It’s one of the first things you’ll do with your early childhood music classes. The voice is the instrument we carry with us, and vocal exploration exercises help children physically feel pitch changes. Playing with their voices is an important step toward learning to control them: manipulating the pitch, dynamics, and even timbre of their voices in endless ways.
Once students have learned to control the pitch of their voices, it will be much easier for them to match pitches; they’ll be able to feel what “higher” and “lower” are, so you can guide them higher or lower to match. Vocal exploration like this gives them opportunities to have fun with their instruments without worrying about being “right”.
So how do we do it?
One of the standard parts of these early music classes is doing “sirens”, fluctuating up and down without worrying about any particular pitches. My classes usually start actually trying to imitate sirens, then we expand the range. I might sing the sirens for them to copy, or play them on a slide whistle or a violin.
As they get comfortable sliding their voices up and down, we start to draw the contour in the air. For a while, I’ll prep this by drawing my sirens. Slowly, students will start to join in. Once about a third of the class is doing it, I’ll talk about it. The students are now aware of one way we can show changes in pitch. We’ll practice this for a while, in as many forms as possible.
- Follow the (real OR imaginary) ball with your voice, as you toss it in the air and catch it.
- Toss a ball or bean bag back and forth with a partner, following it up and down with your voice. Make a point of tossing it higher sometimes and lower sometimes.
- Ask a student leader to wave a ribbon wand through the air while the rest of the class follows the ribbon with their voices. The flowing motion of this one sometimes helps them to sing a bit more musically.
Finally, move it into graphic notation. They could draw it on paper, of course, but that can get old quickly. Here are a few ways to mix it up!
- Make shapes out of pipe cleaners. Trace the shape with your finger while you the contour.
- Trace roads or pathways in books like Wiggles, One Spooky Night, Through the Town, or a Follow the Trail book.
- Give each student a string or piece of yarn. Encourage them to “draw” some hills with it, and then sing them. Students can pair up too: one makes the hills, and the other one sings it.
- Use these FREE vocal exploration cards as a whole class, or at stations. Students should trace the shapes with their fingers while they sing.
- Put three cards out and sing one. Can the students figure out which one you are singing?
There are so many ways for children to experience the capacity of their amazing voices! Playful pitch exploration can–and in my opinion, *should*–be a part of every lesson in the first couple years. What are some of the ways your classes play with pitch in their voices?