Two Note Songs

Two Note Songs are important as a vehicle for helping children develop confidence in their singing as well as develop the ability to sing on key.

Often, as teachers look over the two notes songs they complain that they don't look very appealing. This is to be expected. Teachers are on a different developmental level than children. Unfortunately, as adults it is not possible to judge what is appropriate for children based upon adult taste. Instead, it is necessary to study children and watch what they do and choose.

There has been much research, over a number of years, in various countries on children singing. Key findings of this research are summarized by Lois Choksy in her book "The Kodaly Context." On page 18 she says:

"Research indicates that the earliest musical interval usually produced by young children is an approximation of a minor third. This being the case, it would seem likely that the out-of-tune singer would be helped by being given a variety of singing experiences using this interval."

On page 16 she says:

"The rhythm of the child's natural, self-created chants is duple... The tunes the child creates while playing tend to be rather plaintive, in a slow tempo, and sung on an approximation of a minor third... The child's natural singing range...generally lies between D above middle C and the A or B above... The child's self-started tunes almost always begin with a descending interval and he can rarely sing half-steps in tune.

Lois Choksy then goes on to say:

"The implication for these developmental characteristics of early childhood should be far-reaching. They are not recent discoveries, and yet, if one peruses the music textbooks intended for use in kindergarten and nursery schools, it is possible to find example after example of unsingable songs with ranges of an octave or even a 10th, of songs built on ascending scale patterns, of songs in 3/4 meter. A publisher, once questioned as to why his kindergarten music books had so much material musically unsuitable for young children, answered: "Children don't buy books--teachers do."

The two note songs have been chosen as beginning songs, not because they appeal to adults, but because they appeal to children. They appeal to children because the songs are at the children's developmental level. The songs are a match for the children's capabilities. Children can learn the songs successfully. They present a challenge, but not a threat. The children won't be able to sing them at first, but they feel it is possible, and with work they are able to master them.

The adult attitude is critical. If the adults complain, or appear disinterested in the songs, the children will pick up the attitude of the adult. There may be some children who are more advanced and ready and eager for more advanced songs. Those children may complain. The adults response to complaints is very important. If the adult agrees with the complaint, all is lost. The reality is that different songs are appropriate for, and appeal to different people. We shouldn't make the mistake of putting a song down simply because it isn't appropriate for, or doesn't appeal to, us. If we do, every song will be complained about by someone, and no one will be able to enjoy any song. Instead, the rule should be to support everyone in their interest in what they want to sing. The more advanced children should have an opportunity to sing songs for which they are ready. Hearing those songs will provide valuable experience for the less experienced children. On the other hand, it won't hurt the more advanced children to sing beginning songs either. The practice will help solidify their skill. However, one note of caution. Children like to sing what they know. What they know may be too advanced for them. The teacher has to have to courage and vision to look beyond the children's current interest to what he or she knows is best for the children. In this way, the teacher leads the children to their future interest and future success. It is easy to get misled by trying to follow what appears to be children's interests. A child might want to sing "Puff the Magic Dragon." However, listening to the child might reveal that the child not only can't sing the melody, and doesn't know all the words, but that the child can't sing simple three note songs either. So, what is singing "Puff" going to accomplish? It will make the child momentarily happy, but in the long run the child may conclude that he or she doesn't have any musical talent because he or she can't carry a tune. Can a child learn to carry a tune by attempting songs that are complex and go beyond their singing range? Such a feat is very demanding and sets the child up for failure. Lois Choksy, on page 22 of her book, points out:

"The extent to which we tend to ignore the development of individual singing was brought sharply into focus a few years ago when the preliminary findings of the National Assessment in Music were released. They showed that across the United States hardly any child tested could sing "America" all the way through in tune. This is not a condition music teachers should allow to continue."

It is important to proceed differently. Experience has shown that the most effective technique for helping children is to begin simply. The two note songs have been carefully selected for this purpose.

The first three songs are very simple. The learners simply distinguish whether the melody goes up or down. The interval is the minor third that comes most naturally to children. The songs are in duple meter which is also natural to children. The rhythm is made up of either quarter notes, or eighth notes. There are two rhythm patterns - a quarter note pattern, and an eighth note pattern. The musical idea is short. In Cuckoo, the main vowel sound is "oo." Research as summarized by Choksy indicates that "The "oo" seems to be an easier vowel sound for finding pitch than others. Games or songs in which the individual child is called upon to sing a simple response on "oo" may be successful where responses sung on words have not been."

After the children are singing the first three songs with confidence, the next two songs take the musical idea in the first three songs, and then add to it. After those songs, the following songs then provide for variation and provide an opportunity for improvisation based upon skills developed. The songs also get longer and more complex. More complex rhythms and even an ascending pattern is introduced. This is intended to help children extend and solidify what they have learned before going on to distinguishing new intervals.

Choksy summarizes several points to keep in mind while helping children learn these songs.

1. Singing should be unaccompanied. "...Accompaniment tends to cover the young child's voice." The child needs to hear his or her own voice and the voices of the children around him or her

2. "The volume at which children sing is another important factor in fostering in-tune singing. Often the child singing most loudly in a class situation is the one most out of tune. The child is singing so loudly that he cannot hear the others, more in tune, around him. Children sing in tune more easily if they are instructed to sing softly. The young child generally cannot produce a good singing tone loudly."

3. " Tempo also affects the quality of children's singing. Bright, fast ditties are far more teacher - than child- oriented. Even the simple three note songs of early childhood are often sung by teachers at a tempo too fast for children. A short song may be over before the child with pitch discrimination difficulty has found his first note. Songs should be sung very slowly and clearly for and with young children."