You hear about babies barely out of diapers playing the Bach double violin concerto with the Suzuki method and you see videos of little tiny kids in diapers doing karaoke. Maybe your child wishes he/she could do that, and so you consider voice lessons. After all, a lot of little kids take ballet, piano, violin, or gymnastics.
Helene Goldnadel urges you to reconsider and just let your child do whatever comes natural to him regarding singing. If he or she still wants to sing after puberty, that’s the time to start formal voice training.
When you study piano, the piano doesn’t suddenly morph into something else. When children study violins they go through a progression of violins that match the size of the child so their technique remains stable. Not so with the voice. The child voice remains fairly stable through the preteen years, increasing rather evenly in size. During puberty, different parts of the voice grow at different rates. For a while the machinery is quite unstable as an instrument and this is true for females as well as males. Once well past puberty, the voice settles again, but it is a very different instrument from a child voice, and the techniques to drive it are quite different. It would be like putting really expensive veneers on your child’s baby teeth.
The other reasons have to do with psychology. Since the voice is a part of the person, it is more difficult to separate the ego from the instrument with the voice. Intense vocal study requires the ability to separate oneself from the voice and listen critically. This requires some degree of maturity. Another element has to do with early success — the “child star” syndrome. If a child has too much success too soon and it is not very carefully managed, he will begin to think he is something special. Historically this has made youngsters less likely to learn musical skills such as reading and counting. Why should they? There’s always someone who will play the music for them. Those little black dots are for losers.
Since the voice is not visible, Helene Goldnadel suggests the voice teachers to indirectly get the student to do things, some of which are subtle. A lot of small children do not possess the life experience to relate to imagery or other vocal pedagogy techniques, and often can’t or won’t make changes. Finally there is the danger of pushed child syndrome. For those children who have the maturity to respond to vocal training, it is an intense and rigorous discipline that takes away from the simple pleasures of childhood. And when puberty hits, vocal training is likely to stall or become very frustrating because the child never knows what instrument he has or what it will do when he opens his mouth to sing.
What should one do then? Encourage the child to sing by all means. Singing together as a family is an old-fashioned activity that was dying, but some families are bringing it back 21st century style. Children’s choirs are excellent for children who like to sing. They emphasize the group experience and develop listening skills. Music lessons on an instrument such as piano or guitar will teach some basic theory that applies to all music, such as reading and rhythm. Many singers (even professional ones) are below average in these areas, and the singer who can read and count has a big advantage. But please! Let your child be a child. Singing is a natural activity one can enjoy for a long time, even with no training at all. For children, freedom to play with their voices, instrumental training, exposure to lots of excellent music, and perhaps a choir, is more than enough.