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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: ideas to teach 4 voices (vocal timbres)

This week I will be exploring the 4 voices (speaking, calling, whispering, and singing), and other vocal timbres, with my kindergarten classes. Today I thought I would share some of my favorite lesson activities to introduce and practice the 4 voices.

1. Apple Tree

This game is my favorite way to introduce different voices- I do this with kindergarten and I have 3rd graders who are still asking to play it! First we learn the song:

Once the students know the song, I have everyone spread out around the room, sitting down on the floor. Everyone sings the song together, and after we sing "knocks me out", the students pretend that an apple knocked them out and lie down on the floor. I tell them the only thing that can wake them up is my singing voice. Then I repeat the song with all kinds of different voices, switching between voices mid-song. When the students hear my singing voice, they sit back up and sing with me until the end of the song. The first student to be sitting upright and singing with me at the correct time wins (and if they sit up too early they are out for that round). They love it because I do all kinds of silly voices, not just speaking and whispering, and I love it because they get lots of practice distinguishing the singing voice from other vocal timbres!

2. Boom Chicka Boom

This is a great song for teaching echo songs, and I always bring it back when we are practicing echo format, but it is also another great song to sing in a variety of voices! Here's an example if you've never heard the song:

There are tons of variations you can do with this one, obviously, and I usually come up with one or two new ones each year. My favorites, though, are "custodian style", which I do in the low voice of our school custodian (who is great and the students love him) and change the words to "broom chicka mop-a chicka", and "baby style", where I change the words to "poop chicka mama-chicka" (which pretty consistently makes everyone fall on the floor laughing). 

3. Variations

I love using this opportunity to sing some songs that I either want to throw in but haven't found a good spot in the curriculum to put it, or that the students have requested (or have some connection to). We sing the song in our best singing voices, then we do the other 3 "main" voices (speaking, calling, and whispering), and then I have students suggest other voices. Giants, frogs, babies, and robots are usually popular choices :)

4. Voices Poem

Once we have spent plenty of time exploring our voices, it's time to actually label some of them. I found out about this cute little poem from another music teacher in my district and plan to use it this year to assess how well students can switch between voices:

This is my speaking voice - I use it every day
This is my whisper voice - it's quiet don't you say
This is my calling voice - I use it to say "Hey!"
This is my singing voice - I like it, it's okay!* 
        *1st part of this line is sung on "sol", the last note is sung on "do"

What are your favorite ways to teach and explore vocal timbre with your students? Share your ideas in the comments!


  1. I LOVE your idea for Apple Tree. My kids always loved that song, and I bet they would've loved the game even more :)

    1. Yep, it was definitely a hit again this year! :) I wish I could remember where I got the idea from. I must have picked it up from another teacher, because I don't remember coming up with it myself.... In any case it is a lot of fun!

  2. These are great ideas! I'm working on this with my Kindergarten students right now. I can't wait to use these ideas in my classroom! I use the poem, but I've never used the second part of each line, so I will try that this year. And, I love the apple tree song (perfect for this time of year!). My students will really enjoy the game.

    1. I hope your students enjoy the Apple Tree game as much as mine! My students were apparently doing it at recess after learning it in class, haha! I love it when that happens :)

  3. Great blog post! "Boom Chicka Boom" is one of my all-time favorites from my childhood! :) I also love your idea for "Apple Tree." Thanks!

    1. I wish I knew where the idea for "Apple Tree" came from- I should really try to get back in touch with my cooperating teacher from student teacher because she is the most likely culprit ;) And I LOVE Boom Chicka Boom!! Such a funny, funny song. Thanks for the comment! :)

    2. I love your blog because I can almost always pluck your ideas and put them right into my lessons. I learned that version of Apple Tree from Ruth Dwyer, love it!

  4. We are doing the "five" voices ( in Texas we have "inner/thinking" voice, too) right now! I love the apple tree idea!!! I will totally use that next week!
    We also use "1 2 3 4 Meet me at the kitchen door. 5 6 7 8 hurry don't be late!" With each of the voice timbres! The kids love it, too!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. It's fun to take a song and do it in tons of voices- the kids always think it is hilarious! :) I've heard of other places that are including inner hearing as a "voice" but to me, the definition of inner hearing is a lack of voice so I've kept them separate. Would be curious to see how students' concept of inner hearing and voices are affected one way or the other by the two approaches...