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Singing Lessons For Eleven Year Old


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#1 Halka

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 15:14

Having read these boards for some months now, I know that some of you teachers out there don't think 11 year olds should have singing lessons at all.... However, I am interested to know what those of you who do teach this age group would include in a typical half hour lesson, and how you might expect that to change as the pupil (female) matured through her teens.

By way of background, my daughter who will be 12 in the summer has had "singing lessons" on and off since the age of 7 and a bit (the opportunity arose, she was keen, and I thought it would help with her 'cello playing). She's been with her current teacher for about three years, really likes her, enjoys the lessons, as well as lots of choral singing in and out of school, and she's done quite well (3 merits and a good pass) in the exams she's taken. I don't see the teacher much, as lessons happen at school, but she tells me that my daughter sings in a healthy way. So, no real problems and we've no current intention of stopping lessons or changing teacher.

Nevertheless, I worry from time to time that, although my daughter does lots of singing, she is not actually "learning to sing". I suspect you will say that too much technique too early is a bad thing, but should her lessons really include no warm up exercises or work on breathing? I only have my daughter's account of what goes on in the lessons, but I have the impression she just sings her current songs and the teacher makes suggestions about dynamics, articulation, and phrasing. I did once ask the teacher about working on technique (a couple of years ago). She didn't say anything about her being too young, just that she wanted to work on increasing daughter's confidence first, which seemed to me (as a non musical, non singer) a bit back to front!

Any comments?
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#2 Guest: lucky045_*

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 15:23

Umm, I'm not a teacher, just a student, but I remember my early lessons, which started when I was just twelve... I always warmed up - some lessons I just did exercises to help certain things that I was struggling with - luckily the exercises were quite fun, and geared towards younger teens/children. Breathing - well I suppose there were some exercises involved to help improve it, but I find it difficult to see how you could teach someone from being a beginner and never comment on breathing - surely it becomes an issue when she sings her pieces?
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#3 Dugazon

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 15:29

I am not too keen myself on teaching very young children, although I take them on from 9+ after an individual assessment (means that I might refuse them - I sometimes even do this with 12- or 13-year-olds if the vocal and overall maturity is a problem - that's really very individual).

My 30min.-lessons with students from the age of 9 normally include little aural and theory-games first (sometimes I do them not at the start but at some other place during the lesson). Then I do a quick physical warm-up (movement, breathing, either bringing their tension up or down, depending on their individual needs) and a little vocal warm-up. This warm-up though doesn't overstretch the young voice, it is completely different from a warm-up I would do with an adult.
The last 10 minutes or so we work on a song. Normally I have a good selection of appropriate repertoire, but if the child dies to sing a certain song, they are sometimes allowed to do this as a treat to keep the motivation up. I always transpose them in an appropriate key though and adjust them quite a little (major cuts involved wink.gif ). The important thing is that we prevent young voices from trying to copy their idols. This does not happen by not allowing them to sing pop-songs, but rather showing them how to sing them with their own voice in a natural way. And that's the key-word:

No voice under the age of 14 to 16, again depending on the individual, should get full classical training (same applies for belting, that even requires more maturity, I normally don't teach this under the age of 18 or 20). Young voices need to sing fairly natural, we don't want a second Charlotte Church who was "vocally deflated" before she was even 20 ...
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#4 jod

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 12:28

On the other hand I specialise with childrens' voices.

I am becoming more and more convinced that children need proper singing lessons from primary school age, but this is not the same as creating a "Charlotte Church"

Far from it! This is a way of insuring that the Pop Idol, Britain's got Talent effect does not mean we loose a generation of children to ENT surgeon.

The whole strategy is to even up the natural voice, to work on breathing, posture and evenness of tone. To keep the voice free, and allow children's natural treble sound to ring out.

Using the translation "little bridge" for passagio, and even range where the middle is not over-developed, the bottom is not over used and a natural head-voice can be found, and very carefully selecting repertoire. I feel that teaching to primary school children is the way forward.

This is based on my experience of hearing group and individual singing in schools, and having repaired the voice of a 12 year old.

What is more when I spoke to the head of music of a leading Public School that specialises in music he agrees with me.

I teach adults and teenagers too, but it is the vocal care of childrens voices and the way that singing is being mis-taught in schools at present that concerns me most.

Very few trained singers are prepared to work with children. I find they excite me most as when they absorb the techniques I teach them, the progress made is very exciting, and I know they won't hurt themselves in the process.

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#5 Halka

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 12:38

QUOTE(lucky045 @ Apr 30 2008, 04:23 PM) View Post

Breathing - well I suppose there were some exercises involved to help improve it, but I find it difficult to see how you could teach someone from being a beginner and never comment on breathing - surely it becomes an issue when she sings her pieces?



Certainly, her teacher helps her to identify where to breathe. That's what I meant when I said she made suggestions about phrasing. However, that seems to me a bit different from teaching how to breathe. I've always imagined singing lessons involve lots of the latter, but as I implied before I am entirely ignorant of such things!!
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#6 jod

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 13:20

How to breathe is vital.

