“Human beings sing to help them express emotions beyond mere words,” says choral expert and MENC member Janice Smith.
“Singing,” says Smith, “is the birthright of every child with a normal speaking voice.” She looks at how we can help more children experience the joys of singing and overcome some of the barriers, such as:
- Lack of experience. If the adults in a family don’t sing, neither will the children. Perhaps a teacher told an off-key singer to “mouth the words” instead of sing. Sometimes recordings are pitched too low or high for the child’s voice.
- Lack of confidence. Some children who speak softly will try to sing softly as well. Students need to learn better breath support, but they also need to build their confidence. Children learn to sing by being taught how and then practicing.
- Auditory processing difficulties. Children with auditory processing challenges have a hard time singing accurately. If a child is singing around the pitch, the teacher can suggest that the child be tested. “Early diagnosis,” Smith says, “may help prevent learning difficulties later.”
- Hearing impairments. Children who are hearing-impaired can often be taught to sing. Teachers must be aware of these students’ limitations to help them achieve their vocal potential. By encouraging them and believing in their abilities, teachers can help all children use their singing voices.
- Other physical problems. Children who do not have normal speaking voices may have difficulty singing. A chronically hoarse voice can be caused by vocal misuse or other health issues, but it can also be the result of medications. Loud singing can create such problems. If the condition seems persistent, parents should be directed to a speech therapist. Remind students not to sing if it hurts; solve the problem first.
Adapted from “Every Child a Singer: Techniques for Assisting Developing Singers” by Janice Smith, Music Educators Journal, November 2006, pp. 28–29.
MENC member Janice P. Smith is an associate professor of music education at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, City University of New York, Flushing. She is also the coauthor of Minds on Music: Composition for Creative and Critical Thinking (MENC / Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009).
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–Ella Wilcox, August 31, 2010, © National Association for Music Education