[dropcap]A[/dropcap]bout a month ago, I was out at dinner with some old friends — it was something of a reunion for our original Charlotte Mason group (I think we started meeting in late 2008, if I’m doing the math correctly — my, how time has flown). We hadn’t all been together in the same place for a couple years (because of families moving away and yes I am still bitter). I expressed my frustration — I sing and read music (was originally a vocal performance major in college), and I learned to sing using solfege, but I couldn’t figure out a simple way to teach my own children. It was a total mental block on my part.
I knew Charlotte Mason recommended Tonic Solfa singing lessons. Not only this, but I knew personally what a powerful thing Solfa (sometimes called Solfege) is. While I have sung regularly with my children for over a decade, and while I have coached them on their breathing and sound quality and such, I have never been able to teach them the way I wanted. I couldn’t find a curriculum that I considered easy and doable.
You know what that’s like, right? You’re juggling a bunch of grades and a million subjects (or one grade and a million toddlers and infants) — ain’t no one got time for figuring out some complicated music curriculum!
I had the same disconnect when it came to piano — I play and read music, but couldn’t figure out how to teach my own children. (Discovering PianoPhonics solved most of that problem.) Just like PianoPhonics helped me hack piano lessons, I have been on the search for years for something that would help me hack singing lessons. I embarked upon dozens of singing lessons in san jose and found this helpful as a starting point, but something else also helped me greatly.
Little did I know, my friend Heather was sitting right beside me with the answer I’d been looking for! I went home and immediately bought up the resources she recommended, added a couple things of my own, and the rest is history. I am thrilled. My children are learning shape-note singing with solfege hand signs, so basically my dream has come true.
It only took a little over a decade.
Here is a picture of what I bought, and I’ll explain it all below:
- Music Flash Cards
- We’re playing little review games with these.
- Praise and Practice Christian Music Reader
- All they need to know is a couple of the shape notes in order to begin the early exercises in this book.
- Do Re Mi Fa FUN: Solfege Songs and Activities for Young Voices
- I wanted some extra songs, so I added this to the Reader above.
- Beginning in Music One
- These start out SUPER easy. My kids said they were “for babies.” And it makes sense: I’m pretty sure these were designed for first grade or even kindergarten classrooms. No matter. Everyone needs to begin at the beginning, right? The difference is that the recommended pace is one lesson per week, and right now we’re fitting in two per day. No sense belaboring the easy parts.
- I bought a book for each of my three younger children.
- Beginning in Music Two
- I bought this to save on shipping. I was pretty sure they would zip through level one in no time, especially since we’re going to keep this up through the summer.
- I bought a book for each of my three younger children.
- Do-Scale Hand Sign Ladder Cards
- The shape note workbooks do not include hand signs, but I considered this a priority because that was how I learned to sing and I thought it worked really well when it came to learning to sight-sing music from a score. This pack has eight cards, so everyone has their own to reference … not that they will need it for long. I started right off on the first day — this is Do … we learned both the shape-note as well as the hand sign. I think if we start from the beginning, they won’t need the crutch of the card very long at all.
What Singing Lessons Look Like
I incorporated these singing lessons into Circle Time, and told the teenager he could stay for them … or not … his choice. His habit seems to be to wander in for a moment, just long enough to learn whatever I’m teaching, and then go back to whatever he’d prefer to be doing. He reads music well for piano, so the jump to sight-singing won’t be as difficult for him as for the others, who aren’t nearly as proficient at piano.
An average lesson goes like this:
- Review what we already know using a combination of drill and games I invent using the flashcards. We don’t know very much yet, so this doesn’t require much creativity on my part at this point. (2 ish minutes)
- Introduce the new concept. There are hints in the teacher’s guide at the beginning of the workbook. Level 1 is super simple — this is Do, this is a whole note, that sort of thing. (2 ish minutes)
- Complete the worksheets. We’re doing 2 per day at this point. Like I said, this is easy for them. We skip the cutting and pasting part. No one around here really likes cutting and pasting. (5 minutes?)
- Practice singing acapella and in unison (what I mean is, no harmonizing yet) using the hand signs. We use the Praise and Practice Christian Music Reader OR something I make up. The point is to incorporate whatever we learned that day. (5 minutes)
As you can see, it’s around 15 minutes per day.
Once we’ve gotten to a more appropriate level for their ages, we’ll slow down and stick to lessons once or twice per week. But, like I said, I don’t want to belabor the “boring” parts.
Is This for Novices?
My answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know what it’d be like to approach this without having a working knowledge of music — not just ability to sing, but ability to read music. Probably you’d need more help. I looked around on YouTube, and it looks like there are a number of ways to get free help online (this singing school looks promising and there is also Children of the Open Air). I like to keep my Circle Time as low-tech as possible, but YouTube help is always great when we need an extra hand, isn’t it?
For those of you with a passingly fair knowledge of music, I think it’d work just fine. Basically, if you sang in choir in high school, my guess is you can do this.
Is This Economical?
It’s a great deal — for around $90, I have in my possession many months of singing lessons for my children. For about $15 including shipping, I can purchase Level 3 for all three of my students (there is no way my high schooler would ever do those worksheets) and keep moving. I suppose eventually I’d need to buy more song books, but for now, all I need to do is pay the $15 each time we pass a level. When I think about what singing lessons would cost — probably around $90 each month for all four of my chidren — I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.
And this is to say nothing of the expense of singing lessons in terms of time and gas money. That is one thing I keep coming back to with activities — time and gas are expenses we often forget to consider. This is saving me both, which makes me happy.
I’m Loving It!
My dream of hacking Charlotte Mason singing lessons has finally come true. It’s going so well and it’s so simple and I just keep having that where-have-you-been-all-my-life feeling, you know? All I needed were good, affordable tools … and now I’ve got them.
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