7 Simple Ways To Incorporate Singing Routines In Your Elementary Music Classroom
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
Building singing routines into your class structure from pre-kindergarten and kindergarten is vital to helping kids find their voices, normalizing singing, and encouraging singing as a joyful activity. In the first 5-10 minutes of your class, you can incorporate simple Sol Mi singing that does all of those things!
In this blog post, I’ll share with you ideas about:
what to sing, including some age-based modifications
getting your students to lead the activities
how to assess students, and
what to do with your non-singers.
I’m hopeful that these short singing routines will become something your classes look forward to, but also something useful and meaningful for you as an educator.
When I was in elementary school, my general music teacher would take attendance by asking “Where is [name]?” using Sol and Mi, and each student would respond with the same pitches (“Here I am!”) Now as an elementary music educator myself, I get why she was doing that! It helped with pitch matching, confidence building, normalizing singing, and the practical act of seeing who’s in class that day.
So naturally, I had to try it with my own students. And sometimes it worked really well! But sometimes it didn’t. Especially with older students, who are arguably the group that needs to be singing the most, since older kids are more aware of how they are perceived by peers and singing makes you vulnerable.
...And to be honest, when I really thought about it, I wasn’t sure this particular activity was the best bang for my buck, so to speak.
I can easily take attendance, first of all. And kids already know who is there and who isn’t. The activity isn’t that meaningful or joyful- a big no-no in my book!
So I decided to come up with some other ways of using that same pitch pattern, Sol Mi, to begin my classes. It’s usually the very first thing I do. We know how important routines are in specials class!
P.S. Did you know I have a YouTube channel where I do music teacher toolbox chats about topics like this? If you're not connected with me there, make sure you subscribe to learn more meaningful elementary music strategies!
Here are seven ways I use Sol Mi patterns to begin class, and you can use too!
7 Ways to Use Sol-Mi
1, Bee, Bee, Bumblebee
This one you might already use. But you can get a TON of mileage out of it by changing the noun. For example, Bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Say your favorite color for me! Change color to animal, breakfast, holiday, season… you name it!
Some things to keep in mind: using categories with limits (like seasons) helps younger kids who may feel overwhelmed having to choose something out of thin air. You can also announce the category, wait about 20 seconds for everyone to have think time, them begin. Similarly, you can announce tomorrow’s category at the end of class one day so it’s not a big surprise the next day. This might sound like overkill, but preparation can really help.
2. Students' initials
Ask where students are, but use their initials backwards! (I borrowed this from my own teacher!) So for Tommy Smith, you’d ask, “Where is S.T.?” And once he figured it out, he’d sing, “Here I am!”
3. Birth months or seasons
“When were you born?” “I was born in [month/season]!” It’s always fun to learn these kind of facts about each other.
4. Hot dogs or burgers?
“Hot dogs or burgers?” “I like [hot dogs/burgers]!” Another simple response, but a fun one to learn about your kids. Similarly, other this-or-that style questions (Ice cream or cake? Cats or dogs? Blue or green?) are fun and help you get to know your students.
5. Write a short song together!
It can have any theme, like the current season or holiday or even what's for lunch today. Offer students stem sentences for the beginning of each of 4 lines, and let them fill in the rest. Finally, sing the song together!
If you want to turn this into a longer activity, I have a short, captioned video breaking it down. There's even a template I use with my classes- this one is winter-themed. It's got simple stem sentences for students to fill in, and you could easily set the songs to Sol-Mi patterns. Or Sol-La-Mi... however many pitches you want to use!
6. Singing rhythms
“[4-beat rhythm pattern],” student repeats (sing sol for ti-ti and mi for ta, or mix it up for older students). So you might sing, “Ta (S) ta (S) ti-ti (MM) ta (S),” and the student would respond the same, so they are singing and clapping at the same time. This is good for around grade 2. Even better, pull a few melodies from a song you have worked on or will work on and use that! It’s like practicing before practicing.
"I have [clothing], who has [clothing]?" This one could be something like, “I have white shoes, who has a red shirt?” And then that student repeats, “I have a red shirt!” Then you move to anther student.
These are all teacher-led activities. You set the vocal example each time, and a student responds. But many of these could be student-led.
This is admittedly harder, since it will likely take longer and be trickier for them to track who has and hasn’t gone yet.
But the pros to having students lead are:
singing becomes normalized
you become more of a facilitator (something good for observations!)
c) kids are empowered to lead and make decisions.
I’d recommend doing student-led Sol Mi routines once they are familiar with how they work, so after several classes of you leading.
How to scaffold in student-led singing
This can, and probably should be, be scaffolded.
Begin with you leading the entire activity a few times- I like Bumblebee for PK-2 and Initials for 3-5.
Then after a few classes, ask for a some student models to sing the question to someone. (Keep track of who you choose- more about this below!) Don’t call on too many kids the first few times. Let kids try it, praise them, and say you’ll ask for more volunteers next time. This makes them more likely to try the activity before you start asking for everyone to participate.
When you think they're ready, let students lead the whole routine! You can begin with the first question and call on the first student. After that, they all choose the next one. And the last one can ask you, if you'd like!
Now, how do we teachers assess this activity? Ideally, it doesn’t take up a lot of time. This Sol Mi routine is a short, introductory activity before you get to the meat of your lesson, so assessment should be just as easy. And it can be!
