Stephanie Kitson, our voice teacher at Hoffman Academy, recently shared a Facebook Live broadcast about the importance of singing and how to get shy kids to sing. Stephanie also teaches piano, and shared a lot of great hints for how to use singing to help improve piano skills. Here’s what she said:
Your First Instrument
What’s the very first instrument you learn to play? It’s your voice! Kids sing all the time when they’re young. From the “ABC’s” to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Happy Birthday,” kids are constantly singing. Singing is almost everyone’s first experience with making music.
If you’re learning piano, singing is important because it helps you learn songs without frustration. You might be new to the piano, but you’ve probably been singing for years. Singing makes everything easier – lessons, practice, playing by ear, learning to sight read. It’s all easier if you use your voice.
When I sit down to sight read a piece without hearing it first, I often don’t truly understand the music until I’ve played it a few times. Beginning music students don’t need that kind of frustration. If a student sings a song before trying to play it, they already know how it should sound. This makes the learning process faster and much more enjoyable.
Singing Helps You Remember
Compare how well you remember the tune of a song you’ve only listened to with how well you remember the tune of a song you’ve sung. Singing a tune reinforces it in our memories more deeply than if we’ve only heard it. If you’re learning a song on the piano, singing it helps you memorize it and makes it easier to play.
Sometimes you can memorize a piano piece by muscle memory only. While playing the piece your brain knows what keys to hit when, but if you get stopped somewhere in the middle you can’t remember how the music should continue. To memorize the full scope and shape of a song, use more than muscle memory. If you can sing the song, you hold the sound of it in your memory, not just in the hands and fingers. Then you’ll always know what sounds should come next.
Singing Helps You Get the Rhythm
When you have a hard time playing a rhythm correctly, it helps to stop and sing it. If you learn to sing the correct rhythm, most of the time you can then play it. This is especially true with syncopation. We recently taught our whole piano school a pop song to play together, and they could all play the complicated syncopated melody because the song was so familiar to them. It was amazing.
Here’s another way to use singing in your piano playing. If you’re having a hard time playing a song with both hands together, play the chords with one hand while singing the melody. Then you can hear the two musical ideas at the same time. Once you’ve got that in your ear, it will be easier to play.
Encouraging the Reluctant Singer
You can sing and enjoy singing no matter what your voice is like. As with most skills, singing is something you will get better at with practice. Singing combines a few different body parts to make the right sound, and you have to find the balance between them by relaxing some parts of your body and energizing other parts. Some people tap into that balance right away, and for others it takes more time.
Here are some tips for overcoming a fear of singing.
Common Problem 1: Singing Too Low
Most people speak in the low range of their voice. As a result you might not be as comfortable with speaking or singing high. There are lots of ways to find your high range. One of the best is by imitating animal sounds or cartoon characters. It might sound silly, but hooting like an owl, whimpering like a puppy, or talking like Mickey Mouse are easy ways to get in touch with your high voice.
Common Problem 2: Trouble Matching Pitch
No one is tone deaf. Some people simply need to learn the skill of listening to themselves. Here’s a trick that helps: Sing any pitch you’d like, and then try to find that note on the piano. Once you’ve found it, play the note and sing along. It might take some effort, but pretty soon you’ll find the exact same pitch and prove to yourself you’re not tone deaf! Now try some notes either higher or lower than the first one. Play the note on the piano, then try to sing it. Is the note you’re singing different than the note on the piano? If so, is your note higher or lower? Think about it, and adjust until the two notes sound exactly the same.
Common Problem 3: Overcoming Shyness
Thinking that you’re too shy to sing is very common. Many of my students say they don’t want to sing simply because they’re self-conscious about it. One thing I like to do is ask them to speak the words with me while I sing. You can do this yourself with a recording, or with a friend or family member who likes to sing. After you’re comfortable saying the words, transition to singing. Talking and singing are not so different as you might think!
For all the benefits of singing, sing every day. Use singing in your music studies to build confidence and learn faster. Singing is a great way to enjoy music whether you’re alone or with family and friends. Your voice is an instrument you always have with you, and learning to enjoy it will unlock so much potential!