“Before a child speaks, it sings.” – Pamela Brown
Singing is a primitive skill that is engrained in human nature. The pursuit of stimulating, developing, and utilizing this gift to its fullest potential is an obligation every human being is bound to fulfill.
Everyone can sing but not everyone can sing well – this is what voice lessons are designed for.
Types of Vocal Lessons
The types of vocal lessons parents can consider are based on the genre of music their children may have interest in. There are Classical, Musical Theatre, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Country, to name a few. Examples of Classical singing are those of Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas, Andrea Bocelli and the likes who can perform in huge halls even without the aid of microphones. Musical Theatre style can be best witnessed in Broadway and West End where high caliber musicals such as the classics – Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, and some from Disney movies like The Lion King – are staged. Pop singing is those of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars, Adelle, and many other rising popstars today.
These genres of singing differ in several aspects which include but are not limited to technique, interpretation, accompanying instruments, and stage presentation which, at the end of the day, still all goes down to the sole purpose of best communicating ideas to the audience members in the most artistic ways possible.
What will my kid learn during a typical vocal lesson?
A typical vocal lesson is roughly comprised of physical and vocal warm-ups, revision of the previously learned songs (for regular students) and study of a new piece. Throughout the learning process, voice students will develop:
- (a) Singing Techniques: Unlike any other musical instruments, the mechanisms of the human voice are too subtle that they are mostly imperceptible by one’s bare eyes. This is where hiring a qualified and experienced voice teacher is crucial. The teacher provides exercises to address specific challenges towards healthy vocal production such as posture, breathing, support, articulation, resonance, among others. These exercises are easy to follow yet can backfire when done without a teacher’s supervision.
- (b) Aural Skills: This develops the musical ear. To be a good musician is to possess good “inner hearing” – ability to understand what is being heard. This also trains the students to hear a written piece of music (i.e. the student will know how printed music should sound even without playing it on an actual musical instrument).
- (c) Music Theory: This goes hand-in-hand with aural training. Voice students, like other musicians, are expected to know how to read and write music. In fact, for ABRSM Singing Exams, candidates are required to have passed Grade 5 Music Theory Exam before they can take Grade 6 and higher levels. This is to achieve the goal of producing “thinking” and independent musicians – those who can read and learn a piece by themselves without depending on the teacher. As a result, the teacher will be able to work with the students on the finer details such as phrasing, vowel shapes, interpretation, among many others.
- (d) Performance Skills: This is yet another vital component of taking voice lessons. Students are given opportunities to showcase the skills that they have established over time with the guidance of the voice teacher. This can be in a recital or examination set-up. Going for graded singing exams is preferred by both teachers and parents as this does not only measure the student’s singing prowess; this also helps the students conquer their stage fright, and not to mention, earn a performance certificate from an internationally recognized examination body such as ABRSM, LCM, TCL, etc.
Benefits of learning how to sing
In a study conducted by Sandra Trehub and her colleagues in the University of Toronto, it was found out that babies recognize the voice much earlier than they recognise their mother’s face. Singing is innate to human beings and it is the responsibility of the adults to kindle this aptitude of the young ones.
Better posture, bigger lung capacity, and sustained stamina are just a few of the physical benefits of singing. This also plays a strong role in sustaining a healthy immune system by reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immunoglobin A antibody (Beck, et.al., 2000). This explains why people who sing especially in choirs generally feel happier.
Learning music, in general, has been strongly linked to children’s cognitive, affective and psychomotor developments. The mechanism of the voice is so complex that singers need to give their full attention on the activities inside their body while singing – this consequently improves their level of focus. When performing, children convey the ideas of the song to their audience – this trains them to become effective storytellers which in turn helps them express themselves in the society better. Proper singing requires freedom of the vocal folds and the whole singing body to achieve the most natural tone it can produce regardless of the style they wish to adapt – the constant and correct practice of this helps children how to better maintain the health of their voice even when not singing.
Is singing hard to learn? How quickly can you learn singing?
Music is a language and like any other foreign language, it needs time and practice to master.
