If you have been to a children’s school choral concert before, you may have heard one of the following styles of “singing:”
- Shouting as loud as they can with no discernible melody.
- Monotone mumbling with no discernible melody.
- What, they are singing? It looks like they’re just standing there waving/crying/playing with their dress.
“Well, they are just kids, and kids can’t sing that well yet,” you think.
Kids have the ability to sing beautifully, but singing in tune is a learned skill that needs to be taught and practiced. If it *isn’t* taught and practiced, you might end up with a concert that sounds like one of the above examples, which then leads to adults who can’t sing Happy Birthday and can only choose “Wild Thing” and songs by the Beastie Boys at karaoke. The horror! 😉
While I love me some Beastie Boys, I also want children to be able to sing beautifully! Many times, kids struggle with singing in tune for physical reasons. If you can help them with their vocal placement and muscle memory, it can help with the intonation of their singing.
- Help them find their head voice. Many kids can’t differentiate between the feeling of singing and the feeling of speaking. Before you sing, start with vocal sirens and slides to help them find placement for singing voice (head voice)
- Scaffold pitch matching. Kids can match contour/direction of a song before they match pitch. See if they can match direction of pitch (up, down, combination) with vocal slides. Once they can discern direction and imitate it with their own voice, then try to see if they can match pitch with short pitch patterns in their head voice range. Then you can move on to longer pitch patterns and songs.
Sing in a higher range. Kids speak naturally in their ‘chest voice.’ While they can still sometimes sing accurately here, the chest voice range is about middle C to treble G. If you can get them to find their head voice, they will have a much wider vocal range available to them. Comfortable head voice range for kids is at and above treble G. When they get more practice at the feeling of singing, they will be able to carry head voice placement down to lower notes.Music Together recordings are great for this reason, they are purposefully recorded in keys that are accessible for kids. First Steps in Music recordings are also in a good range for kids to sing along accurately. It feels ‘too high’ for adults, but it helps the children to sing in a range that is vocally accessible and comfortable for them!
- Give the opportunity to sing alone. Singing with a model is helpful, but singing alone will allow them to hear themselves and build ,more independence. There are little “toobaloo” phones that help kids to hear themselves better, they are pretty fun!
Also remember, every child progresses at their own rate. My son was singing “Twinkle Twinkle” in tune on baby babble syllables at age 1, my daughter JUST started singing in tune independently at age 4. If your child can’t sing in tune yet, don’t write them off as ‘unmusical!’ Every child is musical, they just need to be taught!