People learn to sing as they learn language. A child who is surrounded by singing will learn to sing in tune by the time she is using language, sometimes earlier. Like any language or form of expression, the earlier we learn the more easily it comes. And also like any language or form of expression, the window on a person’s ability to learn to sing is open throughout life.
If your child is not yet matching pitch, here are some things you can do to help.
- Never let your child hear you doubt her ability to learn to sing beautifully! She needs you to believe in her ability to learn. (And she CAN learn, so there’s no need to doubt it.)
- Join your child in experimenting with her voice. Slide from your lowest voice to your highest voice and back again. A lot. Practice talking in a high voice. Add an interesting accent. Make up fancy voices for stuffed animals or pets. Pretend to be a famous chef while you’re cooking with your child and speak in a new way. Build vast vocal inflection. Vocal experimentation, learning everything your voice can do, is important. Demonstrate it, join in with it, enjoy it.
- Make it a game – start on any note and sing upward from there, by step or by skip or sliding. Move up and down. Use your hand to show the direction, have the voice lead the hand and then the hand lead the voice. Have your child conduct you in the same way. Do this together, whether or not you are singing the same pitches.
- Have your child sing a pitch, then stop, then try singing the same pitch again. Keep coming back to it. See how long you both can remember that same pitch.
- Matching pitch is a function of hearing a pitch and being able to reproduce the frequency with the voice. If a person has functioning ears and brain and vocal folds that have some flexibility, she can learn to sing. Sing a long tone. Sing it again. Have your child listen to it and imagine her voice doing it too (imagination is key, as in everything). If she doesn’t sing the same pitch that you sang, find something about her singing that was positive – she was listening really hard, what she sang was thoughtfully produced and lovely, she matched your volume. If she has trouble singing the same note as you, have her start and then you match her note. Help her understand what it feels like – the actual physical sensations – of singing the same note at the same time as another person. This vibration is healthy. It can be meditative. Try often, and it will come.
- Sing often, every day, or if you are not comfortable singing, turn on music that is being sung in the range of middle C and higher. This may feel quite high to you, but it is natural for a child. Refrain from listening only to modern pop singers, especially those who are singing aggressively or whose voices are raspy or sound strained – this sound is highly sought after in the pop world these days, but it is not healthy and leads to vocal problems. Encourage high, light, flexible flute-like sounds – this is called Bel Canto, or Beautiful Singing, and once a singer has developed the skills to sing in this way, she can move to other styles and develop her own sound with a strong vocal and physical foundation.
- In Sisters’ Voices we work to point out what singers are doing well. They usually already know when they’re not doing well, so we find strengths and build around them, and we encourage the singers to notice each other’s strengths. Notice when your child is making a beautiful sound, remembering words accurately, making up her own words, enjoying making weird vocal sounds, singing for a long time without taking a breath, standing strong and flexible, watching the conductor, connecting symbols to sounds – notice her experimentation and progress. Encourage her skills, and the rest will come. Singing is a natural form of vocal expression for humans, and your child will learn to do it if she sticks with it! (You too!)