My child is really interested in singing, but I wonder if she is too young to begin taking lessons. I want her to learn to sing properly, but there aren’t many singing teachers who teach children her age. What is an appropriate age to begin taking vocal lessons?
It is true that there aren’t very many vocal instructors who will teach young children. There are some very good reasons for this. First, until a child has reached an age where she or he has physically matured enough to handle the more intense aspects of vocal study (about fourteen for a girl and after the voice has changed for a boy), most teachers are unwilling to take them on as students. While children’s bodies are still growing, they may face many difficulties with coordination of the musculature involved in singing, and necessary for effective breath management and efficient tone. Not only can studying technique too seriously have a negative effect on the developing vocal instrument, but, secondly, most children below high school age have difficulties grasping the concepts of vocal technique. If they aren’t cognitively ready to study technique, they may become frustrated, discouraged or disinterested in singing during lessons.
There are always some exceptions to the rule, of course, and there are some instructors who are willing to teach younger students if they are ready, making such decisions on an individual basis and after consulting with the parents or guardians of those children. For example, I currently teach an eleven-year-old female singer who is extremely bright, motivated and insightful. She can wrap her mind around what I am telling her about technique, practically apply the information and advice to both her vocal exercises and her repertoire and analyze her own breathing and tone. While we’re waiting for her voice to fully mature before she can study opera seriously with an opera teacher, she can keep learning classical technique with me and get more practice. Not all of my young students, however, are as easy and as rewarding to teach. (Since I teach many of my students at a local music store, I am not able to be as selective, and, as per store policy, I cannot place age restrictions on my students.)
Vocal instructors who do teach younger children regularly will often argue that children sing naturally, and it doesn’t make any sense for us to ask them not to use their voices for a few more years. Just as with other areas of their physical development, coordination is only developed through use and practice.
I always suggest to parents to make an honest assessment of their children’s readiness for singing lessons, and to examine their reasons for wanting to sign their children up for them at this age. In many cases, parents simply don’t understand that it isn’t necessary for children to take lessons – it won’t necessarily give them a competitive edge as they get older. Oftentimes, deferring lessons until a child has passed puberty produces more favourable results, meaning that faster progress will be made. If the child is determined to start taking lessons early, the parents should find an instructor who is experienced with teaching young children, who will teach solid (correct) technical skills, who will understand the unique needs of the underdeveloped vocal anatomy of a pre-pubescent child, and who will make lessons fun, pressure-free, slow paced and age appropriate.
If parents are unable to find a vocal instructor in their area who is willing to teach younger children, I encourage them to get their children involved in age appropriate singing alternatives, such as school chorus, church choirs or musical theatre. They can have fun and continue using the singing voice without any pressure or strain until they are old enough to study vocal technique more seriously and benefit from lessons more fully. Furthermore, singing regularly in front of others before the onset of puberty will help children to develop more self-confidence so that when adolescence does hit, they will likely not develop stage fright.