Image Map

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Elementary Music Without Singing

There are so many questions right now, and very few answers. The one that melts my brain the most right now, though, is how to teach elementary music class without anyone being able to sing (and I know I'm not the only one struggling with this)! If we are teaching in-person in some way, shape, or form, there is a good chance that singing won't be safe to do. I don't have many answers but here are some of the thoughts and ideas I've come up with so far.

1. Non-singing participation

So much music involves singing, but we can have other people do the singing on a recording (or pre-record ourselves singing) and join in with the music in other ways:
  • Play an ostinato on instruments or body percussion
  • Show melodic contour, steady beat, dynamics, or mood through movement
  • Dance
  • Use props- cups, bean bags, scarves
  • Play along with the melody on a pitched instrument (boomwhackers, xylophones, virtual instruments like Song Maker)
  • Show solfege pitches with hand signs

2. Non-singing vocal performance

How much of this we can and cannot safely do will depend on ongoing research findings, but it seems likely that we will be able to use our voices in ways that don't project as much, whether that's humming, whistling, or speaking. Depending on what I'm trying to teach through the song, I can adjust the activity: humming for melodic elements and speaking for rhythmic elements. We could even switch back and forth between the two to get a little bit of both! This would actually be a great way to really focus on what we're trying to practice.

3. Singing outside the classroom

This option depends on what our school model looks like, but I could potentially have students learn how to do something vocally while they're in class, then have them practice doing it themselves at home and even record themselves (via something like Flipgrid). Those recordings could potentially be used in the next class period, or individual recordings could be combined to create a "group singing" experience that we all watch together. 

4. Approaching concepts through non-singing

My primary solution that I keep coming back to as we try to completely reinvent ourselves is to go back to the concepts I'm trying to teach and come up with different ways to "get there". So if the concept I want to teach is singing in canon, I can have students perform in canon with movement, instruments, or body percussion. If the concept is 4 voices, we can listen and identify recordings of the different voices instead of performing them all ourselves. If the concept is showing high and low, we can do that with our bodies, on instruments, or with online notation (like Song Maker mentioned above).

The thought of music class without singing is depressing and terrifying. It seems completely ridiculous. We may find in a few weeks that we're all back to distance teaching and all of this will be a moot point. Or we may somehow find out that there are, in fact, safe ways for us to sing in groups in school. But for now, I think it's important for us to at least think through our options in case we're presented with this situation, whether it's at the beginning of this school year or later on when buildings start to reopen. We are all being stretched in ways we never even dreamed, and it's critical that we collaborate as a profession and support each other! If you have other ideas you've come up with for in-person music teaching without singing, please leave a comment. 

I will be continuing to update the Distance Learning Resources page to include ideas for social distancing and modified teaching through covid- don't forget to look there for all my posts related to these unusual times we're living through.


  1. I have been hoping you would have a post on this!! Thank you!

    1. I hope it was helpful! I know this is going to be an ongoing struggle this year...

  2. I’m going to try a game I made up called ‘Hum that Tune!’ where at the end of class one student will pick their fav song (one that always makes them want to sing along). Then we’ll all hum their song together to the YouTube. Hopefully they’ll like it and it can be an ongoing end-of-class activity.

  3. The other thing I find heartbreaking is the minimal amount of moving we can do with social distancing. Especially for the younger ones. One day at a time.

    1. For sure! I'm planning a lot of movement with each student staying in their own space- I hate having desks when I'm trying to teach but I'm hoping they will at least help mark where each student should be so I can just tell everyone to stand next to/ behind their desks.