Clare Seymour

September 17, 2018

The Sound Toolkit: developing aural awareness in Early Learners – Part 1: The voice


In the next few blogs, we’d like to share some of the presentation we delivered at the #MusicEdExpo in London, Olympia, on 23rd February. We were exploring the topic of aural awareness – why it is such an important aspect of learning, both in terms of musical understanding and also within a more holistic perspective.


Before launching into aural awareness in depth, we stopped to consider the role of the voice in learning. It is a totally unique and expressive instrument that many of us take for granted. For Early Learners, whether they are new to the world, or new to instrumental learning, it is important to encourage a range of vocal expression and a sense of vocal control. It is also important to draw attention to the internal voice we all have that accompanies us everywhere we go! We did this through a song called ‘My thinking voice’. As you can hear, the audience were very attentive singers!


My thinking voice 


I can use my voice in different ways, my [singing] voice sounds like this:

“1        2        3        4        5        6        7”         (Clap!)


My thinking voice is a gem of a song for covering a number of learning objectives within one framework. Firstly, it supports experimentation and improvisation of our vocal qualities. It also fires up the imagination of the children as they try express their own suggested sounds; unicorns, fairies and a cardboard box (?!) have all featured! It is also an excellent song for exploring and expressing emotions.


Another hugely important facet to the song is the final verse, where the expression becomes internal; it becomes ‘my thinking voice’. For budding musicians (of any age), this is a crucial aspect of learning – it teaches the individual to actually think about thinking!


In psychological terms, this is called metacognition; becoming aware of the inner voice that accompanies each of us everywhere. For very young children, this song may well be their first introduction to the idea of ‘thinking’ in a structured way. The benefits of this are so far-reaching – way beyond just being important specifically to musical learning. There is more information about this here.


From an Early Years’ perspective, the premise of ‘My thinking voice’ has a number of invaluable teaching points. Very early in their lives, most children learn to count. Initially, this is done by rote-learning numbers: the value or the meaning of the numbers have little or no relevance. So in order to enable young learners to make connections between a number and its value, they are encouraged to point to the numbers as they count. This ‘pointing’ strategy promotes one-to-one-correspondence – the ability to match an object to the corresponding number and recognise that the numbers refer to symbols that, in turn, represent quantities (Kearns 2010). In the early stages, this is done aloud and then, gradually as the children progress in their development, it is done in their heads. 


The process is almost identical when learning to read. Children are encouraged to use the ‘pointing’ strategy matching written words to spoken words while reading. This technique is vital in enabling children in the early stages of reading to make text-to-word connections. Once children have established the one-to-one-correspondence aloud, the next stage is to internalise the skill and do it in their heads using their ‘thinking voice’. This is a skill that takes a lot of practice and repetition. ‘My thinking voice’ has been an invaluable song, and a great precursor, to both introduce and reinforce this concept in the Early Years.


For those children with an SEND profile, ‘My thinking voice’ is the perfect choice for sensory integration. The unpredictability of the sounds that might come up (if other children suggest unfamiliar ways in which to use their voices) will challenge the learner to process the ‘unexpected’ sounds. This will require sensitivity on the part of the teacher/person leading the group. Good inclusive practice might be to only use ‘quiet’ sounds for the voice (to initially acclimatise a child with sensory sound overload), and gradually introduce more random sounds. 


And of course the repetition of the first line of the song:  “I can use my voice in different ways…” that is sung before each new ‘voice’ is introduced, is vital in enabling the sensory processing to be a little more predictable making the experience a gradually more secure (and anticipated) experience each time it is sung.  Look out for our next blog: Developing an awareness of pulse in Early Learners