Teaching Singing to Elementary Students:
Pros and Cons?

Teaching Singing to Elementary Children - Some Do's and Dont's

Dear Dana,

I contacted you a few months ago regarding teaching voice lessons.  I just started this past year with elementary aged children, but I have no training in vocal pedagogy.

I have been reading a thread on a Facebook group I belong to regarding giving young children voice lessons.  Some people say that children under age 12 or so should not take voice lessons, and that if we don't know what we are doing we can damage their voices.   

 I deal with children who already sing -- in church, in school, for their own enjoyment, etc.  It would seem that if they can sing in those ways without hurting their voices that I should be able to help fine-tune their skills.  

What have you learned about this?  Are there certain exercises that you avoid in teaching young children?

Crystal



Teaching singing to kids

Hi again, Crystal, 

I agree with you - the kids are already singing!  And voice lessons can help them avoid bad habits, and learn basic skills.

I have taken on new vocal students as teenagers who already had terrible over-the-top vibrato & other bad habits as a result of listening to and imitating pop stars their whole young lives!  And naturally, they had received nothing but awe and praise from all who heard them... so an unimpressed singing teacher trying to teach BASICS was not appreciated! 

It's amazing how STRONGLY people feel about this issue of lessons versus non-lessons.  But I think it all depends on WHAT you are teaching during the voice lessons. 

Here are the things I would avoid:

  •   Opera music in the original keys & trying to sound like a mature opera singer
  •   Pop music in which "belting" will be used, or great volume
  •   LOUD singing
  •   LOW singing - much below Middle C 
  •   HIGH singing - avoid much time singing above high E (yet Boys' Choirs sing very high)
  •   Songs that have more than just a couple of notes below Middle C, or that rely on volume in the lower range
  •   Any vocalises or exercises that sound as if your voice student is STRAINING - back off right now! 

Here are the things I would DO:

  •   Teach good articulation: exaggeration of consonants, putting final sounds on words, using accepted vowel sounds (not dipthongs)
  •   Teach good posture - no lifting of the shoulders
  •   Teach to take big enough breaths to complete phrases without gasping for air
  •   Teach how to take breaths QUIETLY and smoothly
  •   Teach them how to figure out where to TAKE breaths
  •   Teach them to begin to hear harmony, with rounds, descants, and exercises with parallel 3rds and 6ths, etc.    
  •   Teach how to enter on a note without sliding up to it, and how to move from one note to another without "scooping"
  •   Teach them to memorize their lyrics, to be able to say them all the way through without the music as if they are telling a story
  •   Teach them good stage presence... to look up from their music (if they are using it) at the audience, or at least over the heads of the audience to the back of the room.

I also have as goals in my studio to be sure they can read music well enough to play their melody or choral part on the piano, and to be able to play pentascales (even if they can't play piano) so they can assist themselves with vocal warmups.  Those are long-term goals, however (and many voice students will strongly resist piano proficiency).

Crystal, these are good questions to an issue that never goes away, yet continues to raise strong emotions. The longer you teach and encounter different kinds of students, the more confidence you will have in your own judgment.

Good luck, 

Dana




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