Singing is a big part of life for many piano students. Either the student likes to play and sing OR the student accompanies singers from time to time. The student may even have a group or band where they have the responsibility for helping choose songs to perform. Because choosing the right song for vocalists is often quite tricky, I’m offering some general suggestions in this post on the most important things to consider when choosing a song.
- Make sure the song is age appropriate. Even if the singer sounds AMAZING, if the lyrics are a mismatch for the singer in terms of age then the performance will not have the desired affect. Nothing is more distracting than listening to a young child sing about topics they are too young to have any experience with. For example, no one wants to hear a child singing about having been cheated on by a lover!
- BE HONEST about the singer’s current vocal capabilities! In order for the singer to make a great presentation, ALL the notes in the song must be singable by that particular singer! Resist the urge to select songs where only half of the song is within range and where the ending of the song is far too advanced for the singer’s stage of development. This deserves repeating: Song selection is a time to BE HONEST about the singer’s current capabilities! Keep in mind that any song can be transposed into a lower or higher key. Sometimes a simple change in key can make all the difference, however, it is important to recognize that even with a key change some songs still won’t work for every singer.
- Think about where the singer will be singing. Is this a performance for a talent show, a church service, school setting, funeral, musical theatre audition, etc? Who is the audience? Be mindful that a public performance is for the benefit of the audience! Do NOT choose material that will be offensive, uninteresting or unrelatable to the audience.
- Take tempo into consideration. Sometimes tempo is not a deciding factor in song selection, but there are times when it certainly is! If you are singing 2 songs, it may be advisable to start with a slower tempo and end with an uptempo song. Also the same considerations from number 3 above are important here. Think about what the audience needs/wants in the situation.
- About those original songs– Unless the performance is specifically about original songs (as in that’s what the audience expects), you want to steer clear of originals in one song performances. If however, the performance is at a talent show and the singer wants to display their songwriting abilities, it is extremely important to inform the audience that this is an original song. Otherwise they may not be impressed by hearing a song they don’t know. That brings me to the next point – audiences usually want to hear songs they know and love so it’s to the singer’s advantage to choose a popular song that he/she can sing and perform well. In that same line of thinking, be careful about choosing obscure songs from well known artists. Remember, the audience wants to hear songs they know and love!
A good vocal coach will help you with song selection whether you’re preparing for an audition or performance. If you’re interesting in improving your singing and performance, consider studying with a vocal coach. Contact me for vocal coaching via Skype or FaceTime OR if you are in the metro Atlanta area make an appointment for an in person session.
Unfortunately, many people have negative memories centered around piano recitals. This can make it difficult to persuade Uncle Joe to come to hear little Susie play her piano piece at the annual recital. It can also make it hard to persuade little Susie’s mom and dad to stay for the entire recital. Even the fear of future negative memories centered around piano recitals can make it almost impossible to get little Susie to agree to play in the piano recital. So, what’s a piano teacher to do?
Here are 7 ways to make sure Uncle Joe, Susie, her mom, and her dad not only attend the recital, but thoroughly enjoy it as well!
1. Give your recital a “cool” upgrade and call it a CONCERT instead.
Let’s face it – most people associate the word recital with boredom. How many people do you know who are telling their friends they can’t wait for the next recital? On the other hand, how many people are proud to announce that they have tickets to see their favorite artist in concert? I’m just saying…
2. Allow students to play more than one song and put one song at the beginning of the concert and the other later in the program.
This will work especially well if the pieces your students play are short. Be sure to keep concerts no longer than about 90 minutes at the most.
3. Highlight other talents your students have.
If you have a student who loves to sing, have her sing while playing.
4. Encourage students to collaborate.
Have one student play the piano while another student sings.
5. Promote interaction with the audience.
In the picture above, a student and I get the audience to chant the main phrase of the song we had just performed as a duet.
6. Invite other artists to be special guests at your concert.
Dancers, singers, poets, and instrumentalists who play something other than the piano are good choices. It gives the audience a break from piano music, gives you time to get kids ready for whatever comes next, and exposes your students to the other performing arts.
7. Consider having parents and students collaborate.
You may have parents who sing, act, dance, etc. Ask them to accompany one of your students as they play the piano. This works really well when you pair parents up with kids other than their own.
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When it comes to music I am a firm believer that if you can sing it, you can play it. As a singer, I am completely baffled by the fact that students attempt to learn how to play the piano without being able to sing or even hum the tune they wish to play. Equally disturbing to me is the number of students who will sing the tune, but consistently do it without regard to the correct pitch. I’ve seen this over and over again in piano lessons. When I ask a student to sing the melody of the song they are learning, they look at me with a blank stare as if to say, “You can’t be serious”. Then when they realize that I am serious, they simply ignore the request as they continue to struggle through the tune. Try as I might to convince students that I am not asking for a polished professional, melodious sound they still cringe at the thought of hearing their own voice. I’m wondering what other teachers do about this. So, the floor is now open for suggestions!
Today my 3 year old music class was in a singing mood. Two of the boys in particular wanted to sing. After the first boy sang, the second boy said I can do it! And the next thing I knew the two of them were in a singing battle and critiquing each other in between. This has NEVER happened in my class before and it gave me the idea to abandon the planned activity for the day and convert the class into an episode of The Voice. We have a large mat in our classroom where the children usually sit for circle time. We used this for the boxing ring like the one from the TV Show. Kids volunteered two at a time to step into the ring and sing. The rest of the class played the audience and showered the singers with applause after every round. Everybody was eager for their turn. I captured video of each performance and the kids looked forward to watching the videos afterwards. To top it off, one kid gave out pretend trophies to each performer!
What and awesome day!
Books On Songs and Singing:
By: George David Weiss & Bob Thiele
Illustrated by: Ashley Bryan
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
This book can be used while listening to Louis Armstrong’s famous recording of the timeless song. Children and adults will enjoy the colorful pictures.
A collection of African American Lullabies including music notation, pictures, and brief descriptions of many of the songs’ origin and uses.
By: Ashley Bryan
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader
by: Pam Munoz Ryan
Age Level: 6 and up
Books On Piano and Pianists:
The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend by Ann Ingalls, Maryann Macdonald and Giselle Potter
DUKE ELLINGTON, The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney (1999)
Video Picture Books: