Does singing make you nervous? Well, you’re not alone. Many early years educators lack confidence in their singing abilities and, in a workplace where music is a daily activity, this can inhibit some teachers.
Thankfully, confidence and competency can be boosted with encouragement, collaboration and vocal techniques, according to a New Zealand study.
Researchers designed a program to boost singing confidence in early years educators and, in as little as four workshops, participants reported greater confidence in their abilities.
The success of the intervention was primarily attributed to the shared group experience, the planning and preparedness of music sessions and learning vocal techniques.
Participants in the study all self-identified as an ‘uncertain singer,’ and underwent either a ‘group singing’ intervention or a psychological approach known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) treatment.
The ACT approach dealt with issues of confidence, fear and avoidance, and letting go of negative feelings about their singing voice.
Both groups overwhelmingly reported higher levels of singing confidence at the end of the workshops, presenting a strong case for educators who feel uncomfortable singing to be provided with support, resources and to learn techniques to boost their vocal ability.
Educators don’t need to be great singers, but it is important they can sing without being self-conscious and to not convey discomfort to the children.
Previous studies have replicated similar results to the New Zealand study and found educators gained confidence through activities such as group singing activities, basic music notation skills as well as individual vocal lessons.
Building confidence and competency in singing, and positive pedagogical understanding of the benefits of singing, inspires educators to promote singing in the classroom and to use this fun activity successfully in the classroom.
We are all born with the key ingredients of a singing voice. In fact, if you can hear the difference between a high note and a low note, then you and about 98.5 per cent of the population can be taught how to sing. The other 1.5 per cent who can’t learn to sing probably have a condition called “congenital amusia,” which means they have difficulty discriminating between different pitches, tone, and sometimes rhythm.
But while most people can sing, improving your voice does take work and practice. Singing is partly innate, and partly a learnt skill. You can be born with vocal tracts that are physiologically sized and shaped to give your voice a more pleasing sound. But controlling and configuring your vocal muscles to sing well is a learnt skill and part of the process is simply learning to become comfortable and confident with the unique voice you have.
The great news about singing is that research has shown that adults can gain positive health and wellbeing benefits such as stress relief, boosted lung function, improved mental health and mood, plus there’s evidence singing can help your immune system.
While adults may struggle with their singing confidence, young children are naturally musical. They love to sing as they play, make up songs and join in sing-a-longs. Studies in neuroscience show that music can enhance brain function in children. Musical activities such as singing stimulate the brain, and this brain workout leads to improved brain structure with the formation of new neural connections.
- Supports language development through sound patterns and repetition as well as developing vocabulary
- Singing as a group fosters a feeling of learning together, belonging and connection
- Increases sensory development through exposure to different types of songs
- Songs can encourage children to move, developing fine motor skills and gross motor skills – movements help their muscle development, strength and balance.
- Allows educators to pass on culture, behaviour and musical skills
- Singing can give children a way to express themselves, to unleash their creativity, to be inspired and uplifted, to relax, and to relieve stress and tension.
- It’s fun!
Here are some basic tips for educators to boost their vocal abilities:
Kids will love voice warm up activities and they’ll definitely help you out. Try humming or the easy ‘lip buzz.’ Simply loosen your lips and make a motorboat sound by blowing air through your mouth. There’s also the ‘jaw loosening’ exercise, which helps singers drop their jaw lower when singing. To start, try yawning and exhale while making a noise as though you are sighing.
Look for opportunities to increase the number of times you sing through the day – transitions songs, sing a welcome song in the morning and a goodbye song at the end of the day. Practice your songs before you introduce them to children, you can do this by singing in the car, shower or hum it to yourself.
Incorrect posture will impede your breathing and breath is a big part of singing. Shake off any tension, be comfortable and hold your head level with your chin parallel to the floor. Now stand tall and relax your shoulders down, no slouching, pull your tummy in and sing.
When singing you need to be able to inhale quickly, take a full breath and exhale over the course of a song phrase. This requires control and strength, which you can develop through specific breath exercises. Simple practices include breathing in through the nose for a count of three, holding the breath to a count of three and exhaling slowly to a count of three. Click here for more detailed directions.
References and further reading:
Singing with young children: Empowering early childhood teachers to sing Orff-style
The Conversation: Can anyone learn to sing? For most of us the answer is yes
The Spoke: Sing with me