Starting Music Lessons with 3 year olds: Music and Pitch Play Activities!
by Michael Lining | Jun 17, 2018
Play with Pitch!
Your three year old is still probably too young to sit still and do a formal music lesson; however, these musical activities will engage them and get their brain ready for diving in! Here we explore some exercises designed to get your child to listen to the sound of pitch, try to match pitches, and sense pitch direction. This will be huge for developing their musical ear! Many of these activities involve you as the parent singing pitches from the C scale. If you need a pitch reference, we have a free app for that! Its called Prodigies Deskbells!
1. High and Low
Sing low pitches and high pitches to your child. Low pitches can be the vroom of a car or the mooing of a cow. High pitches can be a bird tweet or a mouse squeak. Ask your child to listen and see if they can reliably identify which sounds are low in pitch or high in pitch. Change from singing sounds to singing actual pitches. See if your child can determine if one is higher or lower than they other. This first exercise easily leads into the next…
2. Follow the Voice
Ask your child to sing along with mommy or teacher on any pitch that the child can match. Tip: Find any note between middle C (C4) and one octave above middle C (C5) and using the syllable “ah”, sing the pitch. Encourage the child to sing the same pitch, and hold it out to sing it in tune. This may be tricky at first, because your child may vocalize and change pitches wildly, attempt to scream the pitch (please discourage that) or may not know how to hold out a note and may “speak” the note. Encourage the child to sing softly, but not whisper, and to use their ear to listen to the sound of the note you are singing. You may need to change pitch to one that the child can readily sing. If you’re a daddy doing this with your child, and they’re having trouble matching your pitch, try singing in your falsetto voice. That may be easier to match, although my son has no trouble matching Mr. Rob! See if your child can match short notes versus long notes. The next logical step is…
3. Up and Down (Singing Version)
After the child can match a few pitches, while demonstrating the pitch, move it up or down a whole step. Ask the child if you moved up or down with your pitch. If the child can’t distinguish it, that’s ok, just make the interval larger. Try making a siren sound swooping up and down, and see if your child can follow along. Start on a low pitch your child can match, then gradually swoop the pitch up and up and see if your child can continue matching. They may surprise you with how high they can swoop up, although discourage anything that sounds forced. We’re just playing with pitch matching, not trying to show off their vocal range!
4. Beginning Vocal Technique
This isn’t voice lessons, it’s simply singing with your child simple songs that they know (i.e. Twinkle Twinkle or Mary Had a Little Lamb– we have both of these in the Playground). Many times when parents or teachers demonstrate songs, they sing with poor intonation or make their voice sound babyish or “sing-songish.” Don’t settle for this. You as the parent/teacher should try to nail the pitches and sing in a clear, well-tuned voice. This doesn’t mean you have to be a good singer– if you can sing a simple melody in tune without forcing your voice, this is sufficient (you may need to practice!). Play the melody on the piano or with a Youtube accompaniment track, and have the child follow along. Your goal is to establish good pitch & technique, and nailing the tune is more important than the words. In fact, your child may invent nonsense syllables, which is ok. Once your child knows the simple tune you are teaching, have the child sing the tune using the “ah” sound. It shouldn’t be shouty or obtrusively loud. Many school teachers ask the students to sing loudly or sing “out” when singing in groups, but many times this results in the children producing a shouty, out of tune sound. If your child is singing this way, encourage them to soften it up and listen to the pitch. The tone should flow easily and softly (but not whispered). See if the child can nail the pitches gliding (slurring) from note to note on “ah.” Reinforce the tune with bells or piano if needed. Model an easy, soft, free singing and ringing sound. This can be achieved with practice. Not sure if your three year old can sing in tune? Check out this video of my son at two!
5. Musical Foursquare
This is a fun game that you can play with bells, boomwhackers and painters tape or sidewalk chalk! With the pitches, Do, Mi, Sol, and Hi Do (you can also try different pitches), arrange a four square indoors with painters tape or outdoors with chalk. Place each bell somewhere in the square (if you’re concerned your child will step on, kick, or ruin your bell, use a square of felt that’s colored the same as the corresponding note). To warm up, have the child jump to a square and play the bell. Then another, and play that bell. You can indicate which square to jump to by playing the corresponding note on your Prodigies Deskbells app. Once the child knows which square has which bell/note, sing one of the pitches and see if the child can jump to the correct square, taking care not to jump on the bell. Assign points or rewards for correct moves. See how fast the child can react by jumping to the square that corresponds to the pitch you sing. If the child is getting all of them, don’t sing the Solfege name, just the pitch on “Ah”. Can your child jump to the correct square? If you have an older child, or if they have mastered this game already, Increase the difficulty by singing two pitches, and have the child jump twice, remembering the order that you sang them . Or sing three pitches and see if they can remember the pitches and the order, and jump correctly. Set up your game like this:
6. Listening Activity: Happy Vs. Sad
You can begin to teach your child the foundations of tonality in identifying major and minor keys simply by playing music and asking your child to identify if the music makes them happy or sad. Any of these music listening activities can dovetail into other activities during your day. While you might not listen to music in a minor key on a regular basis, introducing them can make for great listening activities! So, see if your child can decipher the mood of a piece by the way it sounds. Play songs in major and minor keys, and see if your child can distinguish happy or sad or suspenseful. Let this turn into a sway (for sad) and dance (for happy) party! Here’s some classical links:
Minor Key Songs
Major Key Songs
7. Rhythmic Repetitions
Use Boomwhackers or bucket drums! Play a simple beat and see if your child can match your steady beat. If they can keep a beat going, sing an upbeat song while they play. Take turns playing, seeing if your child can keep a beat steady. Follow a metronome or a beat collection on Youtube to keep it steady. March around the room or turn this into a group activity. The possibilities are endless! Try demonstrating a pattern, and see if your child can repeat it back to you. If they can, introduce Sweet Beets!
8. Prodigies Songbook Fun
Begin with My First Songbook. Use Chromanote stickers on your instrument or use our Prodigies deskbells. Point to the note and have your child play the corresponding bell. Try to work up to a fast response time for the child. Alternate playing bells and singing the song. Your three year old can do it! My son made this video when he was three!
9. Prodigies Flash Cards
I designed these flash cards just for this blog! Drill these flash cards to see if your child can memorize the name of the Solfege pitch by the color of the bell. Or flash the card to your child, and see how fast they can play the correct bell!
10. Up and Down (Instrument Version)
Play two different pitches on an instrument (bells, piano, anything). Ask your child to identify if the second pitch was up or down (higher or lower). Start with an octave. If you need to demonstrate larger intervals for your child to be able to discern, that is fine. Do this exercise several times over the course of the week and see if your child can correctly identify pitches that are right next to each other as higher or lower.
We hope this list is helpful to you! As always,