This is Part 2 of our two-part resource all about singing. In Part 1, we focused on the importance of warming up, and shared a wide variety of warm-ups to try. In Part 2, we look at singing games, songs and rounds.
Please feel free to adapt the ideas below to suit the resources you have and the needs of your children.
- A playlist of the songs mentioned in the articles (all performed by Lucy Griffiths):
Before you start doing any singing, make sure you have warmed up your bodies and voices properly. Read Part 1 of our Let’s Sing resources for a wealth of ideas for fun warm-ups that will prepare everyone to sing their best.
Musical games are a great way into singing. They’re fun, encourage groups to work together and get to know each other better, energise the body and brain and are great for kinaesthetic learning. Here are some examples of really fun singing games. You can listen to all of these in the audio player at the top of this page.
1.Dum dum diddle
Sit in a circle cross-legged with knees touching. There are three different clapping moves:
- clap your own knees on each dum
- clap the knees of the person to your left on each DOUBLE diddle
- clap the knees of the person to your right on each SINGLE diddle
Once you’ve mastered this, try asking the children for variations. You’re sure to get interesting ideas which make this very tricky!
2. Bim bum biddy
Here are the actions for this song:
- When you sing bim, clap your hands together
- When you sing bum click your fingers
- When you sing biddy tap your legs
Once you’ve mastered this, try getting faster and faster!
3. John Kanakanaka
The children stand in two concentric circles (circle within a circle, outer circle facing in; inner circle facing out), each child facing a partner. Here are the moves:
- I heard, I heard the old man say = do-si-do with your partner
- John = stamp foot
- Kanakanaka = slap your knees (right-left-right-left-right)
- Tu-li-a = clap your own hands twice and your partner’s once
- Today, today… tulia = repeat the above moves
- Tulia tulia = everyone in the outer circle moves forward 3 steps, to face a new partner John Kanakanaka tulia = repeat the actions as in first line
This is a traditional South African song and we’re using it here more as a dance than a game. Learn the song first and then add these moves:
- Maliswe, buyunekaya = starting on the first beat, move your right foot forward, out to the side, back and in like you’re marking the points of a square in rhythm
- Now clap in the rest before singing ‘Tina se sa fu naha’
- Repeat all of the above, but moving the left foot
- On ‘Hic se’ jump round to face the right. Step in time to the music, leaning heavily on your right leg
- Now jump back to face forwards and clap in the rest before singing ‘Tina se sa fu naha’
- Repeat the ‘Hic se hai hai’ section but this time jumping to face the left and putting your weight on the left leg
- Again jump back to face forwards and clap in the rest before singing ‘Tina se sa fu naha’
This song translates as:
Maliswe, come back home,
We want you back.
Since you left we have been suffering,
We want you back.
5. Any song!
You can turn any song into a game by adding actions, movements, dancing and by singing it in different ways. See below for more ideas.
Making up your own singing games
Any song can be made into a singing game! Here are some ways you might like to do it:
1. Vocal ping pong: take any song that everyone knows really well and go round the circle singing one phrase or word or syllable each. This is tricky to start with, but the group will probably get good at it really quickly!
2. Traffic lights: this can also be done with any song. You’ll need three pieces of coloured card or paper. When you hold up the green card, the children sing the song out loud. The amber card means clap the rhythm of the words instead of singing. The red card indicates that the children should sing the song in their head. This is a great one for the children to lead themselves.
3. Adding movements and actions: this works particularly well with songs that have a lot of repeated words. Choose an action to go with a particular word and then do that action every time you sing that word. This works well working in pairs. If you’re doing it as a whole group and standing in a circle, you can also add movement left, right, forwards and back.
4. Rewrite a well known song and turn it into a ball game: for example, you might take the tune of London’s Burning and rewrite the words as follows:
Bounce the ball now, bounce the ball now,
Pass it over, pass it over,
Up high, down low,
Pass it over, pass it over
Do with the ball as the lyrics suggest! On ‘pass it over’, you can throw the ball or pass it to the side. If you’re left with the ball, bounce it as you spell your name out.
Vocal and body percussion
As an alternative to singing, why not try creating a piece of vocal and/or body percussion. Body percussion is any sound you can make with your body e.g. clapping, stamping, clicking your fingers, slapping your knees etc. Vocal percussion is any sound you can make using your mouth. This might be hissing, blowing raspberries, consonants such a p, b, f, h, rolling your tongue or, of course, sung sounds.
To create your piece, you will need to think of a scenario and build it up gradually, a bit like the stories with sound and action, as described above. For example, you could create a human machine. One person goes into the middle of circle and makes a sound which might be made by a machine. They keep repeating it along with an action. Others go in one by one and add to the machine sounds and movements until everyone is in the middle of the circle and you have a full on machine cacophony!
A variation on this would be the clock game. One person stands at the front and moves one arm clockwise as if the hour hand of a clock.
Everyone else in the group decides on a time at which they will make their sound – this could be vocal or body percussion. When the hand of the clock reaches that time, they make their sound. You might like to develop this by asking everyone to have two times with a different sound on each. The clock might get stuck, or go backwards, or very fast!
There are so many different types of songs, and it’s great fun to try out different ways of singing. You can play singing games, sing call and response songs and action songs like the ones described above, and build up to singing in multiple parts. You’ll probably know lots of rounds already. These are a brilliant way into singing in parts. Partner songs are also great fun and give a quick sense of achievement – you’ll have a piece ready to perform in no time!
Here are some of my favourites:
Round: Mrs O’Leary
Try singing each line in a different style, and make up your own actions to go with it. You can come up with your own styles or try the following:
Late last night = like a choir boy
Missus O’Leary = like an opera diva
And then a cow = country and western
There’ll be a hot time = Broadway
Partner songs: Gospel medley
Partner songs are also great fun and can sound really impressive.
Teach these songs individually and then slowly layer them up one by one. Can you think of any more songs that would fit with this set?
Compose your own round
- First of all, aim to write something really simple to start with. We’re going to look at creating a 3 part round.
- Write some words for your song. For example:
I’m writing round,
Do you like the sound
Of 3 parts in 1?
- Pick a comfortable key and come up with a short, straightforward phrase for the first line.
- The second line should have the same shape as the first, but be a 3rd higher.
- The 3rd line should start on the 5th note of the key or the upper octave i.e. if you’re in C major this line will start on a G or the upper C.
- All of your phrases should be the same length, to make the round work.
Singing is something everyone can do whether they believe it or not, so whatever you do, have FUN!
Sharing your work
Do you have any go-to songs or vocal warm-ups you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you. You can email or send audio or video to [email protected]
About the Author
Lucy Griffiths is one of the most respected conductor-animateurs of her generation. Having studied and won several prestigious prizes in the UK and Canada, her leadership experience ranges across vocal and instrumental music-making with professional, amateur, youth and adult ensembles at the very highest level of each. It has seen her appear on TV and radio, premiering new works, adjudicating competitions, touring extensively throughout the UK and internationally, and working alongside some of the world’s finest musicians and directors.
Lucy is Assistant Director of Music at the University of Warwick and Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra’s Junior Choir. She is a leading expert in the field of music education and engagement, specialising in vocal outreach.