Anyone who knows me knows that I like my ducks in a row and keeping things sequentially organized brings me great satisfaction. So when creating good lesson pacing I think it is important to have a continuous plan. When working with young singers, the pacing of a lesson is the essence of being a great teacher.
In my lesson curriculum, I have designed a system I call the Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence. The sequence is based on five stages that address technical aspects of singing, customized for young students. These stages include attention to body, breath, ear training and theory, vocal warm-ups, and repertoire. The sequence offers a variety of exercises in each category to engage and inspire the young singer.
To give you an idea of how each stage works I will share with you some strategies I use in each category. When working with kids, each lesson starts with a different atmosphere. You never know what mood a kiddo is going to bring to a lesson. Unlike older singers that mostly keep their different attitudes (emphasis on “mostly”) in check, the younger ones remind me of a saying from the movie “Forest Gump,” that exclaims: “life is like a box of chocolates; you never know which one you’re going to get.”
In a manner of speaking, the child entering the voice studio is like the box of chocolates. I noticed this past January that after the holiday rush and break from routine, my young students came back to their lessons a little off of their game. Older students usually come back a little more refreshed and refined, but the young ones need that stable schedule, and when it becomes disrupted, it is that much harder to get them focused again. When I was a classroom music teacher I always noticed that the kindergartners were way more tired on Mondays than any other day of the week. As a parent I understand why…. it is because the schedule is much looser on the weekends and kids tend to stay up later. This results in a lack of focus on learning tasks. Of course I think it is a good thing to have a break from routine now and then, but just be prepared for young students to come to lessons after a disruption with less attention and focus.
But alas, I digress… While it is important to note that young singers display a more obvious mood change from week to week, it is even more important to have a bag of tricks and a variety of exercises to engage and meet the needs of the student at the moment.
You hear a lot of talk these days in the vocal pedagogy world around “functional singing.”Just what does that mean and how does it apply to lesson pacing? For me functional training equals efficiency and getting the voice to function in a variety of ways. To acquire efficiency a teacher must meet the student where they are and give them what they need at any given lesson.
My first agenda in a lesson is to get the student focused and relaxed. I have a series of different exercises to do just that. Stretching the body by using simple movements and yoga postures is my first objective. I also incorporate mind-body activities that get the eyes and mind on me. I always find it amazing how even the tiniest of distractions…a different coffee mug on my desk or a new prop on the piano, for example, will evoke all sorts of curiosity from young minds.
Following this segment I move into breathing exercises. This is often one of their favorite parts. I enjoy using props in my lessons (actually, for all ages) and I pull out many of my favorites with respiration activities. I use things like pinwheels, stability balls, metronomes and straws. The more props the better!
After I get the mind, body, and breath warmed up, I spend another short segment on theory and aural skills. I particularly like using the Full Voice workbooks. I use both the workbook and the solfege cards regularly.
The second half of a lesson is always spent on working the singing mechanism. Vocalizing is that special task that we singers utilize to strengthen our instruments. In my lessons with kids I make this as fun as possible and use age appropriate exercises with poems, animal sounds, diction drills and of course scales. Once again, I love using props such as straws, kazoos, feathers, expanding spheres, Pilates bands and many more!
The final focus in the sequence is the repertoire. When working on songs, I break down that task and always have a student look at the text alone before singing the song. We speak through the text and sing through the melody in a variety of ways incorporating many of the props and strategies I use in my vocal warm-ups. One of my students’ favorite aspects of learning a song is creating a picture of the piece they are currently working on.
I find that my sequencing helps move the lesson swiftly and results in fewer distractions. This pacing rounds out a holistic approach to not only singing, but musical literacy as well. It is in this structure that I have the most success and see rapid growth in my young singers. What works for you in your teaching studio? Please share your comments below. And Happy singing!
Here is a recent picture made by one of my students. See if you can guess what song this is from:
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