Just as it is good to teach things like Yoga to children - see things like yoga bugs and yoga'd up, it is absolutely fine to re-teach children to breathe properly.

By 11 most need to do so. My technical exercises are based around posture and breathing although singing is vital too. I tend to demonstrate on the voice so I can observe the body to see what is going on.

Care needs to be taken. You are working with the body of a child not against it, and over use of some muscles can lead to injury.

By watching and listening, a good teacher can spot where there are faults in breathing, help a child develop adbominal support muscles but keep them injury free.

I like to think that the singer is an athelete using all their body, therefore it all needs careful handling, warming up and cooling down.
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#7 AnnC

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 19:37

QUOTE(jod @ May 1 2008, 01:28 PM) View Post

On the other hand I specialise with childrens' voices.

I am becoming more and more convinced that children need proper singing lessons from primary school age, but this is not the same as creating a "Charlotte Church"

Far from it! This is a way of insuring that the Pop Idol, Britain's got Talent effect does not mean we loose a generation of children to ENT surgeon.

The whole strategy is to even up the natural voice, to work on breathing, posture and evenness of tone. To keep the voice free, and allow children's natural treble sound to ring out.

Using the translation "little bridge" for passagio, and even range where the middle is not over-developed, the bottom is not over used and a natural head-voice can be found, and very carefully selecting repertoire. I feel that teaching to primary school children is the way forward.

I teach adults and teenagers too, but it is the vocal care of childrens voices and the way that singing is being mis-taught in schools at present that concerns me most.

Very few trained singers are prepared to work with children. I find they excite me most as when they absorb the techniques I teach them, the progress made is very exciting, and I know they won't hurt themselves in the process.


You talk a lot of sense, Jod, and I agree with you. I also teach children, depending on their concentration level. They are a joy to teach, and also a huge responsibility, as their voices need handling with kid gloves, but if you know what you are doing and are careful, as you are, their voices blossom into something wonderful at around 15-16.
To the OP - breathing IS everything, but your daughter may be doing it naturally. I don't believe in teaching HOW to do anything, if it is natural. There's no point in drawing attention to anything when there isn't anything wrong - you could undo the natural ability and cause problems.

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#8 jacky

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 22:46

HI have jsut taken on a nine year old - after mums pleas that she wont stop singing, so we both reckoned its better to teach her to sing properly . Having 'freed' up ehr voice from singin like the pop goups she has a lovely childs voice. Only thing is her best range is C(an octave above middle C) to the D (one octave above that). I dont want to stretch her voice and tend with kids to transpose down so as not to strain.
Any suggestions on this one gratefully received.
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#9 jod

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 10:08

QUOTE(jacky @ May 1 2008, 11:46 PM) View Post

HI have jsut taken on a nine year old - after mums pleas that she wont stop singing, so we both reckoned its better to teach her to sing properly . Having 'freed' up ehr voice from singin like the pop goups she has a lovely childs voice. Only thing is her best range is C(an octave above middle C) to the D (one octave above that). I dont want to stretch her voice and tend with kids to transpose down so as not to strain.
Any suggestions on this one gratefully received.



Start by making sure she is standing properly.

Never ever let her see what note you are playing when doing warm ups; she may well have a preconception of "how high" she can sing.

Make sure she has loostened off her shoulders (hunch relax exercises, shoulder circles) and has her neck free (half neck circles)

The use a combination of doo-bi-doo-bi-doo sung and up and down a fifth, going up in semitones.
Sirening on m, n and ng, over the whole range.

sirening on ah over a fifth and the octave. Up an octave to oo and down the dominant 7th to ah is a good way to intoduce that one before just letting it slide.

Do not start any lower than B or A below middle C (use your ear to establish which really is her natural lowest note)

Encourage her to breath into the bottom of her ribs and use her "sit up muscles" (they tend to do them in PE) to support her breath as she breathes out.

Never mention the word Break. I introduce the italian word Passaggio, then translate it as "little bridge", then use local bridges as examples of what each register change sounded like.

It is working for me. I've suggested this approach to one or two other forumites working with similar age group kids and its working for them.

The ideas are well researched with kids and are ones my teacher uses with some of her chorister pupils.

I am really please to hear you are taking on a girl at this age. It is unfortunate that you too are finding that there is a "Karaoke", "Pop Idol", "Britain's Got Talent" effect happening to the voices of today's children.

I hope that this will prove useful in repairing her voice before any serious harm is done.

Welcome to the Keep Children's Voices Sounding Natural campaign!

Joanna Debenham BA(hons) LRSM. (aka Jod)
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#10 Dugazon

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 18:21

QUOTE(jod @ May 2 2008, 11:08 AM) View Post

Welcome to the Keep Children's Voices Sounding Natural campaign!


