The Voice and Steady Beat
Helen Kemp writes “the basis for pitch is steady beat.” Â I can not tell you how people don’t seem to understand why or how to accomplish this in a student. I hope to give a couple of pointers today.
Pitches are mapped in our brains. They are mapped with how we associate the distance between the pitches and how they go up and down. Some of the most common ways this happens is Kodaly handsigns, the Body Scale, or representing the pitch with movements using scarves or a ball, ect. Â They are also mapped by our movements especially when they are consistent – or steady. Thus as we develop steady beat in children we give them the ability to strengthen their pitch.
Many years ago I read a study about putting a 3 year old and an 18 month old in a room and asking them to keep a steady beat. Â You would think the 3 year old would keep a steadier beat, but alas it is the 18 month old. Â Why? Â The 18 month old does not have the distraction of language. Think about the 3 year old. When a child turns 3 years old they have approximately 1500 words in their vocabulary and by the time they turn 4 years old they have over 3700 words in their vocabulary. The amount of words they know more than doubles. The 18 month old is learning some words as well, but other developments are heighten or more primary at that age. At the age of 3, the part of the brain that stores words is heightened as that is one of its developmental periods.
So when working on steady beat with a 3 year old, or preschoolers in general, take the words out of the picture. Use a track or a steady drum beat or a steady movement, or a piece of classical music. Â If you play a song with someone singing, they will focus on the words instead of the beat because that is where they are developmentally.
Fast forward a few years. Â What are first graders learning to do? Read. Again their brain’s development is heighten in the area of words but it is the printed word. So now when they hear words they think about the letters that make the sound and how that word would look on a piece of paper. Â Again, when working on a steady beat with these children, take the words out of the picture.
I tend to work on steady beat with out CD’s, however, sometimes I do use them. When we are learning a song, I teach the melody and steady beat first. The first time my choir hears the track, we are working on steady beat. We do not sing with the track, nor do I tell them this is the track for the song we are learning. But using the track for the steady beat helps them feel the rhythm. When we do put our voices with the track the words seems to fall into the beat of the song very easily.
After a few times of using the track they begin to sing the words whether I ask them to or not. Using the track though can be very “instrumental” in developing steady beat in the beginning. Â (See what I did there – “instrumental”. Â hahaha)
Here is a challenge: Try teaching a song in 3 different lessons before ever using the CD.
Please don’t hear me say” never use CD’s” that is not the message here. Melody can, however, get lost in the mirage of sounds that can be included in the music on the recording. Simply think about the age group with whom you are working. If you want to clean up pitch on a song, or establish strong pitch from the beginning, consider some of the techniques listed above.