Do you have a budding singer in your
household? Is your son or daughter destined to be the next Metropolitan Opera or American Idol star? Or maybe you are
simply raising a high school student who is eagerly trying out for the solo spot in their choral ensemble or land that lead
role in the school musical. Regardless of their aspirations, there are several steps you can take to make the journey easier
for your child before they take private singing lessons.
1. Expose your child to great music and great singing. Let your child hear musical performances in a wide variety of styles. If your
family's tastes normally run toward top 40 or classic rock, try attending a live performance of one of the "all-time hits"
of the classical choral or opera repertoire, such as Handel's oratorio "Messiah" or Puccini's beloved opera "Madame
Butterfly". There are many fine movie renditions of classic American musicals, such as "Show Boat", "Oklahoma",
"The Music Man", and "Fiddler on the Roof". Listen to classic vocal jazz and works from the classic American Songbook
repertoire. In addition to the myriad videos, films and recordings out there, we are blessed by an ample selection
of fabulous concerts and performances in every genre imaginable here in our region. The
Washington Post Guide to the Lively Arts is a great place to start. The Gazette
Newspapers also advertise many exciting concerts and performances. Some of these performances, such
as the daily Millennium Stage performances at the Kennedy Center, are free so you don’t even have to empty your wallet.
2. Sign them up for piano lessons before singing lessons. Keyboard instruments provide a splendidly visual, “fixed-note” roadmap to Western musical language and
structure. Because the voice’s operation is so hidden when compared to that of a piano, it is more challenging to see
these structural relationships when studying music for the first time through singing. Although there is such great
variation in starting ages for any instrument including voice, it is often best to begin piano lessons when children are between
5 and 8 years old.
3. Encourage them to be even more dramatic. By
now you may be fully convinced that your child is a drama queen or king. However, vocal music, unlike instrumental music, has
us spinning words and ideas together with music, thus making it one of the most directly communicative
of performing arts. Therefore, it will be of great benefit to your child’s singing and communication skills if
they study drama and acting technique. Many local schools boast wonderful theater programs. In addition to other extracurricular
opportunities, many summer camps offer great basic dramatic training.
4. Encourage physical activity in your child. Sports
and exercise can help create bodies with voices that will work well. Since breath provides the physical fuel for singing,
singers need to be able to “breathe big” on a regular basis. Sports, dance and martial arts are also effective
for the coordination of overall movement and body awareness. All sports including cheerleading are fine. Just make sure that
your child doesn’t strain his or her voice during game sports, martial arts and cheerleading. Repeated loud yelling
and other voice abuse can lead to permanent vocal damage. Dance training combines bodily movement and awareness through
rhythm and textures in music. It is particularly beneficial for singers-especially those interested in becoming more versatile
musical theater performers.
When will your
child be ready to begin individual voice lessons? As with the rest of the body, voices take time to develop. Children’s
voices are delicate and need ample time to grow and mature before they can sing more vocally challenging repertoire. Children
and teens should be encouraged to sing gently, freely and without strain. We have worked with exceptional kids
as young as age 10. However, as a general rule of thumb, formal voice lessons should begin after the ages of 12-13.
By this time, children develop more patience and a much stronger sense of kinesthetic body awareness, which
is essential to learning healthy singing technique. In addition, it might be good to wait even longer if the voice
still needs to go through its pubescent change. Although the changes are not as dramatic as in boys' voices, girls' voices
also change as they mature. As a parent, you know your child best. When our school age students arrive
for their lessons, we strongly encourage Mom or Dad to be present in the studio so that they can monitor their child’s
progress and see what their child will need to practice. Also, at first progress in singing skills is often more
noticeable to the outside listeners than it is to the student singer him or herself, so your child may need that reassurance
from you that yes, he or she really is starting to sound better.
let your children’s singing experience be one of joyous self-discovery. In addition to the great musical benefits
and self-confidence, traditional voice lessons help young people develop communication skills at the very highest of human