It has been my desire for quite some time to have a better understanding and more knowledge in teaching young kids age 6-13 in my private voice studio. I recently finished my master’s degree in vocal pedagogy, where my research focused on teaching the young singer.
For many years, I have found several myths regarding the philosophies of voice teaching. One of those myths is that kids cannot and should not take voice lessons. Until recently, I had always agreed with that belief. When prospective parents would inquire, I would usually say that young singers should wait until they were more mature, typically around the age of 13. I would follow with a suggestion that the parents enroll their child in piano or violin lessons. For many, instrumental lessons are not as interesting or as easily accessible.
It is around the middle school years when adolescence begins and the young larynx has physically grown that voice teachers are more interested in taking on beginning voice students. Along with physical growth comes more advanced cognitive and mental maturity as well. Beyond the level of maturity, however, I often ponder why it is that most voice teachers do not feel compelled to take on younger singers. I have come to formulate an understanding that trained singers who attend colleges and conservatories to attain degrees in voice are primarily taught in the old school design of the “master-apprentice model.”
I have also taught for many years the same way I was instructed by my teachers. I began voice lessons at the age of 13. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began immersing myself in the technical aspects of singing. While I was formally taught pedagogy, which focused primarily on the physical mechanism of the laryngeal structure, I was not trained to teach prepubescent voices. It is rare to find someone who is knowledgeable about the mechanism of the young voice. For this reason, most teachers that take on the young singer are piano teachers who apply a teaching style that centers on learning to sing from the “repertoire” approach. This means that the student merely learns to sing songs focusing on the performance aspect with little or no attention to the physical awareness of technique. This can be a dangerous thing to do if you are not properly educated on the technical conditions that pertain to a young singer. Impressionable young singers can and do develop poor singing techniques, especially in the form of oversinging. The result is an impression that voice lessons for kids can be risky, causing potential damage to the vocal mechanism. I have, in fact, had teen students come to my studio with vocal damage as a result of oversinging songs with teachers through the childhood years that encouraged the “sing louder” approach.
I look forward to sharing the insights I have gained through my research and from the work I do with students in my studio. I truly believe that expanding the discussion and sharing knowledge with fellow voice teachers will help to debunk the myth that children and voice lessons are risky business.
What has been your understanding and experience in teaching voice to the young singer? I would love to hear your thoughts.