The ability to match pitch correctly is the most basic prerequisite in singing. Once pitch is established, rhythm and syllables would then come in place. The training on more specific techniques would also follow smoothly so as musical interpretation.
How quickly can signing be learned greatly depends on one’s intention of learning it as this mostly sets the pace of a student’s progress? For leisure, taking examinations, participating in competitions, and going for auditions are just some of the common reasons majority of aspiring singers consider going for lessons.
Singing can be easy to learn; proper singing, however, is another thing.
The ability to perform a song well – that is manifesting healthy vocal production, decent intonation, and good storytelling – is the target. That is when and only when one is considered to have properly learned singing.
What age should my kids learn singing?
Singing is an extension of speech. As long as a child can phonate, it should be ready to start learning singing. However, a child’s physical state (e.g. size and strength of the vocal folds, capacity of the lungs, stamina, attention span, etc.)should determine the intensity of the vocal training as well asthe setting of expectations. A three-year old’s singing skills should never be compared to a six-year old’s, apparently.
Higher level and more goal-specific voice lessons, on the one hand, requires the ability to read and pronounce words properly. This is where the child is expected to learn and perform a whole song displaying clarity and accuracy of the texts, rhythm and intonation.
Once children reach adolescence, their bodies encounter a lot of changes and with the help of the hormones, their vocal mechanisms become more stable. Individuals who have undergone puberty are most likely ready to accept constructive criticisms from others. During this stage, advanced vocal lessons are offered where more complicated musical ideas (e.g. mood, emotions, technique, history, theory, etc.) will be treated with much more emphasis.
It is not, therefore, only a matter of age. Deciding as to when children should start learning singing should be based on their physical, mental and psychological capabilities.
Grade 1 – 8; what you need to know
In Singapore, there are three well-known organizations administering music examinations: the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), the London College of Music (LCM), and the Trinity College London (TCL). These organizations provide graded exam opportunities for aspiring singers and other musicians from Grade 1 – Grade 8 which will be assessed by qualified examiners.
An ABRSM Singing Exam is composed of four parts:
 Singing Accompanied Songs: There are lists of songs provided in the syllabus.
- For Grades 1-5, there are three lists (A, B and C). Candidates should perform one piece from each list (a total of three), from the memory.
- For Grades 6-8, there are five lists (A, B, C, D and E). Candidates should perform one from each list (a total of five), from the memory.
 Singing Unaccompanied Songs: There is no list of songs for this section in the syllabus.
- For Grades 1-4, candidates should sing one folksong of their own choice for 1-2 minutes, from the memory.
- For Grades 5-8, candidates should sing one folksong of their own choice for 1-3 minutes, from the memory.
 Sight-singing: Candidates will be asked to sing a short piece of printed music that they have not previously seen. They will be accompanied by the examiner at the piano.
- For Grades 1-5, the tests are printed without word. Candidates may choose to sing with vowels, or sol-fa (do,re,mi,fa,sol,la,si,do).
- For Grades 6-8, the tests are printed with simple, and singable words in English. Candidates may choose to sing with the printed lyrics, vowels, or sol-fa (do,re,mi,fa,sol,la,si,do).
 Aural: Candidates’ recognition of musical elements by listening and memory of short musical phrases are assessed.
- For Grades 1-3, Candidates are tested on their ability to recognize rhythm and meter, echoing phrases played by the examiner, identification of changes in either rhythm or pitch, and answering questions on two features of the piece played by the examiner are tested.
- For Grades 4-5, Candidates are tested on their ability to sing from memory a phrase played by the examiner, to sing notes from the score in free time, answer questions about two features of the piece played by the examiner, and to clap the rhythm of the notes in an extract from the same piece played by the examiner.
- For Grades 6-8, to sing from memory one part of a two-part phrase played by the examiner, to identify the cadence of the end of a phrase, to identify the two chords forming the cadence, to identify modulations at the end of a passage played by the examiner, to clap the rhythm of the notes in an extract from the same piece played by the examiner, and (for Grade 8 only) describe the characteristic features of a piece played by the examiner.
