The 5 Steps for Teaching Pitch

Published by Darlene on

Teaching pitch is definitely at the front of the line of concepts in teaching music. It goes hand in hand with so many aspects of teaching music and yet stands alone. Whether you are in a classroom or children’s choir ensuring these five steps are in place in your plans will bring about your students singing on pitch.  Here 5 steps that can be effective with children in helping them secure the ability to match pitch. Some of the ideas listed below are over simplified but effective.

Step 1 - Vocalises – Vocal Exercises and Scale Songs

  • Teach the four voices.

Singing, Whispering, Speaking, and Outside Voice

  • Use Sound Stories / Vocal Exploration.
    • Use vocal energizers to explore the range of the voice and sing in head tone.
    • Vocal Exercises should simply get the voice going.
    • Have students respond with a sound to represent a word or character in a story.

Step 2 - Pitch

There is an order to teaching pitch.

  • First, we learn sol, mi.
  • Sing up to desired pitch and down.
  • Second, teach do, re, mi
  • Third, add fa by singing from 1 up to 5 and back down.
  • Identify higher/lower pitches
  • Identify melodic direction
  • Match simple intervals and patterns alone and with others.
  • Distinguish same/different short melody phrases
  • Recognize melodic movement as same, step, or skip
  • Sing short solo phrases of call/response songs.
  • Learn to use good sitting and standing singing posture.
  • Begin and end words together.

Step 3 - Steady Beat

  • Steady beat is a foundation of pitch. It is a precursor to instrument playing as well as matching pitch.

                     The author Helen Kemp writes a lot about the voice. She says the basis for pitch is steady beat.

  • Every rehearsal should have a steady beat activity.
  • Steady beat helps brain development and teaches coordination. It also helps children learn to focus and concentrate on the beat. 

Step 4 - Brain Mapping

  • Represent the pitch visually. A simple example to think about is this: If you put the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 horizontally on a board or wall and sing up the first five notes of a scale, there is nothing that visually confirms to the ear that the pitches are going up. This may not seem important to you but check the blog post tomorrow for the experiment I did with my class to see if this really worked. If you will place the numbers vertically with 1 on the bottom and 5 on the top, you will be visually representing the pitches correctly.
  • Add the body scale. If you are not familiar with the Body Scale, see it here. Here is the blog posts on mapping pitches in the brain. Use the Body Scale with a simply scale song.  Kodaly hand signs are also effective with a scale song.
  • Use movement to represent melodic direction – not just the body scale you can also use streamers, balls, and puppets, etc.

Step 5 - The Entire Voice / The Entire Child

When we teach music to children, we are concerned about the whole child and not just a musical concept. Singing is part of who we are. Singing is more than a sound coming from our mouths, it can come from the heart. It can relay emotions, show gratefulness, and send love floating on notes through the air. It can communicate a story, or a political stance, or convey a longing of something dear.

So is it important that the young man in your class, that doesn’t want to participate, learn to sing? Absolutely! Does that mean that you can make him/her? Absolutely not.  I am not naive enough to think that all students are going to love singing, but all will experience singing as a means of expression.  Just like writing, students need to know different forms of expression.  Stephen Sondheim said, “If I cannot fly, let me sing.”

Me too.

Keep Singing,


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