Singing with Young Children

(Ages 2 to 5)

Today, research indicates that more and more young adults are coming to adulthood uncomfortable with music. These young adults have not developed the basic skills to enable them to participate in, or enjoy, the benefits of the language of music.

At the same time, recent research confirms the importance of music. Research shows that music is a constructor of intelligence, a builder and organizer of the nervous system, as well as an expressive language of emotion and spirituality. In addition, it serves as a powerful socializer and form of recreation. Research also shows music's role as a healer and maintainer of good health.

Everyone is born with a capacity for music. However, just as oral language, or other abilities, can not develop without experience, the inborn capacity for music can not develop without proper nurturing. We are finding that we can no longer take development for granted. We must become consciously aware of what humans need to develop, and make provision for it. In no area is this more apparent than in music.

In setting up a program for children, it is important to consider what the program should try to accomplish and what abilities the program is to help children develop. In music, one goal should be that children are able to enjoy singing. This means that they need to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to feel comfortable and successful in singing with others. To accomplish this, they need to be familiar with music that others enjoy singing. They need to be able to sing in tune, with good intonation, and in correct rhythm.

Unfortunately, in the United States a fairly high percentage of people do not feel comfortable singing. Many people can not carry a tune or keep rhythm, although an interest in music seems to be a universal characteristic of human nature. This suggests that it is necessary and important to think carefully about the musical experiences to be provided to young children.

In cultures where music is an integral part of daily life, young children learn the language of music in the same way they learn their spoken tongue. They unconsciously absorb the language of music as they interact musically with others on a daily basis. This type of experience is generally missing for many American children. The result is that a number of children coming into a program for 3 to 4 years olds will shy away from singing and will not be able to sing in tune. However, other children will know many songs and will sing in tune quite happily. This difference is not due to a difference in talent or intelligence, but instead results from a difference in experience. Therefore, it is important to help the children with less experience catch up while enabling the more experienced children to continue developing their abilities

The children who are lacking experience have missed critical time. The most sensitive time for hearing is in the first year of life. The first three years are particularly sensitive for beginning development. However, the years from three to six are also important and a lot can be accomplished through careful and well thought out effort. At this stage, plain exposure is not enough.

Research by Kodaly and others shows that at first young children do not notice differences in pitch. When asked to sing higher or lower, they may sing louder or softer. As they begin to have a concept of pitch, they do not discriminate half steps. Their voices have a very narrow range of only a few notes. They have difficulty remembering sequences and remember only short melodic phrases. They can't keep a beat, and don't discriminate between a beat and the rhythm of the words. As they begin to sing in tune, they can only sing with someone pitched in their octave and pitched in their narrow range.

Based upon the above findings, researchers have learned that music activities are developmentally appropriate, and provide most success, if they take these characteristics into account. The activities for children must be based on what children can do, rather than on what adults think is fun.

The songs presented in this book are based upon this research by musicologist and music educators. The songs are all real American folk songs organized specifically in a developmental order that takes children's characteristics into account.

It has been found the world over that children begin by singing two and three note chants. The ancient music of many cultures also consists of patterns based around the same two and three notes. Based upon this, Kodaly and others have found that children respond successfully to a music program which begins with these simple chants. These, therefore, are the first songs used in the music sequence.

The songs in this book are organized from two note, to three note, four note, to five note songs. They begin with simple patterns and short sequences. They are pitched where the children can sing them successfully. They utilize an interval range appropriate for young children.

The first songs consists of two notes (one interval) so the children can discriminate simply whether to go up or down. They are one chord songs. They consists of two phrases and two rhythm patterns. They utilize only quarter notes and eighth notes. In this way, the songs are kept simple.

In examining the songs, it can be noticed that there is a progression in the two note songs from short songs with simple patterns to longer songs with more patterns. There is a big difference between a song consisting of "Hello, how are you," and "Starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight."

In beginning a program, it is important to keep the program goals in mind for each child. It is important that the children feel comfortable and successful. Singing should always be a happy experience. The following guidelines help.

