the vibration and to show that it’s important to use the right amount of breath pressure and also blowing through an elastic band to get it to buzz. The other term I introduce at this point is the soft palate (there’s a nice image on this site) and how it can move to create oral and nasal sounds. This leads quite nicely from the work in First Steps that we’ve done on sirens.
Learning outcomes for anatomy
- The student knows the terms vocal folds, breath pressure, soft palate, nasal port and vibrations
- The student can open and close their nasal port with their soft palate
Most of my technique ideas come from Singing and the Actor but another great resource is Jenevora Williams’s Teaching Singing to Children and Young Adults. Jenevora’s book is useful when you’re teaching children as she has many valuable insights into the child’s voice from birth upwards. She discusses what is appropriate technique for young and changing voices and has some great images to help with this age range.
Learning outcomes for technique
- The student understands how false vocal folds create constriction and exercises to deconstrict
- The student understands how and when to use their neck anchor/trap door
- The student can model glottal, aspirate and simultaneous onsets
When teaching vocals, especially Pop Vocals, the students often come to their lessons with a list of songs they want to sing. Often their choices don’t match their abilities and your ideas of where they need to focus their attention. Rather than stop them singing their choices, I encourage it. If necessary we have one song I choose and one song they choose. It can be an eye opener to see how they manage with songs they really care about and know well. Students who you may have judged to struggle with pitch or range can suddenly surprise you when they know the song inside out already. Also, any song can be used to develop musicianship and interpretation.
Learning outcomes for repertoire
- The student can clap the pulse to the original recording, backing track or accompaniment
- The student can siren the melody
- The student will discuss the meaning and emotion of the song
- The student can identify the dynamics of the original recording
Once the student has completed each area in Key Skills they move onto Initial. Of course sometimes they’ll excel in one area and I certainly don’t hold them back while we get all the areas up to the same level. Remember this is just a framework.
Look out for my blog post on Initial. If you teach piano you may be interested in my Piano Scheme.