Has your young son or daughter been begging you for voice lessons? Find out what to expect in kids’ singing lessons in this guest post by Saint Augustine, FL voice teacher Heather L…
A voice teacher walks into a living room and puts her guitar case down. She takes the guitar out, and as she tunes it, she asks the student in front of her about general music classes at school, hoping to incorporate the concepts being taught into the private instruction. Beginning on a comfortable pitch for the student, the teacher begins warm up exercises — singing a five-note scale on silly, nonsense syllables. Both the student and the teacher laugh. The lesson continues with the do-re-mi syllables, known as solfege, accompanied by their reinforcing hand signals. Voice techniques and concepts are taught in playing games. Phrasing is discovered in pretending to ride a roller coaster. Dynamics (how loud or soft a musical sound is) are understood in terms of powerful, large animals and delicate, small animals. Lip trills are blown and dancing is choreographed.
This is the voice lesson of a five-year-old child. When I began teaching kids’ singing lessons, what surprised me the most was how similar adult and child voice lessons are. Make-believe, movement, and imagination are an inherent element of all of my voice lessons. Granted, there are some really important distinctions, too. Just as there are similarities and dissimilarities between coaching a Little League team and the Boston Red Sox, voice lessons of adults and children share some things and not others.
Staying Focused, Staying Healthy
To begin, children do not have the physical stamina or mental focus of most adults. Their instruments are extremely delicate. It should be made clear that not every music educator agrees that children under 10 should even take voice lessons, and agree or not, not every voice teacher or music school accepts singers who are that young. I, myself, was once told as a high school freshman by a well-respected choir director not to take any voice lessons until I turned 20. What he did not understand is that kids’ singing lessons do not have to be damaging. In fact, it can prevent poor singing and speaking habits and, even more, permanent vocal damage.
Teaching the Fundamentals
The primary purpose of my voice lessons for young children is the establishment of fundamental musical and technical understanding, with the goal of a lifetime of healthy singing. Basic note reading, with an emphasis on sight reading and solfege syllables, basic diction, and basic voice maintenance and care are the three pillars of every student’s individual curriculum. Especially considering the popularity of automated sounds in music today that are made to sound like human singing, it’s so important that children learn the truth about their own voices before they start to imitate computer sounds all the time.
I do not, as a principle, believe in condescendingly “dumbing” concepts down for children. There is a way, though, to explain almost everything in an age-appropriate manner. I admit, though, I do get stumped sometimes, especially when I find myself having to describe how a diaphragm works to a first grader. But there’s always a way.
Creating a Positive Environment
After all of the education-specific talk, perhaps the most important thing to me as a teacher is positive and compassionate encouragement of where the student is today, musically speaking. Embracing and in turn teaching the child to embrace his singing right now is the surest path to a lifelong pursuit of great singing.
Heather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!
Photo by bethkeelementary