The Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence is based on five stages of technical aspects that I focus on with each young student (under the age of 12). The sequence helps keep the pacing of the lesson intact while reaching the goals for success in learning age appropriate technical skills. The technical aspects that I cover include: attention to body, breath, ear training and theory, vocal warm-ups, and repertoire. The sequence offers a variety of exercises in each category to engage and inspire young singers. My previous posts have covered the first 4 stages of the sequence.
The fifth and last stage of each lesson and the “icing on the cake” is always the stage at which a singer gets to apply their newly acquired skills by performing a song. After formulating a strong foundation in musical and vocal technique, it is time to soar into learning repertoire. "Repertoire" is the last stage of the Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence and is saved for last as a way to tie all of the skills together. Performing songs is the goal every singer hopes to achieve.
I break down the learning process of new songs into four main areas of focus:
- learning notes
- learning text
- understanding breath-management
After we sing through the melody (breathing where it seems comfortable), I have the student read the text to me aloud. Their first assignment to do at home is to write out the text or type and print it from a computer. For my students that are accompanied to their lessons by a parent, that parent usually types the text on a computer for them in a nice bold font that is easy to read. This is a good opportunity to explain to a student how text, or what they refer to as “lyrics” in a song, is notated in stanza form. When we spend time learning how the phrasing of the words can be expressed away from the music, a student gains a better perception of a song. Understanding the emotion away from the musical phrasing helps the young student connect to the meaning of the song in a more visceral way. For me, this is an important aspect of teaching dramatic interpretation to students at any age. It can evoke the conversation of which is more important…. the words or the notes?
Another reason that printing up the text away from the music is a good strategy for young singers and old alike, is that it aides in memorization and word order. I find with my really young students that it helps with learning to read — added bonus! Oftentimes there are many interesting words found in song literature that introduces young children to new vocabulary. Singers can also use the printed text as a way to do mental practice away from the score. I could go on with all the many benefits of writing out the text, but will leave that there for you to discover the many reasons on your own.
Once they have written or typed up the text and they return to their next lesson with their printed text in hand, we look at the phrasing and decide where it makes sense to breathe. I have my students speak the text using dramatic inflections, and we speak the text using clear articulated diction. After speaking away from the music, we move into chanting the text rhythmically in the musical phrasing. We also take a moment to discuss where the breaths within the phrase make sense.
Once all the notes are learned, the breaths are marked in and the text is added to the music, we then begin to have fun with making the song all their own! I like it when a precocious young singer comes to my studio and can sound just like their favorite pop star, but I love it when a singer can find their own true voice and sing artistic music in their personal unique style.
* Please note that when working with young children their breath capacity is not as mature as with older singers. Do not expect long phrases with kiddos. They need to mark in more breaths and have shorter phrases in accordance with their physical attributes. The most important thing to teach them is, don’t breathe in the middle of a word!
Once a student has learned the song, I ask them to do further study on dramatic interpretation. For my really young students, under the age of 10, I ask them to draw a colorful picture depicting what the song means to them. For my older students, or the ones who don’t like drawing, I ask them to do the 5 Ws: Who, What, Why, When, and Where. This is great fun to see what they come up with.
Sometimes a student needs to learn a piece quickly for a performance or an audition, and we don’t have the leisure of learning a song in this systematic way. There are many times we skip some of these steps. My hope is that a student will always take the time throughout the learning process to visit any one of these steps as a way to practice the song and consider it a “polished piece.” The ultimate goal for any song is to learn, memorize, and then perform it. The learning phase is what I hope will guide a student to a better understanding of the art of singing.
This post about Repertoire rounds out the Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence. I think it is important to understand that vocalizing and singing songs is not the only thing that a teacher can do in a lesson with young singers. There was a time in music education when the “repertoire approach” was the only way to teach. The main emphasis in a lesson was on the artistry and expression of the song and not on the facility of the instrument itself. I think that as our industry of voice teaching is changing, it is appropriate to change previous notions and change with the times. The demand for young singers taking private lessons has become more popular than ever, thanks to social media and the rise of television programing like The Voice and American Idol. It is not a time for voice teachers to stand back and say "no" to these young singers wanting private lessons, but a time for us to think outside of the box and learn new teaching methods. Laying a good foundation is essential to the field of singing as a whole, and to share my favorite quote once again: It is much harder to reorganize the brain than it is to organize it in the first place (from Jane Healy's book Endangered Minds). We can all help shape the future of beautiful and healthy singing by starting off young singers with a good foundation. It is important for me as a voice teacher to keep the art of singing as the most important goal.
I hope you have found the Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence helpful in creating ideas for your own lesson pacing. Please share my blog with a friend or colleague, as well as on social media, in order to spread the art of singing for young, pre-adolescent singers.