Teaching Harmony Singing to Beginners

Teaching Harmony Singing to Beginners

Apr 21, 2021

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

Teaching Harmony Singing to Beginners

From singing in choral groups, at church with the praise team, singing harmonies in the studio, and working on harmonies with my students – Harmony singing is a gift!
The pandemic may have made it more difficult to sing together, but strong harmony skills start with developing confident singing skills. Something we emphasize with our singing resources!

Helping our students learn to sing harmonies starts from the very first lesson. Here are some teaching strategies, lesson ideas, and resources that help. I have also included some online activities that may be helpful if you cannot teach in person (like me).

SINGING UNACCOMPANIED
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. To become a confident singer, one has to know and enjoy the sound of their voice.

We encourage using solfege as a teaching tool as it allows singers to sing unaccompanied and develop relative pitch. For children, solfege games are fun and engaging. If you need to correct a pitch, do it voice to voice. Let them hear your voice (not the piano).
We have free solfege wall cards HERE.

When learning new songs, please encourage students to sing short phrases of their repertoire unaccompanied. You can use a short phrase as a warm-up or as a technical study.

CALL AND RESPONSE EXERCISES
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. This can confuse some singers.

Voice to voice is best. It may take a few repetitions for them to sing it back accurately. This is normal. If they are struggling 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
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: Autumn or Fall (Four Seasons Harmony Studies by Glyn Lehmann)
Hummy Hummingbirds by Donna Rhodenizer
Down By The Bay,
And the green grass grows
Miss Mary Mack

PEDAL TONE EXERCISE
When students can sing a major scale, triads, and other simple melodic patterns without any assistance, you can now challenge them. I like to start harmony exercises with a pedal note exercise. I ask the student to sing DO DO DO while I sing DO RE MI. This is challenging for sure, 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!

2-PART MELODIES
When students are confident in their singing, it can be appropriate to start a 2-part song. Giving the student ample time to learn their part and making sure they can sing their part confidently before introducing the other melody line is important. 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.

CANONS
Everyone loves a fun round, and this is also a great 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

Online Canons /Harmony singing
As my studio is online, I have had to be creative with harmony singing skills. I am currently teaching my singers the melody to Summer Somersaults as a solo and having each student video it. I will then put the videos together and have them sing along with themselves in the video. While it is not the same as in-person, they ARE working on active listening as they hear the other parts while they sing.

For more experienced singers…

PARTNER SONGS
Partner songs are fun yet challenging as the melodies AND rhythms are often very different from each other. Partner songs are wonderful for recitals as they feature each performer individually first before the two parts come together for a unique and engaging refrain.
Partner songs: 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.

Teaching Harmony Singing to Beginners

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