What the purpose is
What you are listening for in this routine is what the student does with their voice. Yes, the goal is pitch-matching and use of head voice. But many students will not match pitch when you do this the first several times. For some students, it will take longer. Some won’t sing at all for a while. All of that is okay.
Your assessment should track what the student does with their voice. This way, you can track progress. Students who are proficient will show you consistent pitch matching and head voice. And that’s awesome! But the student who did not sing for three weeks and then began to show contour with their voice has also made progress- that is awesome too!
What to avoid
Assessment that tracks compliance (yes they did it, not they didn’t) is not meaningful. Especially in the arts. Combatting the fixed mindset around artistic skills begins with us educators using encouragement and empathy. Our assessment systems can reflect that.
Your assessment should therefore avoid arbitrary letters or numbers, unless they are clearly defined. If you use a 3-2-1 system, you need clear criteria for what each means. I’ve assessed students like this before thinking to myself, A 3 means perfect, a 2 means almost, and a 1 means not yet.
But as time went on, my idea of what each of those meant changed. No wonder- they are vague! Not yet, for example, could mean they spoke their answer. Or they didn’t speak or respond at all. Or they used an unpitched growling voice. My system became meaningless.
What to track
Here are the things you could track with your students (you can pick and choose depending on age):
Did they match pitch?
Did they sing Sol Mi in another key?
Did they sing, but not match Sol Mi?
Did they show contour/shape but not match pitch?
Did they sing on one pitch?
Did they use their talking voice?
Did they refuse to respond?
Did they use a silly voice?
Did they use their head voice?
Did they use a chest voice?
Does this seem like a lot? Maybe. But as much as I’ve grown to dislike the word data, in this case, the more data- ahem, information- you have about a student’s voice, the better you can help them by differentiating your instruction. Seeing trends in certain students can point you in a different direction for how you deliver your instruction.
(Interested in tracking data in you classroom? It's totally possible to use data in a way that's meaningful to us music teachers! Learn more in my YouTube video about the subject.)
So yes- lots of categories. But you can set up a grading sheet where all you need to do it put check marks or Xs under your chosen categories.
What to do with non-singers?
Some kids will not sing for you at first. Some may not sing at all. If you’re a new teacher, either in your career or at your school, this could just be a result of the culture. The way singing is perceived in school culture vs. modern American culture can be conflicting. And we’re heard so many excuses as to why people can’t or won’t sing: singing is for girls, boys don’t sing, I can’t sing, I am tone deaf, I can't carry a tune in a bucket, et cetera.
But you are the teacher now! And you can help adjust that culture.
In the end, we cannot control what children do with their bodies. Let's accept that now. But we can encourage, build a positive environment, and carefully choose our reactions.
Building an encouraging and positive environment
Begin the activity with:
“I can’t wait to hear all of your singing voices today!”
“I’m so excited for you to share your voices today!”
“It’s such a joyful thing for us to share our voices with each other!”
“I hope all of you try sharing your voices with me today!”
“I remember we were so good at this yesterday. Let’s keep it up again today!”
To the kid who won’t sing:
“I see you’re not comfortable today. That is okay. You can try again later or another time.”
“Okay. Not today.” Then move right along to the next student.
“Would you like me to come back to you?”
“Would you like to sing with me?”
“Would you like to sing with a friend?”
“Would you like me to sing it again?”
Don’t bombard the student with questions. It only singles them out, even if our intentions are good. Move right along if someone says no.
To the kid who responds with a silly voice:
“I’m not sure that was your singing voice. Can you try it again?”
“That sounded like a [name the voice] voice. Can you try a soft singing voice?
“Here’s what I heard [repeat the sound]. Do you want to try it again with your singing voice?”
“That was silly! Can we all try it just like [name] did? Listen carefully- what kind of voice is that? Now let’s try it again together with our singing voices.” Then move on and let the kid do a solo tomorrow or later in the activity.
No response. Mark it, and move on.
Sometimes kids want to make their peers laugh when they use a cartoon or opera voice. Sometimes they are embarrassed to sing. Sometimes they want to test you. Use your best judgement. Playing along can be a good diffuser too, when done right.
To the kid who says, “I hate singing/Singing is dumb”:
“I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe you can try again tomorrow.”
“I think singing is joyful! But I hear you- you want to save your turn for another day.”
“I hear you. Would you still like to try?”
“I hear you. Would you like to sing with a friend?”
“Does that mean you are giving up your turn?”
Avoid negating their response. Their feelings are valid, and ignoring them makes the kid feel, well, ignored. If you can catch them alone, ask them why singing isn’t joyful for them.
Something else to avoid is if/then statements. “If you don’t sing now, you can’t use instrument later,” or “If you don’t sing, then I we can’t move on.” This leads to face-offs that ultimately can undermine you and your rules. No single student should have the power to halt learning for the rest of the class.
It’s easier said than done, I know. But in the case of non-singers, I’ve found that it’s much better to focus on and praise the ones who do sing rather than try desperately to convert those who won’t. Give them time, patience, and encouragement.
We’ve covered a lot here in what is just a 5-10 minute activity! But I think it goes to show that everything music teachers do is very purposeful. To non-musicians, it might look like we are just having fun with kids all day. Hopefully your job is fun- but you’re there to help kids learn to be strong musicians and strong people. We music educators know this.
Let me know if you use any of these in your classroom, or if you have others I can try. It’s looking more and more likely that singing is a real possibility next year, so I’m thrilled to try new songs and activities.
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