I'll join! biggrin.gif

It is so painful to see (and HEAR!) what young voices are taught in so-called "Stage Schools". They are encouraged to belt at the age of 10 or even younger, and this sometimes just makes me feel like eek.gif argh.gif
Two of my students, one 9 and the other one 13, already have immense vocal problems through this "tuition". The smaller one has given up after just a handful of lessons because I didn't let her sing popsongs. I am normally not that strict, but her voice was so damaged already that she started falling back into bad habits when she just sniffed the word "pop". She goes back to her "class" now - needless to say that's a voice probably lost forever, and what makes me most furious is that her mum doesn't even bother ...

The older one thankfully makes good progress, but sometimes I am just downright angry that people "teach" young voices just for a quick buck without a glimpse of what kids' voices need. Some of those "teachers" are mainly selftaught popsingers (yes, it is soooo impressive if they have been on TV or sold a couple of records like the ones here wacko.gif ), I could just ill.gif

Recently, one of my adult students said I should just start taking on students below the age of 9 - maybe a couple less voices lost to shouting. And although I feel equipped to do this from the "vocal side", I have to admit that I don't feel comfortable teaching children too young - they need a completely different educational approach which I feel I cannot (or better: probably don't want to) offer ...
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#11 AnnC

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 08:32

I'll join too!
I don't have the same trouble as you, Mezzo, about repertoire, because I prempt it by saying "I don't teach pop songs". I used to feel like you do about teaching children, but I have become more confident about it the more children I teach. It's all down to building a relationship with the child and having fun - getting "down" to their (age) level, if you like. Maybe my days as a paediatric nurse have helped.

David - there is a WEALTH of suitable material out there for young voices. There are all the Peter Jenkyns songs, Aubrey Beswick, Betty Roe (her show books for children, for instance), Nina Perry, to name just a few. The Disney ones, with appropriate lyrics are popular and can be obtained in different keys. Mary Poppins, Dr Doolittle, My Favourite Things, I whistle a happy tune, Peter Pan, and there are lots in the the Unison Song series published by Curwen and Robertson - for example, The Witch (Fleming), Grasshopper Green (Taylor). There are also loads on the grade lists - Abdul the magician, Grandfather Clock, - these two give you three more, as they are published together - the Big Red Bus, The Magic carpet, Magic in the Air, I recommend you do what I did, and go to a GOOD music shop, and browse for a couple of hours. Festival syllibi are also a good source if you look at the set pieces.
I accept what you say about them paying us - but children have never heard of these songs, and usually like them when you demonstrate them. Despite being appropriate for children, they are well written, and sometimes not easy, which is good for the more advanced students, like a ten-year old of mine who has just passed grade 5 with merit. Can't give her easy stuff, so she's doing well in festivals with "There are fairies at the bottom of the garden" - really difficult song in Sarah's Encores. They are there, but need some research to prise them out sometimes. Good luck.

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#12 HelenVJ

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 17:12

agree.gif
For me, pop songs and young voices just don't go.

Also, several (not all) Disney songs were written for adults' voices, and so are not particularly rewarding for younger children to work on. I do have some Disney song books, but they are strictly rationed to the last lesson before half term, or the end of term.

I have loads of vocal leaflets, including many of the ones Ann mentions - and we also like 'Marketing' ; 'Inside the basket'; 'Callers' ;'Mrs Jenny Wren'; 'The traction engine' etc etc - there are so many, all written in an appropriate vocal range and style, but being musically interesting, and avoiding the banality of so much other 'suitable' music.
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#13 Dugazon

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 18:05

Totally with David here. I know those songs, too, and none of my 12ish students want to sing them, at least not without a completely tortured expression on their faces biggrin.gif

Certain popsongs surely don't go, but some are perfectly alright and not worse than any musical theatre or classical/traditional songs (you just have to know them or slightly adjust them, which is okay in Pop anyway).
There is a lot of appropriate repertoire in every style I would say, and I actually never had problems to cater for both the students' musical interests AND their vocal needs. Not to teach a certain musical style is more of a personal philosophy than a vocal necessity.
The most important thing for me is that no student is under the impression they have to sing something they absolutely dislike, and that they can actively participate in what songs are chosen. For me the best way to keep them motivated, and it really works ...

I rather have them sing their favourite songs under supervision - in an appropriate key and with a natural voice - than not allowing them in my lessons at all and being sure that they belt them out at home without supervision.
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#14 Guest: petrat_*

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 19:55

I think that I must have a particularly amenable bunch of young teens as I never have any arguments over song choices. smile.gif At the moment I have students singing Feed the Birds, (Mary Poppins), the Howard Goodall setting of Psalm 23, some song settings by Phyllis Tate, Mansel Thomas and Mervyn Burtch, Ave Maria, (Bach-Gounod), some Handel arias and lute songs. No complaints at all! Youngsters will often surprise us in their likes and dislikes. This morning I had a group of four and five year olds enjoying Saint Saens "Swan" and a work by Hildegarde of Bingen.
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#15 Cyrilla

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 22:58

QUOTE(petrat @ May 3 2008, 08:55 PM) View Post

Hildegard of Bingham.


Bingen???

Glad to see you're inculcating impeccable taste in your young charges, petrat!

smile.gif smile.gif smile.gif

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