Thursday, July 4, 2013

Top 10 ways to sound like you WANT to sing with children! - (even when you don't feel like it)

One of my favorite singers of all time is Ella Fitzgerald.  I love listening to her sing.  I love everything that she sings.  I love hearing recordings of her when she was young.  I love hearing recordings of her when she was old because every time she sang she shared her emotions with everyone who heard her. She was even quoted as saying,

 "I sing like I feel."  - Ella Fitzgerald.

 (video of Ella at the end of the post! )

As someone who enjoys singing very much, I love this quote and can hear it expressed in every note of her performances. In fact as a performer I hope that my singing does communicate my emotions clearly. But then I laugh because I'm only a "singer" for a very small percentage of my real life. 

My reality is the classroom and as someone who teaches children to sing every day I would like to give a new quote, but instead of from Ella, it will be from me.  Here it is!

 "I sing like I should feel until I do!"  -
Bonnie McSpadden

In truth I feel like one of the most important skills a young music teacher should work to cultivate is the art of convincing  children that you really do want to sing that same song 7 more times for the 6th straight day in a row!

 You see, the more that fatigue sets in, the more I have a "situation" with a student or parent going on via email waiting for me at my desk, the more that l feel pressured to meet deadlines, or if circumstances in my personal life are weighing on me then suddenly I really don't want to sing at all and if I allowed my sour, worried, tired or angry emotions to bleed through into my presentation of my song, then I would be doing my students a terrible disservice.

Imagine you are a second grader who LOVES going to music but you only get to attend that class once every other week.  Now imagine that you are that student and when you are greeted by a music teacher with a look of resignation on her face and an air of defeat about her.  Now everyone, let's sing!  What?  Yuck!  No one, not your eager students and especially not your reluctant students will follow Ms. "unhappy" pants into a meaningful lesson about anything.....blah! Truly the best way to kill the natural enthusiasm students will  bring with them to music is to act like an over-worked, tired out music teacher who hasn't gone to the bathroom since 7:30 this morning!

 As my daddy would say, "You've got the same pants to get glad in that you got mad in" sooooooo

My advice?  Fake it until you can make it!!!!! 

Here are a few tips that I think will help!

1. SMILE! - When you smile, you will get smiles back from your students.  Only the hardest hearts can stay in a pouty self centered mood when faced with a room full of smiling 5 year olds.

2. MOVE! - If you find yourself in need of some space to think, re-arrange your lesson so that your movement activity is first (often mine is anyway) and really put yourself into it.  Everyone benefits from a shot of endorphins!

3. PLAY WITH your students!  This is more than teaching them a game and then releasing them to manage it.  Teach your students a singing game, embrace the moment and enter into the play with the children and watch as the singing of everyone becomes light and beautiful.  Also, those same songs you've been singing for days will be refreshed by the unique experience each class brings with them  You can never have the same turn twice!  For more about how to utilize genuine constructive play in your teaching, please reference the ETM website.

4. Mix it up! - Just because your objectives are the same, just because you choose the same repertoire, just because you would like your students to be moving along at the same pace, doesn't mean you have to teach the exact same lesson every time, you don't teach the same students every time, so why should the lessons be identical?  Challenge yourself to extend and refine your practice - if you are interested, your students will be interested.

5. Sing higher than you speak!  It will brighten your voice and make whatever you are singing sound more cheerful.

6. Drink some water! Get more sleep! Eat your veggies!  - No one is crabbier than dehydrated sleepy people who haven't had enough fiber! Take care of yourself! It's good for your brain, it's good for your body, it's good for your voice, it's good for your students!

7. Have a bathroom buddy! (someone to watch your class if you need to step out)  - This is a bigger issue for some folks than for others, but if you gotta go, you gotta go, don't be a bathroom martyr.  Bathroom martyrs end up with UT infections and bladder infections which can make you really sick and a little crazy..... so just go! 

