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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Teaching Students to Sing Partner Songs

Last week I went through my process for teaching canon singing, one of the first steps in part-singing. Once students have mastered canons, it's time to move on to partner songs! Today I will be going through my teaching process for teaching students to sing partner songs for the first time.


1. When to start

I save partner songs for 4th grade. As I mentioned in my previous post, I primarily teach canons in 3rd grade, so this is the natural next step as students develop their part-singing skills. I have done a few partner songs with my 3rd grade choir, but it definitely requires a good bit of extra practice and some serious concentration for them to do it!

2. Picking a song

There are so many great partner songs to use! I don't really have one favorite that I always start with, but I always make sure to pick something that is fun, to keep the students engaged while working on this difficult skill, and songs that pair nicely but sound fairly different from each other. Some partner songs have very similar melodies, which makes it more difficult for students to keep track of which song they're singing. One of my favorites that definitely fits the bill is "One Bottle of Pop"/"Fish and Chips"/"Don't Chuck Your Muck":


You can find tons more partner songs to choose from in this list from Beth's Music Notes.

3. Teaching the song

As with canons, the key to successful partner singing is making sure students are confident and comfortable with the songs before they start trying to sing them as partner songs. I always teach them each of the songs as separate songs at least 1 class period before I teach them to sing the songs together. Besides teaching it to them in advance, the other key to helping students be more comfortable with the song is adding motions. I always make sure to have contrasting motions for each of the songs they will be singing together as partner songs, which makes it much easier for them to stay on their part later on.

I always teach the motions first by having them mirror my motions while I sing the song. Once they know the motions, then we work on the singing. For "One Bottle", I count with my fingers, we sway back and forth for "Fish and Chips", and make scolding motions for "Don't Chuck".

4. Developing independence

The true test of how well they know the song is if they can sing it without my help. After they've learned the songs and practiced them, I first have them sing the song while I do only the motions, without singing along, then I have them sing each song without me doing anything at all. I make sure they can all do this comfortably before we move on, and tell them that they'd better know the songs well, because things are about to get crazy!

5. Teacher as partner

The next step is to get the whole class to sing one of the songs while I sing one of the others. I choose whichever one they are most comfortable with, and have them sing that one, telling them not to get distracted by me as I sing another part. The first time I sing very softly, just barely doing the motions, and if they stay on their part, we do it again with me singing full volume and getting up in their faces with my over-exaggerated motions! ;) We do the same thing with them singing each of the songs while I sing one of the others with them.

6. Divide and conquer

Now it's time to split the students up and assign each group to a song. If I'm doing a song with 3 songs together like "One Bottle of Pop", I start with just 2 groups and use 2 of the songs. First I split the class in half, making sure there are strong singers in each group, and I have each group sing their song on their own.

Once each group can sing their assigned song independently, I tell one of the groups to sing their song twice, and have the other group enter the second time through with the partner song. This allows me to help each group get started with their song so they have a better chance of staying on their part.

7. Partner up!

Once they can sing 2 songs together with their entrances staggered, I tell them it's time for the real deal! I make sure each one has their starting pitch and have both groups start their respective songs at the same time.

Once they've got the hang of that, I just keep changing it up! First I have the groups swap songs, then (if it's a song with 3 parts) we split up into 3 songs and go back to staggered entrances, then all starting together, then swapping songs again, until each group has done all of the songs as a partner song. Success!

Once students have mastered partner songs, they're ready to start learning some basic harmony! To read about how I teach canon singing (to lead up to partner songs), make sure to check out this post.

What are your favorite partner songs? What strategies have worked for you when you're teaching students to sing partner songs for the first time? Leave a comment below! :)

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