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Teaching Harmony Singing to Beginners

April 22, 2021

Teaching strategies, exercises, and free resources for learning to sing in harmony. 

Helping our students learn to sing harmonies starts from the very first lesson. Here are some teaching strategies, lesson ideas, new songs and free resources that make it fun and engaging.

Allowing singers of all ages to sing unaccompanied as much as possible is important. It is not necessary (nor as helpful as you may think) to play the piano and sing with your students all the time. Don’t worry if your singer is shy or struggles with their pitch in the beginning. This is part of the learning process.

We encourage using solfège as a teaching tool, allowing singers to sing unaccompanied and develop relative pitch. For children, solfège games are fun and engaging.
We have free solfege wall cards HERE.

Voice students always benefit from call and response exercises. Listening to the teacher sing and then singing back to the teacher (teaching by rote) is a foundational singing exercise. (Many teachers became familiar with this way of teaching when transitioning to online lessons.) Again, no need to plunk notes on the piano. Voice to voice is best. It may take a few repetitions for them to sing it back accurately. This is normal. If they struggle with accuracy, make the phrase shorter and go slowly. (No need to get frustrated if a student needs more repetitions or a slower pace. Be patient! You will see improvements with slower lesson pacing!)

Echo songs are fun for kids and expand on the call-and-answer strategies in the lesson. Singers are working on active listening to both the music and the other part. Allow your student to be the leader and the echo.

Echo Songs from the FULL VOICE Library:

Hummy Hummingbird by Donna Rhodenizer.

This sweet song is PERFECT for young singers new to singing in harmony. The song starts with the melody with an echo and then introduces very short passages in two-part harmony.

Autumn or Fall
(Four Seasons Harmony Songs by Glyn Lehmann)

This song is slightly more challenging with some syncopation in the melody but offers students new to singing in harmony a song that is easy to learn and perform.

Additional Beginner Echo Songs:
Down By The Bay,
And the green grass grows
Miss Mary Mack

When students can sing a major scale, triads, and other simple melodic patterns without any assistance, you can now challenge them with a pedal note exercise.

I ask the student to sing DO DO DO while I sing DO RE MI. First attempts at pedal exercises are challenging, but with a little encouragement and asking students to focus on the sounds they are singing, they start to get the hang of it.

I then reverse the exercise (They sing DO RE MI while I sing DO DO DO). Solfege hand signs are beneficial in this exercise as they can help the student secure their pitches and gives them a helpful visual. This is a great warm-up exercise in a lesson!

(Check out the Pumpkin Spice Song as it has a pedal tone part!)

When students are confident in their singing, it can be appropriate to start a 2-part song. It is essential to give the student ample time to learn their part and make sure they can sing their part confidently before introducing the other melody line. Breaking down the song into smaller phrases can be helpful. Have the student(s) stop and hold a note to ensure pitch accuracy is helpful.

Everyone loves a fun round, which is also an excellent activity for young singers. If working with groups, it is helpful to partner singers together (strength in numbers, lol). I used to do canons as warm-ups before recitals, and I would put my beginners in groups with my teens, and it was always successful.

I have also had my small group class sing together (5 kids) as a group vs. me singing the other part.
Favorite Canons: The Pizza Hut Cano (A kid favorite!)
Summer Somersaults: Four Seasons Harmony Studies

For more experienced singers…

Partner songs are fun yet challenging as the melodies AND rhythms are often very different. Partner songs are lovely for recitals as they first feature each performer before the two parts come together for a unique and engaging refrain.
Partner songs from the FULL VOICE Library:
Four Snow Friends
Winter Woolies-Four Season Harmony Studies by Glyn Lehmann

Contemporary Song Harmonies (Active Listening)
For my students working on contemporary music, I always ask them to identify harmonies in the recording. We discuss whether the harmony is above or below AND the voice registration used to sing the harmony. I challenge students to sing the harmony instead of the lead vocals as an ear-training/ active listening exercise.

Wishing everyone a fantastic season of singing! ~ Nikki

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