Students who refuse to sing

Lisa Rushton Smith said: Jan 16, 2014
Lisa Rushton Smith
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ellensburg, WA
4 posts

Any ideas for encouraging students to sing? I have several students, both new and transfers that have a huge aversion to singing. They refuse to sing in any form—they won’t learn words to songs, a neutral “la”, not even one note to see if they can match another pitch being sung or played. I find singing in some form to be helpful in determing if they really hear a pitch correctly and the words can be so fun in learning the pieces in book 1. They are pre k to elementary in age and in general not shy or quiet, and very cooperative and enthusiastic in lessons. Would love your advice!

Jennifer Visick said: Jan 16, 2014
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Do their parents sing if you ask?

Often I will ask a student to sing the notes of the open strings as or after I am tuning. Students who don’t want to sing, I sing loudly “over” them so that they might feel free to experiment with a soft singing voice without being heard. I explain that this isn’t singing class, they don’t have to hit the note exactly, but I do want them to try. I’ll ask their parents to sing. In group class, I’ll ask each student to sing open string pitches as I tune; the reluctant singers often try after several weeks or months of being asked to try each week, both in private and in group class, and seeing that everyone else (parents as well as other students) are asked to do this as well.

Sometimes they’ll sing the lower pitches but won’t try the higher pitches until much later. It seems most often to be a comfort thing: singing seems very private to some students, they are not often asked to sing in any other classroom/learning situation, especially if their school has ditched music classes alltogether and they also don’t attend any kind of social club or religious gathering where they’re asked to sing on a regular basis.

I’ll explain, to the parent, intentionally talking and looking at the parent but also intentionally with the child in the room standing right there in front of me, ‘overhearing’ our conversation, that I need to know how precisely students can hear (recognize/distinguish between pitches). If a student can sing it, I know they can hear it. If they can’t sing it, that doesn’t mean they can’t hear it, but I always ask all students to try singing because it is the easiest and fastest way for me to discern if they hear something within their vocal range.

Jennifer Kovarovic said: Jan 17, 2014
Jennifer Kovarovic
Suzuki Association Member
Seattle, WA
18 posts

I completely agree with (the other!) Jennifer that the parents could play an important role in your situation. You could try giving the parents singing assignments to practice every day in front of their children. That way, the parents will be modeling a healthy/casual relationship to singing, which may allow your students feel more comfortable with the idea.

Also, I remember that I once had a student who was completely phobic about singing during lessons too. It turned out that her mom was always saying things at home like, “Oh, I don’t sing because I have such a bad voice—I can’t sing in tune.” This made my student think that singing was something to be self-critical and self-conscious about. Perhaps that could be the case with some of your students as well?

Terry said: Jan 18, 2014
 Violin, Viola
1 posts

I find that if I ask a student to sing a pitch just to verify in my mind that that some inner hearing is going on, the student will freeze and be unresponsive. It is as if the switch is too much; something like smiling on demand. There is nothing difficult about smiling,—people do it all the time. We would just like a student to react spontaneously, but they seem to require instead a spontaneous environment in which to react. So I provide that. I ask them to put down their violin and sit on the floor. I tell them we are just going to take a little break and work on some exercises. I say, ‘this exercise involves keeping the beat on your lap, would you do what I do.’ I then proceed to say a verse while patching on my lap:
Engine, engine number 9
Going down Toronto Line
If the train goes off the track
Do you want your money back
It is a perfect verse for teaching strict adherence to beat but more so, it gets the child speaking it so that they get to hear the sound of their own voice. I then put the sound of the words in my hands by clapping, which involves the rhythm component. I get them doing it hiding certain words etc. just anything to get them loosened up and speaking. Then I proceed to another children’s song like Blue bells Cockle Shells, or Hop ole Squirrel . I do the beat (patching) and rhythm (clapping) exercises while singing and the students try like crazy to sing with me. They just have to hear it a whole bunch of times in order to memorize it But I Never Feel Their Reluctance To Sing. I do this a lot when I’m first teaching a student and *ask the parent to keep it going at home so they are singing with the parent at home on a regular basis, then it doesn’t seem so ‘abrupt’ so to speak when I ask for a singing response during a lesson. Hope this helps.

Lisa Rushton Smith said: Feb 21, 2014
Lisa Rushton Smith
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ellensburg, WA
4 posts

Thanks for the advice! Some students are willing to sing if I lead the singing. I’ve had some success with one student’s ear training by playing piano and have them play along carefully matching pitches. With one of my newest students, I’ve had to avoid singing altogether—the last time brought on a crying fit and we couldn’t continue the lesson. After getting to know mom and student a bit more, I’m seeing the fear of making a mistake and everything must be perfect the first time. I’ve been encouraging that violin is a long term project and mistakes can be learning tools and trying to encourage even one small step as progress even if other skills aren’t “perfect” yet.

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