How young is too young for voice lessons? Well it depends on the reason why you want your child in voice lessons, your child's current interests and their attention span. If they have presented an interest in music and they're not even walking yet then the parent can entertain their interests by engaging them in activities that will allow them to enjoy and experience music and singing. Now as a baby this can be as simple as singing to them and playing music games and rhymes (like "Eensie Weensie Spider" or "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"). Depending on their age consider trying things like buying them age appropriate music instruments, toys and gadgets (how about a karaoke machine?), taking them to age appropriate music performances/concerts and singing with them (even if you are a terrible singer). Also try recording (or video taping) them while they are singing and then let them hear it back. Praise them every step of the way! At this stage it's not about being a great singer or having perfect pitch. It's about allowing them to express themselves musically. Let them watch or attend talent shows when they are a little older (The Voice TV Show, a local talent show or pageant, etc)...maybe around age five because they will learn to judge talent and at some point they'll even learn to judge their OWN talent and develop a desire to compete. THIS IS WHAT WE WANT. Encouraging them to perform their favorite song at family gatherings is another great idea. They'll begin to realize that their performance makes people happy. Make them the star of the party!
My son use to perform the Barney song, Power Rangers and Pocahontas everywhere we went when he was barely walking. By age six he was singing songs by Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson and New Edition. As he grew older I took him with me to the recording studio and he fell in love with the microphones and was fascinated with the buttons and equipment. Once he started school I put him in talent shows and before long prominent organizations were requesting him to perform at charity events in front of celebrity guests like Quincy Jones, Jewel, The Washington Redskins, Bob Dole, Hillary Clinton, Robert Townsend and countless others. He was featured in magazines and appeared on TV and in news papers on the East and West coast. By age eleven he was learning to write songs and even recorded songs in the studio with me, his mother, as his background singer but a few years later at around age fourteen he was singing and harmonizing his own hooks on his studio tracks. Next he received "hand me down" music equipment...the good old fashion four track mixer and he was learning to use music software like CUBASE, which was very popular in the early 2,000s. He conquered that too! Today he's a rising music artist, composer and producer of pop, rock, hip hop and r&b styles. But during his entire childhood I followed his lead. I never wanted to force music on him just because I was in the music biz. When he expressed interest I helped him scratch that itch in the most appropriate way possible depending on his age and attention span at that time. Voice training for him started by me exposing him to music, singing with him and doing the things I've so far mentioned in this blog.
Now I'm a singer and voice coach so it may not be fair to suggest to you that I actually started teaching my son, in fact I taught all three of my children vocal techniques as young as age two BUT you can accomplish this even if you are not a voice coach by simply playing music around the house and letting them sing freely and when they are old enough, around 5, get them in a church or school choir. That choir teacher will add structure to what your child does naturally and they'll become more comfortable with singing in front of people. Additionally they may even gain pitch training by harmonizing with the other singers.
So when is it time to actually HIRE A VOICE COACH? Well you know your child's attention span better than anyone else. If your aspiring little singer can sit still long enough to hear the Pastor preach in church on Sunday or they can observe their teacher at school teaching and giving lectures for 30 minutes or more while they sit still and are well focused then they are ready for voice lessons because we need at least 20 to 30 minutes to get in a good session. You yourself can test this out by teaching them how to do something....ANYTHING that you know how to teach (cooking, sewing, reading, playing cards, etc) and if they can pay attention and grasp what you are teaching and also if they appear engaged the entire time THEY ARE READY for you to invest in voice lessons! My youngest paying client was about three or four years old. Her mother wanted her in voice lessons so bad because she loved to sing! I was a bit of a sceptic at first but I gave her a try and she was able to be attentive for about twenty minutes. By the time she was six she lasted a full hour just like my adult clients and today she performs like a pro! (Hi Deirdre!)
I have a background in early childhood education. I operated day care centers as a Director for many years in a previous life so I understand the best approach for working with the little ones so here is something I learned from my experience with children as a Director and as a Voice Coach. In the early stages of voice training, when a child is as young as say 3 - 5 years old the sessions should be EXPERIENCES rather than lessons or technical voice training because you want the young client to love and appreciate music and have fun with it FIRST then we sneak in the knowledge. I also like to allow my young clients to select the songs that will be used during their sessions so that they develop a sense of ownership, control and a partnership with their voice coach. For example I'll ask them about the music they listened to that week or about their favorite song and then I actually pull that song up and begin coaching them. At first it's best to let the young client sing what they love. As they get older my expectations for them grow and I challenge them in other ways.
In closing I'll add three more things:
1. Love of music can actually begin in the womb. Sing to your unborn child.
2. Make it a rule that once they start something they must finish it and if after that they don't like it then they can have the option to move on to other things but make it a REALLY good try especially if they've shown interest or actually agreed to try it. This is the rule I raised my kids by...it's a LIFE lesson not just a music lesson.
3. Once you invest in lessons please be sure you are helping your child practice at home daily. They will not improve or advance without practice outside of their session. Please leave me your comments or questions below.
I hope this was helpful. I can also help you determine if your child is ready for voice lessons during a consultation. Contact me: Sallyb@VocalzMusic.com .....But hey.... aren't my kids cute as a button in that old pic? Those are my babies! They're all grown up now.