I am currently thinking about the new half term and how I like to start each scheme of work with some singing. I teach Year 9 boys on a carousel and so these groups haven’t had me since the first half term. Back then it was the start of the year and they were all keen to go along with whatever I presented them – well some of them were at least.
I will add that I don’t really like the concept of “Getting Boys” to sing and I think the ideas below will work for boys and girls…but it is also the main challenge I have faced what with working in a boys school and whilst my girls choir has 101 girls in it the boys choir only have 30!
I am a strong believer in singing in the classroom but I like it to have a sense of purpose and not just be for the sake of it. So here are a few thoughts on getting boys to sing or a few thoughts to get your class singing:
- It doesn’t matter what it sounds like it just matters that they are doing it. I think with singing we can always think that we need things to be perfect. If you gave out 30 instruments of any kind to a class then it would sound fairly “interesting” so it is the same with singing.
- Pitch it right – the key thing I always find with boys is that they always start singing falsetto and high and think that singing is basically all about that. I always try and start with scales and warm-ups that are very much in their pitch so that they feel comfortable.
- I feel that singing in the classroom should have a goal and shouldn’t just be – lets sing this. So I use singing to teach them some key things that I then use later. For example singing an interval of a fifth is quite important. It unlocks the concept of perfect and imperfect cadences, can be useful when tuning a ukulele and is also linked to the trombone (which we also teach). So I like to think of exercises and ideas that use intervals. Another good concept is singing in harmony by building up a chord. Get them in groups singing 1, 3, 5. Not only will they get that feeling of singing in harmony, but all also start to understand how a chord is built up. Form here you can then easily make the chord minor by getting the middle group to lower their note by a semi-tone. You get the idea – make sure you have a goal.
- If you are going to sing a song then sing something they know. My first lesson of term always features Happy Birthday and this term I will use Swing Low -Rugby and all that. If they know the song and the words then you have two barriers knocked down straight away. I think it is good to do new stuff, but start with something they know. Happy Birthday also features that octave leap in the middle that is so rarely sung correctly – another interval teaching tool.
- Be daring and pick songs that are so fresh it is almost ahead of the curve. The other week when Ed sheer an released his new songs we sang them in the lesson and I used the songs to teach about chord patterns. I decided this in the morning over breakfast because I like the songs and knew the students would as well. The lyrics videos are great and the lessons were really good fun – and they sang so well.
- Use singing to just wake them up -short bursts at the start of a lesson where they sing a couple of scales or the alphabet backwards. Boys like a challenge and so anything that gets them competing or pushing themselves will help. If you start every lesson with singing then it will become normal.
- Talk about why you are singing and not just saying “It is good for you”. Talk about future careers, styles, concepts you can learn. They need to see why you are doing it, how it can help them and where it might lead. If you use the maxim that singing is fun then make sure that it is!
- Make sure that you sing yourself and do it with pride and passion. You might like me not be an amazing singer, but you kinda have to go for it! I feel like I spend my life doing that. Most people can sing, but they need someone to give them permission to sing by just going for it! So just sing! When I work with the girls choir I am always singing high and it sound awful. But what I am trying to model to them is that they need to actually breath in (correctly of course) and just go for it!
- Make sure there is some whole school singing – Christmas is a great time of year and I always look forward to your carol service rehearsals where I lead the whole school in song. It is fun and the boys love it. I find that this helps out the classroom singing and makes it even more enjoyable.
- Find some good books with arrangements in or some up with your own arrangements. I find that boys like to sing things with ostinato bass-lines and a clear melody over the top. Try adding beat-boxing as an extra challenge and if you want more ideas on that then there is loads out there – Voces8 Method etc. Look on youtube for songs that are repetitive or come up with your own. Start with a repeating bass-line and then add chordal melodic ideas over the top. Students can grab onto these kind of things easily and then maybe start adding lyrics. What I would say is pitch it right for the class you have. But get them singing in parts and get them enjoying it! Simple little turn-arounds work so so well.
Hopefully something above has helped you and spurred you on. The more we get students singing the better and this needs to carry on into GCSE and A-Level where it can help them with aural work and melodic dictation. Singing needs to be fun, engaging and consistent!