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At What Age Should a Child Begin Voice Lessons?

Kaitlyn Maher, by J Milburn, under CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the questions I get asked all the time is at what age a child should begin voice lessons. There’s a wide array of misconceptions floating around the subject, so I’d like first to clear up any myths you may have heard. For ease of writing, I’ll use “she” as the pronoun for a young vocal student, but this topic equally applies to boys.

Vocal Myth:

It’s bad to start voice lessons too early, because if you start your child in lessons young, her voice will most likely get damaged.

Vocal Fact:

Your child may hurt her voice if she takes voice lessons from a bad voice teacher early on. If she’s with a teacher who tries to push her voice to create a bigger sound than she should be trying to make at her young age, there’s absolutely a chance she could hurt herself. On the other hand, if she’s with a teacher experienced in young voices, the teacher will know how to work with her in a healthy way. Think about it: your child is singing anyway (I hope), so why would working with a voice teacher who helps her sing in a healthful way do anything but help her voice?

Vocal Myth:

A child should start voice lessons as soon as humanly possible, because otherwise she won’t have a shot at a performing career.

Vocal Fact:

You do not need to start your child out in voice lessons in the womb in order to give her a good shot in life. I’ve seen plenty of older teenagers and even adults make dramatic improvements in their voices. Child stars often burn out, so it’s not going to be too late if you want to start her in lessons at a slightly older age.

Vocal Myth:

A young student can’t learn vocal technique. If she does any singing, it should be in a choir, or using solfege syllables.

Vocal Fact:

Whether a child is ready for vocal technique is more contingent on emotional maturity than vocal maturity. I’ve worked with kids as young as 3 and 4 (although it’s rare to find kids this age mature enough to handle much technique), at basic vocal technique: pitch, breathing, and finding chest and head voice. Helping kids learn to shift registers early can be especially beneficial for their vocal health, because it’ll keep them from trying to scream higher and higher when singing along with a high song. Yes, their voices will change, and they’ll have to learn to navigate registers again at later ages, but voices change for years and years, and one of the most important things a singer can learn is how to be in touch with her own voice and be able to continually navigate what feels comfortable to her. What your voice does at age 3 may not be what it does at age 15, and what it does at age 15 may not be the right thing for it at age 30.

So At What Age Should a Child Begin Voice Lessons?

There’s no easy answer, but consider the following:

Would She Be Able to Make it Through a Voice Lesson?

You probably know your child best. Would she be able to make it through at least most of a lesson? I can’t answer this question for you, because I’ve had 4-year-olds with the maturity to get a lot out of singing lessons and 8-year-olds who couldn’t make it through the lesson. If you know that your child can’t stand still for more than 5 minutes at a time, you may not want to start her in private lessons just yet. If she has an older sibling in lessons, consider letting her try around 10 or 15 minutes of her sibling’s lesson time to see if it looks like a good fit. You may also look into combining vocal lessons with piano lessons if a 30-minute voice lesson sounds impossible. Sometimes combining singing with other activities, like piano playing and music activity workbooks is a better choice than trying to get your child to sing for an entire half hour.

Does She Show Any Interest In Singing?

Most kids at some point show an interest in singing. You’ll notice them singing along with music you play at home and maybe memorizing snippets of words. But if she’s still at an age in which she’s clapping along to music and not making much of an attempt to sing, it may be premature to start her in lessons.

My Take

Every child is different, and there’s no right or wrong time to start. For some, starting as early as possible is a great thing: they learn good technique early, and go on to love how easy singing is for them as they get older. For others, the structure of voice lessons at such a young age dampens their enthusiasm for music, and in this case, they probably aren’t ready yet. Use your best judgement, and give it a try for a while to see how your child responds. While I definitely wouldn’t suggest starting toddlers out in private voice lessons (instead, look into a group music class, like Music Together), some (rare) 3 and 4-year-olds do make surprisingly good vocal students. Do what you feel is best for your child, and make sure to look for a voice teacher who feels comfortable with young kids!

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