Welcome fall and to new teaching strategies!
Sadly, summer has come to an end, but I find solace in the fact that it is a time for new beginnings. Ever since my college days (a long time ago), I have always welcomed September as a time to start fresh. I love the feeling of new books and pencils. I also love new students and new goals.
Setting new goals is very important for students as well as teachers. Making the best use of lesson time is crucial to success. In my previous blog posts, I have spent time talking about lesson pacing strategies. An abundance of work has gone into honing the details of my Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence. The sequence is based on five stages of technical aspects that are my focus with each student. As a private teacher, Suzuki parent, and former elementary classroom educator, I have spent much time discovering how to work with young musicians.
Today, I want to focus on the third stage of the sequence… “Ear Training and Theory.” This category is very important for teachers with young students because it is our job to make sure the foundation is set for good vocal training with strong musicianship skills.
I often hear professors at the post secondary level say that the freshman voice students entering college are the ones most lacking in theory and aural skills training. Most of my high school students do not get to spend devoted time to basic musicianship skills. Often times, I find myself struggling to squeeze theory and ear training in during lesson time for these students. They always seem pressed for time in learning repertoire, preparing for auditions, and working on emerging technical aspects.
It is in working with the very young singer that I have been able to start a firm foundation in theory and aural skills. I have found through the years that teachers who are unwilling to teach private voice to kids often point young students toward piano and violin studies so that musicianship can be taught and developed through an instrument other than the voice as a way of “protecting” the young singer’s vocal mechanism. As I advocate for young singers interested in voice lessons, I think it is great to nurture their interest in music in general. Why scoot them away to someone else for musicianship training when I have all the tools I need to teach them what they want to learn?
Part of the reason I developed the Born to Sing Kids Sequence in my studio is for the very reason of teaching a whole encompassing curriculum for those interested in singing. It is quite easy to introduce young singers to note reading, theory and aural skills, as well as basic keyboard skills.
There are several ways to go about adding theory and ear training in your weekly lessons. The Full Voice Workbook Series by Nikki Loney and Mim Adams has been my absolute “go to” book for my young singers. Even the students I have who study violin and piano all benefit from the Full Voice workbooks, which is a music curriculum geared towards the vocal student.
I personally find working with solfege syllables and flash cards a great way to introduce aural development with kids. The students in my studio love the Full Voice flash cards. I just love watching a young six-year old kiddo sight sing a melody using their hands! The FV workbooks are laid out with educational activities to make the process easy and fun. The flash cards are an added bonus. My kids have jumbo flash cards and colorful mini flash cards. Of course, my girl students think the mini ones are just the coolest thing ever!
The workbooks can be done at home and brought back for me to review and correct, or we work on them together during lessons. I often find myself either sitting on the floor with my students playing tonic sol-fa flash card games or sitting at the piano having them find the notes on the keyboard. It is a fact that my students come into each lesson taking out their Full Voice Workbooks first putting it on the music stand before they even pull out their songs! In a way, it's like getting kids to enjoy eating their vegetables before they eat dessert. There are other methods and strategies for adding musicianship to the voice studio. I have used other method books in the past, though none of the other publications that I have used offer as much fun or a curriculum that is geared to the young voice student as the Full Voice Workbooks. Maybe you have your own ideas for teaching theory and ear training, or maybe you already use the Full Voice Workbooks series. Whatever the case, I highly encourage spending a small portion of each lesson visiting this topic. I hope you are starting this fall off with renewed energy and vitality and that some of my lesson strategies will help you become more informed and creative with your lesson pacing. As I have laid out the first three branches of the Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence in my previous blog posts, my hope is that other voice teachers working with very young singers can learn how to structure lesson time and have more ease in adding this age group to the private voice studio. In my next blog post, I will discuss what, how much, and the safest way to introduce vocal technique to the very young singer. As always, I welcome your feedback. Please help spread the love of teaching voice to kids by sharing my blog with fellow teachers. Happy Singing!