Helping A Child to Sing Correctly (Beginning Level)
  • I offer these first few techniques to those who are interested in and / or teach the adolescent child voice but are perhaps a little unsure as to exactly what to do or perhaps you are a home school parent. To those who perhaps think that children can't sing well like unto an adult, well, I hope you will re-examine that attitude too! For the sake of where to begin, assume your child is a beginner vocally (irrespective of age). Oh, an one more thing, get use to the idea that repetition and review is a GOOD thing. How you use repetition and review, will determine whether you bore your child or begin to develop fun and exciting anticipation in them. MAKE A GAME OF IT! Also, remember, the story of the tortoise and the hare - true progress in anything comes by doing small little increments CONSISTENTLY everyday; don't skip a day and don't over tax the child. Five to ten minutes per each learning session, in the beginning, is plenty.

    1) Start the child out by practicing "Yawning." This is of the utmost importance. Yawning helps the surrounding muscles of the neck to relax and allows the thyroid cartilage (Adam's Apple) to lower. This lowering thyroid cartilage position allows maximum air flow and relaxation for the vocal cords to produce at their optimum best. While practicing "yawning," also focus on breathing properly - in through the nose and out through the mouth. When practicing this breathing exercise, when you inhale, make a game out of how long the breathe can be held. Then, when you exhale, gently and with great care and extremely slowly, have your child blow the air out in a very small opening of the lips in an "oo" position or as if they were blowing all that stored up air through a coffee stir straw.

    2) Next, start out by having the child "hum" AMERICA (My Country Tis of Thee). First in G major and then is A major. Next, have your child sing the same song on "loo" in G major, A major and now in C major too. NO WORDS YET.

    3) Now for a fun song. Use the refrain of, "Funiculi, Funicula" also on "loo." No words yet. After a few weeks of all of the above, try having your child learning the entire song of "Funiculi, Funicula" on "loo."

    (At each session, repeat and review everything from the beginning. As your days and the lessons progress, just keep repeating from the beginning while adding on a new exercise, song or study).

    3) Now for the very young, Pre-K to 2nd grade, start having them singing "loo" to traditional Nursery and Folk Songs whose melody tends to start out with a descending interval of a 3rd like, HOT CROSS BUNS, LIGHTLY ROW, RING AROUND THE ROSY, MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB, etc. This will keep both you and your child busy for weeks!

    3a) For children grades 3 - 5 that are beginners, all of the above plus perhaps the chant "Adoro te devote" and "Pange lingua" on "loo." There will be a lot of "looing" at first!

    3b) For older children (grades 5 - 8) all of the above plus the first eight measure phrase of Mozart's "Alleluia" in F from the Exsultate Jubilate. All on "loo."

    So far, all this should keep you quite busy for a few months.

    It is my sincere hope that this might help someone. If you are interested in more, I would be glad to share what little I know.
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    I would be extremely interested in any advice anyone can give on a female director coaxing singing, or even pitch matching, out of the male with a recently changed voice.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • G - A young male whose voice is changing (called a Cambiata), is perhaps THE single biggest challenge to a music director. Boys are generally, vocally challenging at any stage for various reasons; but well rewarding.

    You must aways be very patient and also remember that each day his voice is in constant change. Some thoughts on this subject came from monastic choirmasters over one thousand years ago. One thing is to always keep that boy singing as much as possible, everyday, even if its just a little amount each day. Since the boy should be use to his head voice before "the change," started, you should now think of him as a very light high tenor that will use falsetto. Try to get him to start in his high head voice (if possible), and vocalize downward. Humming is very important for many reasons at this time; especially since psychologically a boy can be very sensitive to all the changes that are happening to them now.

    Most choirmasters / music directors throughout history have discarded the cambiata male singer and directed them into being an Acolyte (Altar Boy) at this time. I happen to believe that if a choirmaster / choir director can be patient enough, and really work with the cambiata, your rewards will be well worth the efforts.

    Use simple downward five note scales, music that has a limited range, humming, singing on "loo," simple songs like classical folks songs, vocal exercises that uses downward slides and LOTS of practice "Yawning." It is almost as if you are re-training a boy soprano chorister all over again (in a way, you are, its just this time he is a boy alto)! Always remember to be patient, gentle and encouraging.

    One of THE best things to do is have a cambiata to sing with other men; bonding is especially important at this time and men singing correctly will be an enormous influence on him. USING PLAINSONG CHANT AT THIS TIME IS A PERFECT TOOL FOR USE WITH A CAMBIATA!

    Use downward vocalized yawning; starting in his head voice and sliding downward. Select melodies that move downward. Eventually you will be able to melodies that move upwards.

