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How to teach a song to your class

I have been in charge of Elementary Christmas concerts for a long time. One of the most important things that I do in preparing elementary classes for their concerts is teaching them the song they are going to sing.

Occasionally, a few of the classes don’t make it onto my music class schedule, which means they need to prepare their own classes for the concert. For teachers who aren’t vocalists or music specialists, this can be a stressful task. Here are the tips I always give them.

Start learning the songs early

The typical approach to prepping kids for a school concert is go hard for the two weeks before the concert. This has a few pros… but it won’t result in the best performance.

Kids are creatures of habit – and this is important, especially when you are going to ask them to do something potentially stressful like perform in front of an audience.

By starting to learn the songs a month or even two months before the concert, you can ensure that your students have enough time to learn the song well enough that they can perform it reliably – even when standing in front of an audience.

Starting early also allows you to practice the song only a little bit at a time, which helps prevent kiddos from getting sick of it and losing focus.

Learn the song yourself.

This might seem like an obvious tip, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen teachers who seem to be learning the song alongside their students. If you’re the one leading the song, you need to be a leader. Be prepared – and practice.

Stop giving your students lyric sheets.

Unless you plan on having students holding lyric sheets during the performance (which I don’t recommend), then don’t give them lyric sheets when rehearsing. If you give them lyric sheets, three things will happen:
#1 – They will never memorize the words,
#2 – they will never look at you when you are leading the song, and
#3 – they will play with the sheets of paper.
All of these will result in a poorer performance.

Don’t use a video to teach the song

Again, unless you plan on your students looking at a video when they perform it, don’t rehearse it that way.

Teach the song by rote.

The best way for children to learn a song is by hearing and singing back small sections at a time.
– Teach students that when you point to yourself, you sing. When you point to them, they sing.
– Sing one line to them, and have them sing it back. Repeat until it sounds good.
– Sing the next line to them, and have them sing it back. (Note that EVERY TIME they sing it, they hear you modelling it first. This is why you need to know your stuff!)
– When you’ve done a whole verse line by line, go back and repeat, but this time sing it TWO lines at a time, and then have them sing it back to you.
– Continue to go through the rest of the song following this same process. Students will learn the words as well as the melody gradually by repeating them back to you.
– The subsequent verses will be picked up much faster than the first one, because your students will already be familiar with the melody at that point.

Learn to conduct the song.

Most songs, especially those that your students are likely to be singing, are in 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 time. If you’re not sure what time signature your song is in, ask a musical person to help you. Once you know the time signature it’s easy to find a conducting tutorial. Conducting is essential for helping your students keep in time with the music and learning to understand phrasing.

Practice performing

Performing in front of an audience is a skill that has to be learned. Borrow another class so that your students can practice performing for them.