By Alyssa Cowell
We offer formal vocal training at The Catoctin School of Music. Many times students sign up for voice lessons expecting to learn a new song every week, or practice singing songs that they hear on YouTube or Spotify. This is not the purpose of voice lessons. Formal vocal training is all about evaluating a student’s current vocal technique and teaching them to change it in order to correct faults. Additionally, a voice student should expect to learn how to read music, sight sing, and practice music theory exercises.
A student’s success is completely dependent on the student’s ability to recognize and correct poor technique under the guidance of an instructor. Maturity, patience, attention to detail, and the ability to self-critique are required in every lesson in order to make progress. Often, a good portion of lesson time is spent repeating small passages of music in order to adjust tone placement, breathing, and posture to achieve the best possible sound. The necessary vocal manipulations are often conceptual and completely internalized; the instrument cannot be seen or touched. Once the weekly lesson is over, the student is expected to spend their practice time recreating the specific sounds they worked on in class time.
Pre-pubescent students often lack the emotional maturity and abstract reasoning skills to reap the benefits of serious vocal training. Because so much time is spent on fine-tuning technique, young students can get the feeling that they’re doing everything wrong; discouraging an otherwise promising vocalist from continuing their vocal studies long term. Furthermore, training with a vocal mechanism that is not fully-grown can cause difficulty once a voice change begins. Techniques that work for a child’s soprano voice no longer apply once the now-teenager discovers they need to sing mezzo soprano or contralto repertoire.
Children who enjoy singing should definitely sing and have fun doing so! Parents can help foster a child’s love of singing by developing their ear versus developing their voice. Children imitate the vocal style of what they hear most often, so be choosy about the type of singing your child listens to! Make sure they have access to a wide variety of vocal styles – make sure you include some classical, jazz, and choral singing. Enroll a young child in music lessons with a tactile instrument as an alternative to vocal studies, the coordination and musical knowledge gained from playing the piano or guitar will make a transition to vocal studies easier.