8. GENUENLY SMILE at colleagues!  Be friendly with your homeroom teachers! - No one wants to drop off their students OR pick them up from a frowning angry looking specials teacher. EVEN if the behavior in the class was appalling every single time you've seen them all year!  I'll admit this is hard for me when I've had a rough class, sometimes I'd just rather be the drama-queen and put on a show.   Really, no one has time and you can solve those problems in conversation with the homeroom teacher with whom you wish to commiserate I mean collaborate later by appointment when you've both set aside time to come up with a creative solution. Some problems must be settled when you have access to caffeine!

9. Limit your communication with the outside (email AND cell phones!)

Ya'll,  I could preach a sermon about email and cell phones and the issues they create that keep us put us in a frame of mind that is not conducive with happy teaching, but really at the end of the day, it's about focus.  When you are spending every transition time you have running over to your email, because someone has hoisted their "urgent" problem onto your lap, or when you are spending all of your time, "discreetly" checking your text messages and Facebook IMs.  In regards to email there are only very few circumstances that require you to drop  everything and immediately reply.  Almost everything can wait until you get done with afternoon bus duty.  This year was the first year that I taught with an iPhone in my purse and while there were a couple of times when I could use it to tune my guitars, or as an occasional timer, any other use that I could think of was a use that with just a little planning I could have access to school technology.  As a result, I've come to the conclusion that unless it is your school policy that you keep your phone on your body for security, it should be left in your purse and turned off, no matter how smart it is.  I don't care if it will cook me some pancakes, it won't sing as well as you and you can't sing if you are "discreetly???" texting your boyfriend a reminder to pick up your dry cleaning. Never mind the fact that texts and Facebook posts and tweets can be just as upsetting or intrusive as any professional email you might get and often they are more so because they are personal.....(personal = leave it at home!!!!)  My young grown-up friends who were the original texting generation... You've got to stop playing with your phone at work!  REALLY!  - So I did preach a sermon, but if you haven't already done so, maybe you can text and IM your significant others right now and tell them that once school starts you are going to change the settings on your phone so that you can only receive texts before and after school.  Your students will be grateful because THEN they will have a teacher who is focused on them and in the right frame of mind to not only teach well but to sing well together with them!

10.  Have a plan B ready JUST IN CASE! One of the hardest days of teaching that I ever had was a day when we arrived at work Monday morning to discover that one of our first grade teachers and her entire family save one teenaged daughter had been killed in a drunk driving accident. For the protection of everyone, my school followed the protocols set in motion by our district which meant that until the first grade homeroom who was affected got the news then everyone had to go on as normal.  That day I had class after class after class and at first I thought that I would be able to just go on with the normal, playful, exuberant lessons that I had planned for the day.  However, I just couldn't.  I could remain calm and if not cheerful, I could at least manage to not look bereaved until it was time for me to start the game and if I tried to open my mouth to sing, my voice would literally break on a sob. I would walk and start singing, "As I was walking...." and literally by the time I got to the word walking I couldn't go on.  To continue would have drawn attention to something that we were not ready to divulge.  So I just had to scrap the lesson and do something non-singing.  I think we played rhythm bingo, or some other thing that I could pull out at the last minute that was almost as easy as a sub plan but that was specifically saved for a "just in case" day.


  1. :( I just wrote a whole novel and it's gone after trying to login.

    I will try to recap: I am a singer and I loved your list on the advice you give to fellow coaches. I take private lessons even now and I look for all of those things... someone that is well-versed enough to mix up the vocal warm ups... that we are working on at least 3 songs so we can change up the lesson from week to week... someone HAPPY and LAID back is so incredibly important. My current coach has me in stitches all the time! He also encourages me to move... actually he tells me to move my arms like a butterfly when we are singing above the scale to get me out of my head. It's amazing how that little trick helps.
    Awesome post and it's nice to meet a fellow singer in this challenge :)

  2. I hate it when I accidentally loose my comments! Thanks for you kind words! - Keep singing!

  3. some of this can be so easily applied to daily life. we get caught up in so many other things and never really have focus ... I struggle with this regularly.