Teaching Harmony Singing to Beginners

10 FANTASTIC Online Lesson Strategies for private or small group vocal classes

May 8, 2020

Teaching Singing Lessons Online – Yes, You Can!

This article was written at the beginning of the pandemic. Online lessons have changed the way many teachers can serve their students and now, and yes, many teachers choose to teach online as part of their studio offerings. These strategies are helpful. 

1. Welcome in/ set up/ check-in.
Our students need help to set up. It was easier in our studios as we controlled the environment. But with online lessons, we are establishing new routines. It will take time and endless reminders. So as you are welcoming them into your zoom room, Get students to find their “singing lesson space” (not the bed!) and collect all their tools (books, pencils, pens devices) ready for learning. Bonus points if they have a music stand. I ask my students to have a chair and a desk handy for their lessons.

Small-Group Class Teacher Tip: Play or sing a familiar short piece of music and ask your students to be ready when you are finished. The singers who are ready can stretch and move, the others can get their acts together. ( I use the track from The Cactus Song. Or a fun upbeat song like Happiness by Pharrell Williams)

2. Warm-Up Stretches
Simple yoga stretches and mindful movement are a great way to get them ready to sing. Body awareness for the win. (It also gets them to back away from the computer screen) In small group classes, ask students to lead the stretch or request warm-up activities.

2A. Warm-Up Stretches with Vocal Exploration
Stretches with big dramatic sighing (so helpful) and vocal slides and whoops and animal sounds (SO fun) all fantastic ways to get into the further reaches of their singing range. (Also helpful for testing the volume and sound).

3. Vocal Roller Coasters – Yay! These work quite well online and you can use the whiteboard on Zoom, or draw them on a whiteboard and hold it up for them to see. Have students draw YOU a roller coaster line on their side too. Vocal roller coasters (expression lines) always save the day and get singers vocalizing.

4. Active Listening Exercises: A foundational skill that we do not focus on enough! You can play music on your side of the call and ask your student:

  • What instruments do you hear in the song?

  • Can you tap/snap/clap/move to the beat of the music?

  • Can you tell if this music is in a major or minor key?

now available as kindle downloads for screen sharing.

now available as kindle downloads for screen sharing.

5. Music Reading/Writing Exercises: FULL VOICE WORKBOOK activities for the WIN! Parents have hard copy proof of progress and can celebrate students as they work through books. (DO NOT ASSIGN AS HOMEWORK) Students can hold up their answers to the screen.

5a. Lyric Discovery If they don’t have their score, you can screen share your music. Reading the lyrics aloud to work on diction, or to discover the meaning of the lyrical text. In small-group lessons, ask for a volunteer to read the words.

5b. Tongue Twisters. Classic! Use the screen share function and put them up on the screen for students to read aloud. OR for those of you who play the songbird warm-up games, YOU reach into the jar and pull out the activity for your singer.

6. Rhythm Reading/ Sight Singing studiesI use the screen share function in zoom and the pdf version of Sight Singing Superhero as rhythm reading/sight-singing “flashcards” Kids LOVE when you use the annotate feature and give them check marks, stars, and hearts as they go. You can also have the kids annotate as well. (They LOVE that too!)

Teacher Tip. Increase the page size on the screen, so only a few questions are viewable at a time.

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7. Learning New Music
Teaching songs by rote can be frustrating, but remember that slow and repetitive pacing is essential for our young students. BE MY ECHO is a fantastic way to teach a new song to a young singer. Short phrases, half a phrase, or just a few notes may be needed to secure the melody**.

Try simple songs like camp songs (The Pizza Hut Song), folk songs (Blue Bird through my Window), and check out the Vocal Studies for Kids songs. (I Love Camping is a hit!) They feature super short, easy to learn songs that kids love, and they have great backing tracks to make it easy for online lessons and home practice.

**Do not be discouraged if your singers take longer to secure the melody. They need this repetition to develop their active listening and pitch accuracy, and playing the piano and singing with them does NOT develop this skill.

Small-Group Classes: Allow students to sing back to you together (messy, yes) and then give students a number and have them sing in turn, solo as you play be my echo.

8. Red light, Green Light, (Yellow and Purple too)
Once students are secure with any song they are singing, play a game of Red light/Green light.

  1. The student starts the background music on their side of the call and begins to sing.

  2. The teacher holds up a piece of colored paper to cue the student.

– stop singing (but music continues) when they see the red cue
– resume singing when they see the green prompt.

This activity is FANTASTIC for learning to internalize the melody, and this helps develop active listening to the accompaniment. (oh, and so fun!) Once they have mastered the red and green objectives, try adding other colored cues for more challenges (and MORE fun!)

I have successfully used:
Yellow – clap to the beat of the music playing.
Purple – Dance to the beat of the music
Evil Teacher tip: Show them two colors (i.e., Yellow and green or yellow and purple!)

9. Chord Identification Game: (My kids call this sit down-stand up) Ask students to:

– Stand when they hear a major triad.
-Sit when they hear a minor triad
-Cover their eyes when they hear a diminished triad
-Wave jazz hands when they hear a dominant 7th chord
-Cover their ears when they hear an augmented triad

10. Sing along to their favorite song(s)
Through the quarantine, I have given my students the option of singing along with ANY song they love. No corrections, no judgment, just celebrate the effort. Allowing them to express themselves through songs they choose builds trust and understanding in the voice teacher/student relationship.

Teacher Bonus – you learn some new songs.

One more tip: Check in with parents frequently. Give positive feedback, now more than ever and keep your attitude positive as you celebrate the online efforts.

Friends and colleagues – creativity, patience, and fun will outshine the glitches, lousy sound, and frozen screens.

As ALWAYS! Happy Singing!