    Remember - BE PATIENT and DON'T GIVE UP!
  • Ken's advice is very sound.

    Often it works to ignore the young singer who cannot match pitch, especially tiny children. For some people this is difficult, but leaving them alone and natural forces often can bring them to the right pitch.

    If someone consistently sings a lower pitch, it can help to stop, sing the pitch with them and slowly slide up to the correct pitch. Smile the entire time to keep them from getting stressed, and be friendly.

    Avoid the use of the word "no" and the phrase "you are wrong" as well as "you are singing the wrong note." Slap yourself silly if you find yourself using these words.

    I have never met a person who could not sing. I have met too many who were told in school that they could not and that they should just mouth the words. A pox on these lazy and/or incompetent music directors. The only person who cannot sing is the person who is a natural monotone. Any one who can ask a question, ending with the last word at a higher pitch, is a potential singer.
  • Noel - You are right! I have always found that with little children in groups / ensembles / choirs that sing unison, the child that sings too low or wrongs notes consistently, will soon be self corrected. How? Well, the other children around that child help me to help that child just by their singing. In effect, they are teachers too. The music director though does need to be attentive to any negative comments that might be spoken by children concerning a child that is having trouble. Otherwise, never say "NO" or make a negative comment. Sliding exercises and vocal games can help in many way. As a child gets older, then one can be more corrective; but always with kindness, patience and loving smiles!
  • Years ago, while preparing at Michigan State U. to become a vocal music teacher,the very-successful Martha White (RIP) taught vocal music methods for elementary school. For the "out-of-tune singer" (OOTS)she taught us to work with them individually for a few minutes in every class; to make it fun- - for instance, answers to simple questions we would ask the child; matching the teacher's tones, etc. It helps sometimes to hold your hand flat in space as you sing a tone, ask the child to place his hand beside yours and sing the same tone. If he fails, show with your other hand where his "tone" was, and sing it, and ask him to "bring the tone" to where you originally sang it. Praise them plenty when they succeed! If they don't get it in one session, let them know that we will try again next time in class. She advised how important it was to get them singing in tune by the end of the second grade ( 7-8 years old), since when they are that age or younger, they are not self-conscious about not singing "right." After that age it is more difficult to get the OOTS to sing alone. When you meet with snickering among the other children, you must bring them up short right then. It is uncharitable, for one thing. You might explain to them that all of us can do some things more easily than others. The OOTS child has a talent in another area that the snicker-ers do not have, and would have to work at.

    The (Justine)Ward Method focuses on getting children to sing in tune. Again, regular work in short intervals is important. Ward has many ideas for making a game of this training. Also, Ward focuses on proper vocal technique. Ken, the Ward Method (and Dr. Ted Marier in chant) taught us to sing "nu" rather than "lu." The former, beginning with the nnn sound before blossoming into the oooo sound, places the tone in the head. Ward focuses on head tones. (Martha White was an advocate of "lu.") I taught Ward to many home-schoolers and the OOTS students were singing in tune usually by the end of the first semester, and certainly by the end of the second. (I am now teaching it to one 7-year-old boy.) Nancy Fazio, who teaches Ward Book One during the summer at CUA, said that for really difficult cases she would have the child put his ear right on the piano-case while she played a tone, and have him try to match it. I tried it; it worked! The idea is to keep it fun, short, regular, and with encouragement and praise. They DO want to sing in tune! It is a matter of careful listening and training the ear.
  • Elizabeth, you must post more and do so frequently. Thank you.
  • Elizabeth - AMEN! I couldn't agree more with what you have said. I was a student of the WARD Method (taught by a Sister of Charity from the Music Conservatory from Brussels), and remember well sing "nu". I have used that too (I don't give always ALL my little secrets - hehehe). And I have also used the ear to the piano trick too and IT DOES WORK! Yes, it is so very important to try and solve vocal and intonation problems before the 3rd grade but all to often we work with what we get, make the best of it with smiles and laughter.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    Can anyone out there account for a phenomenon I've run across more than once, which is a singer who consistently sings a major third above the intended note?
  • Kathy - I am not very knowledgeable in that area, but, over my years of experience I have had two adults and three children with that ability. I think it might be due to them predominantly hearing the first third of the Over Tone Series.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,053
    Hey, those out of tune secrets are proprietary info! Dr. Marier told me not to give them away.

