Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Developing Healthy Children's Voices in a Noisy World

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Developing Healthy Children's Voices in a Noisy World

Article excerpt

A fourth grade girl came to my studio for her first singing lesson. Her music teacher at school recommended that she study with me to develop and improve her voice. During her first lesson, we spent some time getting acquainted. She made friends with my dog, Chloe, and learned that I was a grandmother with two granddaughters, one her age. I learned that she loved to sing and wanted to sing the role of Veruca in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at school. I had her sing the song "Do-Re-Mi" and transposed it to different keys to discover her comfortable singing range. We moved on to my presentation of the voice as a wind instrument, and I began to teach her simple vocal exercises. It was obvious that she had a large vocal instrument but did not have a clear or easy way of singing. I asked her, "What kind of singing do you like?" Her dark brown eyes sparkled, she smiled, and said, "I like Rap!"

Singing is natural for children, a wonderful way for them to express how they feel and to enjoy making sound. It helps them interact with other children and adults in a very positive way. We know that even premature babies respond to sounds of voices, and parents of premature babies sometimes record their speaking and singing voices for their babies to hear as they continue to grow in a hospital incubator. I observed my granddaughters as toddlers singing bits of songs with their parents as they rode in the car. They enjoyed the simple tunes and often humorous words of delightful nursery songs and, in the process, learned to pronounce words clearly and to sing on pitch. However, children are bombarded by the sounds of our noisy world, including the incorporation of noise and loud volume into the singing that they hear on recordings and television. They also hear studio engineered vocal resonances of adult voices that they cannot easily produce with their young voices; then they try to create the sounds they hear, but end up stressing and straining their voices. The fortunate few are blessed with music teachers who encourage clear, in tune singing, and songs that fit their voices; the rest struggle to manipulate their voices to recreate the sounds and rhythms that they hear and like.

As an independent studio voice teacher, I have always had an open door policy. Anyone who wanted to study singing was welcome if I had time available. This meant I had students of all ages and abilities. Whether or not I decided to encourage a student to continue study was determined by their desire to learn to sing better, not their innate vocal talent. If they wanted to learn and enjoyed the process, I wanted to teach them! During many years of teaching young people to sing, including many preadolescent children, I learned how to develop healthy children's voices. The vocal challenges I saw and heard in the children who came to study with me can be grouped into four categories: (1) a gifted and talented singer who may have had previous training and musical experiences, but was forcing and manipulating the voice to create the sounds he/she wanted to make; (2) an undeveloped singer with a strong inner sense of musicality, was often studying another instrument, but the singing was weak; (3) an undeveloped singer who has not yet developed his/her singing voice, but would like to learn to sing in order to participate in a chorus or musical; and (4) a nonsinger who would like to learn to sing on pitch.

I begin the lesson by talking about the voice as an instrument and how it works. I ask the child about the families of instruments in the orchestra, and ask them into which family the voice fits. We talk about the three families of instruments that we can beat, bow, or blow. When they understand that the voice is a wind instrument, I have them blow air from their lips as if they were playing a trumpet. Then, I have them open their throats in a yawn and blow air from the windpipe. I find that most students who are eager to sing well respond to this approach of exploring the voice as an instrument. …

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