Singing is one of the most important means of communication that we are blessed to experience. It is the means by which we express our innermost thoughts and feelings in a language shared by the whole world. We sing songs as worship…as symbols of patriotism…as words to inspire change…to amuse…to romance….to uplift. Often, it is forgotten how integral singing is to our existence. When at play, children seem to almost instinctively sing as part of their games. These same young voices are instruments capable of producing a wide array of tones and timbres. In order to access this wide range of sounds, though, the sounds produced at play are not enough. Proper training in healthy vocal production is needed.
Recently, I have been asked quite a bit about the appropriate age to begin voice lessons for children. Parents realize that their kids have either an overwhelming enthusiasm for singing or some substantial native talent that they want to properly nurture. They just wonder if formal lessons are safe for the youngster to undertake and worth the financial investment. First of all, I stress that the most important issue with kids is their attention span and not the perceived talent level. I’ve had some clearly gifted 7 year olds come in but they did not have the focus and maturity that is needed. Once that is explained, I relay that I believe lessons can successfully begin at age 8. I have trained a couple of 7 year olds, though, because they had the requisite focus, attention span, and teachability in addition to natural musical instincts. As long as the training is based in healthy technical habits and applied correctly to songs, there are no inherent dangers.
Many people wonder what young singers can actually learn in private voice lessons. Some have believed that their physically immature instruments cannot acquire any real technical skills until their voices fully develop at puberty. But I am one of many who work with kids on a regular basis who believe that these voices can develop quite a lot of facility if guided correctly. We must remember that singing is an intricate psychomotor skill, not so different from the learning of piano, dance, or athletic moves. It’s all about the systematic training of correct muscle memory which builds healthy technique that will strengthen and protect the voice. And if the goal of vocal study is establishment of good vocal habits that will carry over into adulthood, vocal technique has to be of primary importance! Of course, this must be balanced with singing good songs, but it will be difficult to expand repertoire if the instrument is limited in the sounds it can produce.
The very same technical issues that need to be taught to adult singers need to be taught to kids. The building of tone production practices is essential. Child singers need to develop the ability to produce tones without undue tension and restriction. They must be taught proper breathing techniques and good body posture and alignment. Range extension is still important for kids, even though it must be applied relative to their still-growing voices. Many of the exercises that I use with my adult clients are used in the sessions with my youngsters, though sometimes with modifications. I also make sure that I introduce them to correct terminology concerning how the voice is put together and how it works. They learn about head and chest voice, the larynx, vocal folds, diaphragm, and resonance. They need to start learning a singer’s vocabulary from the start of their study.
We are seeing some fine examples of superstar singers who have become elite vocal athletes because of some fantastic vocal training starting at a young age- Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland, Adam Lambert among others. It is a worthwhile investment to begin lessons with a child who has the love for singing coupled with a sense of focus and discipline. The teacher must have a great knowledge of vocal pedagogy and a personality that can provide a safe, nurturing environment for the young singer to embark on this great journey of singing study.