I refer to pitch sticks in my teaching plan for our new song, “If I Listen With My Heart.” I received a number of e-mails asking about pitch sticks, and thought I should show you a picture.
Pitch-level conducting focuses the attention of the children on the melody of the song and the up and down quality of pitch. Usually I use my hand to show the children how the melody moves up and down and invite them to follow me. This activity can be very helpful to children as they learn a new song, because some of us struggle to hear the melody. It isn’t always easy to hear the piano, which is why singing the song clearly and distinctly to the children is so important. Children find it easier to hear the tones of the human voice as opposed to the tones of the piano. I know this is not good news to those of you who don't link to sing alone in front of other people, but I encourage you to try to overcome your reluctance. Really, the kids will learn the melody easier from a voice. Adding the visual quality of pitch-level conducting is also helpful. Please see this post for an explanation of how to conduct this way.
When I use my hand, I have to be very deliberate in portraying the notes. Each note needs to be clearly separate from the last. The notes will often remain on the same level of pitch. In this case, rather than moving my hand up and down, I move my hand forward in a bouncing motion, one bounce for each of the same note. The children seem to have a harder time being precise, and their movements sometimes become pretty “muddy.” Some children don’t concentrate and others don’t participate at all. I find that when I hand out these simple sticks and show the children how to hold them between both hands, the concentration increases and the children are more willing to participate.
I used the pitch sticks this last Sunday as we worked with the song. The kids could easily see the jumps in the melody. I also asked them to discover the words that came on the quick eighth notes. That was more of a challenge and they had to concentrate. The pitch sticks helped them because they were moving the sticks as well as listening and they could see the sticks move quickly on the eighth notes. When all four words in the first verse were discovered, I had the chance to talk to the children about how to sing these words precisely. So, the pitch sticks can also be helpful for visualizing rhythm.