Issue 149: Singing semitones

I’ve a favourite song, no, I’ve lots of favourite songs. This favourite song is called “Roller Ghoster” and you can find it on www.singup.org, or in Singing Sherlock Book 2.

httpcommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFileLuna_Park_Melbourne_scenic_railway.jpg#mediaviewerFileLuna_Park_Melb

Luna Park Melbourne scenic railway. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a sound sample: http://www.boosey.com/pages/cr/composer/sample_detail.asp?sampleid=11236

The tricky part is getting the children to pitch the melodic phrases accurately. The first phrase “We’re not scared, we’re terrified” is just an arpeggio, with the notes going up in leaps. In the next phrase “Ev’rything is churning up and down inside”  the first few notes are just a tiny semitone apart. That sort of sets the challenge for the rest of the song.

Later on “We’re going up, we’re going down, and then we stop, to look around” is a mixture of upward and down ward phrases moving by a mixture of tones and semitones between notes.

This is not the kind of song that you can teach by letting the children “sing along to the backing track”. The performance speed is too fast for learning to pitch the notes accurately, and they will just make a kind of “gurning” noise approximating to where the notes might be. Ugh.

I’ve found that using physical movement to “feel” the distance between notes is best; when I teach the song, I sing the phrase slowly, and accurately (I hope!) and walk across the floor in the shape of the melody. So, for  “We’re not scared, we’re terrified”, I stride forward with biggish steps, and for each bit of “We’re going up, we’re going down, and then we stop, to look around” I shuffle forwards or backwards, taking mini-steps because the notes are so close together. Then, I let the children do the shuffling bit as they learn each phrase. (I didn’t let them stride about for the first phrase as I knew that would be Instant Chaos!).

This worked very well, and I’m going to use the same idea for some of the small pitch changes in the middle verse “Let us just remind you” etc next week. I reckon there is a good chance of this class singing it in tune, semitones and all.

the keyboard snake

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