Voice lessons for children

Your child loves to sing.  Should they have private singing lessons?

Yes and no!  Children’s voices are very different from adult – even young adult – voices. Because of this, signing a child up for singing lessons is not the same as starting a child early on an instrument like the piano or cello. While you can upgrade the child from a child-sized to a full-sized cello as they grow, the singing voice changes so significantly through puberty that it might as well be a different instrument. Children can absolute improve their singing, and certain aspects of singing technique are transferable from child to adolescent to adult, but a child’s voice should not be treated like an adult voice, and it is crucial that this be taken into account if you are considering singing lessons for your child.

One of the healthiest possible ways for a child to improve their singing is to join a good children’s choir. Many churches have chorister programs for elementary school age children, and there are some fine community children’s choirs in the Philadelphia area as well. As part of a children’s choir, kids can develop all aspects of their musicianship in a supportive context, with the added benefit of social interaction and teamwork, much like a team sport. As part of a choir, less pressure is placed on each individual child’s voice and attention span. Younger and less experienced singers benefit from the leadership of more experienced kids, and collectively they are able to have more complex and rich musical performance experiences than are possible through individual study.  Of course, at the moment due to COVID-19, group singing in choirs and classrooms is not currently safe, so choral singing for all ages is on forced vacation.

If your child loves to sing and you are serious about private musical instruction for them, I strongly recommend the power combination of participation in a children’s choir (once group singing is possible again) plus private piano lessons. Piano skills are invaluable to singers, and piano lessons thoroughly facilitate the development of basic musical competence, especially music reading (because pianists must learn to read both treble and bass clefs) and understanding of pitch relationships and harmony (thanks to the tangible visual representation provided by the keyboard). There is always time for private singing lessons later, when their voices are beginning to mature and resemble (physically at least) an adult instrument.

If you do decide to pursue private singing lessons for your child, these are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Children’s voices function differently than adult voices, and should be treated and trained accordingly.
  • Not every singing teacher is equipped to teach kids, even if they are themselves an excellent singer and an experienced teacher. You need to find someone who is knowledgeable about the physiology of children’s voices and has experience working with them, or at very least, sings in a way that is healthy for the child to imitate.
  • Figure out the right “level” of training for your child’s current musical development. A child who has not yet learned to match pitch is not ready for an auditioned children’s choir, and while private voice lessons could certainly be used to work on this, that would be a bit like paying for a thoroughbred race horse to pull a hayride – there are simpler and cheaper ways to accomplish the task at hand!
  • As your child goes through puberty as a singer, they will essentially be handed a brand new instrument (this is especially true for boys, but is true for girls as well, even if the symptoms are subtler!) Rather than putting a lot of resources into highly training a voice that is going to change significantly in just a few years, your goal should be to ensure that when your child does start to grow into their “adult vocal equipment”, they are a competent musician with the basics of music reading, ear training and healthy singing under their belt so they can hit the ground running.

Singing lessons for children should NOT:

  • Teach the child to sing like an opera singer, or belt like a pop star
  • Push the child to develop a big, powerful sound
  • Make the child sing music that was intended for adult voices.
  • Seek to turn the child into a prodigy. Everyone enjoys being blown away by very young singers on shows like America’s Got Talent. The unfortunate truth is that most of the time these kids are not using their voices in a healthy way, and it is extremely rare that they go on to have sustainable careers – or any career at all. It is far healthier to let your child sing like a child, and help them develop into a well-rounded, complete musician and lay the groundwork for a healthy voice equipped to explore whatever kind of music and singing they choose later in life.

Singing lessons for children SHOULD:

  • Train the “whole musician”
  • Help the child to develop their ear and pitch matching ability
  • Teach the child the basics of healthy breathing, posture, pure vowels and good diction (these elements of good singing remain constant as the child’s voice and body mature into adulthood)
  • Teach the child to access and develop their head voice
  • Develop their sense of rhythm and ear for harmony
  • Teach them to read music notation
  • Assign the child songs that were composed for treble (children’s) voices

When I do accept very young students in my studio, I take the approach of using the singing voice as the main vehicle for exploring all aspects of musicianship, rather than focusing intensely on training the sound of the child’s voice. We do work on singing, with emphasis on posture, breathing, accessing head voice, healthy vocal production and good vowels and diction. We also play games and engage in a variety of exercises designed develop the child’s ear, sense of rhythm, understanding of harmony, vocal independence, and musical curiosity.

During this time of restricted group singing due to COVID-19, I am accepting more young singing students than usual.  I am always available for consultation lessons and would be more than happy to discuss these topics with you and answer your questions.