Take a good deep breath

9th June 2000 at 01:00
Singing together brings many benefits, says Jay Deeble of SMA

As you travel around the world you see people of all ages and economic groups singing. They sing at work to pass the time, they sing to provide political unity and they sing for pleasure. Old and young sing together to celebrate, to worship and to mourn. They use traditional songs or compose their own to celebrate the occasion. They borrow songs from the international commercial pop world, they dance and move, they play instruments - which are often made from spare materials.

Except in the English primary classroom. I visit many schools and I see lots of exciting activities but I do not often hear children singing. Why is this? It seems to be about the confidence of the teachers. Sadly, many of us are frightened of using our voices in public. What an indictment of our music education system - to have disempowered so many from using and enjoying a basic human skill. The situation is not made better by the ready availability of well produced recorded music. Many of us feel intimidated by our inability to match the quality of this commercial product and are unwilling to risk embarrassment by trying it for its own sake. But we would not stop children painting in red, blue, yellow and blak just because Mondrian did it first.

True, if you sing, you will be heard. You cannot escape it and nor can the children. Make this an advantage: sharing the enjoyable experience of blending sounds together.

Singing together has many benefits. Taking part in a successful group activity builds those feelings of co-operation so essential to social interaction. It provides a shared experience, contributing to team-building skills. It provides an opportunity to extend lung capacity, breath more oxygen and increase the endorphin levels, which contribute to a feeling of success. Finally, it is musical and fun.

You can make it easier if you start off each session with warming-up exercises to wake up the voice and build confidence in sound and ensemble (getting the sounds together). Choose material that you like and children will enjoy. There are many new song books available with material from around the world or that has been in the popular music charts. Recorded accompaniments are available or you could use a local musician. But the most important thing is to stand up, take a good breath and sing.

Jay Deeble is honorary press officer at the Schools Music Association, 71 Margaret Road, New Barnet, Herts EN4 9NTTel: 020 8440 6919

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