Grade 5: Singing While Playing With Instruments

This lesson is about having the students coordinating their singing when playing instruments at the same time. I think this is the most basic activity to do when teaching children to sing or teaching children to play instruments. However, when you really break down the topic into small chunks, singing while playing instruments is not as easy as one might think.

I started the class by having the students sit with their assessment group mates as they would have to do an activity later which will help in their preparation for their coming summative assessment.

After that, I played the following video for them.

This video shows the popular, One Direction performing The Maths Song which is based on their original song What Makes You Beautiful.  I used to think that changing song lyrics is tedious but it seems fun when you really get on with it. (I shall share about a lesson which I did with the Grade 2 students in the 3rd quarter for another WordPress post.) The point of showing the video is to get the students to see how much the lyrics has changed from the original. Although it is a popular song, I also showed the original lyrics in another video.

For each video, I encourage the students to sing along as part of a warm up activity to the lesson. After that, I distributed a castanet to each student in the class. I find the castanet a very easy and simple instrument as it is small & light  and also one of the most affordable instrument that every music teacher should have.

As the class size is big, I did not opt to use the same instruments as they might not be able to hear me. I used the cow bell instead as it is loud enough to attract the whole class’ attention.

As the music video is played, I got the students to follow the rhythm that I play on the instrument. For the verses, I played quarter notes or crotchets on the 2nd and 4th beats and for the chorus part, I played two half notes or quavers on the 2nd and 4th beats. This activity was fairly easy for them as they only concentrated on playing the rhythm.

Looking at the projection of the screen, singing the song and playing the castanet at the same time

After that I got them to try singing and playing along with the song. For this trial, I asked the students whether any of them find it difficult to sing and play at the same time. A few students raised their hands and I asked why. One of the reasons they gave me was that they were focusing more on the singing as they were less familiar with the song. This shows that they have awareness on how they were performing.

We  should understand that such a simple performance involves a few skills. Singing not only involves the singing of the melody (pitch), it also involves singing of the lyrics (pitch with words). Playing a music instrument is also a skill. Hence the whole performance requires the brain to manage three skills at the same time: singing of the melody, singing of the lyrics and playing the rhythm.

For the second trial, I simplified one of the skills mentioned above. I got them to use a non-syllabic word like la to sing the melody instead of the actual lyrics to the melody. This is to help them familiarize the melody(pitch) instead of the words. Although it seem silly at first, the students were more confident singing and playing at the same time. After this second trial, the students understood better that the performance requires them not only to practice each skills but also on how to focus on developing small parts of the performance.

The second half of the lesson is for the students to apply their newly acquired knowledge on their own songs that they have already prepared in previous lessons. While they were practicing, I made my rounds around the class observing how they were practicing and also guide them when necessary. Based on my observations, they seem to really enjoy themselves as they were comfortable in the prepared songs. They were able to even come up with some simple movements that will help them make the performance better.

Discussing how they can improve their performance and practice
Listening to a very animated explanation of how they are practicing and performing

Just before the lesson ended, I have the students complete an exit task which is a guided reflection and it goes something like this:

  1. Is playing instruments while singing fun?
  1. Was it easy to play instruments while singing?
  1. Why was it difficult OR what made it difficult?
  1. Is practice very important to play instruments while singing better?
  1. Optional: What else can you reflect on today’s lesson?

Many students came up to me to ask about question no.3. What if it was not difficult for me, Teacher? Hence, I have them answer why it was not difficult for them to perform two things at the same time. Seriously, if anyone wants to find a loophole in a rule or a question, I think children are the best at it.

I felt that I manage to complete the lesson on time as only two main activities were focused. I also find that it is very important that the students are given the time and space to try applying new knowledge. For me, music performance can’t be taught on the paper or even on the white board. It has to be experienced physically and emotionally. I also learn that breaking down  the process of an action or an activity is important, regardless on how easy or difficult it is. Not only does it make it easier to understand how an action is carried out but the process is properly analyzed and  understood. Every small action leads to a big action.

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