Singing can be one of your most valuable piano teaching tools. It can help you to correct, guide and encourage your piano students. However, singing in the piano studio is often relegated to aural exercises.
That’s how I started too – teaching my students solfa so that they could pass the sight-singing component of their piano exams. Then I started singing along to their pieces more, and encouraging my students to sing as part of their learning process.
Over time I’ve found more and more uses for singing in the piano studio. I hope you’ll consider these four key ways that singing can actually help you to teach.
1. Reading assistance
Singing along with your students can be a fantastic way to boost their reading confidence, especially in the beginning stages.
You could sing along with the song words, solfa, or vowel sounds. I often like to encourage directional reading by singing up, down and same with my beginner students.
Why is this helpful?
Well, beginning students are not yet confident in their own ability to read accurately. Even when they are playing correctly, they might not be sure that they are.
This is why us teachers singing along is so helpful. If we’re singing the same pitch that they are playing, then they know that they’re right. If they hear a difference they know to double check that note.
The other benefit of this is that we don’t need to verbally correct them as often. When we sing along with our student’s playing she get more opportunities to self-correct. This makes the whole experience is more positive and affirming – rather than feeling like criticism.
Of course we need to be careful when singing in the piano studio as a reading aid – we don’t want it to become a crutch. But with careful use this can be a wonderful addition to your teaching toolkit.
2. Memory aid
I use singing as a memory aid all the time when I’m teaching rote pieces. Singing along is one of the best ways for young beginners to remember a piece without notation.
But singing can be a wonderful tool for more advanced students also. By creating lyrics or scat singing with their piece, students have another form of association to call upon when playing pieces from memory.
Try using singing to help your students memorise and learn by rote. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in the strength and reliability of their memorisation.
3. Rhythm correction
I often sing Kodály syllables while my students play. This is a much gentler way to correct the rhythm than counting, or pointing out where they’re going wrong.
Singing rhythm like this is also much more musical and helps them to feel the rhythm rather than intellectualise it too much. It’s all well and good for students to understand note values and time signatures, but rhythm is really something that we feel not that we think.
This is why many teachers find it useful to teach rhythms using lyrics or made up words. Personally I prefer the Kodály syllables because they can be more universally applied by students – but both exercises have their merits.
4. Aural training
I’ve left this for last not because it is the least useful or valuable of the uses for singing in the piano studio, but because it is already the most common application.
If your students take exams they will already be doing aural tests as a matter of course. Depending on the exam system, this might include sight singing or sing back exercises.
These exam tests are actually how I got into using solfa in my piano studio (check out this article to see how you can get your kiddos started with solfa singing). But this has quickly expanded to a core element of my teaching.
Solfa singing is no longer just a skill to try to cram in before exams, it’s also extremely valuable for improving piano students pitch awareness and ear training more generally.
Try integrating these singing exercises as a part of your weekly lessons:
- Singing echoes
- Call and response
- Interval practice
- Folk songs
- Rounds or cannons
- Melodic dictation
For more on singing exercises see this post on singing games.
Even just a few minutes at the start of each week’s lesson could make your students into singing and aural superstars.
What way do you use singing in your piano studio?
Did you find a new use for the voice from today’s article? Do you have a great use for singing in the piano studio that I didn’t mention here?
Tell us what you think the role of singing should be in the piano studio in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers community on Facebook.