7 Tips to Teach Kids to Sing

Hispanic mother and daughter singing with hairbrushes and digital tablet

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We all want the best for our children. These days that means some adults teach two-year-olds to read and understand math concepts even when it feels like pulling teeth. To really do right by children, we should teach kids to be happy, confident, and feel secure. Forcing concepts on children before they are ready or without cultivating their interest is unproductive. Having fun is the solution. Effectively teach a small child by demonstrating and playing games more than explaining. Since everything in the world is new to children, start with the most fundamental concepts first.

Teach Simple Songs

Your first mountain to climb would not be Mt. Everest. To a toddler, easy songs to adults such as “The Water is Wide” is Mt. Everest. For example. one boy's speech was delayed, partly because his parents spoke to him like he was an adult. He caught onto language faster when they switched to two-word sentences. You can apply the same idea to music by singing songs that are only two or three pitches. Simple songs are short and have easy to remember lyrics, such as “Rain, Rain Go Away,” and “Ring Around the Rosie.” In addition to being simple, these two tunes use small children’s favorite interval, the minor third.

Sing to Them

The best way to teach your child music is to sing to them. Singing without accompaniment is far better for a child’s development than playing her a CD of kids’ music. When you sing, she sees the way your mouth moves, the way you breathe, and she observes your love of singing first hand. It allows a child to bond with you personally and associate certain songs with her love for you. The benefits of singing to your child are significant, regardless of whether you sing well or even in tune. You may not be the best role model for pitch, but you show your child how to produce a tone that is sung.

Make Up Songs

Settling in takes a long time when you first buy a new home. You may start by touring your new home’s rooms to find the bathroom or the master bedroom. Then you start to notice details like shelves in closets. Once you familiarize yourself with your new home, you alter it by moving your items in. People do the same thing with their voices. They get to know their voice by trying out pitches and intervals from general to more detailed. Adults use vocal exercises. But for children, making up little tunes and series of sounds is their way. Not until you acquaint yourself with your natural voice can you begin to train it. This process takes children longer. A fun game that encourages vocal exploration is making up tunes. A parent might sing to their son, “Hey son, please listen up, I need someone to hurry up,” to the tune of “Rain, rain go away.” He might reply, “Hey mom, you’re so silly, I need to put my shoes on still.” Rhyming is not necessary. You might use traditional tunes or make up your own. By just singing what you normally speak, your child may do the same. 

Raise and Lower Your Hand

Conductors show you how to sing with their hands. They show the beat, the dynamics, and often how to express text. That might be too much for a child just starting out. To simplify, place your hand perpendicular to the floor and raise it up and down according to the pitch. Rather than beating out time, move your hand when the pitch moves.

Use the Whole Body to Teach Solfège

In “The Sound of Music” solfège or Do-Re-Mi is referred to as the A-B-C’s of music. That is true! You can teach a toddler by using your whole body to show pitches. Do this by representing solfège symbols by placing your hands on various body parts. Do – knees, Re – thighs, Mi – waist, Fa – chest, Sol – shoulders, La – eyes, Ti – forehead, Do – head. Signify any higher pitches above the head and lower ones below the knees. Getting the whole body involved makes solfège just as enjoyable for toddlers as singing, “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.”

Play Pitch-Matching Games

The simplest pitch-matching game is to sing one note on “la” or another syllable until your child is able to match it. When your child shows interest in clocks, they will enjoy timing how long it takes to match the pitch. Then you can switch and match your child’s tone of choice. The next level up is to take turns singing and matching a couple notes on “la.” With a few children you can play musical telephone, where you sing a tune in someone’s ear then she sings that same tune in the next person’s ear until the last person sings it out loud. It may or may not sound the same as the tune you started with.

Find Call and Response and Echo Songs

In an echo tune, singers replicate lines sung by a song leader. Examples are “The Green Grass Grew All Around” or “I Met a Bear.” The leader sings, “The other day” and the response is “The other day” repeated exactly. A Call and Response song is when the leader sings something and others respond with a different musical idea, lyrics, or both. When singing “Camptown Races,” the song leader sings “The Camptown ladies sing this song” and the response is “Doo-da, Doo-da.” Another example is “Must Be Santa.” The leader sings “Who’s got a beard that’s long and white?” and the response is “Santa’s got a beard that’s long and white.” Singing echo and call and response tunes teaches children to sing independently and rhythmically.