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What is safe when teaching kids to sing?

There are many questions that come up about working with young singers in the private studio. Some of those questions are about technique and what kids can safely sing in voice lessons. There are teachers who believe that children shouldn’t begin voice lessons until after puberty sets in. Some folks I know are simply not comfortable teaching the young singer in their studio.  For me, however, I wanted to combine my love of singing and teaching kids. To learn more, I read a great book by Kenneth Phillips, entitled “Teaching Kids to Sing.”  Dr. Phillips begins his book by asking the question…… “is it appropriate to train young voices to sing?”

He then states, “developmental instruction in vocal technique is adequate and necessary for students of all ages and is fundamental in developing musical literacy and artistic vocal expression”

I love this statement and have made it my mission to share the art of singing with young singers that are eager to learn in my private studio.  Why not teach kids proper singing habits when they are blossoming and yearning to explore, in order to avoid the formation of bad habits?

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).

If you are someone who has been teaching singing for many years, but have never felt comfortable teaching the prepubescent singer, I hope to share with you my insights and methods for adding this age group into your private studio.

To understand the history of teaching kids to sing, it is important to remember that children have been singing for centuries dating back to early church music, especially within the boy choir tradition. Many were taught formally through the “master-apprentice model.” It wasn’t until the 20th century when teaching strategies started to shift, and educational methods became prominent in the early part of the 20th century. This led to a quest for music literacy during the elementary years. Several music education models became popular, including the Kodaly, Orff and Dalcroze methodologies. Through this period of technical development came a rise in the “repertoire approach” of learning to sing.  The repertoire approach is based on the idea that the main emphasis is on the artistry and expression in a song and not on the technical facility of the instrument. It is my personal belief that this led to many well-intentioned teachers taking on young singers and encouraging the “sing louder” technique, because they were not well versed in any other executional strategies for the young singers. We all know that young voices tend to be quiet and the best way to be heard is to sing louder. This idea leads to a whole host of potential problems for the young vocal mechanism. Children can and should learn good singing habits without being told to just sing louder. One of the most influential and prominent masters of the child singing movement was Lowell Mason..... Mason published a manual for singing and vocal music literacy back in 1834. In his manual, Mason states that singing instruction should begin when a child learns to read.

This is the same notion that Shinichi Suzuki believed in when he began his Suzuki Method for violin and piano instruction.

Suzuki focused on the “mother-tongue” approach to learning music, meaning the first language a person learns is what they are exposed to from birth. If we expose young children to good singing habits at an early age, they will develop better habits as they grow. Of course teaching kids to sing should include many songs, but the approach should not be derived from this as the only transporter of singing technique. Many bad habits can develop when the focus is only on the artistic idea of a song. If a teacher is not instructing on the proper vocal production and use of vocal technique, the result will be poor singing execution. 

Many experts recommend choral and group singing as the only means for children to learn singing technique. While choral singing is a great experience for kids and offers a broad understanding of good singing habits, what it doesn’t offer is the opportunity for young singers to recognize their own uniqueness. It is in the private studio where the young singer can discover their own personal growth and ability.

To teach good singing habits in the private studio and begin the formation of good technique, a teacher must have a game plan. I believe that any teacher working with young singers needs to have a system for the pacing of a lesson.  Many vocal experts don’t care to work with kids because of the short attention span and distractions which can be very characteristic of young minds. Successful teaching strategies for young singers requires different pacing in a lesson and should include a curriculum that encompasses attention to breath, ear training and theory, resonant tone production, diction, and song execution, including expression.

In my next blog post I will share my Born 2 Sing Kids Sequence. The sequence helps facilitate the pacing of each lesson, which includes fun, flexible, and engaging curriculum ideas designed to introduce technical strategies just for kids! Please like us on Facebook and feel free to share your experiences in teaching vocal technique to kids.

Happy Singing!


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