Teaching the melody of a song
Sing on a single sound e.g. Ba. Call and response, encouraging the children to copy exactly how they hear it. If possible sing the melody in their range (men have a lower voice to children). If this isn’t possible, then you can use chime bars to reinforce the melody in their own range. It might be difficult to hear all of the notes.
Just like when teaching the words, vary the speed, voice quality and if it is accompanied or not. Break the phrases down and repeat as much as necessary.
When thinking about pitch, there are two things to consider.
1 – Pitch Perception.
Can the children hear the difference between low and high sounds?
2 – Pitch production.
Can the children sing different notes accurately?
We recommend working on both areas in parallel. It is unlikely that the children are going to be instantly accurate with their pitching in singing, or that they can accurately identify the different pitches.
Remember, every child is different, and a group of deaf children will have a wide range of musical abilities. This will develop with regular practice and encouragement. The most important thing is that they are joining in and having fun!
Ideas for developing pitch perception
You can use Kodaly hand signals (part of a wider approach to music education by Zoltan Kodaly) to represent the pitches of the melody. This can help to anchor the pitch to something visual that they find easier to replicate accurately. You can practice this starting with 3 notes and expanding to the full octave.
High or Low?
Play games to Identify the difference between high and low pitches
E.g. ask the children to turn around and listen carefully. They can raise their hands high or touch the floor if they think the sound is high or low. You can use different instruments to generalise the concepts and also connect it to Kodaly hand signals.
Start with the pitches far apart as this might be easier for the children to differentiate. E.g. 1 and 7 degrees of the scale / Do and Ti
We have found that chimes are great for reinforcing the difference because of the different colours and sizes.
Passing the melody – Conducting pitch
This is a really fun game that works really well as a warm-up as it also targets attention, listening and taking turns as well as encouraging fun and exploration.
Move your finger high and low and copy the movements in your voice, making your voice go high and low. Pass the finger on to the next person in the circle.
You can explore different sounds, voice qualities and movements.
Sing what someone else’s finger or even their whole body is doing. Try all singing what one finger is doing.
Experiment with other instruments and conducting them high and low. There is no right or wrong, just fun!
Drawing the melody
This is a great way to creatively explore pitch. You can do this as a stand-alone exercise, or as part of learning a song.
Choose a colour and draw the melody line on paper or the whiteboard. It could be from a live instrument or voice, or something recorded. Make the line rise and fall with the melody line.
You could ask the children to follow using their arms. They can help to identify if the pitch goes higher or lower. The children can then sing the lines back in the big group or smaller groups. The children can take it in turns to draw the lines.
Use grid paper and symbols to map the steps and jumps of the song, like a visual score. This is really useful for the children to follow when singing it back.
Some children may find it hard to sing the melody accurately. This takes regular practice and can be really hard and exposing for deaf children. Remember that they may not have had much practice using their voices and just like any muscle, this needs practice to control and feel confident with.
The children will likely have a range of voices, some higher and some lower. It may be that the children can sing a variety of pitches but without much accuracy. If they don’t produce accurate notes, don’t worry – It may take a long time for this to develop.
The only important thing Is that you praise them for having a go, especially if they are singing in front of the class! It is really important that even if you are not confident singing, you show them that you are having a go.
Fun and encouraging activities will make them feel less self-conscious about using their voices.
What range and how difficult?
Start off with smaller intervals (Visual) (gaps in the notes) within a 5 note range (Do-so / C-G) and without too much movement in the melody. This can then be increased to wider intervals and more movement across an octave range (Do-So / C-C).
Songs with the interval 5-3 or 3-1 (wind the bobbin up) are easier than jumping up (1-3).
Tip - Remember that you might need to practice it lots and lots of times before they start producing the tune more accurately. If they are having a go, remember to praise them!
If the children don’t want to sing, encourage them to join in in other ways such as:
Saying the words (not singing them) / signing / gesture / using instruments / conducting / use switches.