1) Try to have some group singing everyday.
2) Don't force children to join the group or to sing. If it is left to free choice, there will be some children who choose not to come at first. However, it has never failed that they eventually choose to join if the teacher is enthusiastic, supportive, and they see other children being successful and enjoying themselves. (Be sure to invite all children. Let children who do not want to come know that it is ok and that they are always welcome. These children usually listen from a distance for up to several weeks before feeling comfortable enough to join in.)
3) Choose only a few songs and keep the session short (about five minutes). The first session might present the Greeting Song, Cuckoo, and The Counting Song.
4). The teacher should always be enthusiastic and act like he or she is enjoying his or her self.
5) Don't correct the children or allow any negatives to creep in. If the children aren't paying attention, or are being unruly, quickly close the session by happily saying that you'll sing more tomorrow.
6) Look the children in the eye and talk as little as possible. Keep the children busy singing. Eliminate pauses. If something isn't working, switch to something else or end the session.
7) Always respond positively to student suggestions. They may have a suggestion for a song the teacher doesn't know (and it may be way too difficult), or they may have words they want to try (and they probably won't fit). However, suggestions should be accepted with enthusiasm. "Oh, that's an interesting idea. Let's try that." Don't comment negatively on the suggestion. However, always plan your lesson around the songs in this book. Children will want to sing what they know. They may know songs that are too difficult for children this age. It won't hurt to sing them a few times - so respond positively to the children's suggestions - however, don't be misled into building lessons around those songs because you think that those are the songs children want to sing. They want to sing those songs because those are the songs they know. Unfortunately, songs that are too difficult don't help children progress. In the long run a diet of only developmentally inappropriate songs will lead children to conclude that they can't sing. Therefore, remember, children will want to sing what they know. If the teacher teaches them new songs, they will want to sing those. It takes time. The teacher has to believe that the children will like the songs. The teacher has to take time to learn to enjoy the songs him or her self.
8) Teach a song step by step and through repetition. Children may want to sing a song over and over. Don't discourage them by saying "We already sang that." Instead, sing the songs as many times as they want. The teacher models behavior that the children will pick up. If the teacher is supportive and positive and accepting, then the children will be positive, supportive, and accepting. If the teacher listens, then the children will listen. If the teacher cares, the children learn to care. People come first, rules come second.
9) Sing the songs unaccompanied. It is best to pitch the songs in the key of B flat which means the two note songs start on an "F" above middle "C." Ideally, the children should be led by someone singing on key in the children's octave. Young children have a hard time matching a tune sung by a male. It is important that children hear songs sung correctly in tune and in rhythm.
10) Always involve the children. Ask them if anyone remembers a song that was sung the day before. Ask them if anyone remembers the words. As the children get comfortable, ask if anyone would like to show the group how the song goes. However, be careful never to put a child on the spot. Let children volunteer and contribute - you are having fun together. Singing should be something to which everyone looks forward.
11) The songs and singing should be the point of interest. Singing is fun. Singing is the object of the gathering. Don't use games, or puppets, or other devices to attempt to entertain the children. If devices are needed, something is wrong. Singing itself is fun. (In a similar vain, don't use singing as a device to "help the medicine go down." Often singing is used for transitions or to get children to do other things that they normally resist. This should be avoided. It goes against the main objective. Don't pair singing with something children don't like. Children will begin to associate the singing with the negative. Music should not be used to manipulate children. They don't like to be manipulated and will begin to resent music if it is used in that way.
12) Tapes of the songs children are learning can be put in a music library so the children can listen to the songs anytime they want. It is important that they can listen to the songs as often as they choose. They learn through repetition. (However, never put music on as general background music in the classroom. This teaches the children to tune the music out. They learn that music is background rather something important in and of itself.)

The goal is for children to learn that singing is something they can really enjoy with others. Children want to be successful. They tend to avoid anything in which they haven't been successful. So, many children will be cautious at first. Some won't join the group. Others will join but will not sing. What they need is an opportunity to see others being successful at something that looks like they might be able to do it also. They need to feel that they are not going to be embarrassed, put on the spot, or asked to do something they for which they won't be successful. When they do make an attempt (even the slightest first step) it is critical that the teacher has set them up for success rather than failure. That means the activity has to be developmentally appropriate. And, it means the teacher has to appreciate, honor, and accept the first attempt.

The songs listed in this book are placed in a developmentally appropriate sequence. They have all be used with children and the children have really enjoyed them. They develop the ear in a carefully though out step by step process. Every song serves a purpose. In fact, they have been chosen because they can serve multiple purposes. The progression represented by these songs can later be used as children learn to play musical instruments. These songs help children learn to consciously discriminate the intervals that make up the language of music. They also serve a a perfect vehicle for teaching children to read music after they have developed their ear. Therefore, these songs are important - for they form the foundation around which a music curriculum is built. And, that curriculum creates the enabler which empowers each child to develop their musical talent, ability, and potential.