Please don't tell a child they can't sing. You could cause more damage than you think

Posted by Norman Bailey on Saturday, December 28, 2013 Under: Singing
"Let the young practice only until they are able to feel the noble melodies and rhythms"  - Aristotle

A new singing pupil of mine burst into tears in her first class.  All because she hit the note C and sustained it for 10 seconds.  The shock and relief at discovering she wasn't tone deaf and was indeed able to sing after all.  

Her experience is very common.  I keep saying that I should carry a sealed envelope, which I can open within 5 minute of talking to a new pupil. The note inside it would read.  When I was young someone told me I couldn't sing.

I have at a lot of people coming to me - or avoiding singing - for the same reasons.  They've had a negative singing experience dating back to their childhood.  This usually involved an adult: a parent, teacher or choir master, telling them there was something wrong with their voice.  Now whether or not this was done with the intention of putting people of singing for life or just to keep a child quiet, doesn't seem to matter.  The memory of such a judgement reduces people to tears for decades.

Why would anyone tell a 5-year-old child they can't sing? 

People need to appreciate the emotional impact .  Plus, are you sure it makes any sense to tell a child they can't sing at such a you age?  At 5 years old It's highly unlikely that a child is good at most things.  Put a child behind the wheel of a car and see how far they get.  Why?  Because they don't know how to drive and would probably have a hard time controlling a car even if they did.  But that doesn't mean they won't be able to drive once they've learnt how to in the future.  

What do you do for a living?  Doctor, actor, checkout clerk?  How good were you at 5?  What if someone tested you at you ability to carry out these tasks and made a judgement on you capacity to do it in the future.  Well this is what people do to children all the time.

One of the reason this happens is that I'm not sure that people appreciate that singing is a skill that takes years of training to master.  And that we do an injustice to those who do it well by thinking that their talent in simply 'God given' and belting out great melodies comes naturally.  Think of it this way,  Speaking is natural - mastering language and good communication take years of training. I pupil of mine, caught in this singers are born that way mentality,  was comparing herself unfavourably to a young singer she knows.  'But Suzie, who's 12, she explains,  has got a naturally beautiful singing voice'.  Deeper probing reveals that little Suzie has been receiving dance music and singing training for the last 3 years.

So, what is the best way to teach children to sing 

On teaching children to sing Aristotle had this to say:

"The right measure will be attained if the student of music stops short of the arts which are practiced in professional contests,  and do not seek to acquire those fantastic marvels of education which are now the fashion in such contests, and from these are passed into education."

It seems that little has changed since Aristotle's time back in ancient Greece.  Then, as now, there were great heights to be scales for hose who chose a life in music.  Great accolade to be won and probably a few X Factor type singing contests to enter.  What he's warning of here is for those teaching singing is that they should be swayed by the practices of those for whom music is a profession.  He goes on to say:

"Let the young practice only until they are able to feel the noble melodies and rhythms."

In other word sing for joy and don't push any child into learning things they don't enjoy.  The world is full of people who studied music to a professional standard and then never did a thing with it because they simply gained no joy from it.

Top tips for helping children to get the most out of singing:

  1. Find out what they like singing.
  2. Don't test their ability
  3. Be patient and supportive
  4. Treat the child as an individual and do not compare them favourably or unfavourably with others. (Your own voice)
  5. Seek out professional guidance that your child will connect with
  6. Allow them, and you, to have fun with singing
Oh, and if you think the child is tone deaf read my blog post: 'This simple tone deaf test could change the way you think about your singing'. 

In : Singing 


Art will feed itself

Life-long creative. I have one goal in life and that is to live from my creative endeavours, That what my motto 'Art will feed itself' means. this.