    Just kidding. They all work. Done them for years. Even done the piano trick with adults.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995

    I was thinking it might be something like that. I'm working with my second such singer now. It seems like it might be seen as a gift, as well as an initial liability.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 404
    Interesting about children singing the third above the correct pitch. I've heard that consistently from a student once or twice before without quite realizing what was happening------I just thought the poor kid was having a hard time singing in tune and was just singing anything. Never occurred to me that she might have been actually hearing a different partial! Fascinating. Actually, a good friend in college had some very serious trouble in his aural training classes, and along similar lines. The guy could not at all match pitch, but he could sing a perfect fifth above the intended note. No joke----I would sing an F, and he would sing right back with a C.
  • Singing the 5th, major 3rd and minor 3rd partials of the harmonic series is actually a universal among humans the world over - literally in every culture! Oddly enough, if you are interested in this phenomenon, my best advice is to watch the entire "The Unanswered Question" - Harvard Norton Lecture Series of Leonard Bernstein. When I studied with "Lenni," he explained it in the most extremely interesting manner that helped to explain how humanity developed melody and harmony. For example, (sorry I can't fully notate it here), do you recall children teasing others with the universal - "naa naa nee boo boo" ? Well Bernstein saw these intervals for what they where - a kind of innate, inborn musical DNA in mankind. Consequently, children hear the 5th, M3rd and m3rd first in their development and then finally the fundamental and octave. Strange? ! Anyway, get hold of the vast Harvard Lecture Series by Bernstein and watch. It will take you a long time to get thru them all, but its well worth it! (Have a bottle of aspirin ready too - its pretty heady stuff).
  • "The Unanswered Question" - Harvard Norton Lecture Series - Leonard Bernstein. A very brief snapshot can be found on YouTube. "He argues persuasively that humans are born with an ability to grasp musical forms, and that rules of musical syntax are rooted in nature--in mathematically measurable relations between tones and overtones."
  • Ken, I never had the good fortune to study under LB, but I did record a Missa Solemnis with him whle at Westminster Choir College. NYPhil and Eileen Farrell was sop soloist. The thing that impressed me most was that altho he was not very tall, like JPII he had this charisma that just drew you to him and made you want to do whatever he was asking. He was an excellent choral conductor, unlike others I've sung under. I was crushed tho, when I realized he couldn't go 5 mins off the podium w/o a ciggy. The 2nd day of recording, all the soloists and Bernstein staggered in complaining of hangovers. Very disillusioning to an 18yr old. LOL At that time, of course, drinkies and smoking were gorunds for expulsion at WCC.

  • Donnaswan - I envy you those experiences! I was at WCC starting at 1978 and studied with Robert Simpson, Jim Litton, Erik Routley, Fr. Farrell, Lois Laverty, George Markey and Joan Lippincott. I loved Princeton so much! I lived in Seabrook Hall 3rd floor and got to sing at the funeral of Herb Pate. My time there was filled with wonderful moments and some eye opening experiences. I was also the principal violist of the Princeton U Sym, String Quartet and Community Sym. I guess I was a busy bee. Loved singing at Trinity Church too!

    I studied with LB at Tanglewood in 76 and he was a mess then. Yes, VERY disappointing, drugs, moral problems and stuff, but still what a genius! I agree about his magnetic personality.
  • Omigosh! Ken- I remember Herbert Pate so well. We hated his class- vocal pedagogy, I think in my freshman year.And I sang under Simpson in freshman choir. Joan Lippincott was finishing her grad work,I think, or had just done her Masters. You are MUCH younger than I. But I truly loved Princeton and environs. Has changed so much now.

  • Well Donna, I am 52 years old (and feeling every year of it), yes, Princeton has even changed a lot even since I was there. WAY too crowded. The old bus station is gone too. Were Drs John and Helen Kemp there when you were there? (Probably not)!
  • Ken, I've done workshops with Helen. They were not on campus in the years I was there. I was right- you are MUCH younger than I. LOL I'm 6something.
    The worst thing that happened in the last 20 years years is the Princeton Bookstore closed up the music dept. Every year when I went home to NJ to visit my Dad, I made a trip to the store to see what new treasures could be found. I do order all my choral music from Cliff Hill still. Has his own business now for many years.
    We should start a new thread to reminisce. I'm sure noone else is interested in this conversation.Am I right in thinking you are in UK? Or is that someone else?
  • Donna - I am in Fresno, CA of all places (yuck). I am here working on the beginning establishment of a Anglican Catholic Monastery for Musicians and Artists of traditional sacred arts and teaching privately. I am looking for a new music director position (hopefully in southern CA). I am also working on a book and method for teaching children's choirs and child voice; somewhat like unto the Suzuki method process coupled with traditional methods of teaching children over the past 1500 years.
  • OK. I guess the Sarum part made me think of Salisbury.
    A coincidence- my husband was stationed for 5 years at Castle AFB in Merced. 5 miserable years in that heat. Even close to Yosemite didn't make up for those summers w/o AC in the house. Something called a swamp-blower.
    I gather the Epis Diocese of San Joaquin is having it's travails.