SHOULD I START VOICE LESSONS FOR MY CHILD?
(Ages 13 and up)
by David Blackburn
kidsActing Music Director, Vocal Coach, Teacher
As a music teacher with kidsActing for several years now, I have to say that one of the greatest thrills I have had is when one of my students “find their voice.” It can happen to a student of any age, but when things click, the student suddenly sings without inhibition and even shows a more confident body language than before.
I know parents have similar experiences when they hear their child come home from a kidsActing class and suddenly hear singing like they’ve not heard before. It’s a wonderful thing to see and hear the utter and pure joy in their child as they sing the music they have been learning!
For many parents, this “singing epiphany” makes them wonder if they should start their child in voice lessons and this is where things tend to get a bit confusing (especially if you go online to find some answers). Many voice teachers and coaches have set minimum ages for the students they take on. Some teachers will take on students as young as six years old. Others won’t take on a student until 10. Additionally, you will find a large number of teachers who won’t take on any student until they’ve reached puberty.
With television shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent, I’m finding there are more and more kids from kindergarten to high school who want their shot at the big prizes. This desire, paired with the diverse starting ages for different teachers makes a parent wonder when to start vocal training, or even what should be considered when looking for a voice teach/coach? Let’s start with some physical basics to help you understand what you’re working with.
THE PHYSICALITY OF SINGING
Around the age of thirteen, children begin to enter puberty and world of rapid physical changes. Many children see major growth spurts as their bodies begin to fill out. Boys (AND girls) will also see changes in their voices.
When a child enters puberty, their once-tender vocal chords finally begin to develop. The vocal chords become thicker and stronger, causing the girls' voices to be richer and fuller. Boys' voices will also begin to sound lower as their vocal chords grow. For most boys this growth happens at such a rapid pace their voices will crack and squeak as they are getting used to the adjustment. The growth of the vocal chords will often happen faster than the rest of their body and will become evident with appearance of an "Adam's apple." Girls don't get the "Adam's apple" effect as their voice box doesn't grow as much during this process.
VOICE LESSONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN
It wasn’t that long ago that voice teachers just wouldn’t accept girls before the age of 13 and boys until the age of 15. They prefer to let the vocal cords and the general physiology mature to the point where instruction can be the most beneficial.
Barry Weinberg, a voice teacher who once taught in New York and now teaches in Boca Raton, FL says, “There has to be a very good reason for starting a student at a younger age. Such as, if the child is truly a star who is already singing a great deal. In that case, the teacher should provide instruction on breathing and give hints on how not to abuse the cords. The teacher should not work on expanding the vocal range.”
Personally, this is the age I prefer to start students. The maturity of older students allows for them to be much more responsive to guidance. These kids retain the work on a much higher level than the younger students. I’m also able to assign music that helps expand their vocal range.
This is also a wonderful age where I can work on the student’s character development with a song. As their range and ability expand, so does the variety of songs we can work on.
One last thing about boy's and their changing voices: Many times I will find young boys in a panic because when they try to sing, the wrong notes come out! This is simply due to muscle memory. When a boy's voice begins to change the actual physical process to sing a note he was used to singing changes as the voice box changes in size. If this is something your son is going through, you should reassure him that this is only temporary and this is an ideal time to get him into voice lessons.
During my time at kidsActing, I have helped several boys find their new voice. It takes patience, vocal exercise, and lot of positive reinforcement. No voice teacher can speed up the process. It happens the way it happens. However, a good voice teacher/coach can help make the boy's journey much less stressful.
A VOICE TEACHER VS. A VOCAL COACH
Generally, a voice teacher is a professional that helps students to improve the technical usage of their voices. We might think of these professionals as technicians. They might teach individuals or group classes, and may specialize in a particular genre of singing. Voice teachers vary in their backgrounds as well as the style(s) of music that they know. Most voice teachers will have some sort of musical training, and be able to play the piano at a basic level.
A vocal coach is another professional that helps singers with matters of musical style and performance practice and tradition. Often, a vocal coach may be a pianist, conductor, or music director, and have experience leading musical performances in their respective styles. A vocal coach might assist with such matters as pronunciation, musical phrasing, performance practice, as well as helping the singer to ‘own’ the song. Many vocal coaches are also knowledgeable in the area of vocal technique so at the very minimum, they can fix potential problems and challenges before they become an issue.
I’ve always considered myself a vocal coach with the ability to assist in vocal technique. When I take on a student, my main goals are to expand repertoire, work on vocal style and presentation, and help prepare auditions.
In conclusion, the best time to start a child with voice lessons is a very individualized issue. Regardless of the child’s age, if you feel that it’s time to start a child with vocal lessons, reach out to different voice teachers and ask their opinion. Ask what the teacher/coach would be working on. Find out if the teacher/coach has experience with children in your child’s age-range. Talk to friends who have children in lessons and find out how things are going.
You’ll find there’s nothing better than happy, singing child!