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Young voice students

I have recently been approached by parents of some of my younger music students (3rd and 4th graders) about private voice lessons.  I haven't taught many lessons for students this young. Are there any books, materials that you would suggest as good resources for songs and methods? What are your feelings on teaching lessons to students that young?
 
Any advice would be great.
 
Thanks,
Marisa
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on December 7, 2011 5:18am
I generally do not recommend voice lessons for children this young.  I feel it is better for them to be referred to a quality nearby community children's chorus, where they will be able to sing with other children their age and develop their quality vocal skills in that setting.  I do not recommend voice lessons for my singers until they are vocally ready, when their voices are physically more mature, but it is always a very individual decision.
 
Joy
 
 
 
on December 7, 2011 7:12am
For many years I agreed with not teaching young children but when my three great nieces became interested, I changed my mind.  The oldest began when she was 10 and the youngest when she was five.  I decided that I would rather see that their voices were handled carefully for their age.  The five year old started with only a 15 minute lesson.  I also started her sight reading with solfege at that age.  I wish that I had started the 10 year old earlier because she is more fearful than the youngest when performing.
 
I totally agree that a community choir is a good answer but only if there is one of quality.  I began teaching them Disney songs and then they advanced beyond those.  I knew if I taught them, their young voice would have an opportunity to grow without vocal abuse.
on December 7, 2011 8:40am
Marisa,
 
Although many teachers are adamantly against giving voice lessons at an early age I have given voice lessons to young students and found that in the long run it is quite a rewarding experience.  With all the negative vocal influences these days I believe that it is adventageous to begin working with students at a young age before they are "tainted" by the pop culture vocal sound.  I have had second and third graders in my general music class come in using terrible vocal technique as they try and immitate the pop sound that they listen to.  (Voices that are way older than them and to compound it use horrendous vocal technique.) 
 
I do however discuss with the parents the goals that I have for their student when they take lessons as well as finding out what the parents goals for their singer are.  You don't want to be exploring proper vocal technique when the parents are bent on their child being in "The X factor" or on "America's got talent." 
 
To give you some specific materials this is what I use.
 
For a general aproach and reminders on what you can work on I refer to Kenneth Philips book Teaching Kids to Sing
I have also used Foundations in Singing by John Glenn Paton and Van Christy this book has many folk songs, as wel as rounds and simple tunes that students may already be familiar with. 
Daffodils, Violets & Snowflakes compiled by Joan Frey Boytim published by Hal Leonard is a book for girls 10-mid teens and contains many songs that are sutible and interesting for that age. 
I also use choral songs that are unison or 2 part that have a range suitable for the voices that I am working with.  Brilee music from Carl Fisher has many songs that are interesting for this age group as well as having a good range.
 
Hope that helps!
 
Naomi Bruette
 
on December 7, 2011 8:40am
I strongly agree with Joy on this.  I never encourage parents to pursue private voice lessons for children this young.  For a talented child, this is a great time to learn healthy singing technique, basic literacy and aural skills, singing in parts, etc. but because the voice is just developing, I believe these skills are better learned in the cushion of other young voices.  After 36 years of teaching vocal music in the public schools and 35 years of directing a community children's choir, I think the best source of appropriate traning for a talented young child is in a fine children's choir.  I'm sure you have something wonderful in your community to recommend.  Connect with the director of this choir, observe rehearsals, attend concerts and decide if this would be a worthy match for your best students and then offer to coach or give private lessons to the older students in the choir.  It may prove to be a good professional connection for both of you.
on December 7, 2011 8:57am
Here is a book that might fit what you need.
 
I do give voice lessons to kids, but only if;
1) a kid want to do,
2) we all agree to do many different types of songs,
and,
3) we all agree to do a little bit of piano and solfegio/theory traning as well as singing.
 
In other words, I will give private music lessons with vocal emphasis.
on December 7, 2011 12:29pm
I am a High School Choir teacher.  I teach lessons to all of my students through-out the week.  I would suggest starting those voice lessons in about 6th grade.  If they learn how to use proper vocal support using the breath while making the right vowel shape, then those students will be more likely to continue singing through (and past) puberty.  My school does not currently offer lessons to students until 9th grade, when it is WAY PAST DUE to learn the correct breathing techniques and vowel formations (and even resonanating centers!).  Start 'em early.  If you are choosing the right literature...then you will only do them good.  
on December 7, 2011 8:59pm
First, a great book is Teaching Kids to Sing by Kenneth Phillips.  Choristers Guild materials are also good.
Second, if you are in an area that has a fine children's choir program, I think that is the best training ground.  
(We happen to have several great ones here in St. Louis and most metropolitan areas do have at least one).
 
