From the most classic playground chants, to the songs from the latest Disney movie, kids love to sing.
But as quick as your kids might pick up the words to the latest Disney hit, teaching children to sing in tune can be a bit harder to practice, especially if you're not musically trained yourself.
That's why today we're sharing 8 free & easy activities that you can do at home (or in school) with your kids to help them start singing tunefully today!
And just in case you're not so sure about helping your kids sing in tune, check out this 2.5 year old sing some pretty impressive Solfege with the sheet music for Minuet in G.
1. Warm-up with Some Call & Response
Usually in my music classes, we do some movement and some high-energy shaking to kick things off and burn off some of the music-time sillies.
After that, we sit down and I pull out my resonator xylophone for some vocal warmups. I play simple 3-5 note patterns on a xylophone and sing either the colors, the Solfege, the numbers, or the letters names.
Singing about the notes in different ways helps kids to start differentiating the pitches as individual characters and not as some longer string of sounds.
While you're warming up, you can also...
- mimic cartoon characters to illustrate high and low sounds
- make animals sounds to talk about high & low sounds as well as long & short sounds
- remind everyone that his or her voice is a musical instrument
- mimic a siren to warm up the voice (from low to high, back down, back up, etc.)
- practice yawning, as it expands and then relaxes the muscles around the face
- practice lion face yoga (essentially holding a silent "roar" for 15-30 seconds)
- sing arpeggios (broken chords), scales or nursery rhyme melodies using any of the mentioned note vocabulary (letters, colors, colors, scale degrees)
I remind them to try and match their voice to the sound of the xylophone and we jump into singing arpeggios, melodies and scales nice and slow. We do mostly call and response, but after a few weeks of the same routine (i.e. all the chords in C Major arpeggiated, the scale up and down, 3 note runs, etc.), many kids will try to sing-along the whole time.
But when it comes to getting kids to sing really in tune, it helps to connect the abstract idea of pitch with something more kinesthetic. That's where the hand-signs come in!
2. Learn the Solfege Hand-Signs
One of the most essential parts of learning to sing in tune is being able to communicate about the different musical notes. We love doing this by not only singing about the colors, numbers, Solfege and note names, but also with hand-signs! This brain-based vocabulary method gives students another way to understand, reference and see the musical pitches they hear.
These Solfege Hand-Signs, or Curwen Hand-Signs, connect bilateral and kinesthetic motions to the idea of pitch.
Adding a concrete idea like a hand-sign to a more abstract concept like pitch makes it much easier for kids and adults to develop their sense of pitch.
Plus, they also give you an instrument free way to get your kids involved in the singing process (which is good for busy bodied kids and anyone they're sitting next to).
For shy singers, the hand-signs can help bring them out of their shell. By having the hand-signs to focus on, kids will feel a bit less vulnerable when they sing in front of other people.
For overzealous singers, adding the hand-signs in will guide them to becoming more deliberate with how they sing (and force them to take things a bit more note-by-note). That way, they're more focused on hitting their intended pitch instead of showing off their Beyonce vibrato!
If you're not familiar with the Solfege hand-signs, the video below in an excellent introduction to singing with Solfege!
For more information about the Solfege Hand-Signs and more videos like this one, check out the Prodigies Music Curriculum.
3. Combine Call & Response with The Solfege Hand-Signs
Combining our call and response exercises with the Solfege Hand-signs is another excellent way to help your kids sing more tunefully.
As a good example, you can check out the video activity above where I'll lead you and your kiddos through some colorful call and response with a nice & easy melody.
This video is from our Melodies series that's entirely focused on this kind of short call-and-response hand-sign work!
4. Give Your Kids Meaningful Exposure to Individual Notes During the Critical Period for Auditory Development
Did you know that children who grow up speaking Mandarin Chinese perform 7-8x better on absolute pitch tests than children who grow up speaking English?
It's because Mandarin is a language based on pitch, which means that infants and toddlers grow up with consistent & meaningful exposure to pitch.
By being regularly exposed to pitch as a source of meaning and language, native Mandarin speakers inevitably develop a MUCH stronger sense for pitch (and therefore, music).
Research has shown that the once elusive skills of perfect or absolute pitch can be taught to children at this age. The key, again, is the idea of regular and meaningful exposure to pitch.
In short, that means that our families, preschools and homeschools need to start teaching Do Re Mi the same way we start the ABCs. It needs to be universally taught and practiced regularly by families, teachers and kids during the formative (preschool) years.
That's why at Prodigies, we do a lot work with songs like "Hello C," where we're focused on singing and playing with just one musical note.
This helps make your child's musical play more error-proof, and allows kids ample time to lock on & begin to memorize the sound of that specific note.
