I have frequently been asked by the parents and caregivers of my young voice students: “How do voice lessons work for their age?” or “Is this a good time for them to start voice lessons?”
The Traditional Thinking
Many voice teachers and pedagogues believe that voice lessons should begin no earlier than age 12 for female voices and age 15 for male voices. During puberty (between ages 10 and 14 for females and 12 and 16 for males), the voice changes because the larynx or voice box grows and descends, while the vocal cords tend to thicken and grow. Before this physical change occurs, it is difficult and not always productive to start intense voice training. Therefore, voice lessons tend to be encouraged for only older children.
However, I think there is a key factor missing in this thought process of waiting for voice lessons—there are many other elements of voice lessons that can be beneficial for young singers and their developing voices!
Why Young Kids Should Take Voice Lessons
Lessons with young singers are an opportunity to use voice lessons as a vehicle to explore themselves and self-expression, as well as develop musicianship skills. I have witnessed many young singers under the age of 12 develop a great musical ear, sight-reading skills, and discover a confidence that they didn’t even know they had.
What Your Child Will Learn
So, while a child’s vocal muscles and instrument are developing, what is appropriate for voice lessons to focus on?
- Fundamental Vocal Techniques
First and foremost, your child will begin to learn incredibly important fundamental vocal techniques: effective breathing for singing, articulation with fun tongue twisters, and a general understanding of how the voice works.
- Reading Music
They’ll also begin learning to read music using solfege (do, re, mi, etc.). Once they’ve learned all the syllables, I challenge my students to memorize the solfege for simple songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” This encourages their ability to read music at first sight and fine tune their musical ear. Bonus–these solfege challenges are super fun too!
- Performance Skills
Additionally, voice lessons for a young child are a great way to begin to develop their skills as a performer! Almost all students find that singing in front of people is incredibly scary. And let’s be honest, it is! Nerves are real even for the most seasoned professional. However, practicing singing in front of people is a wonderful way to gain confidence and learn techniques for overcoming anxiety. This performance practice may include simply singing in front of their teacher, recording a song to send to a family member, singing for friends, and performing at Musicologie concerts.
- New Songs and Hard Work
Young voice students will also learn new repertoire and be exposed to a variety of musical genres. Many vocalists are comfortable singing the songs they already know. But give them a gentle, enthusiastic push to learn a new song and it encourages them to get out of their comfort zone and reap the rewards of hard work.
Keep it Fun!
Young singers typically want to take voice lessons because they just love to sing. I think that is a wonderful reason to take lessons. As a teacher, I want to cultivate that love and share in their joy of singing. The most important thing is that the student is having fun while learning to use their voice effectively! While the voice may change as they mature, together we can create fun opportunities to grow as musicians, lovers of singing, and well-rounded kids.
Below are a couple examples of exercises I use in my lessons with my young voice students. Use them for practice at home!
- Pretend you are standing in the middle of a hula hoop and expand your ribcage, belly, and your back where the ribcage is going towards the imaginary hula hoop.
- Now on a “ts” sound let out two “ts” like you are scolding someone.
- On the third “ts,” release for as long as you can by resisting the urge to collapse your ribcage and belly. Aim for around 10-12 seconds.
- Start at middle C on the piano.
- Sing the sentence: “The tip of the tongue, the teeth the lips” on that pitch.
- Go up by half steps and see if you can speed it up a bit too!
- Pick a song you know very well. If it is memorized, that is best.
- Pick a character you like—it can be from a movie, book, cartoon, or a real person.
- Now try performing the song like that character (movements, facial expressions, even voice)
- BONUS CHALLENGE—put multiple names of characters on index cards and pull a card while you are singing to switch up the character.
*It is best to work with bold character choices—the most ridiculous the better.