If you don't have one locally that really trains the kids in both good singing and musicianship, be sure you know a lot about dealing with voices that young.
I believe that piano training at that age is most beneficial and that private voice training is best approached in early high school days after
some of the ravages of early adolescent voice changes have begun to subside. 
 
Singing in a good children's choir is helpful because they can learn good vocal habits and be moved from part to part without the pressure of
solo range issues.  I know, some parents see the Jackie Evancho "thing" and become enamored of the idea that their child can sing like that, become famous, etc.
They need to have good counsel from good musicians, like yourself, and make the best choices for their children.
 
If you haven't taught private voice lessons to that age, don't start until you get adequate experience and training somewhere.  I have seen too many kids
pushed to sing like adults by teachers, parents, and others who don't know anything but adult repertoire and adult techniques.  The result is often very damaging to the kids in the long run
and sometimes immediately.  Get much more information and proceed with caution.
 
Grace and peace,
Larry Smith
Missouri Baptist University
St. Louis MO
on December 8, 2011 6:07am
Good Morning Marisa,
 
Thank you for your post, you definitely came to the right forum for great resources and various opinions and perspectives.
 
I teach in an elementary school setting where I'm very frequently posed with the question from parents, "I'm considering signing my child up for singing lessons, who/what do you recommend?"  My answer is always the same, "If you're really interested in supplementing your child's music education outside of school, please consider piano lessons, not vocal lessons.  Your child is doing wonderful in the fine program we offer here at school, and studying piano will be more beneficial at this time."
 
Unfortunately, I have not had many, or any, quality experiences with students from my school who have studied private vocal lessons, or worked with a "vocal coach."  They have been, 100% the worst singers in my choir.  They are often big time "belters" and "over-singers," using no head voice, with a difficultly blending and balancing with other students in a choir setting.  They have developed bad habits which are hard to break.  Unfortunately, these students are often studying from a music store or aspiring pop/Broadway singer who is trying to supplement their dream by "teaching" lessons, where the teacher is NOT well versed in the child's voice.
 
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are great teachers who teach privately, and know exactly how to approach teaching the child voice.  And I'm sure they approach it with proper technique, appropriate repertoire while incorporating music literacy.  However, and this is the biggest reason that I agree with Joy Hirokawa (whom I happen to admire and have a tremendous amount of respect for), it is my opinion that children learn BEST when singing with OTHER children.  I firmly believe that the best thing for children is to have other children modeling.  Private instruction doesn't allow for the child model, and I think that is very important.  In my opinion, a quality children's choir is the best avenue for children to learn to sing with quality.
on December 8, 2011 9:30am
Marisa et al.
This has been an interesting discussion, and everyone has brought out some very valuable thoughts and ideas.
 
My late wife would have agreed that singing in a good childrens choir, coupled if possible with piano lessons or lessons on another instrument, is probably the best early training for both singing and musicianship.  She had that experience growing up, and continued it both in her teaching (Montessori elementary school) and her conducting (children's and youth choirs).
 
But she would have pointed out that all too many children's choir conductors do NOT have the vocal or pedagogical background to ensure that, in the words of the doctors' oath, they "do no harm."  And unfortunately that is also true of many public school teachers, who may be very good singers themselves but who have never actually studied the child voice and the development of the young vocal mechanism.  She had never intended to work with children, but when that became one of her interests she took children's choir workshops with such as Mary Goetze and got both Kodály and Orff certifications.  Surely we all know the high school choir directors who assign the girls who can read music to alto simply because they can read music, which ALSO happened to my wife!!!
 
I don't see any problem teaching voice to pre-adolescent children as long as several important factors exist:  (a) the voice teacher actually understands the young voice and can actually teach it well; (b) the lessons focus heavily on developing musicianship and not just on vocal production; (c) inappropriate vocal styles are either not encouraged OR are taught in the context of how to use the voice in a healthy way; and (d) the parents are not set on preparing their 8-year-old for a career on Broadway, in beauty pageants, or on TV competition shows!
 
