A couple of weeks ago I posted an article by Ruth Gerson from the Huffington Post on our Facebook page titled, “Is It Safe for Children to Take Singing Lessons?” Some teachers believe in starting young, while others think waiting until the early teens is best, with the reasons being that a child’s vocal chords are very delicate and are therefore prone to damage easily, and the child’s voice is going to change during puberty so you will have to relearn technique again. While both of these are true, I still think it is a good idea for children to take voice lessons starting around age 7 or 8.
One of the main reasons to start early is because it takes a while to learn how to breathe properly. As vocalists, we are trained to breathe from the diaphragm, which is a muscle that helps the lungs fill and empty. Without the proper amount of air, the sound is weak and often out of tune, so learning to breathe correctly is absolutely essential. Now you may be asking, why does it take so long to learn how to breathe properly? Diaphragmatic breathing feels the opposite of how we normally breathe- it’s very low in the body, with the belly sticking out as we inhale and contracting on the exhale. Once you’ve learned to engage the muscle, you now have to apply it every time you breathe- it’s a conscious effort to do this when you are thinking about so many other things musically.
Another reason for students to start early is for ear training. A good ear is important because you have to know what different intervals sound like (the distance between two notes) when sightreading or working on a new piece. At first, we use the piano to learn pieces, but ideally, we would want to be able to learn them without the help of another instrument. Ear training also develops intonation, or the ability to sing in tune. It takes years to develop this skill as well, so why not start early?
Because a child’s vocal chords are more delicate, it’s better to take lessons with a trained professional who knows the limits and can help prevent damage. In today’s society, being able to sing loudly equates to being a good singer, as seen on many shows like American Idol and the X Factor. This teaches children that they have to push their voice in order to be good, when in fact, this is very dangerous and will likely cause damage. As far as I’m concerned, kids are going to imitate this style of singing at home or in the car, so if they have a genuine interest in singing and performing, consult with a voice teacher so that they do not injure themselves.
And lastly, we have to develop performance skills. I always tell my students that part of being a singer means also being an actor. For some children, this comes very naturally, but for others, the idea of singing and portraying a character on stage is daunting. So, it takes time to learn how to perform, build confidence, and be comfortable on stage.
Not all voice teachers will agree with this way of thinking, but I stand by it. Yes, we will have to relearn some technique after their voices have changed, but we will have already developed the basics that take years!