Preparing Pitch: How to prepare pitch and practical ideas

Preparing Pitch

In my last blog I talked about how the concept of high and low pitch relating to spatial high and low is a widespread metaphor.  To prepare our students for pitch we need them to experience it aurally, physically and visually: This is key to all of our Kodály training!

This blog will explore what it means to prepare our students aurally, physically and visually with practical suggestions for activities:

  • Balloon warm-up
  • Stand Up, Sit Down
  • Black Crow
  • Puppet greetings
  • Carnival of the Animals
  • The piano

Preparing our students aurally, physically and visually

I don’t mean physical as in physical challenges of playing an instrument (although we must cover that too), but physically ‘being’ the music, using our bodies to prepare and practise these concepts.  Just like physically feeling the rhythm (read my blog about rhythm here).

So how are we going to experience it aurally physically and visually?  Well, we need to associate the sound with that spatial elevation, with that high and low that I discussed in my last blog post (read it here).  Because there’s nothing instinctive in our children’s minds that a high pitch should be high in the sky and low pitch should be low.  They’re not thinking about resonance – they don’t have those different resonances because their voices are much narrower in range.  Their low note isn’t much higher than their highest.  They’re not thinking about their baby larynxes, they’re not thinking about a flute and DEFINITELY not about Galileo and his physics and frequencies and wavelengths.

We’ve got to feed that information to them and give them that connection.  And we’re going to do that aurally physically and visually!  The great thing about physical preparation is, especially when it comes to pitch, it gives the visual preparation as well:  As we do something high and low in our bodies, everyone can see it too.  Our eyes are involved and bodies are involved and we’re putting it to sound so our ears are also involved.   

So here are a few activities to prepare pitch…..

Balloon warm-up

I do this in both my musicianship classes and piano lessons.  I tell them that we’re warming up our voices for singing and our bodies for playing our games or instrument.  But that’s only half of it!  The other half is I’m starting to feed the connection of spatial high and low with high and low pitch. 

You can use the same sounds for older students but with children it’s better to engage them with the balloon story.

Here are the full details of how this game works are in my Behind the scenes podcast.  In addition to the vocal and physical warm-up, after blowing up the balloon we grab it and let it take us up into the air and make a rising “ooooooohh….” sound while stretching our arms upwards.  So in doing this we took the pitch of our voice higher while taking our hand higher.  We’re not telling them this of course!  They’re just experiencing it.  When we let go with a descending “zzzzzzzz!!!” we let the balloon go down. 

So we’ve warmed up our voice, we’ve stretched so we feel happy and we’ve done the first link between the pitch and high and low concepts.  PLUS they’re improvising too – which colour their balloon is.  You can’t go wrong with this, every child can suggest a colour and some will give very elaborate designs! 

If you start the lesson like this, they’re not thinking “oh no I didn’t practise” or “oh no I can’t remember what I did last week!”  because it’s the same every time, they know what to do and what to expect.  This makes them secure, you can smile while you’re doing it because it’s a fun activity, they can relax and have a successful start to the lesson – loads of benefits!

A similar activity is using a bee puppet and we follow the bee and the “zzzz” goes up and down as the bee flies up and down.

Stand Up Sit Down

This activity is from Jolly Music and it’s brilliant! 

They really enjoy it if you try to trick them by singing “sit down” again instead of changing to “stand up”. It brings the house down! They love it!

The next stage is to take the words off and when they still follow your cues say,

“how did you know what I was doing?!“

Initially use an arm movement.  We’ve given them the instructions and we’re hoping they’ll hear that it sounds the same.  Not necessarily doing it in the same lesson, but you’re helping them with your arms. 

Then they say “you’re showing us with your arms!” so then you say “I’ll sit on my arms then!”

It’s great to see what they do.  Whether they can do it is not connected to age.  Some younger children can do it easily, some older ones struggle.

The other version of the game is to sing “arms up”/”arms down” and all hold a Lycra sheet (make sure it’s 4 way stretch!).  The advantage of this is they’re taken the right way by the majority of the class even if they’ve not quite got it in their hearing.  This means  everyone can join in and no one is feeling lost and isolated. 

Black Crow

I wrote this song for piano students because I was looking for something that had just two pitches and nothing is happening with the rhythm but it has been useful with musicianship classes too. 

Students can make a bird go up and down with their fingers or the bird toy can go high and low on the Lycra.  To start with they’re using the lyrics to help them get the right direction but the second phrase doesn’t tell them where to go but they continue with the same action.

Puppet Greetings

I also like to use my toy bird, my mouse and my dog and sing “hello everyone” at different pitches to match each toy: mouse is higher and I hold it higher, the dog’s voice is lower and I hold the toy lower.  Not too high and low because we want them to echo back so keep it in the range of their voices.

A fun game is to hide the toys and ask the children to identify who was singing hello.  You can also get them to hold the puppets and do the right voices.   These games give them plenty of opportunities to make that association with high and low.

Carnival of the Animals

Active listening is MASSIVE in Kodaly. 

This means listening to a piece of recorded music and doing something that reflects or highlights the music while you’re listening. 

I love, love, love Carnival of the Animals and for preparing pitch, we listen to The Elephant and The Aviary without telling them the titles.  We then chat about what animal they think it could be.  Hopefully for the Elephant they’ll come up with something big and heavy.   An interesting thing about though elephants is when they trumpet they can make quite a high pitched sound which is an interesting contrast!

The Aviary is excellent because birds fly high in the sky so we have some good connections with spatial high and low too. 

The Piano

If you’re teaching piano, we have the added complication that the pitch doesn’t go vertically, it goes horizontally! 

So to prepare the concept of pitch on the piano is counting the keys.  In their first lesson we count all of the keys.  I ask them to count their piano keys at home and tell me how many they have next week. 

As far as they’re concerned they’re just counting but they’re hearing the progression of low to high as they’re going up the keys.  We do it on the white keys and the black keys so thar we’re doing it in as many ways as we can to get them to feel the horizontal shift.

The piano is also perfect for creating improvisations and mood pictures with sound.   I might ask the children to play some music and ask them what kind of picture might go with their music or we could look at a picture and make sounds to accompany it.  Things like stars in the sky or birds tweeting or fairies for high pitches and thunderstorm, monster, bear for low pitches.  We usually come up with 3 or 4 and something in the middle.  They’ll create pictures with sound in the lesson and then play with their ideas at home, draw pictures and bring it next week to play a guessing game.  If you’d like more details of this game and to find out where it’s so great, read this blog post

Trying it out

While you can take a deep dive and follow my full curriculum, you can also gradually incorporate the ideas above into your classroom or piano studio.  Your students might pick up these concepts quickly or others might take a while – every class and student is different!  Which activities did your students respond to?  Comment below and let me know! 

Want more advice and ideas?

If you found this blog useful.  Please comment below if you did or if there is anything you would like to say to me about it.  If you’d like to find out more about preparing your students for pitch and much more, including over a year’s worth of lesson plans for teaching all the important musical skills with Helen’s clear microsteps, why not try out Doremi Membership for 14 days for just £1

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Empowering children to sing: achieving success with the cornerstone of the Kodály approach

In the last blog post (catch-up here), we talked about the qualities of speaking and singing and what the differences are. To help our students learn the difference between their speaking and singing voices they need to feel free and able to experiment with their voices. So how do we give them confidence and encouragement to experience their voice types?

Whether you’re a classroom teacher, visiting music teacher or 1:1 instrumental teacher, this blog will give you tips and ideas for experiencing voice types in a Kodály inspired way.


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