All the best,
John
on December 9, 2011 5:14am
I have enjoyed this thread and all the varied discourse about this subject.  It is one that is discussed frequently.  Working exclusively with treble boys (aged 8 - 13), I do teach private voice.  It gives them a better chance to learn and reinforce the things we work with them in our full rehearsals.  We use a 'bel canto' style of light, but full rounded head voice technique with all our 200 boys and private voice has allowed me to work with them on this concept.  I am also able to remind them and focus on correct posture, deep, supported breathing, vowel purity and pitch accuracy.  Working privately, I can immediately correct things, which are not always able to be done in a full rehearsal . . . certainly on an individual basis.  At the end of our half-hour lesson, we also work on repertoire of the particular choir they are in.  And, above all I try to make it fun and engaging for them.
 
I have done this for many years and it has ALWAYS helped the individual chorister feel better about himself and his craft and made our choir program stronger.
 
Just doing what works for us here in Texas!
 
Happy Holidays all and great singing!
 
Bill
on December 9, 2011 7:18am
Thank you for all of the input!
 
Unfortunately we are hours away from any children's choirs. (we are in rural Wisconsin).  And right now the district has me pulled thin (teaching K-12) so we do not have the opportunity for a children's choir at school. It is only general music classes for k-6. So, I want to encourage any students who want to sing more.
 
I like the ideas of teaching 'music lessons' instead of 'voice lessons'.  And I will definitely look into the materials you have all suggested before committing to lessons.
 
Thanks again!
on December 10, 2011 6:58am
Hi Marisa:
Your post has certainly generated a lot of interest!  Given your situation, one thing you might consider is making your general music classes very singing centered - that is, teach them not just to sing songs, but how to sing correctly when you are doing it!  Give them vocal technique as part of your general music curriculum. Think a voice class, but as it would apply to the song you happen to be learning for the day. Of course, those songs could be strategically selected and inserted in a curricular fashion to build vocal technique, but you don't have to let them  know what you are up to! :-)  Consider doing warm ups at the beginning of class to get them ready to sing their class room songs. Teach them how to negotiate vocally any musical challenges. (Consider the technique you need to sing the National Anthem decently - a good reason to be teaching everyone  vocal technique!) If you do this in your general music classroom, it will carry over in so many ways later on!
 
I absolutely concur with others' suggestions of Ken Phillip's book Teaching Kids How To Sing.  Other resources that are excellent are Henry Leck's videos  - one is on warm ups the other on working with boy's changing voices. Both provide excellent models. Also play recordings of fine children's choirs for your kids. If they can't sing in a choir because of the distance, they could at least hear them so they have an idea of the sound you are looking for - certainly a better model than what they hear in the media!  Best of luck!!
Joy
 
on December 10, 2011 10:58am
Marisa brings up a VERY important point.  The choice isn't voice lessons or silence, it's voice lessons (OK, MUSIC lessons that involve singing) or allowing very bad habits to continue.
 
Case in point:  a young lady who was a cheerleader in high school (and would ANY of us encourage that?!!!), but who was at the same time taking voice lessons from a wonderful teacher, who taught her HOW to cheer in a healthy way.  She had no problems and for 4 years in college was my descant soprano and effectively my soprano section leader with a beautiful lyric voice.
 
And another:  The year our summer community musical was "Annie!" I served as vocal director.  We cast 15 Orphans, plus double-casting two Annies, and the Orphans probably went from 7 or 8 years old to younger teens.  I asked my late wife, who was very expeirenced with children's voices, to take their first rehearsal, which was essentially just a group voice lesson, and she both explained and walked them through how to use their head voices to avoid the problems that the kids on Broadway were obviously having, belting up to high F and F#.
 
As it happened, that was when my mom passed away, and we were 3,000 miles away for about 6 weeks getting everything settled.  But when we got back, those wonderful kids were singing their songs in a completely healthy way and STILL giving our stage director all the spirit and energy she wanted, and they stopped the show with their two big numbers in every performance!  Kids can learn ANYTHING, if we're smart enough to teach it.
 
All the best,
John
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