This in turn helps develop your child's sense for perfect (absolute) pitch!
Here Michal & his Dad are using the Prodigies Bell App to practice Pitch:
5. Listen to High Information Music
There is also research and evidence that exposing pre-natal babies, infants and toddlers to high information music helps develop your child's sense of pitch.
The video above is a classic example of high-information music, and it's one of the absolute best improvs on the web. My daughter and I watch it every day!!
If you're wondering what high information music is, it's music like bebop, or Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. In other words, it's not easy listening! In short, they're complex, rapid-fire, tonally amibogous romps.
In some ways, it's the counterpoint to the idea of "meaningful play with individual notes." Instead of deliberate exposure to one note, it's kind of uncontrolled exposure to lots of notes with zero context. Still, if you grow up on high information music diet, it makes a lot of sense that you would have a much more acute sense for tone and music (cue Dylan and Rick Beato).
The folks from NURYL have shown some pretty remarkable benefits as a result of playing babies (2nd trimester through the 1st year) this type of music. Their app NURYL contains curated playlists and original compositions that make this is a no-brainer. Check out some of their research here about the many brain benefits of exposing your baby to high information music every day the first 1000 days of her life.
You can try NURYL for free, or you can also YouTube “High Information Music” for some free playlists and suggested listening. Some of the music might seem a little dark and intense for your baby, so feel free to skip around (a little bit at least).
6. Sing with a Well-Tuned Instrument
Don't get me wrong... I love singing out loud without an instrument in the grocery store as much as the next music-nerd, but singing with a well- tuned instrument to guide you is guaranteed to help you sing more in tune.
It takes some extra effort to play and sing at the same time, but having that strong reference to guide you will really help develop your sense of hearing and singing.
If you're the one playing the instrument, there's also going to be a physical connection and vibration between you and the instrument (especially if you're sitting at an acoustic piano, holding onto an acoustic guitar or playing a wind/string instrument).
Looking for beginner instruments? Check out these colorful, durable & Prodigies-approved instruments below! U.S. Orders ship free.
7. Develop Proper Vocal Technique
A lot of the tips above focus on the "in tune" part of singing in tune, but the actual singing part is going to require some serious work of it's own.
Developing a good vocal technique involves
- good posture
- good air control
- deep breathing
- understanding your vocal registers
- knowing when to switch between your registers (bridge)
- staying hydrated, not eating salty foods, and much more
To learn a bit more about vocal technique, check out the video above or read some of the tips below!
Posture: Good posture will help improve your airflow and your ability to project. From VocalTips.net:
"Find a wall and stand with your back to it. Place your head on the wall so that your chin is parallel to the floor. Open your shoulders and roll them back to the wall. Without allowing your spine to touch, slowly move your back towards the wall to straighten. Arms to your sides. Feet shoulder width apart, find your balance. Try to relax. The only tension you create should be in your abdominal muscles that are supporting your singing. It is more effective if you do this in front of a mirror. This can especially help you to visualize your stance after you see and feel proper posture."
Deep Breathing: You'll need a lot of good breath control and deep breaths to really sustain longer notes and project for your audience. Take deep breaths while you sing to make sure your body is fully oxygenated!
Understanding Your Vocal Registers: You also need to understand the difference between your head voice (higher/falsetto) and your chest voice (lower/normal/brassy), and how/when to switch between them. For more about this, check out this post from RamseyVoice.com
Lots of Water: Keeping your vocal chords hydrated is important to your singing; however, you need to drink A LOT of water to really hydrate your vocal chords. The water needs to go into your stomach and then disperse to other major muscles before it finally gets your vocal chords.
8. More vocal practice with Funky & Fun Vocals
For more vocal work, especially something you can take on the go, I used to use Kim Chandler's "Funky 'n Fun" Vocal Training Series to practice on my way from gig to gig.
Her YouTube videos are good, but the best bet (IMHO) is to get her CDs or MP3s to sing-along with.
And of course...Have Fun Singing With your Kids!
Research has even shown that families who sing together communicate better and have kids who are more social.
If your kids have positive musical experiences at home, they're much less likely to feel shy, embarrassed or afraid to sing.
In other words, don't put a ton of pressure or a strict time frame on your child's musical development. It's true that the earlier you start with some of the activities above, the more impact it will have, but don't kill yourself cramming every thing into a weekend. Just keep practicing, enjoy the process, and your kids will start singing in tune in their own time!
More Music Lessons from Prodigies
If you're interested in more music lessons and videos from our curriculum, check out our streaming music lessons app at prodigies.com
Inside you'll discover over 700+ video music lessons for kids ages 0-12, and you can learn more at Prodigies.com/Curriculum.