Teaching Young Singers

Teaching young singers:

What do you do with a non-musician who can't even read their own language yet, much less  music notes? Here is some QUICK ADVICE!

Teaching young singers - what if they can't even read?

This little girl is just having a GOOD TIME.  But does she really want to buckle down and learn?  That is your quandary as a voice teacher.

Here is what one teacher recently asked me:

Hi!

I'm soooooo glad to have found this page.  I have taught piano on and off for years, directed children's choirs and adult choirs, but for the first time in my life am teaching voice lessons.  

The studio where I'm teaching I'm afraid is more quantity than quality, and they have some very young students taking voice lessons which is a real challenge to me because they don't match pitch, they can't read so therefore can't read lyrics, they don't have a background in music and don't know notes!

A good friend and colleague suggested I just treat these lessons as if it was children's choir but with only one person in attendance.  I welcome any suggestions!

Thanks!  Tina

Hi, Tina!  

Yes, what do you do with a non-musician who can't even read English, much less music?

I like your friend's suggestion.  Because of your years of teaching choir, you probably know how to get a good sound out of a kid.  I would work on:

  • a little bit of sound quality every week, 
  • a little bit of pitch-matching, and 
  • a little bit of breath control.

Then, start developing a varied repertoire to which you can come back every week.  

They can't read?  Then they'll have to find the song on YouTube or record it on their parents' cellphones during lesson time.  

There's no other GOOD way, except for you to spend LOTS OF YOUR TIME preparing recordings which THEY MAY NEVER LISTEN TO ANYWAY.  Grrr.  This is the voice of experience talking here!

This repertoire, in my opinion, should encompass cheap music (read: FREE, as in what you find on my website) of several genres.

I like to give newbies "Cat Came Back" (some like it, some don't); what it has going for it is that it is repetitious, with many repeated notes inside a narrow range, and the lyrics are funny.

Also, we will try each week one new Broadway song in an attempt to find something they will like to keep singing.  (Check out my Broadway musicals list page for ideas.)

For girls, a good first song might be "Castle on a Cloud" from Les Miserables.  It is a pretty sure-fire hit (though I consider it really too low for little kids).   And "In My Own Little Corner" from Cinderella is fun, though it has a twisty melody filled with half steps and some difficult intervals.

Another is "On the Good Ship Lollipop."  This can be found in Popular Solos for Young Singers, a book with a CD that I frequently recommend that parents buy.

Not "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid.  That kind of singing requires a soloist's voice in order not to sound pretentious!  In my opinion.

For boys, that first Broadway song is harder to find!

Chim-chiminee or another song from Mary Poppins and Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah come to mind - great songs, but will kids think they are too corny?  You don't know until you try.  We just keep looking.  

Other possibilities:

  • Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  • The Ballad of Davy Crockett

These can both be found in the songbook mentioned above, Popular Solos for Young Singers.

"Erie Canal" and "Lavender's Blue" (free on my site) will keep kids happy for a short while. I have a lot of simple songs on my vocal page - just check them out.  And some on the guitar page, such as "Goober Peas" and "Spanish Ladies" have become great favorites with boys (despite early-on resistance).

In addition, they can start learning rounds (scroll down the Free Vocal Sheet Music page to find a number of rounds).  They like them, EVEN IF THEY CAN'T HOLD THE PART while you are singing the other lines.  Every week they will get a tiny bit better.

I almost NEVER give in to their requests for rock/pop music.  

If I do, they understand that it is a special favor and I MIGHT deign to let them sing it sometimes at lessons if they have done well with everything else.  And that it is SO not happening at a recital - unless the kid just knocks my socks off.

Don't assume that your time with these beginners may not be well-spent.

It is so gratifying to be surprised by little improvements that accumulate into some real skill, and know that you had a hand in it!




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