Following on from my introduction to the Express Yourself Vocal Scheme
From the very first lesson I start my singing students on this scheme. I start with the First Steps level for students who may not be confident with pulse, rhythm or pitch.
Which essential musical elements do I work on with beginner students?
Pulse and Rhythm
I start all my singers off with the Go for Bronze scheme published by National Youth Choir of Scotland. It’s a wonderful scheme for children which uses solfa and the Kodaly Approach to teach notation, theory and sight singing. The first four “lessons” cover the fundamentals of pulse and rhythm. Of course depending on the student this could take anything from two lessons to eight or more. It teaches the student how to feel the pulse of rhymes and chants. It also covers the difference between pulse and rhythm and introduces crotchets and quavers, although at this point the student is not introduced to those terms. In keeping with the Kodaly Approach it uses the rhythm names “ta” and “te te”. By the end of the section the students can read the rhythms using stick notation, which is basically the stems and beams of crotchets and beamed quavers without the note heads – genius!
Learning outcomes for pulse and rhythm
- The student can march and clap along in time with their teacher
- The student can describe and demonstrate the difference between pulse and rhythm
- The student can clap the rhythm of a phrase from stick notation
- The student can clap the pulse of their repertoire along to the original recording (with help)
Go for Bronze then moves onto pitch. Just two pitches initially (so and mi = scale degrees 5 and 3). Along with the hand signs they learn to identify which is higher and lower and they map out a song. These pitches create a minor third and, sung descending, this is the easiest interval to pitch. Just listen to playground taunts and nursery rhymes like Rain Rain Go Away. The students start training their aural skills with these pitches and I don’t add any additional pitches until these are accurately sung. Students who still have trouble with these pitches will also work on other exercises that I describe in my Singing In Tune blog posts.
Learning outcomes for pitch
- The student can sing a so-mi pattern in a key of their choosing
- The student can demonstrate the hand signs for so and mi
- The student can sing a so-mi melody with rhythm using stick notation
My technique bible is Singing and the Actor by Gillyanne Kayes (referenced as SATA). If you want to learn more about good technique then I highly recommend you read the book and attend a Vocal Process retreat where Gillyanne herself takes you through the techniques in the book. I’m not exaggerating when I say this retreat was invaluable to me and my teaching. Of course the book covers way more than “First Steps” so here are my priorities.
Learning outcomes for technique
- The student can warm up their bodies effectively to prepare for singing (SATA Ch.4)
- The student can demonstrate good breathing technique using the elastic recoil (SATA Ch.4)
- The student can warm up their modal voice (speech quality) using voiced fricatives combined with the elastic recoil
- The student can warm up their higher pitches with gentle sirens (SATA Ch.1)
- The student can attempt to siren their repertoire
Our work on range is less about the achievement of the student, and more about information gathering. There are a number of facts that I need to know in order to choose appropriate repertoire, reasonable starting notes for pitch exercises and to identify areas to develop. The answers to these questions will vary as time goes on as a result of the work we are doing, and the age of the student. So these questions need to be revisited again and again. Future scheme levels won’t make reference to these but they will remain throughout the lessons.
Outcomes for range (to be revisited regularly)
- The teacher has identified the fundamental speaking pitch of the student
- The teacher has identified the preferred “so” for the student
- The teacher has identified the comfort range of the student and their preference for thick or thin vocal folds
- The teacher has identified the working siren range of the student
- The teacher has identified the gear changes of the student
- The teacher has identified the cambiata of the student (male only)
Once the student has completed each area in First Steps they move onto Key Skills. 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 Key Skills. If you teach piano you may be interested in my Piano Scheme.