If music is good for the soul, then singing is good for the heart and there’s nothing more sweet than hearing a child sing to their heart’s content. Vocal coach Charlotte West explains how to encourage young ones to use their voices and not let others’ opinions take away from their enjoyment.
I believe the joy of singing is innate in almost all children. Most children love to sing and, when in a positive encouraging environment, they usually do so with abandon. But as they grow and become more self-aware, that natural joy of singing can become quashed. Either directly by being told they are not good enough, or indirectly by watching others excel and deciding that their own enjoyment of singing is less valid.
I think the best way to encourage children not to be scared to share their voices is to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their voice. Simply put, leading by example.
And it doesn’t matter what you think of your own voice. I believe the truth is that you’re never ‘not good enough’ to sing purely for the delight of it. There is no single ‘good voice’. There seems to be this idea that singing is something you can either do or not do. That is simply not true. And singing uses muscles like anything else, so just as you can get better at sport, you can improve at singing.
I tell my students that a ‘good’ voice is one that is sustainable, comfortable and one that the singer enjoys. Tick all three boxes and they have a ‘good’ voice. I can help them see physical and mental barriers limiting the first two points, but only they know about the third – what do they love to sing? Sometimes finding something they love is hard, because they have such a firm idea of what they think they should sound like, yet their voice is far away from that. But they have to find it. This is a cornerstone of singing teaching psychology: to get the voice you want, you first have to love the voice you have.
Choir is a wonderful place to explore singing and there are opportunities for children, often at school. The musical ear naturally gets better singing harmonies, and it can be really fun and social. Sometimes though, natural singers will get more chances than those still learning, so while choir is wonderful, don’t rely on it alone to build your child’s vocal confidence. This can be helped at home: play Karaoke, do family performances, and praise yourself and others for their voices.
Teach your children to sing for themselves, because they want to. Teach them the fascination of the wondrous body that they have, one that can produce so many different sounds. Focus on the unique qualities that make their voice their own. Get googling; there are so many cool videos that explain how our bodies work. Focus on those things, not on how they compare to others. Teach them that if they love what their voice does now, it will grow – despise it and it will shrink.
It crumples my heart when a child has been told or thinks they can’t sing. It’s flat out unfair to take away the joy of singing from someone whose instrument hasn’t even finished growing. So lead by example and courageously show your child that something doesn’t need to be perfect to be worth sharing. Happy singing.
Charlotte West is a singer, vocal coach and voiceover artist. She can be found teaching at Lewis Eady Music School in Auckland and heard on the radio and television doing regular voiceover work.