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Vocal Exploration: Rhythmic Chants

February 12, 2024

Vocal exploration is a powerful teaching/learning tool in singing lessons. These kid-friendly activities allow students to explore their voices without the “right” or “wrong” narrative. (Something that is often missing from voice instruction.)

This helps students find their singing confidence. Vocal exploration activities allow mindful teachers to offer highly productive singing lessons while assessing the student’s speaking and singing preferences.

Before you start vocalizing on pitch…

I love using rhythmic chants as part of my vocal exploration activities. Young beginner students can explore their speaking voice in addition to their singing voice. This is effective. There are many reasons to utilize a clever spoken exercise like a rhythmic chant:

  • to explore a more dynamic speaking range
  • an easy first-step activity before vocalizing
  • a first step for students developing pitch accuracy
  • an activity to focus on diction and expression without pitch
  • a tool for exploring rhythms/beat in the body
  • an activity for voices needing to rest/recover
  • as an ostinato part to assist singers learning to sing in harmony

There are many different chants for early elementary-aged students; feel free to use your favorites. Here are two of my go-to chants to add to your teaching toolbox.

For Early Elementary Students

A Great Big Cat is a traditional chant that is easy to learn, includes helpful gestures, and allows for exploration of the speaking range. Teachers can encourage students to expressively explore lower pitches (a great big cat) and higher pitches (a wee little mouse). This chant is delightful for exploring volumes, too.

A great big cat and a wee little mouse
Went round and round in a high, high house
But that wee little mouse got caught at last
‘Cause the great big cat ran around so fast!

Art Credit: Eve Farb

Gestures for A Great Big Cat
great big cat – speaking with a low voice, stretching arms out wide
wee little mouse – speaking with a high voice, hands come together
round and round – rolling motion with two fists
high, high house – speaking in a high voice or ascending in pitch, arms reach up.
wee little mouse – speaking with a high voice, hands close together
caught at last – pretend to catch the mouse
great big cat – speak with a low voice, stretch arms out wide
Ran around so fast! – speaking quickly, rolling motion with two fists

For Older Elementary Students

For my slightly older students, I love this rhythmic chant for diction and finding beat vs rhythm activities:

Pepsi cola went to town,
Coca-Cola knocked him down.
Dr. Pepper fixed him up,
Now we all drink 7-up.

(This chant has many variations; you can find more extended versions with a quick google.)

This activity was part of our Live Office Hours presentation about Helping Singers with Singing Confidence and Pitch Accuracy

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