TEACHING TIP #1: The Shy Singer

Music class is a time for fun, for participation, for socialization, as well as for learning music. But what do we do about students who are too shy and reluctant to sing? A couple of inexpensive tools can help the “shy singer.” After these confidence-building activities, your shy little musicians will soon become comfortable and eager singers.

1. The kazoo is always a hit. The child can hum on pitch with the kazoo, without facing the potential embarrassment of opening his mouth and singing aloud. Kids with kazoos can learn about vocal control and pitch, preparing them to sing aloud after they build confidence.

2. The “whistling and listening” tube is a minor miracle of serendipity. I first discovered the plastic tube years ago when I was teaching group piano lessons. I created the name “whistling and listening” tube, and adapted it to a musical purpose. The child places one end of the tube to his mouth and the other end to his ear. It offers the shy child all the privacy of singing in the shower, as even the most pianissimo sounds are amplified, without exposing one’s voice out loud to the group. The next and obvious step is to sing into the tube while a trusted friend listens at the other end of the tube; and eventually the shy singers eagerly join in singing without the crutch of the listening tube. The other fun thing with these tubes is to learn about the “physics” of music. By twirling them at different speeds, the tubes emit the overtones of the major chord (I, 3, 5, 8). This is a great opportunity to discover that sound is created by motion, that changes of pitch depend on energy and speed of objects in space, and that the overtone series created is the foundation of harmony.

3. Puppets, props, and rhythm instruments also help kids overcome their shyness in a music class. The puppet refocuses attention away from the shy puppeteer/singer. The props or instruments help shy beginners too, as when they are focused on moving the prop or performing on their rhythm instrument they feel less “exposed” than they do when singing. They can participate actively in music making without singing, developing skills that will soon help them sing as they gain more confidence.

1 thought on “TEACHING TIP #1: The Shy Singer”

  1. Those are great tips. When I was in the Rich Tones Chorus (Sweet Adelines) as a young adult, the first chorus I’d ever been in, I too was embarrassed to sing in front of people. That’s why I’d never done it until I became an adult. The thing that helped me get over it was someone reminding me that your voice is an instrument. You have to practice to get good, just like any other instrument.

    Your voice is so personal that when it cracks or fails, it feels like an embarrassing lack of control, like tripping over your own feet, or breaking wind. I can certainly understand why there are so many shy singers. Nobody wants to embarrass themselves in public.

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