A certificate in at least Grade 5 Music Theory is a prerequisite for ABRSM Grades 6-8 Singing Exams.
Successful examinees will be awarded a certificate that is internationally recognized and the exam marks sheet with the examiner’s comments.
The London College of Music (LCM), and the Trinity College London (TCL) examination formats are quite similar to ABRM’s. They all just differ in required lengths of performances, song choices, prerequisites, and the likes.
In this era where information is readily accessible for everyone, some people assert that singing, like any other skills, can be learned via self-teaching. This is proven by the existence of famous singers who managed to put themselves on top of the pedestal even without going for voice lessons. This, however true, does not hide the statistics of these singers suffering from vocal fatigue, developing nodules, or worse – losing their singing voice.
As previously mentioned, going for voice lessons does not necessarily make individuals sound like their idols. This instead helps students achieve more freedom in using this instrument, not compromising its well-being. This can be achieved with the guidance of a good voice teacher who can deliver lessons with the “human touch” – one big thing self-learning online can never provide.
Voice teachers are professionals. They invested time and financial resources mastering their craft; thus, learning from them come at a cost. In Singapore, the average private voice tuition (going to the voice teacher’s house for lessons) rate lies between $80-$100 per hour. Going for voice teachers with higher qualifications and better track record (professors from music colleges/conservatories) costs at around $120-$250 per hour.
How do I motivate my child to practice singing?
The child’s interest has always been the primordial consideration of parents in deciding whether or not to send their children for voice lessons. However, children’s levels of motivation fluctuate constantly and relying on the 45 minutes to an hour of voice lessons once a week will rarely yield fast and concrete results. This is where the guidance and reinforcement of the parents at home are highly needed.
Here are some tips to keep your child motivated to practice singing at home:
(a) Have models to emulate and to look up to. Exposing your child to performances of famous singers that they admire does wonder. You can either go online and watch their videos or attend their live concerts. You will just end up surprised when your child starts to imitate their idol’s style of singing and stage deportment let alone their fashion choices.
(b) Establish a healthy sense of competitiveness. Sooner or later, your child will meet other aspiring young musicians along the way. Strengthening the idea of “competing against your old self” on your student’s mind can prevent the possible development of insecurity, jealousy, and self-doubt. Healthy competitions prepare children to real-world challenges and actively participating in them ignites their intrinsic motivation to constantly better themselves.
(c) Sign up for singing ensembles. Joining a choir trains your child’s sense of community – doing for something greater than oneself. In this system, children do not only need to listen to their own individual voice; instead, they are taught how to listen to other people’s parts too. Furthermore, children tend to open up more when they can do activities together with their peers. Most importantly, having something to prepare for and look forward to such as choir concerts or competitions is another good impetus to consider.
(d) Be openly engaged in every practice session. Being enthusiastically committed to your child’s practice sessions at home makes him/her feel appreciated and supported. Be cautious with you- can-only-play-after-you-practice approach, though, as while this has been a classic disciplinary measure used by many other parents, its effect rarely lasts long. Children will eventually think that practicing is tedious and that playing outside is fun. If children see that their parents are enjoying making music too, the likelihood of them treating singing as a passion rather than an obligation can be greater.
(e) Celebrate achievements, big or small, together. Children’s emotions are still so fragile thus, it is important to be honest to your child regarding his/her progress. It must be noted, however, that acknowledging children’s accomplishments is still more significant than magnifying their inabilities. Also, celebrating each surpassed milestone together can also be an avenue to recollect what went well and what needs to be improved on the next practice session.
Considering its benefits to people, learning singing properly is worth all the investments. After all, the ultimate goal of a singer is to convey the message of a song in the most appropriate and effective means. This can be well achieved through appropriate training with a qualified and experienced voice teacher. An efficient and effective voice teacher does not only focus on teaching as many songs as possible but working on the nuances of healthy vocal production, providing a repertoire that can highlight the students’ singing competence, and preparing students for performance opportunities to showcase their new learned skills. Most importantly, this teacher should be a role model who is capable enough to inspire and influence students towards lasting love for learning.