Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Vocal challenges in Children

Are you a parent, relative, teacher or friend of a little singer- or are you a little singer? This post's for you!

Here's an email I just got from Ellen Dockery, a dear session singer friend of mine who has begun teaching piano and voice:

if i could rely on your expertise for a second...i have a 6 yr. old piano/voice student. she's a great little singer-do you have any advice or precautions for a child her age?
i look forward to getting your cd!
thanks SO much!
love and many hugs,
ellen :-)

Here is my advice for little singers:

First of all, check and see if they are straining when they sing. Unfortunately, well-meaning choir directors and school teachers can sometimes encourage volume and power that little voices are not ready to generate. Add the stiffness and uniform stillness that is often encouraged in the posture and you have a recipe for disaster. Hey...sometimes the kid just decides to sing too loud out of the sheer passion!

  • How can you tell if they are too loud? Does it sound like yelling? It may be cute now, but it may truly damage their voices. I had a girl who developed little blood blisters (the beginnings of nodes) by a few days of singing too loud. I've read that it is possible to develop this damage from just 20 minutes of over-blowing your vocal cords. (Hear that, little cheerleader??)
  • Another way to tell... can you get them to make NON-BREATHY sounds in their head voice? Ask them to mimic Mickey or Minny Mouse. Then have them sing some little tune in head voice and see if they can clear the breathiness up. If not, they may need to be checked out by a doctor- preferably one specializing in the vocal apparatus, like the Vanderbilt Voice Clinic in Nashville.
  • If they are yelling, the first thing to do is get them aware that their throat is feeling strained. Many times they don't know there is another way. Have them sing at the wall with their head and heel against the wall so they can't lean forward. Encourage them to stay flexible and to keep the chin level and floating. If they go for a high note and strain, suggest to them that they back off the volume so it feels better. Maybe put a book on their head so they won't lift the chin too much. ASK THEM TO SING FROM THEIR EYES! Make it a game... keep them having fun.
  • Teach them the Power, Path & Performance technique of "pulling" words. For help, check my training cds.

Another common problem of children is having a weak voice. Shyness of personality, fear of being heard, and a dislike of the feeling of a tense throat can cause this.

  • First of all, talk to them and LISTEN TO THEM. Many times a child just needs to know his or her voice is valid and that someone wants to hear what they say or sing. This fosters a good relationship where they will trust what you ask them to do.
  • Next, have them pretend to sing to a stuffed animal or their real pet. Have them "sing a story". (Try to make sure they choose songs they can relate to!!)
  • Teach them to open their arms out wide and take a breath in their belly. Then teach them to squeeze a horse or pillow with their legs for power. This tends to crack them up and is great fun. It will teach them to use the correct area of pelvic floor for power, while not squeezing in at the chest or throat.

And then there are children who seem to be tone deaf. I will state unequivocally: Tone deafness is a myth. Anyone with ears can learn to sing on pitch. I once taught a girl who had sustained 70% hearing loss when she was very young. She was determined and I got resourceful and by "pitch target practice" she learned to sing on pitch just fine. I would play a note, she would listen (think it) then mime it, then sing the pitch and I'd tell her if she was right, or if she needed to move it up or down. She also learned to feel and count rhythm.

Here is a website full of wonderful ideas and suggestions for child singers: http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/Music/Sing_in_tune.html

And finally I'll reiterate... HELP THEM CHOOSE GOOD SONGS! Encourage them to write their own! They need to learn that singing is communication. And that what they say counts.

Do you have or know a child singer? I'd love to hear from you... what seems to be the vocal challenges in that child? What works? What doesn't? Click on the "comment" link below this post.


Anonymous said...

Tone Deaf does Exists
Definition of Amusia

Amusia: The inability to recognize musical tones or to reproduce them. Amusia can be congenital (present at birth) or be acquired sometime later in life (as from brain damage).

Amusia is composed of a- + -musia and literally means the lack of music. Also commonly called tone deafness.

Judy Rodman said...

Thanks for providing this info... yes, true tone deafness exists, as does deafness itself. However, I've never come across it; it is not a common problem among people who want to sing and are experiencing the sort of "tone deafness" that is most often fixable with instruction. If training doesn't help, medical evaluation should be sought.

Thanks again for commenting!